Media Struggles to Write About African Athlete Without Using Pronouns

JOHANNESBURG (AP)--Sports writers wrestled this week with how to write about gender-ambiguous athlete Caster Semenya without using pronouns.

"As if things aren't tough enough writing about the world economy without pointing fingers, or reporting on town hall meetings without using terms like 'ignorant moron' or 'opposition blow-hole,' now we've got to worry about third-person pronoun references. It's overwhelming," said Constitution Star-Journal international editor Joanne McCormick.

"It's a quandary," said Allen "Pud" Schmitz, sports columnist for the Atlanta Herald. "I mean, you can keep referring to 'Caster' or Semenya' over and over again, which gets monotonous, or you can use 'he or she,' which is accurate but damned awkward. And don't even mention 'i-t' or you'll be back to working as a stringer."

The 18-year-old Semenya, who mopped the track with the competition in the women's 800-meter run, is at the center of an international controversy over this specific participant's gender. Whatever's deep voice and masculine bearing set other runners teeth on edge, leaving them hurling accusations that Semenya is "in the wrong lane of the event." The International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) initiated tests to determine this person-in-question's sexual affiliation, although no one is yet asking the subject of the controversy to return her or his--the medal.

"For [heaven's] sake--it's all hanging on an X or Y chromosome. Can't they give the kid a break?" asked Kelly Bevins, a European freelance reporter of somewhat indeterminate gender his or herself. "When are we going to get past categorizing people, anyway? It's reverse profiling."

Semanya, who returned to Johannesburg to tumultuous support, excitedly lifted both Dorcus Semenya, the mother of said athlete, and South African President Jacob Zuma over his or her head as a sign of victory and solidarity. "Just looking at that victor-person makes me proud, and I couldn't care less if he or she is a him or a...oh, SEE?" exclaimed one tearful supporter.

No one denies that Ms. or Mr. Semenya is a world-class athlete, and everyone agreed that no matter the outcome of the testing, the athlete-no-one-dare-label-one-way-or-another should not return the medal in possession by such person.

The New York Times held an emergency staff meeting last Friday to address the issue, while the Los Angeles Times took a somewhat more pragmatic approach.

"My editor told us to take a page from the Adam Lambert playbook and run with it," reporter Ivan Smith said, referring to the heavily mascara'd American Idol winner. "And that's what I intend to do with... this particular competitor."


  1. "Opposition Blow Hole"...I like that. But I don't have anything as funny to say as I thought I would when I first started reading this piece.


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