Melbourne’s Age, in typically mischievous fashion, has headlined an inflammatory article, Pearson snubbed as newspaper names horse as Sportswoman of the Year. Lest the headline leaves you in any doubt, here are the opening lines:

Sally Pearson – London Olympic gold medallist and golden girl of Australian sport – has been pipped at the post for Sportswoman of the Year by a racehorse by Sydney’s Daily Telegraph.

Sportswriters Phil Rothfield and Darren Hadland named Black Caviar as the best female athlete this year as part of their annual top 50 moments of the year column.

In fairness to The Age, the controversy began on Twitter. Footy commentator Tom Harley tweeted it’s “plain offensive to all the inspirational sportswomen of Australia.” Other tweeters joined in. “Stupid and offensive.” “Utterly embarrassing.” “A new low.” “Sexism and misogyny are endemic in Oz.”

The article at the heart of the controversy starts this way:


How can you go past Michael Clarke? Not even Bradman managed four double centuries in a single year. His 329 against India at the SCG was incredible. Well played, Pup.


Black Caviar. The mighty mare took on the Poms on their own turf and still beat them. Let’s see Frankel do that. That’s right, they were too afraid to bring him here.


Sally Pearson

Sally Pearson winning the 100m hurdles in London. The Olympics weren’t our best, but Sally did the country proud.

“Pearson snubbed”? I’m sorry, but I can’t maintain the rage. Getting offended by this requires conscious effort.

I always though getting offended was a gut reaction. An offensive statement or behaviour strikes at our core, and elicits an involuntary and instantaneous reaction. I find it hard to believe that is happening here. Not only because the subject matter is inane, but also — and more importantly — because there’s no evidence the authors intended to offend women or snub Sally Pearson. Readers need to choose one of several interpretations before they can be offended.

Earlier in the week, the Pope published an article in the Financial Times:

When Christians refuse to bow down before the false gods proposed today, it is not because of an antiquated world-view. Rather, it is because they are free from the constraints of ideology and inspired by such a noble vision of human destiny that they cannot collude with anything that undermines it.

The “constraints of ideology” narrow a person’s perspective. Abstract ideas can blind a person to other persons. That blindness can license us to be cruel to other persons, because it’s ideas, not relationships, which become the primary motivator.

A rejection of ideology doesn’t necessitate a rejection of ideas. I can accept and understand a feminist critique of the Daily Telegraph column. I can sympathise with this comment:

If Black Caviar was a male we would be talking about a horse, not an athlete. This is typical of the ongoing lack of respect for sportswomen by all the media. I have been watching the sports pages for years and there is rarely more than one article (sometimes less than one per week!) and mostly of tennis players or even the girlfriend of male athletes. It really is appalling.

That sort of comment is reasonable. It is morally serious. Its claims can be investigated. But the righteous indignation which Twitter has broadcast, and The Age inflamed, is something else. It’s the fruit, I think, of “the constraints of ideology.”

The drums of tolerance and diversity beat incessantly. But what about charity? What about always attributing the best possible interpretation to the other person’s words, and presuming good faith?

It reminds me of a Facebook meme I saw recently:

How to start a nasty and personal flame war on the Internet:

1. Express your opinion about something.

2. Wait.