This week’s Green Guide was the last straw. I’m now officially mad as hell and don’t want to take it anymore.
Kelli Underwood, the first woman to commentate televised AFL games, has been demoted this season after two years “in the big time”. Back to boundary riding and footy pieces on Ten News she goes. And according to Nicole Brady in the Greenie, “the small-minded critics who will never accept a woman calling a man’s sport did not like the sound of her voice. Puh-lease. Underwood was always factually correct, she knows the sport as well as any junior caller who has never played it professionally and was able to translate that knowledge into entertaining commentary. Yes, her voice is female. It sounds different to a man’s voice, responding to such ‘criticism’ by demoting her is a disappointing display of weakness by Ten”.
So I’ve had it. I’ve never been a fan of Underwood, and I’ve had enough of being told that because I don’t like listening to her, I’m being sexist. I’m not one of those knuckle-dragging, beer-drinking, footy-bulletin-board-commenting, Mad-Monday-loving, wish-Sam-Newman-was-PM Norms who reckon that women have no part in the “man’s world” of the AFL. But currently, no-one pays any heed to the opinions of we broadsheet-reading, ABC-watching, pretentious-blog-writing, middle-class footy fans when it comes to Underwood.
In last year’s annual fan poll of that great bastion of footy opinion, the Herald Sun, 39.5% of respondents said that the most annoying footy caller on television was Underwood. In The Punch, David Penberthy responded: “The survey could show two things. It could show that 39.5 per cent of people surveyed are football purists with legitimate concerns over Underwood’s grasp of the game. Conversely, it could show that 39.5 per cent of respondents are sexist dropkicks who think footy is a man’s game and that girls should stick to talking about cosmetics and recipes.”
Even the Sydney Morning Herald spouted that “the great Female Footy Commentator experiment…has just been axed because, well, no one wanted to listen to a sheila talking about a bloke’s sport.”
Now, to give Brady, Penberthy and the SMH their due, you don’t have to go too far to find “sexist dropkicks” mouthing off about Underwood online. A quick search led me to “Zhish”, who argues that: “anyone who likes her [Underwood], probably females, would call someone like you or me a misogynist or male chauvinist, but it just isn’t right. its a mans game. there are no female players in the AFL, they play separately so why have female commentators or boundary riders like her or christi malthouse. just cos she’s mick’s daughter. **** them both off!”
But what Brady, Penberthy, and the SMH have ignored is that there are many male and female fans who (gasp!) aren’t like Zhish! Incredibly, his comments do not reflect the sentiments of all of the footy community’s Underwood-critics.
Because the problem is not Underwood’s gender. Nor is it the fact that we have “legitimate concerns over Underwood’s grasp of the game,” as it clearly was one a par with that of Channel Ten’s other play-by-play commentators. Rather, the problem is Underwood’s voice.
There are only two appropriate reasons to dislike a sports commentator: because you don’t like the content of what they have to say, or because you don’t like how they sound. For many, whether we are the majority or not, gender is completely irrelevant. Over the past two seasons, Mrs EPO and I have often commented on how unfortunate it is for the future of women in AFL commentary that the first one had one of the most grating voices in the history of sports commentary.
Those like we at Chez Olsen who don’t believe gender should be a factor in our response to journalists and commentators have always treated women in sport in exactly the same way as we do men. I’m just as likely to sing the praises of Caroline Wilson’s writing as I am Greg Baum’s; just as likely to be critical of Rebecca Wilson as I am Mike Sheehan. A journo is a journo.
In AFL commentary, I never liked the excited vocals of Eddie Maguire, dislike everything to do with Rex Hunt’s manner and matter, and am extremely glad to see the back of Underwood’s grating tone – I can cope with it for a couple of minutes on the news or on the boundary, but three hours of my Saturday afternoon was far too much of a bad thing.
Perhaps the greatest shame is that I can’t name another female commentator who Mrs EPO and I have ever had the same reaction to. Christi Malthouse, Sam Lane, Simone Thurtell, Nicole Livingstone, all the women who worked on the Australian Open tennis – they are all good to listen to, while Karen Tighe has the most beautiful voice of them all. Meanwhile, we reckon the country’s two best sports commentators are Gerard Whateley and Liz Ellis, hands down – intelligent, informed, entertaining, and very easy on the ear.
Many intelligent, open-minded footy fans are glad to see that Underwood has been demoted. Tarring us all with the brush that should be reserved for sexist neanderthals is just bloody offensive.