[Update: 2:22 pm ET] Dan McNeil has been fired from WSCR 670 The Score. The station sent the following statement to its employees this afternoon:
If you follow sports, by now you’ve no doubt seen the ugly tweet my former colleague, Dan McNeil, posted about ESPN superstar and all-around bad-ass Maria Taylor last night. If not, allow me to get you up to speed:
For those of you who were born after 1950, “AVN” stands for “Adult Video News,” which, I think, hosts an awards show for porn. The implication being that a woman showing off her shoulders is akin to a porn star? The “joke,” was not only sexist but also didn’t land . . . anywhere, really. The fact that McNeil, a middle-aged white man, felt just fine about policing and hyper sexualizing a Black woman’s body makes it even worse.
I worked with McNeil for several years at WSCR in Chicago, one of the leading sports stations in the entire country. Dan is a hugely successful radio host who is mostly known for leaving every station he’s at in a less-than amicable fashion, but inexplicably getting another job soon after. To make room for McNeil, a young Black man with an important voice and conscience on racial issues, Jason Goff, was let go. I never interacted with McNeil much, I was on the air later in the day than he was. When we did cross paths, he often told me I “smelled good.”
Most of the time I worked at WSCR, I was the only woman. Sometimes, I wouldn’t lay eyes on another woman the entire time I was at the station hosting my weeknight show. Eventually, the station brought in Maggie Hendricks (currently with The Athletic), to host a weekend show with me, as well.
But when COVD hit, guess who were the first two on-air talents to go? Maggie and I. To be fair, a white man, Connor McKnight, was also fired from his daytime show. As far as I know, my weeknight show was the closest a woman has gotten to hosting a regular daytime show on that station. Currently, there are zero women on WSCR, its ESPN competitor, WMVP, or the NBC Sports Chicago TV affiliate. Friendly reminder that women make up a huge portion of the general sports fan base, including 47 percent of the NFL audience.
Sports radio is made up of a lot of guys who have never worked in any other industry, which gives them a skewed idea of what’s acceptable in the workplace. Being the only woman there, it was often on me to complain about the sexism I too often saw in the hallways and the studio. It was always met with a sympathetic smile and a promise of “I’ll talk to them.” I never pushed much, being far too afraid for my job and my reputation for being difficult. And I loved my job. But I did have a notebook full of all the incidents of misogyny that happened while I worked there.
So was I surprised to see McNeil cluelessly pushing out blatant sexism into the void last night? Of course not. It’s not the first time this has happened at my station. Just a few weeks ago, another former colleague shared an image on Twitter saying “Biden is just Hillary with a smaller dick.” He apologized for the tweet being “political.” Only it wasn’t just political, it was blatantly misogynist. Immediately before my hiring, a couple of hosts had a discussion on Twitter about a TV host’s breasts. It’s not just about the people — it’s about the culture.
There’s no reason why sports media, and sports radio in particular, doesn’t reflect the fanbase, which is far more Black, female, and otherwise diverse than the guys who get pumped out onto the airwaves each day. For whatever reason, sports talk radio has never been concerned with diversity, which is why most lineups look like snapshots of IBM in the 1950s – predominantly white and male. Too often, I argued that my old station should try to expand its audience, bring in more women, bring in younger listeners, bring in more Black voices. It was always met with the same dubious look. “Men 18-54 is our audience.”
Someone on Twitter asked how I would handle this specific issue if I were in charge of my old station. I think that question is too simple, because Dan McNeil attempting to drag Maria Taylor (who is, if we’re being honest, undraggable) and falling on his face is just the runny nose that lets you know you have a cold. Sports talk radio has a culture problem from top to bottom. The only voices that are valued are those that appeal to an increasingly older, white male demographic. Anyone who deviates from that is viewed as difficult and divisive.
Last night, a bunch of guys from my old station texted me, expressing chagrin that the station was, once again, being embarrassed by a sexist comment from a host. Few, if any, said anything publicly. I get it, they need their jobs. You know who else in radio needs jobs? Women. Black folks. Members of the LGBTQ community. A whole host of voices that never seem to make their way into the mainstream of sports talk radio. At least not in the numbers we need.
I’ve been critical enough of my station, and sports talk radio in general, to know I’ll never work in that industry again. Unlike Dan McNeil, women who speak out about uncomfortable issues don’t get multiple chances at redemption. But I hope, as I hope every time something like this happens, that someone in radio will wake up and realize that cultivating workplaces that consist entirely of men is a problem in the year of our Lord 2020. It sends the wrong message to listeners. It sends the wrong message to young kids coming up in the business. It sends the wrong message to every sports fan who is not a white male, aged 18-54.
Now, what is sports talk radio going to do about it?