ESPN and its college sports platform the SEC Network are on an apology tour after Barry Booker, a basketball analyst, showed his whole ass trying to make a gymnastics joke during Saturday night’s broadcast. His downfall came during a timeout in the first half of college basketball game, when a promotional graphic came on screen for a women’s gymnastics meet between Alabama and Arkansas, scheduled to air on Valentine’s Day.
No doubt scrambling to fill the gap caused by the timeout in the game, the lead announcer, Richard Cross, suggested the meet would be a good “Valentine’s Day date night idea,” Booker’s awkward response: “Go hang out with the ladies…I mean, I wanna go see some scantily clad girls,” referring, of course, to the elite gymnasts that compete at the collegiate level. Cross attempted to recover the conversation by stating the meet was a “family-friendly” environment, but Booker’s comment had already been heard by the several thousand viewers. Booker didn’t apologize immediately, but did so later in the broadcast, presumably after someone with a shred of common sense chastised him.
Of course, Booker’s tone-deaf comment had already whipped up a frenzy. SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey released a statement apologizing for the comment, stating the student-athletes of the women’s gymnastics teams deserved “respect” and Booker’s comments “did not meet the expectations we have for the SEC Network.” Sankey added that the network is addressing the matter “internally” but has not said yet whether Booker will be suspended. Former SEC gymnast Sydney McGlone told the Washington Post that the comment was “sexualizing of a sport that has already faced so much when it comes to sexual abuse.”
It’s a bit confusing that Booker, who has been an analyst for six seasons, appeared not to understand that the leotards worn by gymnasts are not a fashion choice, but a uniform—one designed to prevent the athletes from being encumbered by their clothing while flying through the air at speeds that could kill them should something like a baggy t-shirt obstruct their view. All team sports require a uniform of some sort, something a former athlete like Booker should get. Perhaps if we want to debate which sports involve the least amount of clothing, Booker should direct his attention to the world of mixed martial arts or men’s water polo.