Skip to main content

There are words for it. "Laddism" is one. It's what they call it in England, the birthplace of soccer.

Laddism is the blithe, unthinking sexism of the lewd remark, the grope, the joke about rape, the intimidation of women in places where they have the right to feel safe. It is a widely accepted phenomenon, largely because a lot of it takes place online these days.

And then, there's a moment where it isn't accepted. Ten days after the now-notorious Toronto incident of City reporter Shauna Hunt confronting jerks who yelled obscenities at her, or found it amusing, what remains remarkable is that the confrontation took place at all. Usually, women reporters subjected to the abuse do nothing.

The incident brought together two areas I know something about. Television and soccer. I was at that Toronto FC game, sitting in the stands as a soccer fan, not as a journalist. It was a dismal game but TFC games are still an enjoyable experience. Free of violence or obnoxious behaviour. A family of five – mom, dad and three kids – sat in front of me and my friend at that TFC game. Women attend in groups. I live near BMO Field and the neighbourhood takes on a pleasant party atmosphere on match days. It has never been about a herd of male yahoos staking out the territory.

What Hunt did, bravely, needed to be done. And we need more of it. There is a shocking amount of sexism and objectification of women in the sports world. And in television, too, though to a much smaller degree.

In television, the laddism that once prevailed has been reined in by workplace rules and regulations and through the existence of trade unions and guilds that ensure fairness and respect. It was hard-won, the current situation in which women cannot be harassed or demeaned in the workplace.

The sports world is different. Sexism is rife. There is an easy acceptance of cheerleaders at all sorts of pro-sports games and of scantily clad "Ice Girls" at NHL games. Teenage hockey players exploit young female fans. Soccer players exploit female fans. It took a near-earthquake in the NFL to call out a player for a stunning act of violence against a woman. The worship of macho values is deeply rooted.

In the sports context, what Hunt did was stunning. The drama of the few minutes of confrontation is extraordinary. What emerged is that the smirking, taunting yahoos thought that she was the one with a problem, for failing to take their obscenities in stride. That's at the core of the issue – the laddish belief that women are the problem.

Also at the centre of the issue is the fact that the obscenity yelled at the female reporter is an online phenomenon. In this digital age there is confusion about what's real and what isn't, what has consequences and what doesn't. The Internet has created spaces for vile behaviour. You only have to look at anonymous online comments aimed at many journalists to see that. Those spaces create the illusion of privacy and the illusion that what happens in the private space, being hidden, is inauthentic. Witness the disturbing, sexually explicit Facebook posts attributed to male students in the faculty of dentistry at Dalhousie University. Somehow, the fact that the vile misogyny was non-public made it acceptable to engage in.

Television has a major role to play in illuminating these hidden spaces and exposing the misogyny as the authentic, bona-fide horror and assault that it is. TV footage has a visceral impact. It changes minds and can cause outpourings of anger. Too often, television underestimates its own power to change.

A lot of women work in television, as reporters, editors, producers and executives. Many could do more to take a stand against laddism in all its forms. It doesn't matter if powerful men in sports roll their eyes and are dismayed by a female point of view. It is that view, the feminization of sports coverage, that is vital for the future. What Hunt did should just be the start.

Over the decades, the role of the sports stadium has often been that of a place for releasing rage, frustration and anger. In the future, the role of the coverage of what unfolds in those venues should be turning frustration and anger about sexism, into change. Laddism be damned.

Airing tonight

Frontline: Secrets, Politics and Torture (PBS, 10 p.m.) is a major investigation of the CIA's controversial "enhanced interrogation" program – how it began, what it allegedly accomplished, and the fight in Washington over the exposure of its existence. From what I've seen it's really about two competing narratives – the CIA version, which maintains that its "enhanced interrogation" was certainly effective in combatting terrorism; and the revelations in a Senate report released last December that declared that the program went horribly wrong and – vitally – didn't work.

All times ET. Check local listings.