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Mike Bell, Jessica Mendoza, and the toxic world of online sports media

The afternoon radio host on Atlanta's 92.9/The Game has a history of sexism, but his type of behavior is exemplary of all the worst parts of sports media.

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Editor's Note: This piece isn't strictly Falcons related, but it is thoughtful. Give it a read before you tell us to stick to sports or whatever.

Afternoon sports radio, on the whole, should be rocketed into the sun. The grand success of a personality like PFT Commenter thrives on searing lampoons of the atavism and inflated masculinity tossed around in FM Man Caves and FOX Sports Facebook threads every day. American sports generally -- and professional football especially -- have too long constituted Men's Space, so that American sports commentary has too long constituted Men's Talk.

Enter, then, 92.9/The Game host and sentient lard disposal Mike Bell, who has some very nuanced opinions regarding MLB Playoffs coverage, women, and women covering the MLB Playoffs. Last Tuesday, Olympic softball player and ESPN baseball commentator Jessica Mendoza became the first woman to sit as broadcast analyst for a MLB postseason game, a historical moment of televised sport that inevitably drew the most hackneyed of mansplaining criticisms. That Bell should join in on this bro-iest of exercises is frankly unsurprising, given his history of misogyny and chauvinism and ogling and homophobia.

Bell's most recent attack, however, rings all the more stridently in terms of both vitriol and tone-deafness, and it's a damning example of just how noxious professional football's brand of male dullardry stands with respect to contemporary discourse on gender, sport, and who can speak about what. He has since apologized -- calling this episode an "eye-opening experience" -- but Bell-type takes are nothing new, nor are condemnations of Bell-type attitudes. Still, though, with each new case of public sexism, there attends a new wave of nauseating disgust, and Bell's meltdown is instructive as a case of the Everyman Sexist that inhabits all levels of sports media:

Jessica Mendoza is no gimmick. She's not some "cute" prop in a ham-fisted ploy at ESPN progressivism. Bristol is far too retrograde and dense to be a thought leader in this conversation. Bell needs only to glance at the NFL's drunken attempts at breast cancer and domestic violence awareness campaigns for real sledgehammer approaches to sensitive issues. No, Bell's "cute" descriptor instead betrays a paternalistic view of women in sports media: this is, generously speaking, nothing more than a backhanded pat on the head and swift dismissal. Yet Bell's comments are merely the loudest and most recent in a swath of like-minded slobberers.

But do go on, Mike. Care to offer up some objectification wrapped in Anchorman references? Sure you do:

Good to know that Bell finds Ron Burgundy jokes funny for all the wrong reasons. The name-calling is offensive on its face, and the line of argument -- is there an argument here? -- crops up consistently in other arenas as well: "You never played the sport, therefore you're not qualified to speak about the sport." Just like being a shock-jock radio brayer makes Mike Bell supremely qualified to speak on women in sports. Never mind that softball pitchers ascend consistently into the high 60s mph range when they throw heat, or never mind the jarringly hilarious notion that Mike Bell expects doctoral-level dissertations from his baseball analysts. Examining the minutiae of pitching and hitting mechanics is the provenance of pitching and hitting coaches, not network analysts, and certainly not drive-time shock-jocks.

But perhaps the Mike Bells of the world have some faux-political terminology to throw around. There's a revolution afoot, and only those in the know can recognize conspiracy:

This is a laughably common refrain from men who refuse to acknowledge the fruits of historical privilege on which they sit. Used in this way, the term "feminist agenda" sits something like four diarrhea hews away from "feminazi" in the idiot's lexicon of gender politics. To the extent that the history of American sport is his-story, and to the extent that Internet 2 has ushered in a vigorous reappraisal of men's central place in mainstream discourse, and to the extent that the world's Mike Bells and Stephen A. Smiths are long in need of shutting the hell up, yes, there is a concerted effort to invite more voices from outside the traditional participants. It's when those traditionally male speakers start feeling the slippage of their mouthpieces and audiences into non-male sectors of the population that fear of displacement sets in, and fear of displacement soon leads to non sequiturs like "feminist agenda" getting thrown around.

To its credit, the Falcons organization was quick to distance itself from Bell's sexism, and certainly it is statements like this -- from the team itself -- that tend to effect real sway:

No one should dismiss Mike Bell's pernicious sexism as the aberrant bloviating of a sequestered individual. "He apologized and got suspended," one might say. Indeed he did, but his sentiment is all too common and systemic in sports writing, radio and television. Here's a man on the Falcons' flagship radio program pontificating about the non-place of women analysts in the broadcast booth, reinforcing every Twitter egg's neanderthal worldview and thus validating similar behavior. Mike Bell, Damon Bruce, and a horde of others are gradually losing their grip on control of the conversation, and American sports are much better for it.