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Game On! Great New Sports Books

Ludtke sued Ueberroth’s predecessor, Bowie Kuhn, in federal court — and won. “The court held that Ludtke had been treated differently than her colleagues based solely on her gender,” Julie DiCaro writes in SIDELINED: Sports, Culture, and Being a Woman in America (Dutton, 288 pp., $27). Ludtke’s victory was narrow — it pertained only to the Yankees — but it paved the way for Ueberroth’s leaguewide decision seven years later.

DiCaro is a former host on Chicago sports radio and currently a writer and editor at Deadspin. Her book champions the work of women like Ludtke, who refused to tolerate a sexist status quo. It’s also a cri de coeur about the current state of sports media, where women remain at a disadvantage. “I often say to people that I had it a lot easier than women do today,” Ludtke told DiCaro.

When DiCaro was on the air in Chicago, the mere sound of a female voice was more than many male listeners could bear.

In no small part, that’s due to the advent of social media. Ludtke was attacked for having the temerity to demand equal access, but largely by columnists who had to sign their names to their views. The anonymity afforded by Twitter has led to new depths of viciousness. When DiCaro was on the air in Chicago, the mere sound of a female voice was more than many male listeners could bear. According to her critics, DiCaro’s voice “was simultaneously too high, too low, too shrill, too girly, too raspy.” One commenter, at least, was willing to own up to what these critiques were really about. “I tune into sports radio to get AWAY from women,” he wrote.

DiCaro’s “amateur vocal coaches” are among her more mild-mannered antagonists. In 2016, she appeared in a video based loosely on Jimmy Kimmel’s “Mean Tweets” segment. The video’s producers invited men to read aloud, to DiCaro’s face, tweets that other men had written about her. The resulting footage is excruciating to watch: As the messages grow nastier and nastier, the men find it difficult to continue, squirming in their seats and struggling to make eye contact. The tweets have a visible effect on DiCaro as well, at least at first. “By the time my day of filming was over,” she writes of the experience, “I’d heard guys calling me fat and ugly and praying for my rape so many times they didn’t register anymore.”

Produced for $300, the video, which also featured ESPN’s Sarah Spain, had an outsize impact, discussed on “The View” and the “CBS Evening News.” Later, it won a Peabody Award. The video undoubtedly raised awareness of the treatment women like DiCaro and Spain have had to endure. Yet DiCaro’s book makes clear that conditions have not much improved: A toxic social media landscape remains one of many impediments to achieving gender equality on sports desks. After DiCaro lost her show in 2020 because of the pandemic, neither of Chicago’s sports radio stations had a female host.

Larry Olmsted, the author of FANS: How Watching Sports Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Understanding (Algonquin, 320 pp., $25.95), is not a social scientist. As he admits near the end of his book, he’s not even a sports fan. He is “a fan of sports fans.” Olmsted mounts his case for the salubriousness of sport with the passion of the season-ticket holder who marshals statistics, anecdotes and intuition to make the case that this is the year the Jets will win the A.F.C. East.

In the era of bowling alone, the Super Bowl party has persisted.

Olmsted leans heavily on the work of Daniel L. Wann, a professor of psychology at Murray State University, who has identified 24 mental health benefits of fandom. Among them, Olmsted reports, are higher self-esteem, more conscientiousness, fewer bouts of depression, less alienation and less anger. Julie DiCaro and Bob Stanley may wish a word with Dr. Wann.


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