Questioning the inequality of insults

Matthew Emmons/US Presswire

[Editor's note: Since espnW originally posted this story Wednesday, Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora on Thursday apologized for his Mother's Day comments, saying in a tweet, "I wasnt thinking about it from that perspective. I apologize to any woman offended."]

Last Sunday morning, while sons and daughters everywhere were celebrating their mothers, Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora was busy renewing his feud with Eagles running back LeSean McCoy.

"Happy Mothers Day Lesean Mccoy!" he tweeted. "Enjoy your special day!!"

The "beef" between the two players started last year, when McCoy tweeted of Umenyiora, "Overrated n soft 3rd best d-line on his team honestly." Umenyiora responded by calling McCoy, among other things, "Lady Gaga," "little girl" and "a woman."

Last June, Umenyiora told the Star-Ledger of McCoy's insulting tweet, "He's a girl, man. Who does stuff like that? If he has more of these things to say, he can say 'em to my face. Don't be no Twitter gangster man." He also spoke to ESPNNewYork.com, explaining, "I refer to [McCoy] as she because that is something that a woman would do."

A year later, it appears Umenyiora still thinks being compared to a woman is the ultimate insult. And unfortunately, he's not alone.

Scott Boehm/Getty Images

Osi Umenyiora renewed his Twitter battle with LeSean McCoy by wishing McCoy a Happy Mother's Day.

A quick Twitter search reveals some NBA fans (and aspiring comics) don't believe Heat forward "Chrissy" Bosh is suffering from an abdominal strain; they claim he sat out Tuesday night with "menstrual cramps" and "a strained uterus."

Hockey fans have long called Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby "Cindy" and labeled Canucks forwards Daniel and Henrik Sedin "The Sedin Sisters."

Even media members sometimes join in the "fun." During the 2010 Stanley Cup finals the Chicago Tribune ran a full-page poster of the Flyers' Chris Pronger in a figure skating skirt with a headline that read: "Chrissy Pronger. Looks like Tarzan, skates like Jane." After receiving a fair amount of criticism, the editor defended the poster, arguing that the paper was "just trying to have a little fun."

It's time to put an end to these lazy, damaging jeers. It's time to stop spreading the message that being female is inherently wrong or inferior. The use of "woman" or "female" or "girl" as an insult is sexist, plain and simple. Replace "woman" with race, religion or sexual orientation and the reaction would be far different. Just imagine the response from media and fans if Umenyiora had tweeted McCoy "Happy Gay Pride Day."

To Umenyiora, saying that a man is a "woman" is equivalent to calling him a "wuss," a "weakling," or a "crybaby." Well if that's what he means, he should use those words. The word "woman" should not be interchangeable with these insults.

Just because women are, on average, smaller and weaker than men, doesn't mean all women are small and weak. You know the old phrase, "you throw like a girl?" Well, which girl? Pitching legend and two-time Olympic medalist Jennie Finch? I'll take it.

Assigning characteristics like "tough" and "strong" to men and "soft" and "weak" to women is not only lazy, it perpetuates stereotypical gender roles and can be harmful to both boys and girls. Those qualities are personality traits, not gender traits. There's nothing soft or weak about Serena Williams or Lisa Leslie or Billie Jean King.

In many ways, the sports world is still an old boys' club. There's sexism, both blatant and subtle, in the way sports are watched and covered. Female athletes are still working to earn the respect of their male counterparts, and some fans, athletes and front offices are still reluctant to accept female reporters as equals in the clubhouse.

To continue to make women the butt of the joke simply serves to reinforce the idea that this is a man's world, we're just livin' in it.

In the past year players from leagues all over the world, including the NBA, MLS and NFL, have been fined or suspended for using gay slurs either on the playing field or in social media. Leagues are finally starting to understand the power of words and the importance of making sports a place that is open to all.

There is neither similar outrage, nor any repercussions, for sexist comments.

Umenyiora won't be fined for his continued disrespect of women, nor will he hear a majority of media and fans expressing disgust over his comments. This "boys will be boys" attitude is the same one that allows for radio and TV talking heads to use tired old sayings like "take off your skirt and play like a man."

Women today enjoy more universal acceptance and equality than gays, but the two groups are still fighting a similar fight. There are still places in this world where you can be killed, mutilated or excommunicated simply because you were born a woman or a homosexual. In both cases, it's important to see how the everyday use of, and exposure to, derogatory words can slow progress and acceptance.

I know they're coming, so you can save your "lighten up, sweetie" comments. I'm no humorless, bra-burning, man-hating feminist. I simply believe having the word that defines me used as a synonym for inferiority is neither "fun" nor funny. Nothing is truly "just a joke," language has meaning and words have power.

Humor doesn't have to come at the expense of a person or group of people. There's nothing clever about denigrating women en route to a sick burn of your bros. If the goal is to insult and cut someone down by calling him a "woman," then you're also insulting and cutting down your sisters, mothers, wives, girlfriends and friends. These cracks aren't harmless jokes; they're the kind of comments that will make yet another generation of girls believe it's inherently wrong or inferior to be female.

Perhaps Umenyiora has never really thought about the words he uses. While he was wishing McCoy a Happy Mother's Day last Sunday, you have to wonder what Umenyiora's mom was thinking.

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