If baseball can have a female pundit why can’t football?

I was watching ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” on Tuesday evening and noticed something surprising. There was a woman on the programme (a rare sight on sports programming). Her name is Jessica Mendoza and if that wasn’t a big enough surprise her role on the programme was even more surprising. Unlike say Gabby Logan when she appeared on “Match of The Day” she was not the host she was an expert pundit contributing her opinions on ball games, teams and individual players. She even appeared on the show’s demo field analysing the swing of batters like the Baltimore Orioles’ Chris Davis showing how he could regain the form that brought him an MLB leading 53 home runs in 2013. And very good she was too. It was a shame she was only on for three nights (though the host said she’d be back).
The interesting point is that Mendoza’s sporting career was not in baseball but softball, a sport which is often regarded as women’s baseball but as Marilyn Cohen (“No Girls in the Clubhouse, page 14) points out they are different sports with different rules and even their own governing bodies. Yet despite the fact her career was in a different sport – she was a 2004 Olympic gold medalist in softball and won the silver in 2008 – ESPN still considered her qualified to comment on baseball.
What a contrast to British football which still doesn’t have a female pundit on male football despite the fact that male football and female football have more in common with each other than baseball has with softball. Football is generally more progressive than baseball – while a young girl in England can now dream of playing for say Liverpool,Arsenal,Chelsea or Manchester City – if not Manchester United* – her American equivalent cannot dream of playing for the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers or any other franchise for that matter since the MLB teams do not even have women’s softball teams never mind baseball ones.
Yet baseball has had a good month when it comes to gender equality. As well as the appearance of Mendoza on “Baseball Tonight” there was the story of 13-year old phenom Mo’Ne Davis who was the star of the Little League World Series becoming the first girl to pitch a shutout in the Little League World Series, and even being on the cover of US magazine Sports Illustrated. It is highly likely there will be more girls playing Little League next year since they now know they can play and will overcome the Little League “don’t ask don’t tell” policy.
As for football there is now no reason not to have women being pundits on the mens game. The argument that women cannot talk about mens sport since they don’t play with men has been blown out of the water by Mendoza. She was as knowledgeable as her male co pundit Alex Cora – an ex Major League player. The BBC, Sky and BT Sport must take heed. There is no reason not to have Kelly Smith debating the form of strikers with Alan Shearer on Match of the Day, or for Casey Stoney to be arguing with Gary Neville on Sky’s “Monday Night Football” about defending. Football’s excuses for excluding women as pundits are wearing very thin.
*Manchester United scrapped their women’s team in 2005. They still don’t have one.

To clean up football will take zero tolerance

I don’t usually write about the same subject twice in a row, but I must go back to the Malky Mackay affair. In an article in the Sunday Telegraph Jason Burt wrote that
“The allegations they face expose a subculture within a sport that is already dripping in arrogance. It is a distasteful subculture of bigotry and insularity. It is macho and arrogant and points to a boorish insistence that they know best and can do what they want”.
He’s hit the nail on the head. Football is like that because it can do what it wants. An example. In every other industry if I were an employer I could employ anyone who I think is qualified for the job. Nationality and gender are irrelevant. Yet in football Chelsea have to offload a player before September 1st – provided he is foreign that is – to satisfy a Premier League rule. That rule is racist. It must go. And very quickly. Also elite women have to play on artificial turf – both at the 2015 World Cup and in the Women’s Super League (WSL) in England (Liverpool and Everton’s women’s teams play on artificial turf).The Liverpool and Everton men play on grass. That is sexist. It must change. And very quickly.
My point is: if the rules of football are racist and sexist (they are) is it any wonder some people in the sport are too? In industries where the Sex Discrimination Act did apply there has been progress in gender equality (not enough but progress). Football has made very little. If the Race Relations Act and the Sex Discrimination Act* had never been passed equality in the UK would be far less advanced today than it is. The law matters.
However there are other problems. The UK media has a lot to answer for. When the Sun has naked women on Page 3 – and offers a date with one as a prize in its Dream Team competition – you know it is not just football that has problems. And Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger – in one of the most depressing remarks of the year – said that an active Premier League player will not come out as gay because of “media interest”. If that is true the press should be ashamed of itself.
So what should be done? Jason Burt wrote that Mackay must never coach a football club again. Quite right. But we must go further. Anyone involved in football – players, coaches, managers, journalists, TV pundits and fans – must be told that any racist, sexist, homophobic or anti semitic behaviour will mean a ban of at least five years and possibly life. It should be a clause in every player’s contract, and be written on every match ticket. Everybody would know where they stood and there would be no arguments. And NO exceptions. And if a footballer is convicted of rape or sexual assault he should be banned for life.
That might seem draconian. But if we want this sport cleaned up there is no other way. Baseball proves this. After World War One baseball had a major gambling problem which reached its nadir in 1919 with the “Black Sox” scandal where eight members of the Chicago White Sox were accused of throwing that year’s World Series. To his credit baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis – that is his real name -took ruthless action. The eight players were banned for life, and baseball rule 21 (d) banning betting on ball games by players – even in games not involving their own team – was introduced. To baseball’s eternal credit when a big name was accused of betting on the sport they did not shirk their duty. Even though the big name was Pete Rose – baseball’s all time hit leader and an American icon. Rose accepted a life ban from baseball on August 24th 1989 (although shamefully he denied betting on ball games until 2004 when he finally came clean in his book). In 1991 he was also banished from baseball’s Hall of Fame**. Some people including Eduardo Perez on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight think the ban should be lifted. NO. He knew the rules. He still bet on ball games. And then lied for 15 years. He deserves no sympathy. New baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred MUST stand firm.
If we want to rid football of the cancer of racism sexism and homophobia the sport must show the same zero tolerance that baseball has on gambling. the sport must be forced to obey the law of the country. It must have a minimum five-year ban for any racist sexist or homophobic behaviour. And it MUST NOT make an exception for big name stars.
I suspect none of this will happen and football will try to sweep it under the carpet yet again. But that carpet is getting rather full of nasty affairs. And it is beginning to stink.
*These Acts were replaced in 2010 by the Equality Act.
**Rose is in a Hall of Fame however. In 2004 he was inducted into the celebrity wing of World Wrestling Entertainment’s Hall of Fame. Obviously WWE owner Vince McMahon was not concerned about betting on baseball games.

Scotland’s shame…and pride?

I was going to write about something else today. But something happened yesterday that made me so angry I had to write what I am about to write. I’m still angry even as I type this.
I’ll start with a question. Apart from being blatantly sexist what do the following remarks have in common?

“If I had my way today’s Premiership fixture between Motherwell and Ros County would have been cancelled. That’s because Fir Park should have ben torched on Thursday in order to cleanse the stadium after it played host to women’s football.”

“Can you believe that? Women don’t know the offside rule”. Why is there a female linesman? Somebody’s —- up big”.

“But put political correctness to one side and ask whether the clamour for equality justifies the amount of cash resources being thrown at it (women’s football) when grassroots football is in neglect”.

“I hope she’s looking after your needs. I bet you’d love a bounce on her falseies”

“She’s dragged herself out of the kitchen”.

The answer is that they all involved Scots. From the top down Tam Cowan, Andy Gray, Gordon “Jurassic” Parks* Malky Mackay (I don’t know if him or Ian Moody wrote that text) and Sir Alex Ferguson (to a female journalist on International Women’s Day 2013). To my mind that is more than a coincidence. Five different Scots involved in sexist remarks. Add to that Alan Brazil’s remarks about Robin Williams’ suicide and George Galloway MP and his views about rape and you have a clear pattern. Scotland is a sexist backwater full of dinosaurs. Frankly if I was running an English football club I would not employ a Scottish manager. if I ran an english TV or radio station I would not employ an ex Scottish player as a pundit. I don’t know why Scotland is like this. My mother – god rest her soul – called non whites “Pakis” – we had furious arguments over this – and of course the West of Scotland is full of sectarianism. Also the current independence referendum has turned nasty with “No” posters being vandalised by the SNP’s lunatic fringe. I am ashamed to be from Scotland. And yet as I will write later there is another side to this story…
But before I go on to that two further points about the Mackay affair. The League Manager’s Association (LMA) called the texts (there were also racist and homophobic remarks) “banter”– a word with which we are becoming depressingly familiar with and seems to be becoming a catch all defence to allow people in football to say what they want. I know a trade union – which is what the LMA is – is meant to defend their members but there are – or should be – limits. Even worse is an article in today’s “Daily Telegraph” in which Henry Winter writes “Educators must take action as FA will not”. The FA should not be investigating this. As I have said before football should have an independent regulator – most other UK industries do – which could investigate matters like this. Having the FA investigate is like having football investigate itself. It won’t work.
But back to Scotland. Despite the fact that the country would appear to be a sexist backwater there are signs of hope. A Scot – Andy Murray – has appointed a female coach. A Scottish club – Stirling University has just this week appointed a female manager – Shelly Kerr. Of the four main political parties in Scotland two have female leaders and another has a female deputy leader.
And in a bizarre paradox this sexist backwater has a good women’s national team that has at least a 50-50 chance of going to the World Cup in Canada next year. It has produced in my opinion the best female player in Britain’s history Rose Reilly** as well as Julie Fleeting and an early female football pioneer in Nettie Honeyball. The current Scottish women’s football team has players like Kim Little – the Americans wish she could play for them – and Lisa Evans who plays for one of the beat teams in Europe Turbine Potsdam. Frankly Scotland has got a NWT it does not deserve (its home games are shown live on BBC Alba – a Gaelic channel so the commentary is not in English!). Frankly if this team qualifies for the World Cup amid the hatred of the sexists it would be an amazing feat. Good luck to them. If they play in Canada next year hopefully they will get support and show Scotland in a different light.

*A sports journalist with the Scottish Daily Record (the nickname is mine). He thinks football in Scotland should not be on TV – a view that died out elsewhere in the 1980s – and that fans should be allowed to drink alcohol at grounds. In a country where there are riots at Rangers v Celtic youth games that is asking for trouble. I bet he wishes James Callaghan was still in Number 10…

**Rose Reilly deserves to have a book written about her. Banned from Sottish women’s football for life in 1975 she carved out a career in Europe. She won an unoffical women’s World Cup with Italy (her adopted country) in 1983 scoring a 40 yard goal in the Final. Among her feats was winning the League title in two different nations in the same season (1978-79.). That season she played on Saturday evenings for Italian team Lecce and Sunday afternoons for French team Reims – and both won their League titles! Add to that the fact that Jock Stein’s Celtic sent a scout to watch her when she played for her local boys club (she had to cut her hair short and call herself Ross to play for them. When her ruse got discovered she was banned) and you have a remarkable person. And I stand by my view that she is the best female player Britain has produced although she is from my part of the world (North Ayrshire) so I could be biased.

Finally the British journalist and academic Carrie Dunn is doing a sponsored 10k walk on September 28th to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Society. If anyone reading this is on Facebook or Twitter please ask their followers to go to http://www.justgiving.com.carries-memory-walk280914 and donate to this wonderful cause.

Too much too young

An unusual sporting event starts in Williamsport, Virginia. It is the Little league World Series a baseball tournament for 11-13 year olds. The unusual thing about it is it is live on ESPN Television in the USA and has been on American TV since 1953. It used to be on TV in the UK too but not now. I could never watch it anyway – partly because Little League’s record on gender equality is awful* but mainly because in my opinion treating children like professional athletes is just wrong.
You think I’m exaggerating? This appeared in the Boston Globe in 2004 (reprinted in Eileen McDonagh and Laura Pappano’s excellent “Playing With the Boys” (page 242) and is about the response to a team of Little Leaguers from Saugus, Massachusetts in 2003:

Highlights from their Little League games were even shown on the jumbotron at Fenway Park. When the team returned home and the bus pulled into the high school parking lot on Aug 25, the players were greeted by 200 fans. As the police held the crowd back, the Little leaguers signed T-shirts, baseballs and hats on the back of a pick up truck that said “Saugus Americans, New England regional champs”.The team was also honoured by the Red Sox, and with a motorcade through Saugus”.

And this for a team of children – who weren’t even American champions. For the team that did win the US Championship – from East Boynton Beach Florida – “recognition came during Game 3 of the Major League World Series between the New York Yankees and the Florida (now Miami) Marlins. The boys met President George W Bush and Florida governor Jeb Bush and were recognised at a Miami Dolphins (American) football game. As McDonagh and Pappano say (page 242-3) this reveals a system seriously out of kilter. It will be virtually impossible for those Little League players to do anything in the future without it being noted they were members of that team. That is true even if they make it to the majors. Todd Frazier of the Cincinnati Reds is an all star and runner-up in the 2014 Home Run Derby. And still they mention the fact he was a member of the Toms River New Jersey team that won the 1998 Little League World Series.
Of course this does not just apply to baseball. Women’s tennis used to be full of 14-year-old whizzkids – Austin, Jaeger, Hingis, Seles, Capriati – but most of them burned out too young. The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) quite rightly introduced a rule that stops anyone under 15 from playing at all and limits the events 15 to 17-year-olds can play. The result? Fewer cases of burnout and 20 is considered young to be a Grand Slam finalist these days.
Not that we in Britain can gloat. Anyone who attends a boys’ football match in Britain can hear parents shouting at young children while living out their fantasies and pretending to be Mourinho or Wenger. It is an obscene spectacle and quite rightly the FA are trying to stop it.
Nor is this unique to sport. In 1974 a 10-year-old called Lena Zavaroni won Opportunity Knocks (think Britain’s Got Talent) for five weeks in a row. But the fame destroyed her. By 13 she was anorexic, and by 15 she was clinically depressed. It is at least possible her early fame was a factor.
And we haven’t learned the lesson, even today. Just last week Simon Cowell and Cheryl Cole had a row over 14-year olds in the X Factor (he was for she was against). Cheryl is right. The age limit should be 16.
The point I am making – wither in sport or show business – is just let children be children. Don’t treat them like professional performers until they are ready. Let them enjoy their sport or their signing. There is plenty of time for money and fame when they are old enough to cope with it. And Little League should not be televised. Let the children enjoy themselves. Free from TV cameras and media hype.

*In 1951 Little League Baseball(LLB) introduced a rule saying “girls are not eligible under any conditions”. In 1974 they had to admit girls after they lost a New Jersey court case and the US government passed legislation allowing girls to play. Their response was to set up Little League Softball for girls on the basis that girls (aged 11-13!) could not play baseball with boys. According to John Kovach (“Where’s the Ponytail?” 2007)”At almost every Little League season sign up if you are female you are sent to the softball line and not told you have a choice. The choice is made for you”. Since 1974 only 18 girls have played in the Little League World Series – the 17th and 18th are playing this year. It could be said LLB lost the battle in 1974 but won the war. And to think this organisation has a Federal charter from the US government – meaning that “its mission and values should support those of the United States government”. I did not know it was US government policy to deny girls freedom of choice. LLB, in my opinion, must be the most sexist sports organisation in the world.

Sorry alex: Why I’m voting “No” on September 18th

Tonight sees the biggest debate in the brief history of televised political debates in the UK when Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond and former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling go head to head on Scottish Television (STV). Why is it so important? The future of the UK is at stake.
For on September 18th Scottish voters go to the polls to decide if Scotland should be independent in a referendum we didn’t want with a choice we don’t want to make. How did it come to this?
To find the answer you have to go back to the Scottish Parliament elections of 2011. Most voters wanted Alex Salmond re-elected with more seats but not a majority. But he and the Scottish National Party (SNP) won a majority for two reasons. One was Nick Clegg going into coalition with the hated (in Scotland) Tories sending his vote in Scotland into meltdown. The second was a bizarre affair known as the “Meatball Marinara Incident” where then Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray was chased by a group of anti-cuts campaigners into a Glasgow branch of Subway – all in front of TV cameras! Gray was humiliated in the press being called “chicken” the Labour vote also went into meltdown and the SNP won a landslide with 69 out of 129 seats – amazingly under a PR system designed to stop one party winning a majority. The SNP majority meant a referendum on independence was inevitable – and yet it was hardly ever mentioned in the campaign. It was more a case of as Herbert Morrison (Peter Mandelson’s grandfather) said of the 1950 UK General election “The British electorate has a habit of knowing what it wants and a habit of overdoing the getting of what it wants” (quoted in the British General Election of February 1974 page 268). Substitute the word “Scottish” for “British” and you have what happened in 2011.
So we got a referendum we didn’t want. Even more bizarre, most Scots according to the polls want more powers for Scotland but within the UK – the so called “Devo max” option – which is not on the ballot paper – because Alex Salmond and UK Prime Minister David Cameron couldn’t agree – so we will be voting on two options – independence or the status quo – that we don’t want. What a shambles!
So why will I be voting “No”/ First I don’t like Alex Salmond. As Iain Macwhirter writes (in “Road to Referendum” page 271) “Salmond genuinely feels that every Scot of whatever background living in Scotland should support the SNP. He can’t see why people won’t”. I suppose Vladimir Putin feels the same about the Russian people!
Second Britain is a small island – as Mr Putin said recently – so why weaken it even more by splitting it into two parts?. As the current centenary of the start of World War One shows us Britain combined has achieved great things. Things it could not do divided. United we stand divided we fall!
Thirdly there are too many questions Salmond has not answered. Here are just a few.
What would the currency be – the pound the euro or something else?
Would an independent Scotland be allowed to stay in the EU?
If the answer to the above is “No” and we had to reapply how long would it take – or would we be accepted? Remember at least two other EU nations – Spain and Belgium – have nationalist factions and won’t want to see an EU country break up – or want a new state to become a member.
How would an independent Scotland defend itself?
Would a UK Government insist on passport controls at the border to stop immigrants getting into England through Scotland?
How much would it cost to set up Scottish embassies abroad?
What happens when the oil runs out – or if the price of oil falls?
Would we still get the BBC programmes we like post independence? Would we get Sky or BT – both British companies – if we’re not British?
And that list is the tip of the iceberg. And it leads to my main reason for voting “No”. Independence is a “leap in the dark”. We don’t know if it is good for Scotland until it happens. But – and it is a big but – it we vote for independence we cannot reverse this decision. We are stuck with it forever. It is not like say voting for Ed Miliband to be Prime Minister in 2015. If we think he is rubbish we can turf him out in 2020. If we vote for independence we can not do that. And that in my opinion makes independence far too big a risk.
Finally I should say that the SNP’s internet supporters – the “Cybernats” as they are known – do not like people speaking out against them and heap abuse on anyone who dares to speak out – as the author JK Rowling recently found out. I’ve got a message for any “Cybernat” reading this. Say what you want. You won’t bully me!

Moeen Ali, sport and politics

As well as writing this blog I sometimes comment on stories on the Daily Telegraph’s website. The debates can be “interesting” but I’ve never caused so much trouble as I did with my comments on the Moeen Ali affair. So I’m using this platform to explain my views on this issue.
For those who don’t know Moeen Ali is an english muslim cricketer who during the third Test between England and India came out to bat wearing wristbands saying “free Gaza” and “save Palestine”. The ECB who run english cricket said he’d done nothing wrong but the ICC the sport’s equivalent of FIFA banned him from wearing them. To my mind as a human being concerned about the death of children he had every right to comment on that issue. But the Telegraph’s readers slaughtered him coming out with that old chestnut “sport should be kept out of politics”.
There is one problem with this argument. Sport can’t be kept out of politics. The late great Nelson Mandela would confirm this. As did ex Pakistani cricketer Asif iqbal when he said “Sport is politicised the moment nation states take the decision to enter the sporting arena under their national banners” (Anyone but England, Mike Marquesee, page 250) Or Jennifer Doyle when she said “there is no such thing as an apoltical space” (The Sport Spectacle, Olympic Problem, August 2013). Sport is part of the real world. So is politics. They can’t avoid each other.
That raises the question: Why does the sporting establishment want to keep sport out of politics? What I am going to say now is just my theory. It might or might not be true.
I think – and most people would agree – that the sporting establishment can be racist, sexist homophobic, authoritarian and corrupt. Some governing bodies might be all of the above. As Margaret Talbot* says “sport remains one of the most conservative and inflexible areas of public life, lagging far behind other social structures”. Jean Williams has said “In England at least the topic of women’s sports should be more politicised” (A Game for Rough Girls? page 150). And Des Wilson ** asked “is sport accountable to no one? Why should it be unique in its ability to be so?”. Wilson has hit the nail on the head. The sporting establishment does not want to be accountable for its behaviour so by spreading the myth that sport and politics should be kept apart it prevents itself from suffering its worst nightmare. An independent regulator for sport as suggested by William Buckland in his book “Pommies” (pages 264-5) something that other industries face. Put simply the sporting establishment wants to do whatever it likes.
There is one irony though. By choosing dictatorships to host sporting events – from the 1934 World Cup to this years’ Winter Olympics – the sporting establishment causessport to be politicised as dictators from Mussolini to Putin use sports events as their “political plaything”. The sporting establishment in my opinion likes dictatorships – no pesky free press or protesters to worry about – so much so they don’t even realise they are bringing politics into their own events – the one thing they say they don’t want to do.
As for Moeen Ali yesterday he took six wickets to help win the Test match for England while being cheered by the crowd. That suggests either the public forgave him for his protest – or that they thought he had done nothing wrong in the first place. Either way the bigots of the “Torygraph” and the ICC are out of touch with the British public. Not for the first time…
*She was speaking at a European Women and Sport conference in 2000, but what she said could still apply today.
** Des Wilson is an interesting man. A New Zealander who came to Britain in 1960, among other things he founded the housing charity Shelter, stood as a Liberal candidate in Hove in 1973 and February 1974 and was the campaign manager of the Lib Dems in 1992. He was also a director of BAA plc and has written books on poker. He took a job at the ECB in 2003 but resigned a year later when he made the quote I used above. Described as an “anti-establishment radical” it will surprise no one that he is not now a Lib Dem and has been scathing about Nick Clegg (although he left the Lib Dems long before 2010). What does surprise me is that he took a job with the conservative and establishment ECB in the first place and it was no surprise to me he didn’t last long.