Mark Grace has never come across like the brightest bulb on the tree.
Outside of him having the most hits in MLB in the 1990s, Grace is best known for his “slumpbuster” conversation with Jim Rome back in 2003. If you don’t know what a slumpbuster is, Grace described it then as such:
“A slumpbuster is if a team’s in a slump, or if you personally are in a slump, you gotta find the fattest, gnarliest, grossest chick and you just gotta lay the wood to her. And when you do that, you’re just gonna have instant success. And it could also be called jumping on a grenade for the team.”
In the same interview, Grace talks about hanging up pictures of “naked 250-lb babes” in the locker room. The term “slumpbuster” is one that a certain kind of guy loves to bandy about, and loves how much it bothers women even more. Case in point, baseball’s Alex Jones, Aubrey Huff, called me a “slumpbuster” on Twitter just this Spring.
So it’s not like there were no warning signs that Mark Grace has a tendency to open his mouth and have a bunch of sexist words come out, which is maybe something Marquee Network should have thought about before signing Grace to interrupt Cubs’ TV broadcast team Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies as the proverbial third wheel. When Marquee initially announced their on-line lineup, Cubs VP of Business Operations Crane Kenney admitted it was shockingly devoid of women.
But there is always room for guys like Grace. Good ol’ boy ex-jocks who think of the world as their locker room. Which partially explains why Grace thought it was a good idea to tell a story during yesterday’s broadcast about his ex-wife once parking in Bud Selig’s spot in Milwaukee, revealing that he calls her “the dingbat.”
“My ex-wife, I’m going to go Archie Bunker on you guys a little bit,” the former Cubs first baseman said on-air. “I called her the dingbat.”
Fans, both men and women, objected immediately on social media.
Grace apologized in a written statement after the game.
I get it, “dingbat” is not the worst thing in the world to call someone. In fact, by today’s standards, women get called much worse regularly on social media. But, outside of it being problematic for anyone to toss it back to Archie Bunker for a quote, it’s the kind of thing that makes women feel unwelcome in professional sports and, more specifically, in sports broadcasting.
While Grace joins the Cubs’ broadcasts from his home in Arizona, he’s speaking to a market in Chicago that has slashed and burned women from nearly all its sports channels (full disclosure: I was one of them, losing both my weeknight show and weekend show with Maggie Hendricks back in April). Since the Spring, seven women have been cut or forced to move on from sports broadcasting jobs in Chicago. Of the three all-sports channels in the city, the two sports talk radio stations, 670 The Score and ESPN 1000, don’t have a single woman in a regular role on the air. NBC Sports Chicago recently laid off the last woman on their station, Leila Rahimi. Cheryl Raye Stout, the veteran broadcaster who has covered everyone who’s anyone in Chicago, is the lone female voice with a regular sports gig in radio (on WBEZ, Chicago’s public radio station), and she keeps getting left out of documentaries about the ‘90s Bulls, even though she has more Michael Jordan stories than anyone I know.
Sadly, it’s not just Chicago where women are being left out of local sports broadcasting. NBC Universal announced that its regional sports networks may forgo sideline reporters, one of the few roles in sports regularly held by women. After my layoff, a Twitter follower sent me this pic of the lineup at Boston radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub.
Across the country, women are being pushed out of jobs in sports media, and the public doesn’t seem to notice. Or care. Maybe it’s because of the pandemic. Maybe it’s because the women who had broken into sports broadcasting were still outliers, and going back to all men just feels like going back to the status quo. But I can tell you from experience that it matters. Nearly every week, Hendricks and I would get calls from parents listening with their daughters. Once, on a remote broadcast, a small girl stood in front of us, an enormous smile on her face. “Mommy!” she exclaimed, “those girls are talking about sports!”
I can guarantee you little girls were listening when Mark Grace called his ex-wife a dingbat, too. And the message it sends to them is that baseball, and sports in general, is not their world. It’s something they can love, but only from a distance. It will never truly be theirs. It’s the same message young girls get seeing broadcast teams and radio lineups made up entirely of men. Hell, it was the way I felt most of the time I was working in sports.
I don’t know Mark Grace enough to know if he would have made the “dingbat” comment if there had been a woman on the broadcast with him, but I can posit a guess that he would have at least thought about it, first. I can also imagine that a lot of sexist things that are routinely said in sports would fall by the wayside if women worked regularly alongside men in equal numbers. Cultivate a frat house, and that’s the environment you’ll end up with.
Women working in sports know men are sick of hearing what we put up with. God knows we’re sick of writing about it. We can sense the eye rolls and the “calm downs!” before they’re even tossed our way. But in a world in which we work out so many societal issues via sports, the presence of women matters. Women’s voices matter. Mark Grace feeling comfortable enough to insult his ex-wife on a far-reaching broadcast matters.
And the way the world reacts to it matters most of all.