Here's Tom Boswell today, writing about the Rockies' amazing run:
Maybe they're headed to a World Series trip that will shame all the sport's other improbabilities. After all, they were in fourth place in the National League West, five games out of the wild card on Sept. 17. Some sport-addled math professor somewhere is going to crunch the numbers on that and she'll nearly run out of decimal points in computing the odds. [emphasis added]
First, two qualifiers. (1) I love, love, love Tom Boswell. He's my second-favorite sports columnist, ranking below only the Immortal Bill Lyon. (2) As a writer, I'm actually fairly deliberate about switching up gender pronouns and trying to keep them balanced out. I think it's a little silly, but it doesn't matter much to me and it does seem to matter quite a bit to some readers, so I'm happy to try to reach out.
Except, when the outreach creates such a jarring, ridiculous dissonance with reality. For instance, you could, technically, use the pronoun "she" when talking about an anonymous place kicker because in the history of sports there have been one or two female place kickers in football. You could use "he" when talking about a non-specific Avon salesperson because there are now a couple "Avon Men."
But, at the risk of straying into Summers territory, what percentage of math professors are women and how many "sport-addled" female math professors are there out there? Ten? Twenty? Six?
This sort of ludicrous gender outreach is bad for writing because it actually does sacrifice something important on the altar of political feminism and derails the piece.
Final caveats: Maybe this was an editor mucking around with Boswell's copy. Or maybe Boswell had a specific lady sports-addled math professor in mind, in which case I drop all of the following complaints and applaud him for throwing her a shout-out. And finally, in any case, this complaint should in no-way be taken as a diminishing of Boswell who, again, is pretty fabulous.
I just wish this sort of stuff would stay out of sports.