Following outreach from GLAAD, Steve Czaban and Andy Pollin, hosts of the "Sports Reporters" show on Washington D.C.'s ESPN 980, today made a brief on-air statement in which they apologized for calling transgender basketball player Gabrielle Ludwig "it," but failed to address the rest of an extremely offensive segment.
Station management at ESPN 980 responded quickly to our outreach, with a clear understanding of why the content that aired last week was so offensive. They assured us that the hosts understood as well, and that an apology would be forthcoming. (Station executives said due to contract language, they are unable to discuss whether any disciplinary actions would be taken.) But while this apology was certainly better than devoting another segment to making fun of Gabby, it fell far, far short of the goal. Here's what led up to this:
Last Wednesday, Ludwig was the subject of a lengthy piece in USA Today. The following day, this article was brought up by Andy Pollin on "The Sports Reporters." That particular show featured Czaban, Pollin and Maryland basketball analyst Chris Knoche.
Pollin introduced the segment talking about the USA Today story, and when he revealed that Gabby was transgender, Steve Czaban audibly groaned, then quoted Austin Powers. After the panel made fun of Gabby's appearance and mocked the picture of her that appeared with the article. They briefly discussed college athletics eligibility requirements, then it was back to dehumanizing Gabby. You can hear the whole segment here, via OutSports:
The closest the panel ever got to being respectful is when Czaban stated "Don't go playing sports saying 'But I've got the rights of everyone else.' Yeah, you've got the rights to live as a human being, you know, with other people respecting you and everything else, but athletics is different."
Unfortunately, the hosts then participated in this exchange.
Czaban: "What's the net net of the story? Because I'm not going to read it."
Pollin: "Well, the net net is, you know she's ... she/he has had a lot of probems in his/her life..."
Czaban: "I think 'it' is the politically correct term..."
Pollin: "...Whatever it is, and this basketball is helping him/her transform his/her life into a better life, such as it is."
To my ear, the key takeaway from this exchange isn't when Czaban disgustingly called Gabby "it." - the only part of this segment for which there has been an apology. The most important moment happens in the second sentence, when Pollin starts to sum up the story. Listen to it again. He actually started to use the correct pronoun, but caught himself mid-sentence, and you actually can hear the moment - that little pause - when he clearly changed his mind about appearing respectful, and littered the rest of his recap with disrespectful terms like "he/she" and "his/her," just to make it clear to the audience that he does not respect Gabby's gender identity.
Not only did he want listeners to think she shouldn't be sharing a basketball court with other women, he wanted listeners to think Gabby shouldn't even be sharing pronouns with other women.
Pollin's natural instinct was correct, but it certainly sounds like he second-guessed the way calling her "she" would go over with his audience. That's where the problem lies, and that's the preconception what those of us who are working towards LGBT equality and inclusion in the sports world are constantly battling.
We also can't ignore the fact that this happened in Washington D.C. The city with more murders of trans people than any other in the U.S. over the last decade. The city where there have been more than 40 attacks against trans people in the last year alone - that we know of. The brevity and tone of Czaban's on-air "apology" indicate that he doesn't feel the rest of the piece was disrespectful.
GLAAD will continue to be in touch with station executives, who again were very cooperative, until we can reach a suitable resolution.