The Babe Bracket, an annual Arkansas radio contest that playfully pits female TV journalists against each other in a March Madness–style showdown, is dividing local broadcasters in a debate about the way the contest, sponsored by Seductions Lingerie, objectifies women.
The tournament, which airs on the sports talk radio station 103.7 The Buzz in Little Rock, came under fire last week when a local TV news director published a blog calling for an end to the 20-year tradition.
The hosts of the station’s morning show, The Show With No Name, choose 16 women for the bracket and feature them in on-air interviews over two weeks in March. Listeners can then call in to vote for who should advance to the next round. Pictures of the contestants are included on the online bracket for listeners who may not be familiar with the journalists’ appearance from live TV.
“The days of blatant objectification of women are ending,” Austin Kellerman, of NBC affiliate KARK and Fox affiliate KLRT, wrote Thursday. “And at the end of the day, whether it’s meant to be harmless or not, that’s what this is.”
Kellerman said the contest fails to recognize women’s achievements in the workplace and contradicts the image of participants as role models in the community.
“If you want to celebrate the women of local television, let’s focus on their efforts to get foster children into permanent homes, raise awareness for colon cancer, promote area groups making a difference, and tell stories that transform our state for the better,” he wrote. “They deserve to be celebrated—just not like this.”
Although women have opted out in the past, the hosts have said the bracket is an opportunity for journalists to promote their work and advocate for charity during a series of on-air spots. (Simply inviting them to speak on the show as guests apparently hasn’t occurred to the hosts.)
However, several former Babe Bracket winners said they failed to see the problem.
“If the Babe Bracket helps me promote things that are important to me, I would say, ‘Sign me up every year,’” KLRT anchor Donna Terrell told the Associated Press. Terrell used her 2011 appearance to promote her charity that fights colon cancer, which took her daughter’s life.
The 2016 winner, Alyse Eady, now at Fox 5 in Atlanta, also tweeted her support.
Many locals denounced Kellerman on Twitter. Some viewers rejected his argument, countering that broadcasters are hired for their looks and thus are already objectified by the stations they work for. Others pointed out that Kellerman’s blog post coincided with February sweeps, a survey of local television stations that is an important popularity gauge for TV advertisers.
Several journalists and community members rushed to Kellerman’s defense.
Among supporters were KARK executive producer Mark Moseley, Emmy-winning KARK anchor Victoria Price, and KARK morning show co-host D.J. Williams.
Despite the criticism, The Show With No Name co-host R.J. Hawk said the Babe Bracket will be back by popular demand in March.
After the announcement, Kellerman tweeted that there’s still time for The Buzz hosts to cancel the contest. Kellerman himself appeared on the show just two years ago to campaign for a Babe Bracket finalist who was a colleague at his station. It’s a testament to the power of the #MeToo movement that even those who once tolerated workplace sexism can change their minds and join the fight against it.