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Mina Kimes-Jeff Garcia Uproar Shows Unfair Expectation of Women in Sports Media

“This idea that [Kimes] or any other woman working in sports media is insulated from the most personal, most biting criticism because of their gender is ludicrous.”

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Like most media members, I’ve dealt with insults online. I’ve seen my firing celebrated, had a troll call my dead father a failure, and then there was the time a talk-show host at a rival station asked on Twitter whether my wife was mentally challenged.

A woman in sports media would call this a slow Tuesday.

I don’t think I’m exaggerating nor do I believe that the majority of men in this industry would disagree with the fact that women are targeted by online abuse more frequently and more viciously. There’s not really any comparison, which is why — a week later — I remain completely baffled over the online debate that followed Jeff Garcia’s never-played-the-game criticism of ESPN’s Mina Kimes.

What started with a clear example of one way women in sports media are consistently singled out and diminished (something that happens often) became a discussion over whether women are overly insulated from criticism on social media (something that does NOT happen).

The one constant in the discussion: a woman was the focal point for the debate.

First, she was the target of Garcia’s criticism. Then, it was the validity of that abuse before finally settling into a debate over how people are expected to handle that abuse as part of the job. It is a cycle that is readily identifiable, one that churns on regardless of whether the object of the criticism participates in the discussion or not. This is unfair for many reasons, the foremost being that the issue isn’t about women. It’s about men, and how men react to other men being criticized.

I don’t know how to fix this. But I am interested in finding ways to better support women in sports media, though, so I think it’s worth putting a microscope over this specific instance to try and see how the online dialogue remained centered on a woman who neither started, nor perpetuated, the issue. Let’s go back to the beginning:

Stage 1: The Callout

In assessing the San Francisco 49ers’ victory in Green Bay on First Take, Kimes compared quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the kid in the group project who gets an “A” despite doing none of the work. A 49ers fan account on Instagram posted the quote with a picture of Garoppolo. Jeff Garcia commented, asking who Kimes thought she was to make such a conclusion never having played quarterback in the NFL.

Garcia’s opinion was roundly condemned for good reason. You don’t need to have performed professionally to critique a performance. Not in art. Not in music. Not in tackle football.

However, that never-played-the-game criticism hits differently when it is applied to women because, in the case of professional football, it disqualifies all women outright. This lack of experience has historically been used to either deny women opportunities or to diminish the validity of their expertise.

Kimes was hardly alone in criticizing Garoppolo. In fact, I think it was a prevailing opinion that the 49ers beat the Packers more in spite of the quarterback than because of him.

Domonique Foxworth said on the very same network that Garoppolo should be benched for Trey Lance in the NFC Championship Game. There was no word from Garcia on the validity of Foxworth’s opinion as a former cornerback, not a former quarterback.

As for Kimes, Garcia told 95.7 The Game that he singled out Kimes because her opinion is the one he saw, which is theoretically possible, and this is where it should have ended: Garcia said something dumb. He was urged to pipe down. The end.

Except it was not the end.

Stage 2: The Pushback

This was not a defense of the original bad opinion. No. This became a question of why people are so upset about what is merely a bad opinion, which is inevitably attributed to gender. These guys are just protecting women. The term “white knight” was invoked. “Virtue signaling” was used.

Suddenly, it’s not Garcia’s poor never-played-the-game rationale that is being evaluated because everyone agrees that’s pretty stupid. But he’s allowed to be stupid. Now, the question is Kimes’s expertise, which is entirely subjective. Here’s an example from a guy who has written quite a bit about the Patriots:

Now, I might give this point a little more credence if the issue was the progression of quarterback reads or assessing a blown coverage. But the issue at hand is (checks notes) a metaphor in which Garoppolo was compared to a kid in a group project who gets the benefit of his peers after a game San Francisco won without the offense scoring a touchdown.

Apparently, some people believe that only a former NFL quarterback has the experience necessary to complete such a figure of speech. Why someone other than Garcia’s mother would go to these lengths to defend him is beyond me, but it happened.

Stage 3: The Free-for-all

By Thursday, sufficient people had amassed on opposing sides of the issue that Twitter noticed. “Mina Kimes” was listed as “Trending” followed by this description: “Sports journalist Mina Kimes responds to criticism against her on social media from former NFL QB Jeff Garcia that some are calling out as sexist.”

Several things happened here that are worth noticing. Kimes — who was the target of the criticism — is now placed as the subject. This is partly because of her prominence as an analyst, but mostly it’s because she has become a proxy for an argument that really doesn’t have anything to do with her. On the one side are the people who, as a rule, want less sexism and less racism in public statements. On the other side are the people who believe race and gender are invoked entirely too often.

The second thing to notice is that the online argument bears absolutely no resemblance to reality. “Mina Kimes responds.” Really? To the best of my knowledge, the only way she addressed it publicly was to quote-tweet Garcia’s original comment with the observation, “Guess I was the only one who criticized Jimmy Garoppolo.” The comments from Garcia are soft-peddled as “some are calling out as sexist” and it’s the reaction to those comments that is now framed as the issue.

Stop for a second and think about the position this places Kimes in. She’s trying to do her job while people are shouting over her head online about whether it’s OK to criticize her opinions, which is patently absurd. Of course, it’s OK to criticize her opinions. It is baked into her very job. Debate is a central theme in the shows she appears on.

Not only that, but this idea that she or any other woman working in sports media is insulated from the most personal, most biting criticism because of their gender is ludicrous given the obvious and unapologetic stream of documented abuse they face simply by being women in this traditionally male space.

Yet in this case, an attempt to publicly point out an example of this somehow winds up being twisted and contorted until it’s a discussion not of the abuse that women face, but of the expectation that they endure it.

The problem here is one of focus. The issue here is not about women. It’s about men, and more specifically, the inability of some men to watch another man be criticized, let alone be challenged themselves.

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