The Strange Case of Heidi Watney

I’m generally supportive of efforts to get more women working in and around professional sports, whether I’m re-reading Nora Ephron’s classic “Bernice Gera, First Lady Umpire,” a must-read if you care about women and baseball, or cheering Kim Ng’s ascent in the front-office ranks. And I’m also not a big fan of policing anyone else’s sex life or personal conduct. But as a long-time lady Red Sox fan, I’ll admit that I cracked up when the Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham tweeted “If anybody at Fenway sees @HeidiWatney in the beer line, tell her the game starts at 10:05.” Whether Abraham intended it as a dig at the buxom blonde NESN sideline reporter or not, it was funny, and a sad commentary on the roles women can end up with in sports journalism.

Because as much as I want more women writing about sports and doing good sports journalism, Watney’s awful. She does the world’s fluffiest sideline interviews — during one recent game, she took a ride on the train that shoots oranges when someone hits a home at Minute Maid park, the player she was interviewing staring at her chest all the while. Watney’s also been rumored to have affairs with both Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek towards the end of his marriage and short-lived Sox infielder Nick Green. Even if she never slept with either man, socializing with them outside of a professional context and in a way that invites comment about the nature of that socializing seems like a substantial violation of journalistic ethics that would get an actual reporter like Amalie Benjamin (or for that matter, Mr. Abraham) promptly cashiered, but I guess it doesn’t particularly conflict with her role as a sideline cupcake.

Sideline reporter is not necessarily the most glamorous job in the business, either, but Suzy Kolber and Michele Tafoya have proven that women can do the job with dignity and use it in pursuit of actual information (even if drunken athletes hit on them), and while Craig Sager may have the world’s worst collection of suits, at least he’s got a sense of humor about his place in the game. In a world where women have a hard time being taken seriously as commentators, Watney plays to the worst stereotypes of women in the game, a baseball Annie who doesn’t even have the cardinal virtue of the original, that she’s a genius at the sport. The standards for women in and around sports are, I’m sorry to say, higher. And having Heidi Watney’s worse than having a man in that spot. Boston’s a city with a lot of female sports fans. Surely, we can find one who gives good camera and good interview, and can do it without playing into the idea that women are either airheads or groupies when it comes to athletes.