Cris Collinsworth’s Remark About Female Steelers Fans Is Perfect Example Of 2020 Media Controversy

NBC’s Cris Collinsworth was trying to compliment Steelers fans during Pittsburgh’s matchup Wednesday with the Baltimore Ravens. Instead, the longtime NFL broadcaster wound up dismissing the knowledge of female football fans, saying he was impressed with the level of questions the women in Pittsburgh had asked him during his visit. The poor phrasing resulted in immediate online backlash, with prominent outlets such as Deadspin and USA Today Sports criticizing him with sharply worded nighttime editorials.

Late on Wednesday night, Collinsworth issued an apology on Twitter, and said he regrets his wording. The mea culpa has been received favorably, and now, Collinsworth is no longer trending. He will not be canceled; the controversy has passed.

Collinsworth’s roughly six-hour ride from villain to forgiven embodies our 2020 media culture. The backlash against his wording was warranted, but the reaction was still over-the-top.

In the second quarter of the contest, Collinsworth clumsily complimented female Steelers fans in condescending fashion. “Everybody is a fan,” he said. “Particularly, the ladies that I met. They have really specific questions about the game. I was like ‘wow,’ just blown away by it.”

When asked for comment, NBC Sports directed me towards Collinsworth’s apology.

Collinsworth’s phrasing was regrettable, and plain out wrong. For starters, he works every week with Michele Tafoya, who’s been covering the NFL for nearly two decades. A litany of women cover the league on a daily basis for all mediums: print, digital, radio and broadcast. The days of women being anomalies in football locker rooms are long gone.

Making matters worse, Collinsworth’s comments came during a historic week for women in football. Vanderbilt kicker Sarah Fuller became the first woman to appear in a Power 5 game, and Callie Brownson became the first woman to serve as a position coach for an NFL team when she coached the Cleveland Browns’ tight ends last Sunday. There are multiple full-time female assistants in the NFL, including Katie Sowers, an offensive assistant for the San Francisco 49ers who became the first female and openly gay coach in Super Bowl history this year.

Women belong in football, and they are in football. In addition to being patronizing, Collinsworth seemed out of date.

Despite the progress in recent years, there remains an immense gender gap in sports media, which is probably why Collinsworth’s words weren’t immediately dismissed as an unfortunate verbal slip. While women comprise 40% of participants in sports, they receive only 4% of the coverage. That’s likely attributable to the lack of gender diversity industry-wide. In 2017, women had only 11.4% of sports story bylines. Last year, the Women’s Media Center graded sports desks at 75 of the nation’s newspapers and online sites with a “B+” for racial diversity, but a “D+” for gender and racial diversity combined.

Unintended or not, Collinsworth’s comments were made on a national NFL broadcast, and fuel into antiquated stereotypes women in sports are still fighting today. Overall, it’s a positive societal development his words were so widely rebuked.

But as we’ve seen continually, online hyperactivity can exaggerate episodes. Headlines referred to Collinsworth’s “sexist comment” or plain out “sexism” without offering further context. The loud phrasing makes it seem as if Collinsworth did more than engage in sloppy cross-talk.

In his apology, Collinsworth owned up to his mistake. “Today on our broadcast I made reference to a couple of women I met in Pittsburgh who so impressed me with their football knowledge that I wanted to tell their story on the air,” he wrote. “I know the way I phrased it insulted many. I’m so sorry. What I intended as a compliment to the fans of Pittsburgh, became an insult.

“I’m sick about insulting any fan, but especially female fans and journalists. I know first hand how much harder they have to work than any of us in this industry. I was wrong and deeply apologize.”

Collinsworth’s apology is contrite and he doesn’t make excuses. It’s the proper way to handle these kinds of missteps, because ultimately, that’s what this was. It was a mistake.

Righteous furor can simultaneously be accurate and overboard. As we near the end of 2020, it’s important to keep that in mind.

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