As certain ESPN employees have continued to insert themselves into the social media conversation around transgender athletes and whether or not they should be able to compete against others of their chosen gender, it was only a matter of time before someone took notice.
That someone was USA Today columnist Nancy Armour, who penned a scathing piece about ESPN Sunday NFL Countdown host Sam Ponder’s comments, accusing her of peddling bigotry under the guise of caring about women’s sports.
“There has been no shortage of stories in the last year about the actual ways in which women athletes are being treated unfairly and robbed of opportunities to participate,” wrote Armour. “USA TODAY Sports, for one, did an entire series on the subject, detailing how most schools aren’t providing equitable funding for their men’s and women’s programs, are short-changing women athletes on scholarship money and are manipulating numbers to make it look as if they’re complying with Title IX, and how the federal government is doing little to stop it.
Did Ponder use her platform to express outrage at any of this? Urge her nearly half-million followers on Twitter to write or call their representatives and ask that women be given the funding and opportunities they rightfully deserve? Did she publicly participate in any of the many excellent documentaries, videos and commentary ESPN did to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Title IX last year? Or even Tweet about them?
No, she did not. Her public concern about “fairness” for female athletes starts and stops with the miniscule number of transgender women who are participating in sports.”
Armour’s piece was understandably seized on by people in the same circles as Ponder, including fellow ESPN employee Sage Steele, who called the USA Today column a “pathetic attack.”
Pathetic attack on a WOMAN who is simply fighting for other WOMEN in sports. @nrarmour chooses to lead w her emotions vs facts. "Follow the science", right?! When in doubt, just pull the bigot/race card!Comical. Stay strong @samponder ..this is a lonely fight, but it's worth it! https://t.co/hI7JAOjNGu
— Sage Steele (@sagesteele) May 29, 2023
It’s worth noting that while no other ESPN talent seems to have stepped up to defend Ponder publicly, Sarah Spain did “like” Armour’s column on Twitter, suggesting she finds herself on the opposite side of the heated discussion.
Ponder seemed to go silent on Twitter following the column until Thursday when she tweeted “Biology is not bigotry. Loving people does not require the absence of boundaries.”
Biology is not bigotry. Loving people does not require the absence of boundaries.
— Samantha Steele Ponder (@samponder) May 31, 2023
ESPN hasn’t commented publicly on the burgeoning issue. It’s unlikely that they will go out of their way to do so. Disney and ESPN currently find themselves grappling with a lawsuit brought by Steele over alleged free speech violations. They probably don’t want to add to that, especially given the ammo it would provide to people like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is locked in a battle with Disney over their perceived “woke agenda.”
Still, Ponder and Steele seem to have made it clear that this is a fight they’re willing to keep having. Given how much it seems like Republicans will make transgender issues a cornerstone of their culture war agenda in the upcoming Presidential election, there’s probably going to be a point where the company will have to mandate something, one way or another.