Adventures in sexist ledes

I don’t follow news about the University of Iowa’s football program closely, but I read Mark Emmert’s latest story for the Iowa City Press-Citizen because I was curious to see how he handled questions about the recent hire of head coach Kirk Ferentz’s son-in-law as recruiting director. When Tyler Barnes worked for the team in a different role in 2012, Ferentz “pushed to extend Barnes’ temporary position for a second year without disclosing to athletic director Gary Barta or others that Barnes was his future son-in-law,” contrary to the university’s policy on nepotism, Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press on April 29.

Wanting to see how Ferentz explained bringing his son-in-law back to Iowa City for a well-paying job, I clicked through to today’s piece for the Press-Citizen. I didn’t have time to absorb the Captain Obvious headline “Kirk Ferentz convinced his son-in-law is great addition” before Emmert’s lede smacked me in the face.

If you can impress Kirk Ferentz enough to marry his daughter, you can certainly make a convincing case that you have what it takes to work for the Iowa football coach.

Tyler Barnes already defied the odds when he won the heart of Joanne Ferentz. Last week, his father-in-law tapped him to be the Hawkeyes’ new director of recruiting.

“He was working for us before they started dating,” Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday before the Washington County I-Club gathering at the Riverside Casino and Golf Resort. “(Joanne) told her mom she was always going to stay away from football people. She didn’t want any part of this life. So life’s ironies are funny.”

Let me guess: no woman copy-edited this piece before publication.

Does Emmert see Joanne Ferentz as having any agency here? Or are we supposed to believe her marriage was some kind of feudal transaction, whereby she could not have married Barnes if her father had not approved of the union?

Saying Barnes “defied the odds when he won the heart” of his wife is a strange phrase as well. Maybe the reporter meant only that Barnes overcame Joanne Ferentz’s initial reluctance to date someone involved with football. But the sentence reads as reinforcing the lede: Barnes won over Kirk Ferentz, was therefore able to marry the coach’s daughter, and later managed to present himself as the right candidate for the Hawkeyes recruiting job.

Sports journalism is not a hospitable field for women. The Cauldron’s Julie DeCaro and ESPN’s Sarah Spain reminded the world of that in last week’s difficult-to-watch #MoreThanMean video of men reading Twitter harassment out loud.

But Emmert’s article underscores the importance of newsroom diversity, including on the sports desk. A female reporter or editor probably would not have brought the reader into a story about a controversial hire this way.

P.S.- Ferentz told the Press-Citizen that Barnes was working for the team before he started dating the coach’s daughter. According to the AP’s April 29 story, Barnes became an administrative assistant for the Hawkeyes when the young couple was already dating. I have no idea whose version is more accurate.

UPDATE: Both are correct. Barnes worked for the university’s athletics department for some time as a student before he began dating Joanne Ferentz. But he was already involved with the coach’s daughter when hired for the 2012 administrative assistant position: “Kirk Ferentz told the [Cedar Rapids] Gazette [in 2013] he didn’t see a reason to tell Barta about the change in Barnes’s personal status.”

About the Author(s)