Kevin James’ Sean Payton movie brings the sexism, but not the funny

When I was in college in New York, I had a part-time job as a receptionist at the Plaza Hotel’s beautiful hair salon. On weekends and a few days a week after class, I would take the subway down to Columbus Circle, walk down Central Park South, and spend hours ringing up the luxury services enjoyed by the wealthiest people in New York.

Roger Goodell was one of them. He’d come in once in a while for an expensive haircut.

As a 20-year-old college student, years away from even realizing that working in sports was my dream, I knew who the commissioner of the NFL was.

So why doesn’t Chloe Fineman’s character in the new Kevin James movie?

In the film’s trailer, the SNL comedian players James’ assistant. Six seconds in, she enters the room and tells James, who plays New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, that a “Mr. Goo-dall” is on the phone. James asks, “Roger Goodell? The commissioner?” and Fineman’s character innocently replies, “He didn’t say what his job was.”

Come on.

In mere seconds, Fineman’s character (no disrespect to the talented comic) is typecast as a dumb blonde who knows nothing about the industry in which she works. The direction is egregious, as they even have her mispronouncing the name of the man she technically works for, but somehow doesn’t know.

But more importantly, this brief interaction displays a completely unrealistic situation. There is no universe in which any person employed by an NFL team doesn’t know who Goodell is. As a woman whose sports knowledge is questioned almost weekly, I know firsthand that a woman would never be hired to such a position without being put through the wringer first. Men in sports (even regular fans) playing “Stump the girl” is an even older tradition than James making terrible movies.

I’m not foolish enough to believe that a James movie is accurate, well-written, or funny. A joke that centers on a woman not knowing sports proves that. His films’ writers always for cheap laughs, but this time, they do so at the expense of women in sports. It’s tired and tacky.

An entire piece devoted to this dreck would, at the outset, seem like an overreaction. But it’s more about what Fineman’s character represents in a greater sense. This moment, however brief it was, sets women back. And when I, fellow women in sports, and even supportive men complained about this on social media, it only evidenced that claim. So many men told us that we couldn’t take a joke. What they didn’t seem to realize is that in doing so, they were admitting that they find sexism funny.

Women in sports aren’t a punchline. We have to work harder just to get interviews, jobs, and promotions in this industry, and we’re often belittled at every step of the way. Miami Marlins GM Kim Ng was more qualified than dozens of male candidates, and it took her 15 years of interviews to get the job. Every woman I know in this industry has at least one story of sexism, or worse, sexual harassment.

When I decided that I wanted to work in this industry, my father gave me some tough love. He told me, “You’ll have to work 160% as hard to seem as prepared as a man who works 60%.” He was right on the money.

Kevin James should work harder to find the funny.

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