Thursday, August 21, 2008

Beard Disses Phelps: Are Women Allowed to Be Funny in Sports?

Clicking around the TV dial Wednesday night I discovered "The Best Damn Sports Show Period." This is some Fox Sports Net show where guys sit around and try to make each other laugh. It was slightly funny. I left it on to see Serena Williams interviewed. She was repeatedly ribbed for skipping out on viewing the other Olympic events so she could play two events in six days and get back to the states to prepare for the US Open.

She took the laughs in stride. What caught my eye was American swimmer Amanda Beard's appearance later in the show. Earlier in the day Beard apparently had the audacity to crack wise when asked about rumors that she is dating Michael Phelps. "Ew, no" she said "I've never ever hooked up with Michael Phelps in my whole life. I have really good taste. He's not my type, personally." This little joke did not sit well with America. Beard was excoriated for this statement. Joke or no, she had to call the show from Beijing to apologize if anyone was offended. Surprisingly, the funny guys didn't play along with the joke or let her off the hook. They wanted to know if she found Michael to apologize to him in person. Beard pointed out that Phelps is pretty busy now. She didn't add that his ego could probably handle it. She also had to issue a statement about how wonderful Phelps is, and how proud we all are as Americans blah blah blah.

It got me thinking - can women be funny about sports, or is that illegal? The guys on the show were deadly serious when they asked her if she apologized. They even wanted to know if that could be a possibility in the future and how that rumor got started. I know what you're thinking "if the shoe was on the other foot a guy would need to apologize." Think again. We've watched an entire generation of sports anchors and writers collectively and publicly drool over some women athletes and mock ones they found less desirable. They do this on Sportscenter all the time. No apology needed because it's just dudes being funny, right? Can't the shoe be on the other foot for a day?

The whole undertone to this entire episode is kinda creepy since nothing Beard said was actually offensive. It was more along the lines of a preemptive rejection. I'm assuming we retain the right not to date Michael Phelps if asked. After all, it's usually the communist countries that go about the business of genetically engineering the next generation of athletes. There is no mandatory breeding between swimmers. We all know Phelps isn't going to have trouble finding a date.

Maybe Beard is nothing more than a Frosted Flake. However, even the President of the United States was allowed to slap the butt of a beach volleyball player since it was all in good fun. So why not lighten up?