- The Washington Times - Friday, October 25, 2002

Poor Andy Rooney. He just can't get it up. He can't conjure up respect for women on the sidelines. "The only thing that bugs me about television's coverage," Mr. Rooney, the essayist of the CBS television program "60 Minutes," said during an interview earlier this month, "is those damn women they have down on the sidelines who don't know what the hell they're talking about. I mean, I'm not a sexist person, but a woman has no business being down there trying to make some comment about a football game."

Football is difficult to coach, and women certainly would face perils trying to play. But explaining it and other men's sports is all in a day's work.

For Melissa Stark, the blonde non-bimbo of "Monday Night Football." For Fox Sports' handsome and knowledgeable Pam Oliver, who scooped from the sidelines the sniping last season between the Minnesota Vikings' Randy "Bad Boy" Moss and Cris Carter. And Lesley Visser, Andrea Kremer and Jeanne Zelasko are no chumps.

They are reporters. Sports reporters.

Miss Stark's job is the same one that Eric Dickerson had. There are major differences between her and him, though. Before landing as a sideline reporter on "Monday Night Football" in the late 1990s, Mr. Dickerson was a Hall of Fame running back. Miss Stark, on the other hand, was a Phi Beta Kappa student who gained hard-news and sports reporting experience before joining the MNF team.

Did football prepare Mr. Dickerson for his reporting job? "Well, it doesn't really prepare you," he once said. "They are two different jobs."

Mr. Rooney, I would think, knows that.

He knows you don't have to be a sexist to make sexist remarks. You don't have to be a war veteran, as he is, to become a war correspondent, which he did. He also knows that you don't have to be a Phi Beta Kappa, or college graduate for that matter, to become an award-winning journalist and groundbreaking TV producer of "60 Minutes," which is precisely what his boss, Don Hewitt, is.

For the record, Mr. Rooney made his sexist remarks Oct. 4 on "The Boomer Esiason Show." He has been interviewed since then. He has refused to apologize. He did, however, said he regrets having said what he said. "Anyone who says I'm sexist knows less about me than those women do about football," Mr. Rooney said in his responsive essay on "60 Minutes," adding that it was "a derogatory remark I would have been better off not having made." Humph. How insightful.

Still, he said, women have no place on the sidelines. "I wish I hadn't included all women covering football some are quite good, but most of the women are there because they're good-looking, not because they know the game."

This is not the first time Mr. Rooney has made disparaging remarks. Greek Americans were angered by something he said, and they considered it offensive. A few years back, he said something derogatory about blacks. Frankly, I cannot recall what either of those comments were. But, since they were deemed derogatory, I wouldn't repeat them here anyway.

Lots of people say things that are offensive to particular ethnic or racial groups. And one of the first things those very offenders say, after being told their remarks were offensive, is that they intended no harm. Lack of intent doesn't make the remarks any less offensive.

Mr. Rooney's trademark curmudgeoness about life's ironies, complexities and unexplainables is a staple of Sunday night television, and I've occasionally chuckled at his perspective. Still, you think Mr. Rooney, at 83, has outlived his TV usefulness?

Understand, I wholeheartedly defend his and others' First Amendment rights. Besides, we're all entitled to our opinions. But facts are facts. When it comes to journalism, women have fought too hard.

We had to fight to get off the women's pages. Then we had to fight to win coveted management and reporting spots. We had to fight to get anchor spots. Just look at the three major or is that dying? network evening news spots. Dan, Tom and Peter. And, for every Judy Woodruff, Connie Chung and Paula Zahn, there is a Tony Snow, Aaron Brown (yuk) and Chris Matthews.

As for the wide world of sports, women are mostly relegated to the sidelines as cheerleaders.

Indeed, Mr. Rooney would never making disparaging remarks about, say, Jim Gray, who covers the NBA courtside, or even Chris "All the Way" Berman. Guys who aren't easy on the eyes but know sports.

Tick, tick, tick.

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