Not much could tarnish the pride in the United Kingdom after Scottish national Andy Murray took home the coveted trophy of the All England Club at Wimbledon. BBC commentator John Inverdale sure gave it his best shot, though.
As Marion Bartoli of France accepted her first-ever Grand Slam tennis trophy, Inverdale shocked listeners of his BBC Radio 5 program by saying “Do you think Bartoli’s dad told her when she was little, ‘You’re never going to be a looker, you’ll never be a Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight’?” The comment was met with fury in the Twittersphere, while the older school logged more than 700 telephone complaints to the BBC’s headquarters in London.
This isn’t the first gaffe for Inverdale, who has served as a BBC sports presenter on Wimbledon for several years. For many in the UK, this boorish remark was the last straw. Each year, listeners “are gifted his open distaste for the women’s game, which apparently lacks anything to hold his well-remunerated attention,” fumed a columnist in The Guardian.
After first trying to brush off the criticism, Inverdale finally apologized at the start of the men’s finals on Sunday. Even then, he downplayed his comment as “clumsy” and “ham-fisted.” The BBC was little better, saying, limply, “We accept that this remark was insensitive and for that we apologize.” The only winner here was Bartoli, who said she never aspired to be a model and invited Inverdale to check her out at the champion’s gala a few nights later where, she mused, “He could change his mind.”
THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for John Inverdale for the comment, and to the BBC for its anemic response.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: If you find yourself about to remark on someone’s appearance to the media: STOP. Unless you’re referring to a beauty pageant, no good can come of the words you’re about to utter, whether complimentary or critical. Regardless of how attractive someone is, commentary should focus solely on that person’s skill or accomplishments. In today’s world, any reference to physical attributes is too easily construed as sexist – and rightfully so.