Cognitive Dissonance: A Sports Story about a Transgender Woman

Cognitive Dissonance is a regular Monday feature in which a post is presented that, if read, may provoke “a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.” I hope these pieces will provoke thought, if not conversation.

If you read about golf or blogs or transgender issues (or all three), you have probably seen this mix of stories unfold over the past two weeks, but if not, it is full of interesting points for discussion.

First there was a story about a putter, published on (ESPN owned) Grantland, that was then pushed out by various means to much acclaim, initially. And then a backlash began. The story, which began as an exploration of a putter and its inventor, morphs into a detective story that features the debunking of various aspects of the life of the inventor (credentials and work experience), but then becomes something else when the author finds out about the inventor’s status as a transgender woman. In the time period between the writer’s initial work on the article and its publishing, Essay Anne Vanderbilt (a.k.a., Dr. V, the inventor of the putter) committed suicide.

1) The original article is here.

2) There was a great response from Cristina Kahrl, who is a sportswriter and editor at Grantland and also a transgender woman.

3) Grantland also published an apology (with explanation) from the Editor that highlights their thinking, their process, their blindspots, and their promises.

4) There was, to be sure, also plenty of commentary about it (as here on Gawker and here from the “paper of record”).

If you only have time or interest to read ONE of these, read either #2 or #3. After that, you might want to read more, but from either you’ll get a good sense of what’s involved. And if you’re interested in reading MORE about the intersection of sports and transgender issues, check out this profile of MMA fighter Fallon Fox and what she goes through. Or this brief piece on another sportswriter who transitioned, quite publicly.

UPDATE: ESPN’s Ombudsman has published an article about the whole thing that describes it as “Understandable, Inexcusable” and runs through a lot of interesting issues from the publishing/reporting/editing side of things, as well as from the human/ethical side of things. Also, the Arizona Republic published a story that includes material gathered from interviewing Essay Anne Vanderbilt’s girlfriend and business partner.

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