A funny thing happened last night when I least expected it.
I came across this picture of a Kentucky fan that bore a striking resemblance to “Poor Decision-Making Rob Lowe.”
Pretty funny right? It quickly swept its way across the Internet, giving the guy his 15 minutes of fame. My timeline was full of friends and even colleagues having a laugh at one of the most outrageous pictures you’ll ever see. Pretty harmless right?
A few minutes after I tweeted out the picture with the Rob Lowe caption, I see a reply enter my mentions column from someone I’ve followed and admired for years: Sports Illustrated Media Critic Richard Deitsch.
A quick backstory on Richard and I’s relationship. We’ve chatted a handful of times, over e-mail and Twitter, and I’ve even had work featured in his weekly Media Circus column over the years — something I considered a prestigious honor. Every now and then we’ll take part in some playful banter on Twitter about who-knows-what, but my fascination and passion for the world of sports and entertainment media makes his handle a must-follow. He’s lended me career advice and complimented my work enough times for me to think we’re on good terms.
So why was Richard making a thinly-veiled shot across the bow at me because of this picture? I have one (and that’s all this is) educated guess.
Richard and Clay Travis are mortal enemies, and have been for years. Last spring, I contributed to Clay’s website, Outkick the Coverage, for several months before leaving FOX Sports 1 for ESPNU. I won’t bore you with the details, but in short, Clay and Richard have their differences in how the landscape of sports media on the Internet (or any other platform, for that matter) should be used. Their Twitter Wars are memorable.
Richard made it no secret that my association with Clay was not a smart one in his eyes. From late December:
I didn’t feel the need to counter-punch. I took it in stride. Richard has told me in both private and public forum that he sees the potential in me, and to be honest I appreciate that he notices me at all. I’m 24 years old and very much still at the bottom of the mountain when it comes to achieving my career goals (more on that in a minute), so for Deitsch to take a seemingly invested (albeit smart-alecky) interest in me is nothing but reassuring.
The picture in question above is exactly the type of content Clay’s website thrives upon, so I can see where the connection between my tweet and my relationship with Clay could be drawn.
Let me make one thing clear now: I do not want to be Clay Travis. I could NEVER be Clay Travis. Clay has carved out a tremendous niche for himself based on a talent that is cleverly crafted and unique to him. He also has bigger balls than I could ever have. Is he a journalist? No, I wouldn’t say that. I don’t think he would either. He’s an entertainer, a satirist. He pokes the bear and crosses the line, and has become an extremely polarizing figure in my industry. Based on his current job, and income, I’d say he’s filling a void in the market pretty well. Even if I wanted to do what Clay does, I couldn’t.
Anyway, back to Thursday night’s Twitter kerfuffle.
Here are the next few tweets in our exchange:
(A quick clarification: the link Deitsch posted was of 50 Cent SMH’ing)
I tried to put out the fire quickly by explaining to Richard that I’m just having some fun on Twitter — which the last time I checked was perfectly OK — but RD wasn’t having it.
Richard and I have talked before about taping a podcast together. I’ve been wanting to start my own show for several years now and he is on the very short list of guests I would love to have on in the beginning.
Sadly, Richard made it clear I’ve fallen out of favor with him over my Twitter Joke. I’ve been reduced to another Hot Taker/Troll that no longer has any “promise.”
At this point in the exchange, I’m ready to move on. It is what is is. I’m not going to beg for Richard’s respect. That’s something I have to earn from anyone.
But then something happened that completely caught me by surprise — something I never thought I would read on this particular timeline.
Maybe Richard was putting his tongue in his cheek. Maybe it was all in good fun. Maybe he has a crush on me. Who knows?
It was then that I decided to take his advice and start doing some reporting.
For as long as Deitsch has owned a Twitter account, he has been a champion for gender equality and the fight against sexism/stereotypes in sports media (if not the world). He’s incredibly vocal in his praise for female sports personalities and is quick to criticize both fans and journalists who show disrespect towards females based on their appearance. I applaud him for that. I am a firm believer that there are plenty of women trying to make it in this male-dominated industry who should never have to hear or read, let alone pay attention to, people publicly shaming them about their appearance instead of focusing on their work. The television industry in particular is a shallow one, sadly, but it’s a battle that is entirely worth fighting.
So why, then, would Richard make a comment to me that makes him sound exactly like the naive and despicable fans he so strongly excoriates all the time?
Going back as far as 2011, here are some examples of Richard’s well-intentioned fight against sexism, gender stereotypes, and more:
Let’s start with the tweet in the upper left. Reducing someone’s work, self-worth and all-around humanity to an opinion based on looks is a horrible thing to do.
As you saw from last night, Richard tells me that eventually I’ll no longer be able to rely on my looks to do my job.
It’s funny though, because I didn’t start and run my own website covering ACC sports as a 19-year-old college sophomore because someone told me I was attractive. I didn’t break major news stories while on the Virginia Tech football beat, scooping seasoned professionals whose job it was to get those stories, because I have a crooked smile. ESPN didn’t hire me to intern as a researcher because of my blonde hair. They didn’t hire me back full-time in February of my senior year of college without even interviewing me again because they thought I was hot.
When I got to ESPN, I didn’t become (to my knowledge) the youngest person to ever sit in the producer’s chair during an ESPN studio broadcast because of my crooked nose. When my happily married, heterosexual boss left ESPN to join Fox Sports 1, he didn’t call me hours after leaving Bristol offering me a job to join him because I’m good-looking.
My Sports Emmy nomination at 23 years old was as a producer, not as a pretty face.
To be honest, if my career was determined by my physical appearance, I ought to be pretty ashamed right now. I’ve been in front of the camera for a grand total of maybe 30 minutes in my life. I’ve made a name for myself as a writer and a producer. If we’re being honest, looks are probably the last thing I have going for me right now. But hey, I was pretty tan (thanks LA) and actually smiled right for once in my Twitter avatar so Richard can judge away.
Anyone who truly knows me is well aware of what I hope to become one day. I am working towards becoming the best on-air sports personality I can be. I love sports (college sports mostly), I love talking about sports, and one day I hope to be paid enough to make a decent living doing just that. I love journalism and I think it is an extremely important enterprise in the world of sports today.
Here’s the thing, though: my job right now as a producer at ESPNU is to find the most entertaining content each day and put it on TV. Sometimes I’m assigned to cut montages for shows like the College Football Awards, National Signing Day, the Under Armour All-American Game, and more — assignments that require absolutely no journalistic practices whatsoever. To be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of it. But it’s my job and I do it to the best of my ability. Many other times, I’m charged with finding or creating viral stories across the web — which requires some basic journalistic skills — news judgement, timeliness, human interest — but no one is going to confuse me for Chief White House Correspondent any time soon. I do the job I’m paid to do. My bosses know where I hope to end up. If I do my job really well right now, it will hopefully open up those doors for me in the future.
In the cluster of tweets above, one of them includes Deitsch lamenting the fact that Cowherd did not back up an assertion made on his radio show with any factual evidence to support it. In my mind, that is exactly what Richard did at my expense Thursday night.
Am I mad? Not really.
I would never reduce anyone’s accomplishments to physical appearance, male or female, and to have one of the foremost voices in my business make a comment — even it was in jest (and I’d be giving him the benefit of the doubt to say that) — that belittles my career up to this point because of how I look, is shocking and insulting.
In 2013, Deitsch welcomed a panel of well-known female voices in sports media for a roundtable discussion on the evolution of the business.
Some of the questions included:
- How much sexism exists today in sports media?
- You are all on Twitter. How often do you get tweets related to your appearance, gender or race (or all of the above) and what impact do they have?
- What, if any, personal experiences do you have when it comes to sexism — either institutionalized or overt?
There was also a story he linked to back in December featuring a Q&A with Doris Burke:
The interview included questions about Burke’s family background, her basketball career, her preparation tactics and even her advice for handling the daunting Gregg Popovich sideline interviews. Yet in his tweet linking the piece, Deitsch described it as an interview “on gender criticism and the role of physical appearance for women in television.”
He’s right, it was an important topic in the interview. There is nothing the least bit wrong with him using that angle to sell the story to his 100,000+ followers.
Based on the information I’ve presented above — both the tweets and articles he’s either penned or linked to — it’s not hard to see that Richard has an agenda to publicize and subsequently eradicate the use of physical appearance as a tool for judgment on media personalities in sports.
I think I’ve made my point by now. The irony in his comments directed at me last night should be apparent to everyone.
Richard is 1000 times the journalist I am. He’s enjoyed a distinguished career that has afforded him a tremendous amount of influence in a business where that’s hard to come by. I’m sure he’s made mistakes far greater than this one in his career. I’m just a blip on his radar. I’ve made too many mistakes to count already and I do my best to learn from each and every one. I’m certainly not going to hold this against him for a long time. Honestly, I’ll be over it tomorrow. I just can’t sit back and let a titan like him send lightning strikes down on me from above without at least showing a little pride.
I have a lot to learn as my career unfolds. No one understands that more than me. Richard, if you’re reading this I hope you realize how valuable your column, tweets, and links have been in helping me along the twisted path I call a career. I hope that you continue to be such a valuable resource for me.
I just hope you don’t make the same mistake you did with me when the stakes are any higher.