Michael Wilbon, how could you? (I still love you.)

Full disclosure: I am a great fan of ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption (PTI). More generally speaking, I find much of ESPN’s programming in which sports journalists play a prominent role to be very compelling. The conversations and debates on shows such as PTI, Around the Horn, and The Sports Reporters often raise issues beyond the sports world and towards questions of media responsibility, journalistic ethics, and the nature of celebrity as it intersects with race, class, gender, and sexuality.

All that said, a story this past week came directly into my wheelhouse when PTI hosts Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser debated the ethics of Redskins phenom quarterback Robert Griffin III (RGIII) accepting gifts fans had sent him and his fiancé after The Washington Post linked their Bed, Bath, and Beyond registry online. Wilbon and Kornheiser went back and forth on the legitimacy of a major sports celebrity accepting expensive gifts from fans.

RGIII_registry

RGIII tweeted his thanks to fans and posed before a mountain of empty boxes to show his appreciation. When criticized, he expressed shock that “Because you are rich you are not allowed to receive gifts…?” I’m not so much interested in the should he/shouldn’t he debate over whether RGIII should return the gifts or donate them to charity (although, like Kornheiser, I’m surprised he and his fiancé chose to register at Bed, Bath, and Beyond – but that’s beside the point).RGIII_boxes

What grabbed my attention more was Wilbon’s commentary about how this wasn’t really RGIII’s registry. Wedding registries, he asserted, are the domain of the bride-to-be. “Oh, Wilbon,” I thought. “You’re so much better than that.” Is the view of pre-wedding planning (and the unpaid labor it entails) as primarily women’s preserve one that is widespread across the population? Yes. Is this view an accurate one? I say no. More, I would argue, it’s one of the tired stereotypes about the world of weddings that we come back to time and again because it’s a) easy; b) often supported by some anecdotal evidence; and c) doesn’t do anything to challenge notions of appropriate expressions of masculinity and femininity. However, a quick look to the past provides evidence to suggest that registries are not only for brides-to-be. During the 1950s, when the notion of marriage evolved to suggest that the marital partnership should be the primary relationship in American adults’ lives, many brides and grooms were feted with “mixed” showers at which guests (male and female) provided any number of gifts, either gender-neutral or explicitly masculine (bar accessories, lawn tools, grilling paraphernalia) pre-selected by the bride and the groom. During the late 1960s, as Bride’s magazine planned to expand its circulation to reach more prospective brides, the marketing team assigned to pitch ad space to prospective buyers highlighted how the registry – now often computerized – was regularly selected by both brides and their grooms. And from the 1970s on, much of the world of wedding planning – and its associated literature – has spoken directly to the expectation of egalitarianism in marital pairings, egalitarianism often established well before the wedding and frequently demonstrated in the labor leading up to the celebration.

While it may be easier to imagine an easy dichotomy between masculine and feminine (and groom and bride), the reality is that the egalitarianism that increasingly has marked American marriages and overall relationships between men and women has meant that there is greater fluidity in gender roles and categories. As such, it is far more acceptable and far more likely that men will, in fact, express tremendous interest in the goods requested of their wedding guests, especially as men have found greater welcome in the world of home life and decor. And even for those uncomfortable with challenges to “traditional” ideas of what a man should be and do, registries have continued to allow for the stereotypically masculine offerings requested of those attending mid-century mixed-showers.

PTI often features a segment called “Report Card” in which Wilbon and Kornheiser assign a letter grade to a recent event or action suggested by “Professor” Tony Reali. If I’m scoring Wilbon on his registry comment, I go “D.” He submitted a response, and I guess I’m an easy grader. Besides, I like to leave some room for improvement.

grade-DWilbon

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