Not sure what’s in the sports media water right now, but it’s very contentious. If you peruse Twitter or skim headlines, there’s been a week’s worth of male vs. female sniping involving a handful of well-known personalities, culminating in a Katie Nolan vs. Jason Whitlock feud.
The back story goes something like this:
- Maria Taylor messed up her NBA awards ballot. She left Anthony Davis out of the 1st team/2nd team/3rd team entirely, explaining that it was a simple oversight.
- Doug Gottlieb commented on Taylor, questioning why she had a vote in the first place.
- Taylor clapped back at Gottlieb.
- At Outkick, Jason Whitlock wrote a column about Taylor, calling for her to avoid “victimhood” and not walk the same ESPN path as Jemele Hill and Michelle Beadle. The column alleged that part of the reason she has her job is because of her attractiveness.
- In that column, Whitlock took an unprovoked snipe at Katie Nolan.
- Nolan responded on Twitter, then made her account private.
There’s a lot to unpack, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Chicago radio guy who got fired for saying Taylor’s Monday Night Football outfit resembled something a porn star would wear. That’s connected to all of this, even though it’s not part of the above sequence.
Let’s start with the Gottlieb tweet and Taylor response:
Because I PLAYED basketball…I COVER the league. And I DESERVE everything I’ve worked hard for. https://t.co/JwLjk6dsb9
— Maria Taylor (@MariaTaylor) September 19, 2020
Let’s leave the sexism/misogyny allegations on the side burner for a moment and just focus on Gottlieb’s question.
Does a sideline reporter/studio host need to have a vote? Not sure. Generally the voters used to be national writer types, like a Zach Lowe or Chris Sheridan. You could absolutely justify having a color commentator like Doris Burke vote, since she is a full-time broadcaster who is totally engrossed in the league. Taylor, as someone who also does football for ESPN, obviously has a role that takes her outside of basketball. She may be justified in having a vote, but Gottlieb’s point does have some validity to it – i.e., shouldn’t basketball voters work strictly in basketball? We wouldn’t have Ariel Helwani vote on hoops, even though he’s dabbled in it, because he’s an MMA guy 95% of the time.
Next, here are some pieces from the Whitlock story on Taylor:
Taylor is tall, attractive and quite personable on television. Her career as a collegiate volleyball and basketball player at Georgia adds to her credibility as a sideline reporter and NBA host.
But let’s don’t kid ourselves. The 33-year-old Taylor would not be the host of NBA Countdown, nor would she vote on the league’s most prestigious awards, if she were short, unattractive and grumpy.
Jason Whitlock, at age 33, 43 or 53, could not get any of the jobs ESPN has handed Taylor. Neither could a long list of highly qualified female sports journalists who I will not name.
Beauty, most especially in television, has a privilege that trumps virtually all other privileges. Beauty intoxicates TV executives, bloggers and journalists, and it masks a lack of accomplishment, qualifications and skill. Beauty transformed Katie Nolan from bartender to seven-figure personality, Emmy Award-winner and the darling of aroused bloggers and TV critics willing to ignore her pedestrian humor and inability to execute live television.
Of course a lot of this is subjective. Some people find Katie Nolan to be funny and entertaining and some people don’t. We could say the same for any male TV personality in any role, from Joe Buck to Jimmy Kimmel to Dave Chappelle. Different strokes for different folks.
It becomes muddy when you factor attractiveness into the equation, because there’s no way to prove that somebody was hired based on looks. We’re not privy to the discussions that high-ranking TV executives have, when it comes to selecting talent and cultivating and pushing that talent to stardom. This happens all the time in media, with hand-picked individuals groomed and given opportunities that sometimes similarly-qualified people won’t get. A lot of times it’s about being in the right place at the right time, or just connecting with an individual who has decision making power. If you want a good example, look at how Andy Bloom pushed aside a bunch of people at 94 WIP to make room for Josh Innes.
But the truth is that looks do matter in television. Of course they do. Every TV station hires the hot meteorologist, because people will tune in to watch her. And then perverted weirdoes will tweet that person daily or write letters to her or stalk her, which are three things I can confirm with my own eyes after nine years in local news. Female talent deals with an AVALANCHE of lecherous dorks who comment on their clothing, their hair, their makeup, and everything in between (and other women are hard on them, too). We’d be naive to think that attractiveness does not play a role in determining who is in front of the camera and who is behind it. Attractive women are more likely to be reporters than producers and directors, regardless of the qualifications.
Here’s what Nolan said in reply to Whitlock’s attack:
In response, Whitlock penned a column called “KATIE NOLAN REPRESENTS THE ELIMINATION OF AMERICA’S MERITOCRACY AND EXPOSES THE FRAUDULENCE OF HER SUPPORTERS.” She ended up making her Twitter account private after that.
From this column:
Nolan epitomizes everything I find fraudulent about this era of sports journalism, this era of corporate politics. Narrative has eliminated facts and any semblance of a meritocracy.
She’s cast herself as a victim when she’s the most pampered and protected person in sports media. In an industry that values live television, she can’t do live TV. She’s not the next Hannah Storm, Linda Cohn, Michelle Beadle, Robin Roberts, Sage Steele or Maria Taylor — broadcasters with the rare and valuable skill of being engaging and personable in front of a red light.
Nolan is adequate at reading the words of other writers on tape. She’s paid more than a million dollars for work that would earn virtually every other man or woman with her resume $50,000. She’s not a journalist, like Mina Kimes. She’s not informed, prepared and knowledgeable, like Doris Burke. Nolan is adept at working the grievance system.
Jeez. He didn’t hold back. That’s a flamethrower of a column.
Anyway, it’s one of those topics where nobody really wins. It’s impossible for Whitlock to come out of this without making it seem like he’s going after two successful women for petty and vindictive reasons. You’re never going to be able to write something reasonable when attractiveness and personal looks enter the equation. And on the other side, legions of blue checkmarks will come to Nolan and Taylor’s defense by default, which means that the interesting stuff worth talking about kind of falls by the wayside. It’s an intriguing topic that’s difficult to discuss in any sort of honest way.
It’s a dead end road, but it’s entertaining.