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Don Imus and the State of Women's Sports | The Nation

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Don Imus and the State of Women's Sports

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The radio shock jock Don Imus has joined a special corner of media hell. It's a corner occupied by Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and all the other personalities who thought that one more twig of bigotry wouldn't break the camel's back. That's what happens when you think it's good fun to call Rutgers' women basketball players "nappy-headed ho's."

About the Author

Dave Zirin
Dave Zirin
Dave Zirin, The Nation’s sports correspondent, is the author, most recently, of Game Over: How Politics Has...

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The beach is supposed to be a refuge for the children of Gaza. Now it is the scene of a war crime.

It's hard to imagine Imus was helped by a show of support from his good friend John McCain. Now that the McCainiac is done visiting Iraqi street markets with his army of Spartan snipers, telling everyone how safe it is, he has brought his delusions to Imus's defense, saying, "He has apologized. He said that he is deeply sorry. I'm a great believer in redemption.... I have made many mistakes in my life...and I have apologized, and most people have accepted that apology."

The rest of the Imus regulars, from John Kerry to Tim Russert, have done their best impressions of rats sashaying off a sinking ship. They, and a coterie of other media and political elites, have spent years giving "the I-man" nods and winks while he called African-American journalist Gwen Ifill "a cleaning lady," New York Times sports reporter Bill Rhoden a "quota hire" and tennis player Amelie Mauresmo a "big lesbo." All this in addition to Imus's rampant Islamophobia, evident when he brays for war or calls Arabs "ragheads."

Imus's corporate masters at MSNBC and CBS, who have called him "brilliant and provocative," have given him a nice two-week vacation, and then it will be business as usual.

Or maybe not. This time Imus may have taken someone tougher and more tenacious than he. Her name is C. Vivian Stringer, and if he's only known her as the coach of Rutgers's slandered team, he's in for a rude awakening.

For thirty-five years Stringer has been building her reputation as one of the most accomplished coaches in basketball history. Stringer is the only coach in NCAA history to have led three different schools to the Final Four. One of those schools, the historically black Cheyney University, provided one of the most improbable Cinderella teams in NCAA history. Her lifetime record is an unbelievable 750-251.

This is also the thirty-fifth anniversary of Title IX, the legislation that was supposed to level playing fields between men and women. Its results have been remarkable. According to the Women's Sports Foundation, one in twenty-seven high school girls played sports twenty-five years ago; one in three do today. And young women who play sports are less likely to become pregnant as teenagers, use drugs or become depressed than other women are. This law has improved the quality of life for tens of millions of women around the country.

But for women--especially African-American women--sports remains a place of denigration, not celebration. Swimsuit issues, cheerleaders and beer-commercial sexism define women in the testosterone-addled sports world. There is an arsenal of homophobia and mockery sprayed at those who dare sweat, compete and play hard. Every woman who has played sports and every man who has an athlete as a daughter has felt this inequity.

That's why Stringer came out swinging. In Tuesday's press conference, she said, "It's not about the Rutgers women's basketball team, it's about women.... It's not about us as black people or as nappy-headed. It's about us as people--black, white, purple or green."

Her players did her proud. Team captain Essence Carson asked the assembled media, "Where were these major networks when the youth were making history for a prestigious university?" In an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Carson said, "I know we're at a young age, but we definitely understand what is right and what should get done and what should be made of this. We're happy--we're glad to finally have the opportunity to stand up for what we know is right."

Imus has found that it is very easy to hit those without the ability or desire to fight back. He insulted Gwen Ifill and she chose to ignore his comment. Bill Rhoden refused to respond to Imus's provocations. Imus has gotten a free ride on Islamophobia because it has become the official policy of the crusading Bush Administration. But now he has taken on Coach Stringer, who won't be silent.

And neither should we. If MSNBC won't show Imus the door, we might have to give him a hearty push.

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