New heavyweight world champion Tyson Fury had some interesting thoughts about women. In a video that has surfaced on YouTube, Fury said:
"It's up to everybody what they want to do. I'm all for it; I'm not a sexist. I believe if a man can to go work all his life, a woman can. Who am I to say 'don't do that 'cause you're a girl?' But I believe a woman's best place is in the kitchen and on her back. That's my personal belief. Making me a good cup of tea -- that's what I believe."
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Fury's comments actually make his comments pretty sexist. Merriam-Webster, a pretty established source in the world of definitions, defines sexism as "behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex."
The natural question when it comes to Fury, though, is: Who cares? Why does it matter that an athlete said something sexist?
"People look up to and value the opinions of athletes," said Jessica Luther, a freelance journalist and a feminist. "We can argue about whether people should do that, but regardless, they do."
Although Fury might not feel that he is a role model, his title of heavyweight champion of the world comes with a hefty global platform and increased scrutiny. The BBC, in fact, has said that it is keeping him as a candidate for its sports personality of the year despite a petition with 45,000 signatures to remove him.
There is a temptation to keep the focus on athletes simply about athletic performance, but that is unrealistic. Male athletes are asked about women competing in sports because their opinions matter in a world where women being included in a video game is giant cultural news.
When asked about MMA fighter Ronda Rousey, Fury said, "What do I think of her? She's quite hot." As if that were the only relevant comment he could have made about arguably the most recognizable fighter in the world.
"Women's boxing is a growing sport," Luther said, "and it means something when a high-profile male athlete in the sport says that, essentially, those women shouldn't be there playing that sport because she's only good for cooking and sex."
The crux of the issue is that, by vocalizing his misogyny, Fury validated the misogyny of others. "People are so ready to not care about women's sports, to find reasons to dismiss them. Someone high profile within the sport making that easier to do is sad, and a problem," Luther said.
And yet, Fury occupies a difficult space with his comments. On the one hand, he wouldn't say to a woman "don't do that 'cause you're a girl," and on the other, he consistently objectified women in his statements. When asked about women in boxing, Fury jumped immediately to the women who hold the round cards and said, "I like them, actually; they give me inspiration when I'm tired and I see them wiggling around with their Round 2, Round 8, Round 10 cards. I think women in boxing is very good."
Using sexual imagery like the phrase "on her back," paired with the antiquated notion that women should be in the kitchen squarely expresses stereotypes that negate his previous statement of women being able to work just like men. Fury doesn't say "the only place." He says, "the best place," implying that women can be in spaces outside of the kitchen, and he won't tell them not to, but also implying that really women are best cooking meals and pleasing men sexually.
In his candor, Fury exposes the sexist underpinnings laced within sport, the seemingly small ways in which objectification of women is validated and encouraged. Whether it is parading around scantily clad women at halftime, commenting on the attractiveness of male athletes' wives, or the women holding round cards at boxing matches, these are all ways in which Fury's opinion is tacitly accepted throughout sports as a whole.
It's ridiculous and unacceptable. Even more ridiculous than Fury's claim that he's not a sexist.
Katie Barnes is a digital media associate at ESPN. Follow her on Twitter at Katie_Barnes3