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I expect Hollywood to screw things up when it comes depicting my profession. The latest example is the CBS so-called comedy Listen Up, which I predict will quickly go the opposite of up in terms of ratings. But the film Mr. 3000 offers a new low with its depiction of a female sports broadcaster. And ESPN, sadly, is a tacit accomplice. The only good news is Mr. 3000 will soon be rounding your local cineplex and making its way home. As in home video, and hopefully never to be heard from again.
Some background: The plot of the film centers on Bernie Mac playing a retired Brewers star named Stan Ross who, because of a statistical error, returns to the major leagues at age 47 in order to get the three hits he needs to reach the magical 3,000 mark. Angela Bassett, a terrific actress, plays an ESPN reporter assigned to the story. We soon learn that Bassett's character was a paramour of Mac's back in the day and faster than you can say Dream Job, she's overtly flirting with him. But it gets better. Or worse, in this case. Soon we see Bassett's character cheering Mac on from her seat in the press box. Now, I've been in at least a hundred different press boxes over the years and I have yet to see a single female sports reporter ever cheer outwardly. (I have seen a male broadcaster cheer outwardly, and his name is Dick Vitale.) Bassett's character soon continues down the path of the ethically challenged. She heads over to Mac's house and the two start bumping and grinding to Marvin Gaye's Let's Get It On. Eventually, Bassett ends up sleeping with Mac, complete with a post-coital scene featuring fluffy pillows and fluffier language. "I'll see you at the ballpark, slugger."
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While Hollywood has long sexualized its leading ladies and stereotyped plenty of other groups (for an exceptional primer on this, I invite you to listen to Public Enemy's seminal Burn Hollywood Burn), I'm stunned that ESPN would allow such a characterization in a film the network so clearly embraced and endorsed. Mr. 3000 features ESPN's logo early and often. Bassett's character uses an ESPN microphone for her interviews and the list of ESPN talent with cameos in Mr. 3000 reads like a prom committee meeting at Bristol High: Stuart Scott, Peter Gammons, Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon. It's one thing if a Hollywood screenwriter decides to sexualize a sports reporter (though it never seems to be a male sports reporter, does it?) but it's entirely different when an actress playing an ESPN reporter sleeps with a source in a movie that falls under the Disney banner. (Both ESPN and the film's distributor, Touchstone Pictures, are part of the Walt Disney Co.)
That's what has angered the president of the Association for Women in Sports Media, which counts hundreds of women in its organization. "Obviously if you are in this business, you realize what crap this is," says Joanne C. Gerstner, a sports writer at the Detroit News and president of AWSM. "But if you're not in the business, I don't think people understand what we do. The first question I get asked from people if I'm out on a speaking engagement is: 'What's it like in the locker room? Are you there for the athletes?' They don't get what we do. We're still females coming into a male bastion. So when there are things out there that are so far beyond the norm, it is damaging. And let's be honest. Something that's onscreen in this format is much more damaging and much more impression-forming than seeing a women standing in front of Giants Stadium doing a report." Gerstner, who saw the film two weeks ago, said she's heard from both print and electronic reporters in her organization about the movie. "They were like, 'What the hell? Here we go again,'" Gerstner said. "Obviously, my group was not thrilled. ... And I'm upset for (ESPN's) Linda Cohn, Shelley Smith and all the women who work there."
Asked for a reaction to Gerstner's comments, ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz said it was important to separate fact from fiction. "It's a comedy movie, it's fiction, not real life," Krulewitz said. "Our record in real life speaks for itself." Indeed, the real-life record is pretty good, which makes this tacit approval of such a character all the more disturbing. Suzy Kolber is considered among the best, if not the best NFL sideline reporter on television. Doris Burke, in my opinion, is the top st basketball analyst at the network, man or woman. Pam Ward is an emerging play-by-play star. Cohn, Smith, Andrea Kremer, Chris McKendry, Cara Capuano (no longer at ESPN), Debbie Antonelli, Ann Meyers, Alex Flanagan, Beth Mowins, Rachel Nichols, Cindy Brunson (and I could go on) are total pros. One wonders how a network that has done well to showcase talented female professionals would endorse a movie in which a character playing a female ESPN reporter sleeps with the athlete she is covering. Bassett herself was asked how she researched her role. "Well, I looked at a lot of different videos of female sports journalists from ESPN, SportsCenter," she said. I'll presume those videos didn't involve cozying up to athletes in the bedroom, cooing lines such as "the best sex I ever had with you." But that's what Bassett says to Mac in the film.
"Would we accept this situation in real life? The answer is no," Krulewitz says. "And it could happen in reverse with a male reporter and if it happened in either case, male or female, we would have to modify the assignment immediately." Krulewitz said neither he nor executives at SportsCenter were aware of any ESPN female staffers complaining about the Bassett character, though broadcasting is usually the last place you'll find a Norma Rae. Gerstner said her organization for the most part has a "great" relationship with ESPN. The network sponsors activities and is part of a scholarship program. That's why it's disappointing that ESPN can be enlightened on one hand and miss the boat with this. "In the real world Angela Bassett would lose her job," says Gerstner. "Someone who was at the level of an ESPN reporter would be a moral journalist that would have their stuff together. I was shocked and saddened when I saw the movie. But sadly I'm not surprised because there has been a recent trend of women in this business being portrayed as sluts. I've only been in the business for 12 years and I just pray someday we will get to the point where I won't have to discuss these things because they won't be happening." Gerstner said AWSM has discussed as a group how to formally respond to Bassett's character. For now, she said silence may be the best weapon. "We're talking about it," Gerstner says, "but frankly because the movie is going away so quickly, we don't want to give it anymore legs by protesting."
In other news...
CSTV's on-air talent lineup improved dramatically this week with the addition of hockey announcer Mike Emrick, who will call CSTV Friday Night Hockey games for the duration of the lockout, including the network's season opener on October 8 when North Dakota plays at Maine. Emrick has called seven Stanley Cup Finals, three Winter Olympics, five NHL All-Star Games and has been the lead play-by-play voice of the New Jersey Devils the past 11 seasons. It's the broadcasting rental of the year.
ESPN's third sports movie, Hu$tle, drew a 1.4 rating or 1.24 million households. That's low compared with its ratings for The Junction Boys, which drew more than 3 million viewers for its premiere. But here's one interesting note: The first re-airing of the film, which took place between 3 and 5 a.m. last Sunday morning, drew an impressive 0.6 rating and nearly 500,000 viewers.
Here are three programs you'll be talking about next week at the water cooler.
They'recalling it Shakedown Saturday in the SEC as No. 3 Georgia hosts No. 13 LSU In the afternoon (CBS, 3:45) followed by this nightcap in Knoxville. The Vols are currently rotating two quarterbacks but unfortunately none are named Manning.
Oct. 3, 1:30 p.m., NBC, EA Sports 500, Talladega Speedway
NBC will air the final eight races of the Chase for the Nextel Cup, beginning with a restrictor plate race (read: crash-filled) from the 2.66-mile monstrous track. Jeff Gordon holds a one-point lead over Kurt Busch but keep your eye on Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has won four of the last six races at Talladega and finished second in the two races he didn't win.
Oct. 3, 7 p.m., CBS, 60 Minutes
Mike Wallace interviews somebody a lot younger than him: Cowboys coach Bill Parcells. Among the revelations: Success in football is about getting in people's faces. "It's about letting them know who the boss is -- even if a few of your players take a swing at you," Parcells tells Wallace. "We've had a few [players take a swing at him]. That's O.K.. I think confrontation is healthy because it clears the air very quickly."