Jade Caraway

Jade Caraway stands in the outfield during the Gators' series versus the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns last season. 

Jade Caraway is an excellent Division I softball player.

The now-senior center fielder started her career at NC State, where she led the team in batting average (.389) and the ACC in total hits her freshman year. In her sophomore season for the Wolfpack, Caraway trumpeted a perfect stolen base percentage, finishing 13 for 13 on the season.

She made an immediate impact upon transferring to the SEC. Caraway scored the game-winning run for Florida seven times in her first season. Last year, she managed a seven-game hit streak in a shortened 27-game season. Luckily for Florida, Caraway decided in April to use her extra year of eligibility, granted by the NCAA in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and return to Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium for one last season.

But, sure, as her boyfriend and Gators quarterback Kyle Trask said, “She’s got a nice little arm.”

Now, I know I can’t speak for Caraway, but I would have smacked my boyfriend upside his head if he went in front of 20-something reporters and told them that I write “nice little stories for The Alligator.” 

I talk a big game about “supporting women in sports” on social media, and that’s usually in the context of sports media specifically. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t use my platform to confront the sexism female athletes face on a day-to-day basis as well.

About six-and-a-half minutes into the third quarter, the SEC Network announcers for Saturday night’s game decided to circle back around to this Caraway-Trask narrative.

For some context, the Gators’ COVID-19 outbreak forced them to pause all team-related activities for two weeks, and that meant no practice. When you’re a Heisman candidate, you can’t afford to stop moving and let the rust corrode your momentum. Naturally, Trask called on Caraway to help him stay in shape. As a fellow Division I athlete and an outfielder, of course she’d be able to hold her own. Same idea — throw, catch — different ball.

But Saturday night’s commentators didn’t show similar faith in Caraway. In fact, her name was never even mentioned by either man in the booth.

“I mean, Kyle Trask was literally, to keep his arm loose, was throwing to his girlfriend who’s a center fielder on the softball team,” one announcer said over the laugh of another. “I mean, you know, I’m sure she’s a great athlete, but she probably can’t catch the velocity of the throws that he likes to throw to his normal receivers.”

Before I get into exactly why these comments were wildly inappropriate, here’s some quick science to debunk the claim that Trask throws too fast of a ball for Caraway to handle.

Quarterback throws in the NFL typically don’t reach 60 mph, according to USA Today Sports. At the NFL Combine, Russell Wilson threw a football 55 mph. Nick Foles’ throw reached 57 mph and Kirk Cousins’ topped out at 59. An NFL regulation football weighs about 14 to 16 ounces.

The average overhand throw in Division I softball clocks in at about 57 mph, according to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association. A 12-inch regulation softball weighs 6.25 to seven ounces.

Needless to say, Caraway probably did just fine throwing the pigskin around with her boyfriend.

I was texting  my dad after I got a message from one of my editors explaining what just happened, since I was in the press box in The Swamp and unable to hear these remarks live.

“That was weird, right?” my dad asked, rhetorically. “Maybe the uniforms threw them off and they forgot what year it was.”

As much as I’d like to believe the throwback uniforms were to blame, there are so many blatant examples of women in sports being defined by their significant others, their sexuality or some other viciously sexist stereotype.

Katinka Hozzu, also known as “The Iron Lady” of the swimming world, destroyed the 400-meter individual medley world record in the Rio Olympics four years ago. Hozzu just reached the pinnacle, the absolute zenith of her sport, and the camera cut to her now-ex husband and coach at the time.

“There’s the man responsible for turning his wife into an entirely new swimmer,” NBC commentator Dan Hicks touted.

Not “the man who helped,” but “the man responsible.”

Another heartbreaking example of blatant sexism in sports is the hypersexualization of track and bobsled Olympian Lolo Jones.

In the 2008 Olympics, Jones failed to medal in the 100-meter hurdle event after tripping over a hurdle during the race. The New York Times published an article, effectively kicking her, rather hard, while she was down. It claimed that Jones “played into the persistent, demeaning notion that women are worthy as athletes only if they have sex appeal.”

“Essentially, Jones has decided she will be whatever anyone wants her to be — vixen, virgin, victim — to draw attention to herself and the many products she endorses,” the article read.

No one would ever write that about a male athlete. Ever. Regardless of how many workout videos Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew posts in cut up shorts and tank tops, no major media outlet has published a story casting such claims on him.

Imagine that you work your whole life for this Olympic moment, falter and then see your name in The New York Times explaining that all you are is a sorry excuse for a sex symbol.

These all too casual instances of sexism in sports are, frankly, disheartening. I remember being so excited when I became one of The Alligator’s softball beat writers last spring. Collegiate softball is a women’s sport with lots of deeply moving storylines and national attention.

The women I covered on this beat aren’t girlfriends with “nice little arms.” They’re commanding athletes in their own right.

And it’s about time they’re referred to as such.

The article originally had Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew's name misspelled. The spelling has been corrected from "Garnder"  to "Gardner."

Contact Payton Titus at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @petitus25.