It’s marathon season, and so the nation’s streets are full of “joggers,” or so most headline writers in the U.S. would have us believe. In newspapers around the country, it’s not runners, but “joggers” that are assaulted by strangers, hit by cars, pelted with fireworks, or bitten by a rabid fox.
I’ve been ranting about this for months on Twitter because I run, and because I can count.
As a former headline writer for a daily newspaper, I know how hard it can be to accurately sum up a story in 28 or 36 characters with the hot breath of a deadline on your neck. But “runner” has the same number of letters as “jogger,” which eliminates the only acceptable reason for the plethora of “joggers” schlepping atop the stories on newspaper websites: brevity.
So there must be another dastardly reason that headline writers are belittling runners en masse. Wait – could it be because they are women?
That’s what one woman argued last week on the Runner’s World website. In a piece called “Stop calling women runners joggers,” seven-time marathoner Maia Deccan Dickinson exhumed the vast patriarchal conspiracy and pinpointed it as a reason that women runners are being presented as “joggers,” and thus weaker and slower than men.
The problem is, it’s not true.
Yes, women runners are being called joggers in headlines and articles, and yes, it’s particularly egregious in the cases of Karina Vetrano, Vanessa Marcotte and other women who have been murdered while out running. But these high-profile demotions from runner to jogger aren’t sexist; men are called joggers in the media every week.
Nor are they the work of people who hate runners (and oh yes, they’re out there; you shall know them by their “0.0 –Running Sucks” bumper stickers).
No, the headlines aren’t the work of sexists or haters, but merely the clueless: people who don’t run, and have no idea that most runners get in a lather over an etymological distinction that is lost on the non-running public.
Cue the sedentary public, faced with this outrage and scratching its head: “They buy Baby Joggers, don’t they?”
Yes, we do, and, curiously enough, without taking offense.
But don’t call us joggers, because Americans have highly sensitive outrage meters, and we will process that as calling us slow and/or fat, just like we process “Good evening, ladies” or “Hi, guys” as a gender-crime offense.
That said, Dickinson is right about one thing: Headline writers need to ditch the term “joggers.” It’s a word that was correct during the Carter administration; today, it’s an obsolete term that signals that the headline writer doesn’t run. There are a handful of runners who self-identify as joggers, but they’re rarer than Trump voters in newsrooms. True, the late running icon Steve Prefontaine once said, “I’ll always be a jogger,” but that was — wait for it — in 1972.
The late great philosopher of running, Dr. George Sheehan, famously said that the difference between a runner and jogger is an entry blank, and Dickinson correctly points out that more women finish road races now than men, a startling change from 1990, when women represented just one-quarter of finishers. “These women are undeniable athletes, now representing 61 percent of all half-marathon finishers and 44 percent of all marathon finishers nationwide,” she wrote.
On this we agree, and there is still real outrage to be found in the world of running; consider Iran, where last week women were allowed to run just six miles of the country’s first marathon.
So, by all means, petition your local newspaper and favorite internet media site to join the 21st century and use the term “runner” instead of “jogger.” But don’t say it’s because they’re discriminating against women; it’s simply a better word. After all, no one will “jog” the Boston Marathon next Monday, not even those who finish last.