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Opinion

Opinion: Blowback: Sexism in The Times’ Sports section

Ireland vs. United States

Mallory Pugh (No. 22) of the United States fights for the ball in a match against Ireland at at Qualcomm Stadium on Jan. 23.

(Todd Warshaw / Getty Images)

I read, with interest, Bill Plaschke’s Jan. 24 column “Girl Scout’s project provides hope through hoops,” especially as it fits into the Sports section’s coverage, or lack thereof, of women’s sports.

Maybe more than just interest. I’m a former Times reporter and editor, the mother of two daughters, ages 8 and 12, who both are athletes and Girl Scouts, and I am a co-leader for my older daughter’s Girl Scout troop. I am now the director of a summer camp for children ages 3-15.

While Claire Dundee’s Gold Award project is, indeed, worthy of the number of column inches it received, I have problems with both its presence in the Sports section and the way Plaschke’s writing managed to simultaneously infantilize a mature teenage girl and diminish her considerable achievements.

It is so rare for The Times to feature any girl or woman on the cover of the section that my daughters have few opportunities to see role models in Sports.
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Perhaps if the Sports section actively covered women’s sports, I might not have had the reaction I did. But it is so rare for The Times to feature any girl or woman on the cover of the section that my daughters have few opportunities to see female role models in Sports. So the fact that the one girl the section did feature was lauded for having a grin “as sweet as a thin mint” made the reporter and mother in me cringe.

Instead of lauding Dundee as future NBA or WNBA general manager material, Plaschke used outdated tropes and stereotypes of women and girls, including the following insipid, sexist statements that, by the way, even made my older daughter cry foul (out loud) when she read the story:

“She’s ... standing there wearing one of those little-girl sashes filled with patches and buttons.” (That’s the sash that the middle school and high school girls in Girl Scouts wear -- pretty darn similar to the sash that Eagle Scouts wear, actually.) “The Girl Scout is not here because she’s trying to earn a badge by passing out water, leading cheers or arranging a post-game ice cream social.” (Really? Are we just dealing in stereotypes now? As it happens, none of those would earn a Girl Scout a badge.)

On Jan. 23, my daughters watched 17-year-old Mallory Pugh’s debut with the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team in San Diego. They were inspired. Here’s a girl of a similar age as Dundee, who has made the decision to forego turning pro and to attend UCLA in the fall. She is the youngest woman to play on a national soccer team in years.

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While I was glad to see that reporter Kevin Baxter (who I worked with a long time ago on The Times’ Book Review section and the Festival of Books) got to go to San Diego and write about the team, his story was relegated to page 2 in Sports the same day Plaschke’s column ran on the section’s front page. A further note about Pugh making the Olympic lead-up team was buried even farther inside last Wednesday’s paper.

I wonder: If Pugh had been a 17-year-old boy with similar credentials, making a similar decision or accomplishment, would the news judgment have been the same?

Cara Mia DiMassa is a former Times editor and reporter.

This piece is part of Blowback, our online forum for rebuttals to The Times. If you would like to write a full-length response to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed and would like to participate in Blowback, here are our FAQs and submission policy.

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