As this article is being written, the Australian Open is underway in Melbourne, and it strikes me that there is no sport so equal across gender lines as tennis. This is not to say there hasn’t been a struggle to get there. Women did not always have equal prize money in tennis, and as we saw even at the 2018 U.S. Open during the women’s final, women can sometimes be treated differently by officials as well. However, thanks to pioneering efforts by the likes of Billie Jean King, modern feminist icons like Serena Williams, and even some of the professional men on tour who have advocated for equality, such as Andy Murray, tennis - for the most part - looks and feels equal.
Attend a major tennis tournament and you’re likely to see just as much of a crowd for a match featuring female stars as their male counterparts; turn on the TV during a tournament like the Australian Open and it’s a coin flip as to whether they’ll be showing men’s or women’s matches. Save for mixed doubles matches (which don’t get much publicity), the professional men and women don’t actually play against each other. For all intents and purposes though, they’re competing in the same event.
This got me thinking: why don’t other major sporting events work this way? Aside from tennis, the Olympics, and I suppose UFC, it’s hard to find examples of men and women competing in the same sport and being showcased at the same time, or in a similar way. Yet when this happens it goes a long way, not just in generating viewership and revenue for the women, but in helping viewers who are so often blindly partial to men’s sports realize that the entertainment value of the competition and the respectability of the athletes is typically equal across lines.
These are merely one writer’s ideas and suggestions, but it seems that these events could go further to promote women’s sports the way tennis manages to do.
1 - The NBA Playoffs
If you’re a basketball fan who pays attention to social media, you may have noticed that the WNBA is actually getting a lot more respect of late. The league is packed with extremely talented stars, and to their credit some of the biggest voices in NBA media (such as Shea Serrano) have gone out of their way to show and tell their followers that the WNBA can be every bit as exciting. However, the wage gap remains real and the attendance gap is massive, which means there’s still a long way. It would seem that the two leagues could help to bridge the gap by involving the start of the WNBA season (typically in May) with the NBA playoffs (which begin in April). Rather than simply advertising games, as happens now, the leagues should consider airing early WNBA showcases, or even an early season tournament, in between days on the NBA playoff schedule, or during off hours. With so many eyes on the NBA during the playoffs, it seems an ideal time to directly involve the women’s game as well.
2 - The Masters
Women’s golf is taken quite seriously in golf circles, and the LPGA Tour does have a following. With that said though, the tour has nothing even approaching the prestige of The Masters, which is quite possibly the most famous golf event on the planet. Now, a golf tournament means a fairly packed schedule, so despite the fact that the tournament has the smallest number of starters of any major (at 90 to 100 players), it’s probably not feasible to make it a two-tournament event, like a tennis major. However, having an LPGA event at Augusta National in the days right before or right after The Masters could go a very long way toward boosting attention for the women’s tour, and establishing a sort of signature event.
3 - The World Cup
While it presents a logistical challenge of substantial proportions for the host nation, the World Cup should simply be a men’s and women’s event. The Women’s World Cup is a fairly strong draw in and of itself, but putting it at the same venue, and over the same dates as the men’s tournament would enhance both events. It would turn the Cup into a true Olympics-level event surrounding just the beloved sport of soccer, and it would naturally bring some extra eyes to the always compelling women’s game. Given that most of the World Cup schedule tends to involve just two or three matches per day (four earlier on), this seems reasonable doable.
4 - The Boat Race
The Boat Race is a British sporting competition that is in fact already doing a wonderful job of putting men and women on equal footing. Held each year on the River Thames between two prestigious universities (Cambridge and Oxford), it’s a series of rowing races that, a long time ago, was only for young men. However, when Cambridge won the women’s race last spring, it was noted that it was the 73rd women’s race, meaning this has been a dual-gender event for the better part of a century. The suggestion here is simply that this event - which is big in London and around England to some degree - should get more international press.
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.