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Wide World to Investigate Homophobia in Women’s Sports

April 19, 1996

ABC’s ``Wide World of Sports″ will go a little beyond the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat Saturday. It will investigate the fear of homosexuals, as well.

In a weekly segment entitled ``Women in the Game,″ ABC Sport examines the issue of homophobia in sports from the perspective of both men and women.

``It’s a sports issue and not just a women’s sports issue, but it seems it’s women’s sports that always is labeled as having a homophobic problem,″ said Lydia Stephans, ABC Sports vice president of programming and guiding hand of Wide World. ``The gist of the piece is that it’s an issue in society in general.″

Homophobia became a hot topic in women’s sports after former CBS golf analyst Ben Wright alleged that lesbianism discouraged potential LPGA sponsors, followed by the admissions of LPGA regular Muffin Spencer-Devlin that she is homosexual.

For its piece, ABC dealt with ``high-profile pro athletes in both male and female sports, as well as college administrators and coaches,″ Stephans said. Among those interviewed were former women’s tennis player Martina Navratilova and baseball umpire Dave Pallone, both homosexuals.

``People believe there are not gay athletes in sports,″ Pallone told ABC. ``You could field a major league all-star team with the players I know who are gay. You could throw in a GM and probably two umpires.″

Navratilova, meanwhile, told Wide World she believes the press treats gay males differently from lesbians.

``I’ve asked a lot of writers this: `Have you ever asked male athletes if they were gay?‴ Navratilova said. ``None of them have, but many of them have asked women athletes if they are gay. But they treat male athletes differently. Even when they know there are some gay guys out there they protect them.″

In its ``Women in the Game″ series, ABC also has dealt with such issues as inequities in prize money for men and women, charges of steroid use by swimmer Jessica Foschi, and the women’s national basketball team.

``We’re trying to use `Women in the Game’ as a platform to break new ground,″ Stephans said. ``Women’s sports in general doesn’t get much network exposure, and we’re using this as a platform for that exposure. I decided as long as we’re covering athletes, events and issues, we aren’t going to dodge things.

``This is a sensitive issue that people are uncomfortable talking about, but as journalists we feel the responsibility to cover everything. People have important things to say about homophobia.″

OUT TAKES: The reincarnation of ``Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf″ is into its third season, and the reason for it is simple.

``The series is homage to the original series,″ said Terry Jastrow, president of Jack Nicklaus Productions, which produces the series for ABC. ``It’s a simple but very solid idea. You take two of the greatest players in the world and put them on one of the world’s most exotic or difficult courses.″

The series originally aired from 1961-70 and featured 92 matches in 58 countries. It was a forerunner to the modern PGA Tour and one of the first regular golf series on TV. Reruns of the old series currently can be seen on the Golf Channel.

The first of five matches in the new series aired Sunday, featuring Arnold Palmer and Gary Player at The Challenge in Manele, Lanai, Hawaii. The final four installments will feature Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino at Cabo del Sol in Cabo San Luxas, Mexico on May 5; Annika Sorenstam against Dottie Pepper at Kiawah Island, S.C., July 20; Tom Kite and Ben Crenshaw at the Champions Golf Club in Houston on Nov. 17; and Greg Norman against a player to be named at Skibo Castle in Dornoch, Scotland, on Dec. 1.

``Skibo is the latest and probably last great links course in Scotland,″ said Jastrow, who also produces golf for ABC. ``It was Andrew Carnegie’s summer home for about 40 years.″ ...

ESPN had such success with its X Games series, formerly known as the Extreme Games, that it will create a four-day winter version to be held late in January 1997 for broadcast on both ESPN and ESPN2.

Events will include snowboarding, ice climbing, snow bicycling and super-modified shovel racing.

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