Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Even when they die...

...women are still relegated to "gender-appropriate" sports and physical activities.
I went to see the Bodyworlds 2 exhibit yesterday and because I was not all that into what I am guessing was the main goal of the exhibit--to look at body parts and learn more about what goes on inside us (and camels too which was actually more interesting to me!)--I had plenty of time to consider the things I like to focus on: gender and sports.

Many of the bodies have been posed to illustrate how muscles look when they are kicking, throwing, stretching, etc. So many are in exhibit are engaged in sports and other physical activities. Here's what the male bodies are doing: playing soccer, ski jumping, and a male figure skater holding his partner. Here's what the women are doing: yoga, ballet, and being flung around on ice skates by a male partner.

It was a little disappointing that even the dead bodies have been placed in positions/activities that not only are stereotypically "feminine" but fail to acknowledge reality. Women play soccer. Women, despite popular beliefs, do ski jump. They just are not allowed to in the Olympics. And I have even seen some pretty unique pairs and ice dancing maneuvers that defy gender conventions.

Perhaps most egregious was the blurb next to the female body in a yoga pose that expresses surprise at the musculature of the body. Are you kidding me? Apparently everyone at Bodyworlds thinks that yoga is just meditation and easy stretching? No, it actually takes a lot of strength to push yourself into a back bend (the pose the body is prepped to enter in the exhibit) and other poses.

I know other versions of the exhibit use posed from other sports such as tennis and basketball and I would be curious to know the genders of these bodies and how they are presented.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Does anyone have a wall?

Because I need to hit my head on it repeatedly after reading this column by Arizona Star sports columnist Greg Hansen. Hansen is down on the decision by University of Arizona to add water polo to their list of women's varsity sports in an attempt to bring their numbers closer to proportional.
Hansen doesn't like this idea because water polo isn't played in Arizona high schools nor does it generate revenue. There are plenty of holes in both these reasons (schools might start to add teams if they know they can feed their athletes to their own state university and it CAN be made into a revenue-generating sport with the right financial support and publicity).
But the most egregious moments come when Hansen praises Title IX for offering opportunities--especially to Arizona athletes but then condemns Title IX activists for asking for too much saying that we should "stop digging for more." He has even found an alleged Title IX activist who says she thinks, given football's huge numbers, we have reached equality.
But the worst moment comes when Hansen perpetuates one of the most common and damaging beliefs about Title IX and football: "football pays for women's sports on almost every college campus in America." No. No. NO!
Football rarely pays for itself let alone other programs. Read some of the work economist Andrew Zimbalist has done on the economics of intercollegiate sport and one can easily discover this. I have seen various statistics but according to sport sociologist Jay Coakley only about 30 institutions have football programs that do not run in the red.
Unfortunately many commenters to Hansen's article also held the same belief. Other commenters were just plain misogynist. So if you're plenty disgusted after reading Hansen's column I do not recommend checking out what some of his readers had to say.
What is especially sad about this column is that Hansen did not bother to check his facts. His editors did not bother to check out if what he was saying was correct. Why? Maybe because "it's just women's sports." Maybe because they could not even fathom that football, the manly man's sport, does not support women's sports.
I do know that if I did my job this poorly, I would be fired.

Monday, December 18, 2006

When football asks for money...

...I just cringe. Which is what I did last week when I saw some football team members standing in front of the grocery store with cans in their hands "begging" for money in their varsity jackets with the leather sleeves. I am not sure how widespread this practice of "canning" is but it brought back my own memories of standing there wondering how much eye contact is really appropriate when you're unabashedly asking for money. Or whether when someone asks your win-loss record (I was on the tennis team knowledge of our win-loss record was rare unlike football which many more people follow--but not in a Friday Night Lights kind of way--it was New England after all) if you should maybe pad it a little less they feel you are unworthy of a donation.
Anyway I did not give money to canners because well it's football. I am not anti-football. I actually enjoy it once in a while. I was one of the few people in the band who actually paid attention to the games when we played them. But I am of course critical of the amount of money football gets often to the detriment of women's sports and men's "minor" sports.
High school football has not come under as much criticism as intercollegiate football of course largely because no one is getting scholarships to be there, players are not put up in hotels before home games, etc. But it would be interesting to see how things broke down budget-wise and in terms of amenities. I do know that football at my high school had a pretty big booster organization which could raise a lot of money selling concessions at a nice stand at the stadium--an opportunity other sports did not have.
Thus far most Title IX cases involving high schools have dealt with equity in regards to access to sports. Others have dealt with equitable facilities (fields, gyms, etc.) but it will be interesting to see if booster dollars, other fundraisers, and overall budgetary issues come under legal scrutiny on the future. Just because the budgets are not as big does not mean there are not equity issues in high school athletic departments. Perhaps because they are not as large there might even be a greater imperative to make things equitable.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Female aggression: A case study?

I witnessed a very strange hockey game last weekend. I went to a recreational women's league game and saw a level of aggression that I rarely see in women's hockey--I certainly didn't see it two nights prior at the Harvard-UNH match-up which, though they are not classic rivals, is certainly an anticipated match-up every season.
Anyway, there was heavy shoving that fell just short of hitting and "dialogue" and flipping off the ref from the very first period. The ref, who admittedly was not that good, was giving out double penalties to members of both teams. It was bizarre and seemed to be a little contagious though certainly most of the women on the ice tried to stay out of the whole mess.
Lest you think I am suggesting that women are not or should not be aggressive--I am not. But I was struggling, as I sat there watching this all, with the level of aggression that should be allowed or tolerated/condoned. This is an issue women's hockey has always had to negotiate. Because body checking is not allowed in women's hockey as it is men's there seems to be the implication that the women's game should be just a little bit nicer.
Certainly that was the original intent of the no body checking rule: let them play a feminized version of the "men's" game and thus retain their inherent femininity. There was the fear, present in almost all women's sports since the beginning of time, that the game would masculinize them.
Of course when one is talking competitive hockey we see that there is plenty of aggression. Certainly it exists in the collegiate game where players often at the start of the game push things a little to see what refs are going to call. At the international level, a greater amount of body contact is tolerated.
But that does not mean only women who play higher levels of hockey have or develop a more aggressive demeanor on the ice. Hockey is a contact sport with lots of legal contact, lots of scrambling and fighting for a little piece of rubber that is very slippery when put on ice--and thus frustrating. So it is not really surprising to witness a certain amount of aggression.
But how much is too much when we're talking about recreational hockey?
As I sat there watching this all play out I really wondered how immune I would be if I felt I was being targeted or if the ref was making bad calls. Perhaps this is the reason I do not play contact sports. I take out my aggression on a little yellow ball.
And I certainly have aggression to take out. As do most people I would guess. But as women where are we allowed to vent it?
In sports of course.
In the book The Secret Lives of Girls author Sharon Lamb discusses this particular use of sports for young girls. And the issue of acceptable aggression in for girls and women playing sports is part of the larger discussion of femininity and sport.
What does this not so surprising fact say? I am not sure really. It certainly helps me understand better what happened at that game last weekend. But as for whether it was "acceptable" behavior--that becomes a more complicated question.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Ahh women's hockey

I saw my first women's hockey game in over nine months last night and it was wonderful. UNH, after being down two goals in the third, came back to tie Harvard 3-3. It was great hockey, great skating, and in what other venue can you can see an Olympian (Harvard's Julie Chu) for only $8? (And probably some future Olympians too!)

Bright Arena in Cambridge was more crowded than I thought, but I still don't understand why more people don't come to watch women's intercollegiate hockey. You don't have to know someone on the team--you don't even have to be an alum. Just find a team and go. You can even be non-partisan and switch seats every period--trust me there will be plenty of seats for you to do so. And if you have some or know some--bring the kids in your life. Most arenas are pretty intimate and kids like to press up against the glass where they can really experience the action. And did I mention how economical it is? You can take your whole family to a game for less than the cost of a ticket to an NHL, MLB, or NFL game. And frequently players sign (free) team posters after games and do meet-and-greets with young fans.

Hope I have convinced you!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Fictionalized homosexuality? No problem!

Actor Tom Cavanaugh, probably most famous for his eponymous role in Ed, is currently filming a movie about an ex-pofessional hockey player who is gay. This article from the Toronto Star writes about the groundbreaking aspects of the film which focuses not just on the star's homosexuality but that of a young boy whom he and his partner have recently taken guardianship of.
The big issue of course is a gay hockey player. No male professional hockey player has ever come out--during or after his career. Cavanaugh said he himself was shocked to read that his character, Eric McNally, is a gay man.
But the more shocking aspect to the film, according to those involved, is that the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs agreed to let the team name and logo be used in the film. Some filming will even take place at the end of a Maple Leafs practice session.
I agree with the general sentiment that this is pretty big news. The NHL and Maple Leafs could easily have said no and probably no mainstream press would have ever picked up on it and the movie would have come out with a fictionalized team name and logo.
Whether this opens the door for a male hockey player past or current to "come out" remains debatable. A fictional gay character is a lot more palatable than a real one--especially in a comedy.
That brings me to my next point which is how do we even know the film will do a good job in its treatment of homosexuality? Will it rely on stereotypes and poor parodies? Will it do enough and do well enough to actually engender changes in opinion?
This statement by the producer,Paul Brown, makes me a little suspect:
"It's a very roundabout way of tackling issues. If films become issue driven, the broader audiences for the most part become turned off of them. When you watched Bend It Like Beckham, did it become an issue movie about interracial friendships? To me, it didn't because it worked on so many levels. It became a movie about two girls on a soccer team. To us, that's sort of what we're trying to achieve."
I abhor this line of reasoning. Every film has an issue whether it's a drama or comedy or memoir, etc. If I had a student write that Bend it like Beckham was a movie about two girls on a soccer team, I would fail that student. Brown is wrong in his assessment--two girls playing soccer is where the movie starts--not what it becomes. If you pitch "two girls on a soccer team" it isn't going to go very far.
It's what happens to the two girls on the soccer team that makes the movie. What BILB became was a movie about ethnicity, generational divides, sport and homosexuality, gender equity, interracial dating, and probably more that I am forgetting at the moment.
I certainly hope the movie Breakfast with Scot becomes so much more than just ex-hockey player (who happens to be gay) raising a boy (who happens to be non-normative in his sexual expression). I'll have to wait over a year to find out though. The movie is scheduled to be released next Christmas.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Sport and World AIDS Day

Because my research interest of late is in intersections of sport and activism, I was curious on this World AIDS Day, how the sports world was recognizing and addressing the AIDS crisis. A quick Google news search brought up news mostly from countries outside of North America like this one about a 3-day cycling event in Botswana sponsored, in part, by the Society of Men Against AIDS. Then there was a large half-marathon in Nigeria. In Burma a World AIDS Day Event included sporting events. And in South Africa, there were many campaigns and events including a Sports Heroes Walk.
My initial search brought up only events happening everywhere but the US. But a few hours later I found these stories:
One on Spencer Tillman, former NFLer and sports broadcaster whose brother died from AIDS-related illness.
There were many stories, including this one, on what Magic Johnson has been doing.
But that was pretty much it. Stories on individuals rather than organizations. [I found the same emphasis on individuals on the television specials that are airing this weekend; i.e. what Ashley Judd and Selma Hayek and other celebs are saying and doing to raise awareness, money, etc.] I guess in all fairness, World AIDS falls at the start of winter in the northern hemisphere. There are many bike rides and runs that raise money for various AIDS organizations in the warmer months.
Still, I was disappointed there was not more news of sporting organizations and events recognizing the significance of the day--especially when I walk into any sports store, at time time of the year and am inundated with pink paraphernalia. Not that breast cancer is not an important and worthy cause (and I wouldn't necessarily advocate for the level of commercialization that breast cancer has experienced), but there is a reason the word "crisis" is used to describe the AIDS epidemic. It would be nice if the magnitude of the disease was acknowledged more widely in the sports world.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

New book alert!

Katie Hnida was on the Today Show this morning. I only caught the last bit of Meredith Vieira's interview with her so I cannot comment on whether Vieira actually said intelligent and non-offensive, stereotypical things which is too bad because I so enjoy commenting on such things.
But I did learn that Hnida has written a book about her experience, Still Kicking: My Dramatic Journey as the First Woman to Play Division I College Football. No excerpts that I could find on the Today Show website but it may just be that they are not posted yet. But I am still very excited to read it.
Hnida's story of harassment and sexual assault has been pretty well covered but her own take on it will be interesting and I am sure there will be many incidents and conversations from throughout her career that never made the news.
After I read the book I will weigh in with my thoughts.
[Note: the above picture was one of the few that I could find of Hnida in action--most are her in uniform (though not the whole uniform--often missing shoulder pads) but in a posed position. This is the norm for images of female athletes. All smiles and no action.]

Monday, November 27, 2006

Stop shining those breasts in my eyes

I found this product on one my favorite women's athletic wear sites, under the accessories section. I was aghast. In part because I read the product name first: Low Beams and then the catchline at the bottom: Headlights are for cars and ended with the smallest font that actually told me what the product was: Nipple Concealer Adhesives.

The product itself is not inherently bad--I think. I haven't really thought through if women should be wearing bandaids over their nipples. Are we trying to pretend that we don't have them--especially when working out? Are we only supposed to have nipples when we have no clothes on?

What is more troublesome is the way the product is advertised: equating breasts/nipples to car parts. I expected more from a women-centered company. Unfortunately I saw the product only after I had placed my order. But I do plan on getting in touch with their Customer Service department and letting them know the product is offensive and not what I expected from them.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Fandom and masculinity

Despite my guilty conscious I am still reading Harper's. But I am way behind and so was just finishing up the August issue last night and skimming through the Findings section that is on the back page of each issue. Findings is a compilation of the results of various studies--some are quite scary, others amusing--and covers issues like the environment, disease, human behavior, etc.
Last night I read one on fan behavior, something that has piqued my interest lately. But this "finding" was somewhat obvious. I don't have the exact wording but I think my paraphrase is pretty accurate: Male spectators who act rowdy at sports events are compensating for their perceived lack of masculinity.
Someone did a study on that? Doesn't that seem pretty obvious? Men watching sports are often witnessing displays of hypermasculinity and the only way they can "compete" is by being hypermasculine in their fandom.
This is why I stopped going to men's professional hockey games (pre-strike)--the guys there are just crazy, and in their exuberance they spill beer on you.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

William and Mary vs. NCAA

This post is long overdue and for that I apologize but I believe it is still interesting. The NCAA ruled over a month ago that the College of William and Mary could keep their nickname, Tribe, but had to abandon their logo which is two feathers. [The picture is a mat for wiping one's feet on which is only slightly better than the UFlorida seat cushions upon which one can plunk his derriere on Chief Osceola's face for ultimate comfort during football games.]

I found the NCAA decision to be quite fair. They took a pretty liberal stance on the use of Tribe as a nickname which school officials defend as "reflect[ing] our community's sense of shared commitment and common purpose." [from President Gene R. Nichol's October 10 letter to the WM community]

I am not an expert in Native American history in the state of Virginia and specifically with W&M but I am guessing "community" was not always an inclusive term. And "common purpose"? Both the commonness and the purpose are worthy of some scrutiny from an historical perspective. But the NCAA chose to review its present-day connotation and deemed it not hostile.

Not so the two feathers. This aspect of the decision did not go over well with the W&M powers-that-be. [I could make a pun here about ruffled feathers but because the story is so old, it's been done and I don't want to appear hackneyed.]

Nichol's letter is a two-page diatribe about why the NCAA is wrong about the two feathers being "hostile and abusive" (NCAA's words) and also why the school, despite its strong convictions that the feathers do no harm, will not appeal pursue legal action (the only option left to them because they already appealed the NCAA's initial decision against the feathers). The letter is a fairly self-righteous take on the school's and athletic department's policies and a condemnation of those of the NCAA. [I am not going to reprint the letter in its entirety but I am happy to send a copy to anyone who is interested.]

Here are some excerpts:

I am compelled to say, at the outset, how powerfully ironic it is for The College of William & Mary to face sanction for athletic transgression at the hands of the NCAA. [...] It is galling that a university with such a consistent and compelling record of doing things the right way is threatened with punishment by an organization whose house, simply put, is not in order.

I am one of the first to criticize the NCAA's leadership, policies, and procedures. But here we have the proverbial pot calling the kettle black scenario. W&M is not as pure and holy as the letter (which mostly cites high academic standards and graduation rates) lets on. Remember those are two feathers on their logo--not a halo. So how "compelling" is W&M's record--perhaps in regard to Title IX?

I was pointed towards some interesting research which found that as of the 2004-05 season W&M was within 6% of substantial proportionality. This is pretty good. But the numbers show that before they achieved this mark, W&M added 100 opportunities for their male athletes (in the late 1990s). This was impossible to sustain and their current proportionality is a result of cutting almost all of those spots throughout the past few years.

I find this, to use Nichol's word, "ironic" given that letter takes a (again, self-righteous) martyr-like tone when Nichol states that he has chosen not to pursue legal action because of the cost to the entire university. It seems that sustaining the Tribe athletic "community" financially was not as successful, especially if you were one of the 100 male athletes who became victim to the university's faulty economic model.

But because Title IX is not just about participation opportunities I will throw a few more of W&M's numbers (as of 2004-05) out there for your consideration: Female (team--they could be either male or female) head coaches receive, on average, approximately $24,000 less than male (team) head coaches. Women's teams received only 38 percent of the total coaching budget. They also received about 38 percent of the recruiting budget.

I am happy that W&M stresses academic excellence among its student-athletes, in spite of lax NCAA standards. But high graduation rates do not provide freedom from sanctions when an institution uses offensive (and often historically inaccurate) cultural appropriations of Native American imagery.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Allez, Pride!

Sadly, Amelie Mauresmo lost today's WTA Championships to Justine Henin-Hardenne. She had to fight so hard on her serve and although she was able to break HH a few times it just was not enough.

It does not, in my mind, mar in any way her amazing year. And I think that JHH would probably give Mauresmo this win for say perhaps Wimbledon.

But what really excited me about the match was the rainbow flag two fans were waving throughout the match on which they had written AMELIE. And what was amazing was that the camera repeatedly panned to it. this the product of Versus, the channel formerly known as OLN, that aired the championships? Not sure but I was excited since the commentators rarely mention her sexuality (which is both good and bad).

I am not a huge rainbow flag-waver fan but in the context of women's tennis it seems fairly monumental.

The tournament was held in Spain which may have something to do with the presence of the flag in the first place. In most US venues security rarely let past a banner or flag no matter the color(s). And though I see many gay women at tournaments and watching Mauresmo I have not seen "gay" cheering as such in the form of rainbow gear. And even if it did exist I have to wonder if stations that usually cover tennis (ESPN2, USA, NBC) would show it on the air.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

This is not equality

The year-end WTA championships are going on right now in Madrid. The matches are being aired on Vs (formally OLN--the network that covers the Tour de France and NHL hockey and whose owners/execs made it very clear that OLN was all about masculinity; not sure if there is a new vision for Vs).
So I was watching some of the coverage yesterday, not very closely as I was trying to multitask. That was why I was shocked when I heard the commentators say that male models were serving as the ball boys for the tournament. Over a hundred tried out for the gig usually filled by local teenagers.
Madrid is the same location where a men's Master's event that used female models was held a few years back.
Here is what the reporter of the above linked article wrote:
To be fair and equal, this year the women's championship tournament decided it would employ male models for certain ladies matches in the tournament.
This not a model of fair and equal that I would like to see perpetuated in sport.
Unfortunately the players have bought into this model of equality with Sharapova, Clijsters (my esteem for Kim has dropped dramatically), and even Henin-Hardenne all being excited by the idea.
Only Elena Dementieva has expressed some misgivings. She said the models have been focusing a little too much on the players and not enough on their jobs.
An exec at Hugo Boss noted that the models are not there "to outshine the players." But why the hell they are there is never explained.
This is just a gimmick to increase the audience which is sad because this IS the year-end championship and the number 1 spot is at stake and several of the players are back from fall injuries.
I want the audience for women's tennis to grow as well but having male models as ball boys is not the route the WTA should be taking.
[Note on the photo: this is the only photo I could find of the male model ball boys. When the Madrid Master's event of several years ago had female models there were far more pictures and their outfits were, of course, much more revealing and thus much more sexualizing. This man, though attractive, does not necessarily read as "model" the way the female models did.]

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Sexy yoga, eh?

[NOTE: I am not making fun of Canadians here. I happen to love the “eh” that comes at the end of their sentences. I find it much more appealing than Americans’ “huh” or “whatever.”]

The other morning in my Vancouver hotel room I was surfing through the channels. It was very early and a Sunday so I wasn’t expecting to find too much. What I did find was a lot of yoga instruction.
The first show I saw seemed typical to others I have seen on television or DVD. An instructor doing the poses and two others following. She stressed going at one’s own level and the “followers” exemplified this through their abilities to reach various stages in the poses, though they both seemed to be regular practitioners. I thought it was a good demonstration of individuals’ limits no matter their level of practice. So kudos to that program. But I was not really in the mood to practice or watch yoga so I kept flipping.
It was then that I came across a very different type of yoga program. This one also had three practitioners--but all were women and none were the instructor. Rather there was a voiceover done by a woman speaking very sensually calling out the poses. And the voice matched the women who were all very thin and toned (the picture is of one of them) and were wearing very little clothing. All their midriffs were showing. They all had these pleasant looks of calm on their faces. It was like Stepford yoga. A little research and I found out that this program is called Namaste (not very original) and here is the description from the CityTV website:
This innovative series combines sensual, stunning photography and original music with authentic Hatha yoga practice. Namaste is designed by Kate Potter, one of Canada's leading instructors and yoga therapists. Kate's "Hatha Vinyasa" style is both dynamic and gentle. Shot in High Definition in exquisite settings, each episode teaches a unique flow sequence and inspires viewers to begin or continue their yoga practice.
Despite the description I did not find it very accessible. The show would appeal to two populations: 1) people who are already fairly well-versed in yoga and thus probably have enough money to go to an actual studio rather than do it in front of the television on a Sunday morning; and 2) horny people--seriously it was all very sexualized; the sensual/sexual divide is pretty thin in this case.
What was most curious though about the program was the aforementioned "photography." Basically the scenery kept on changing. The women would continue to go through the poses but their location was switching. Sometimes they were outdoors in a park, other times they looked like they were in a studio, sometimes in the loge or under the arch of a stone building.
This was odd but not especially troubling until the women were transported to one particular scene: very industrial, alley, dark and rainy. Basically a place no woman would dare to venture because she has been taught that such places are dangerous. It was certainly not a place women would be doing yoga. What was this scenery saying? That yoga is so empowering you can do it anywhere without fear of physical or sexual assault?
I am not sure exactly but the whole thing was very surreal and troubling and not very empowering even when they were practicing in a nice green outdoor space.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Things that make me go hmmm...

1. I knew there were a lot of regulations around the size of women's bathing suits in beach volleyball and also where logos can be placed, how big, etc. I did not know though that six centimeters is the maximum height for the sides of the bikini bottoms. Guess shorts--of any length--just are not an option even if it's a chilly day at the beach. Guesses on the maximum length of the men's suits???
2. It was not until 1998 that a revision of the Amateur Sports Act (originally passed in 1978) forced the United States Olympic Committee to fund Paralympic athletes. When I went to Salt Lake in 2002 there was a lot of advertising of the Paralympic Games that were to follow the Olympics. I witnessed what I thought was a strong commitment to encouraging spectators to attend. For some reason I thought this had always been the case. Guess I was a little naive.
Also, it seems that the IOC doesn't just dislike the gays using their name. The IOC has forced the Paralympics to change their logo several times because it too closely resembled the (trademarked) Olympic rings though none of the designs had actual rings in them.
3. A key eye witness in the Duke lacrosse rape scandal has gone public with a story about the events of the night last March when a dancer from a nearby college alleges she was raped by three of the players. The fellow dancer, Kim Roberts, has changed her story several times now. I don't think changing one's story means she is necessarily lying but I don't see her as being a very credible witness for either side. As much as I would like to see "justice" served, I am not looking forward to the start of this trial next spring.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

(Not) Getting it

The other day a friend who plays on a rec league women's ice hockey team showed me an email she had received from a fellow teammate. Part of the email referenced their coach's upcoming birthday. The team is trying to come up with something to give him.
This was the suggestion of the player (I have edited out the names):
As for [coach's] birthday, I think all the youngsters (X, Y, Z, etc) could give him sex.
She goes on to explain how this would be a treat for the coach and also for his wife, another player, apparently so she could be relieved of her duty to "give him sex."
I probably don't have to explain that my reaction was marked by extreme disgust and disappointment.
My reaction was also likely made somewhat more severe by the sports sociology class I have been auditing this semester. It has been a very odd experience for me, coming from a women's studies background, to be in a class where my radical feminist views are in the minority. (I realize of course that to be in the majority anywhere is a great privilege and I am thankful for that and have learned quite a bit about negotiating one's feminism in a non (even anti at times) feminist environment.)
We have been talking about, well I have been mentioning anyway, in class the fact that people frequently participate in their own oppression. The other night we heard a presentation by a female student on Mariah Burton Nelson's The Stronger Women Get, the More Men Love Football. The book isn't actually all about football, but rather about football as exemplifying a male sports culture that reifies masculinity and demonizes everything else. She spends considerable time discussing sexual violence perpetrated by athletes and also sexual abuse between coaches and athletes.
Said student thought the book was filled with "conspiracy theories." Also, she claimed Burton Nelson was "biased" because she herself was abused by a coach as a teenager.
Perhaps this was her way of dealing with--by denying--the many evils of sport that MBN presents. The book conveys many stories of those who have been abused and offers more than just empircal evidence to illustrate the very real and widespread problem of abuse.
So the comment about the coach sleeping with his players was especially irritating to me. It's a joke in very poor taste given that this is a reality for many athletes--young female athletes with older male coaches especially, as is the situation this player lays out in her email.
Class discussion of the book also focused on men's locker room banter. MBN discusses this in the context of violence against and degradation of women but also the issue of female reporters in the locker room.
One student, a former football player and currently a coach, defended, to an extent, this speech as part of football locker room culture. He said people say things to fit in but do not necessarily believe them nor would they act on them. He admitted he himself had said things in the locker room that he would never say outside the locker room.
I think that's a lousy excuse and likely not true for many players. Players become enculturated and begin to believe the things that are being said. When football is your life, inside and outside the locker room becomes an almost arbitrary distinction, an issue of simple geography.
Hockey player's comment above illustrates this. This statement seems like something that would be expressed in a locker room (and even in that context it would be wrong and someone should speak up) but it wasn't. As private as some believe it to be, email is part of the larger public world. And you never know where it is going to end up. It could get into the hands of someone like me!
And finally, what was disappointing was the "equality" that this email evidenced. Women and girls now play hockey, in ever-growing numbers. Apparently the opportunity to play has also created, at least for this woman, a need to adhere to the same anti-woman sentiment that predominates much of the sport.
The student in sport soc who disliked the book mentioned said that MBN's bias came because "she has a stake in this." We all have a stake in "this." I thought that was the most obvious point to be taken from the book. It's possible that those women, and non-football players, who deny most vehemently the implications of Burton Nelson's work on their own lives are at the greatest risk.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Heterosexy Female Athlete

Sports scholar Jo Ann Buysse continues, in the issue of The Scholar and Feminist Online that I have been discussing here to employ the metaphor Catherine Stimpson created in her address that prompted this journal to devote the issue to The Cultural Value of Sport: Title IX and Beyond. I have, as I mentioned previously, enjoyed the way Stimpson’s respondents have taken her creation of the Atalanta Syndrome and expanded the mythological metaphor in productive and meaningful ways. Buysse is no exception. The Atalantan distraction, i.e. the golden apple that entices the contemporary female athlete, Buysee argues is the highly gendered—or femininized—“heterosexy” images of female athletes. Athletes see them but are, of course, also their subject. Buysse does not interrogate this latter aspect, the female athletes who pose for these images, which disappointed me some. I realize the term “choice” become a little blurry when we discuss whether female athletes, who have far less earning power through sports than their male counterparts, should or should not be participating in ad campaigns that attempt to de-athleticize them. But I think there was opportunity for Buysse to discuss the economic and cultural pressure on female athletes to present themselves in this way. Though she cites and briefly discusses other studies of media representations of female athletes, her own research is on their portrayal in college media guides. In this context, the concept of choice or control over one’s own image is even more limited. I have never heard of any athlete vocalizing her dissent over media images. In the realm of intercollegiate athletics it would seem that you either do it their way or you don’t play. I can imagine anyone who might present some sort of concern being told that she was lucky women’s sports get media guides at all. Equitable publicity actually falls under Title IX, though Buysse does not mention this in her essay. But it cannot legislate what that publicity looks like—or even reads like in the case of text-based publicity such as press releases and even player biographies. (It sure would be interesting if it could, though!) There is good news, though. Buysse reports that in her longitudinal research on media guides she found, in her most recent examination (2004) that there was no statistically significant difference in the representation of male and female athletes in their respective media guides. In other words, where in previous studies she found a disproportionate percentage of media guides presenting female athletes in posed, made-up, coiffed and other non-threatening, non-athletic images, in 2004 she found that this trend was no worse in media guides for women’s sports as compared to men’s media guides. The bad news: though colleges and universities have finally begun to portray their athletes equitably, this trend has had no discernible effect on non-educational media outlets such as popular and sport-specific magazines and television. But Buysse believes that the continued success of female athletes, especially at the Olympics where female athletes seem most visible, and the continued work of sports scholars on issues of representation were both responsible for the changes institutions made in media guides. And it is possible that both these factors could continue to produce a ripple effect.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Why women's participation in sport falls off: A real life example

I received an email yesterday afternoon from a teammates seeking a sub for doubles last night. The reason: "My husband is working late and I don't want to leave the kids home alone on a school night."
Studies show that women's participation in sports drops off significantly when they enter adulthood. Why? Because of husbands and kids. This is especially true when the women are in a lower socioeconomic class. (Not the situation of my teammate, however.)
I am not blaming the husband or the kids or my teammate here.
But it's important to remember that despite the enormous growth of women's sports, things haven't changed all that much in other realms of society that enable all women to participate freely.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Why Donna Shalala is not a wimp

This past weekend there was some naughty behavior on a football field down in Florida. No, not the usual bad behavior and unsportsmanlike conduct that is ubiquitous on football fields. In the game between University of Miami and Florida International a bench-clearing brawl--ok not everyone was involved in it-- more typical of baseball or hockey, broke out when UM took a 14-0 lead in the game.
Surprisingly (well I was surprised anyway) the game was only interrupted briefly while "order" was restored. But the severity of the actions of the players involved drew one-game suspensions from the ACC commissioner. Later the punishments got a bit more severe with some players being suspended indefinitely.
I don't know the timeline of the events but I suspect that the reasoning by the powers-that-be went something like this: bad behavior by football players in a public setting demands action but not too much action because this is a Div. I football program after all so one-game suspension seems suitable; oh wait--the media is calling this "one of the most disgusting displays on a college football field ever"--yikes! well we better do something a little harsher.
But it's still not enough for some people, like columnist Gene Wojciechowski who thinks more heads--like coach heads--should be rolling their way out of Coral Gables. And he blames UM President Donna Shalala (I did not know that Shalala had gone to UM after her long stint in the Clinton administration) for not doing enough.
You can read the column for yourself but this is my summary of what Wojciechowski is saying: UM football is out of control and Shalala needs to grow a pair of balls and fire the coach.

He points out some of head coach Larry Coker's errors in judgment--to put it mildly. Still I don't think Shalala should bear all the blame here.
First of all high-profile athletic departments are, to borrow a favorite phrase from a university administrator friend of mine, "tubs on their own bottoms." In other words, despite the myriad of regulations that surround, theoretically, intercollegiate athletics, athletic departments are frequently left to themselves, especially where football is concerned. Right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing until left hand gets in a fight and right hand has to--reluctantly--enter the fight too.
I can understand why Dr. Shalala does not want to enter this fight. Football is the sacred cow and my guess is that she does plenty of political tightrope walking just being a woman in charge of a major educational institution. Entering a debate about football is enough to throw off anyone's balance and Shalala is not the first university president to want to avoid becoming embroiled in the controversy.
Despite the apparent consensus over the egregious behavior of the football players, I still believe Shalala would encounter sizeable resistance to firing the head coach or taking any kind of retaliatory action that appeared to come directly from her rather than in concert with the conference.
It is very difficult for a woman to undertake any action that appears to weaken or demean football--even Donna Shalala. Wojciechowski fails to understand this. He expects Shalala to clean up a mess that was started and has been perpetuated by men--at UM and beyond. She may be a woman, but that doesn't mean she is a housekeeper.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The personal lives of female athletes

Watching the final round of the Samsung World Championship yesterday afternoon I realized that the commentators do not talk about the personal lives of the golfers all that much.
I never hear anything about Annika Sorenstam's of the course life. Even when she was going through her divorce the commentators were very respectful of her personal privacy.
Usually we hear about a player's siblings and parents, where they went to college (if they did so), and where they live and practice.
I am not really advocating for more discussion about player's lives during tournament coverage, I am just surprised that there is so little. Why am I surprised? Because tennis commentators, who enjoy talking non-stop and unlike golf commentators, they cannot seem to stick to the game at hand. For example, every time Maria Sharapova plays one can hear the story of her childhood: her immigration from Siberia, the mother she left behind, showing up at Bollettieri's with her father and no money.
But I was actually thinking more about softball versus golf yesterday afternoon. This is there are some interesting similarities. Both are relatively slow-moving so there is plenty of time for commentators to fill up. And both have what I call the lesbian taint: many of the athletes are assumed to be gay. This might actually be because there are a fair amount of queer women in these sports. How relative the numbers are to other sports, I don't know. (I don't think anyone knows actually; I have never seen a study on this.) [Tennis too has developed the lesbian taint but there is plenty of normative femininity on the courts that seems to quell the fear of being tainted.]
What does the lesbian taint have to do with commentators of golf and softball? Well, as I have previously argued, softball seems to be making a concerted effort to appear as hetero as possible. In this same post, I also noted that the LPGA has, in the past anyway,* tried to do the same employing various tactics. What I find so curious, though, is that the golf commentators, unlike the softball ones, are not heteronormalizing the game through their commentary when it would, it seems, be very easy for them to do so.
I find this very admirable. Though it is possible that there are so many lesbian golfers that focusing attention on those players who are in heterosexual relationships would be like outing the others, i.e. it would be obvious who was and who wasn't. They could also just be following the lead of the players, and even the media, who reveal little about their lives off the course.
Again, while I appreciate the fact that this women's sport has not followed the ways of other women's sports commentators who focus a disproportionate amount of talk on players' personal lives, I wonder if the "silence" is read as a confirmation of the lesbian taint by some.

* In the present too apparently. Here is an excerpt about Natalie Gulbis's FHM shoot:
Gulbis' decision to pose for FHM wasn't one she came to alone, however. A PR firm, retained by the LPGA, aided in soliciting the shoot, as it did an offer for Gulbis to appear on Howard Stern's radio gabfest. (Gulbis turned that one down.) "As our players become recognizable celebrities, more unconventional media outlets are becoming interested. If Natalie is comfortable [posing in FHM], we're supportive of the decision" says Commissioner Ty Votaw, who has been urging players to leverage their looks and charm, as well as their swings.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Is Cheerleading a Sport?

Yeah, I am not actually going to answer that question using my own personal thoughts on the matter. I remain pretty ambivalent about the debate.
But the issue has come up again. This time in Darien, Connecticut which recently underwent a review by the Office of Civil Rights because a Title IX complaint was filed by a parent of a female swimmer alleging inequity in participation numbers and scheduling (the latter was deemed unfounded by OCR).
OCR found a 1.9 percent discrepancy in examining the ratio of females in the district/female athletes and boys/male athletes. This is pretty small.
Feeling the need to explain, the superintendent of schools said that if cheerleaders had been counted, the district would have achieved proportionality--one test (out of three) for measuring compliance.
But cheerleaders are not counted. Darien is not alone in this. Many institutions would meet the proportionality prong if cheerleaders could be counted. So is cheerleading a sport?
According to the article, the OCR will not allow it. But this is not entirely true. A 1975 letter of clarification stated that "drill teams, cheerleaders and the like, which are covered more generally as extracurricular activities . . . are not part of the institution's 'athletic program' within the meaning of the [Title IX] regulation." BUT given the changes in cheerleading over the years, the OCR has adopted a policy of examining cheerleading on a case-by-case basis when an institution wants to count cheerleaders as athletes. Here is an explanation provided by the Women's Sports Foundation:
Q: Can cheerleading be considered a varsity sport?
A: No in the case of traditional cheerleading where cheerleaders perform at athletic events and participating in no or few cheerleading competitions each year. Yes if the cheerleading team has a coach, practices as frequently as a regular varsity team, and competes against other cheerleading teams on a regular basis and more frequently than it appears to cheer for other teams.

Basically, the cheerleading squad must exist to do MORE than just support other athletic teams. Despite my ambivalence, I do want to suggest that adding cheerleading may not be the panacea many schools believe it to be. Given the extremely high injury rate among cheerleaders, they would likely require a team physician. They would be required to travel with a certified athletic trainer most certainly. And I would imagine there is a decent amount of travel required as well. Coaches would have to be paid commensurate with the pay scale athletic departments use for other coaches likely resulting in pay increases for existing coaches or the hiring of qualified coaches.
If cheerleading was approved as a sport that would mean cheerleaders would have to be treated equitably. They might be eligible for things like training tables; they would have to be given equitable access to practice and weightlifting facilities; publicity would be required. Because recruiting dollars are examined under Title IX, cheerleading would have to be given a recruitment budget like other sports.
For cheerleaders to "become" athletes in the eyes of both the OCR and the institution there has to be more than just a counting of heads--there has to be equitable treatment of them once they are given that status. And since many institutions already have a problem treating their current female athletes equitably, I do not think cheerleaders would fare any better.
But if you're interested in fighting that battle, go to it! Rah!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Send this bitch!

Words uttered by...guesses? Some misogynist male perhaps? A man in power trying to assert his masculinity?
Nope--it was our female coxswain who said this to our boat this morning during what otherwise was a quite enjoyable row on a very serene and mild morning.
Yes, on our last push back to the dock we were instructed to "send this bitch"--the bitch being the boat I would assume. I couldn't think too long about it at the time because despite the ability of many Olympic-level crews to make it look nearly effortless, it actually requires an amazing amount of concentration--no matter what level.
Thinking about it after I got out of the boat, I remained somewhat shocked, slightly offended and generally perturbed. I think it has something to do with the sexually charged atmosphere of sports. I had, until this point, not experienced crew as sexually charged but I figured that was because I escaped some of this because I am in a community rowing program.
Our coxswain does both community and collegiate rowing so maybe things are different. But she called the boat a bitch which is just odd though I suppose, slightly better than calling a person(s) a bitch--but maybe she does during races. Luckily she was a temp and I won't have to find out.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Mentoring girls in sports

This post is part of a "series" I am doing in which I comment on some of the articles in the most recent edition of The Scholar and Feminist Online whose theme was The Cultural Value of Sport: Title IX and Beyond.
In my first post, I commented on Catherine Stimpson's address about the Atalanta Syndrome. In this one I turn to the essay by Margaret Carlisle Duncan entitled "The Promise of Artemis." I have liked that many of the authors have continued to employ mythological analogies as they respond to Stimpson's lecture. Duncan invokes Artemis, the woman/goddess who raised Atalanta after her father ditched her in the woods. Artemis taught Atalanta the skills--mental and physical--that she took back with her to her father's kingdom where she engaged in the foot races for which she is best known. (Alas Artemis did not teach her how to avoid the temptation of the golden apple--apples seem to be the downfall of many a woman in pagan and Christian mythology.)
The figure of Artemis, Duncan says, is much needed in the world of youth sports to serve as role models and mentors. Arguing that "socialization is a two-way street," Duncan says that Artemis(es) praise girls for their particpation in sport and physical activity. This stands in contrast to more typical methods of socialization in which girls are praised for conforming to hegemonic femininity.
An Artemis is also able to help girls negotiate the "contested terrain" that is sport and the moment in lives of many sporting girls when being a "tomboy" is no longer acceptable.
But Duncan spends most of article critiquing the most prevalent source of physical activity in the lives of girls: physical education. And she offers suggestions for reforming PE to be more inclusive and supportive of girls including lessening the focus on "the kinds of sports that are celebrations of masculinity." In part taking the focus off sports such as football, baseball, basketball, which many boys already have skills in (because of extracurricular particpation) would alleviate the widening gap between girls' and boys' physical abilities that also serves to reinforce the belief the girls are less athletic.
Duncan provides two responses, one liberal, one radical, to the problems girls encounter in the world of institutional sport and physical activity. In her liberal response Duncan calls for, among other things, the identification of Artemises at all levels of programs and government (in the forms of parents, teachers, administrators and athletes "who have bucked the system") who could serve as advocates for girls' programs.
Though she does not mention Title IX here, I would suggest that advocates at all levels will be especially important in future fights for the protection and expansion of Title IX. People who have worked with girls and supported their endeavors in sports and other physical activities will be more likely to rally against potential harmful changes and interpretations in the law. It is also possible that the growth of a cadre of Artemises might put enough pressure on administrators to effect change without lawsuits.
In her radical response, Duncan suggests (or rather passes on the suggestion of other scholars)that girls should "set the agenda for physical education." This is a suggestion that practitioners of feminist pedagogy (outside the PE "classroom") have advocated as well. I have experimented with it myself--though minimally--in college classrooms and found it worthy of future consideration. There is, of course, the need to balance what students say they want to learn and what we, as educators, believe they should know.
But I believe Duncan (and the scholars she cites) are correct in their asseessment that girls will tell you what they want to know about their bodies and their capabilities given the right environment.
Duncan ends her essay beautifully so I will simply use her words to end this post:
"Sport is the field on which gender battles are fought. The stakes at the material level may seem trivial, but the stakes at the symbolic level are not. These symbolic stakes include the empowerment of girls, the cessation of assualts on female subjectivity, and the end of the assumption of female inferiority and male superiority."

Friday, October 06, 2006

The things the tour won't talk about?

Anyone think that maybe the discussion about eating disorders needs to expand beyond the sports of gymnastics and figure skating?
Hantuchova, who admitted to have some weight issues (I don't think I ever heard the words "eating" and "disorder" in the same sentence--I believe it was explained as a sort of accident--oops, look I forgot to eat while I was training intensely), looks pretty thin again.
And I don't know Morigami so I can't compare this picture with anything, but she looks fairly frail as well.
Besides Hantuchova's weight loss the only other time I heard about anorexia on the tour was a brief mention about Carling Bassett-Seguso (blast from the past, eh?) and I believe she mentioned it after her professional career had ended. (Here is an interview with Bassett-Seguso and Nick Bollettieri about Hantuchova's weight loss.
I don't see it as a rampant problem, but still these women do not look healthy to me.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Scheduling around men

As I have mentioned previously, I recently joined a women's USTA league team. We haven't started playing matches yet but the schedule just came out which was the topic of convseration at an after-practice dinner the other night.
The schedule is always a source of complaint. We have a long season (October to May) but there are only 8 matches because the USTA regional coordinator has divided us into two "flights" rather than having all 14 teams play one another.
This is annoying but not especially egregious or gender-related, as far as we can tell anyway, at least not in comparison to the days and times we play. Our matches are all on Sundays usually in the late mornings or afternoons.
Match scheduling has been an issue in the past. The women in the league do not always like playing on Sundays. The men play Saturdays--why? Because the men have to watch football on Sundays.
This is ridiculous for so many reasons. First, all men and only men watch football? Second, you can't give up one football game to go play your own sport? And lastly, it's football season. There is a football game practically every day of the week and about ten times on Sunday. There is plenty of football to be seen.
The other interesting tidbit I learned about scheduling was that when and if matches or practices are or have been scheduled on weeknights men get the later time slots because they work. Jeez, I wonder what it is that we women-folk do every day...
Privileging the scheduling of men's sports is a Title IX no-no but alas because the USTA is not an educational institution receiving federal monies we can't bring a complaint. Well we can certainly complain just not under Title IX. Anyone ever wonder what the country would look like if the ERA had actually passed?

Friday, September 29, 2006

Advice from the coach

One of the big games in college football this weekend is the Big Ten battle between Ohio State and University of Iowa at Iowa. It is especially big for Iowa not just because they are currently undefeated, but because ESPN is coming to town and the game is a featured night time contest airing on ABC. It is the first night game at home for Iowa.
Messages are out all over about students being on their best behavior and representing the university well. Today the coach himself, Kirk Ferentz, sent an email to the entire unversity community reiterating some of these same messages. But he added something that pretty much made my jaw drop and my head spin when I thought about how the university let this message get out:
Please be sure to pace yourself through the day; we're going to need our fans to be at their very best at kickoff and throughout the game.

Hmmm...what could coach mean about pacing oneself during the day? Oh maybe he's thinking about all the students studying in the library and he's worried about them getting burnt out on academics and having to go to bed before the big game thus depleting the fan base.
Or perhaps he is concerned about the faculty who frequently--because they are so overloaded--spend weekends doing their own research and writing. Or maybe he is worried about the bus drivers and custodial staff that work all weekend (practically invisible to the community).

One or all of these has to be it because I am sure Coach Ferentz is not really saying to carefully monitor your alcohol intake throughout the day so that you don't show up at the game rip roarin' drunk and obnoxious and then puke on your fellow spectators or pass out in the stands where you will be left behind by your so-called friends. Because that would be tacitly condoning the massive amount of drinking--usualy of a binge-type nature--that happens on game days. That would be saying that the culture around football at the university--the one that is centered on misogyny and homophobia and destructive commercialism--is just fine.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Atalanta Syndrome

When the e-journal The Scholar and Feminist Online came out with their latest issue last week I was very excited because it was devoted to women, sport and culture. When I read the title of the keynote address by Catharine Stimpson that inspired the issue, I was ecstatic.
The Atalanta Syndrome: Women, Sports and Cultural Values is an excellent piece of scholarship that succintly and intelligently (while remaining very accessible) addresses the major issues in women's sports and the historical and current conflict between feminism and sport.
Stimpson incorporates a healthy amount of memoir regarding her own athletic endeavors and her immerson in feminism which provides a frame for two critical issues: sport and its (in)ability to overcome gender norms; and the role of feminism in sport.
The issue is entitled The Cultural Value of Sport: Title IX and Beyond. And so Title IX here serves in part as an historical marker. The articles all address issues in women's sports in what has been deemed the post-Title IX era (I always am a little nervous about that phraseology because I think in "post" there is an implication that we no longer need Title IX rather than it simply being a signifyer of time). So some of the articles do not extensively address Title IX but in any discussion of the current state of American women's sport the value of Title IX is implicit.
And Stimpson acknowledges this value in her address.
But Stimpson's first contribution is the naming of the conflict in which women athletes are engaged. The Atalanta Syndrome is "a cultural illness in which women are vulnerable and devalued." The term comes, of course, from the Greek mythological figure Atalanta who, though strong and swift and intelligent, was forced to conform to societal pressure (in the form of her father in the story) and marry.
The Atalanta Syndrome is something many scholars have been talking about, without naming it as such, and which this blog seeks to address from time to time as well. "Conformity to the prevailing rules of femininity" explains many of the limitations on and conflicts for female athletes. The examples are numerous in the speech and many of us can probably add more than we want to to the list.
Stimpson's other contribution, and indeed it is the contribution that the whole issue focuses on, is a discussion of the intersection of feminism and athletics. Other contributors take up more narrow aspects of this intersection but Stimpson offers the grounding for these with an explanation of radical and liveral feminism in the 1970s and the historical uneasiness among feminists in embracing sport because of its ties to war, violence, and masculinity.
Despite this, Title IX, which comes from a liberal feminist tradition, has increased women's particiaption in sports incrementally, Stimpson notes.But also it has created a shift in the version of Atalanta embodied by contemporary female athletes.
Though there is general public support for Title IX (despite its many "near-death experiences") Stimpson says that increased visibility alongside traditional gender norms has resulted in the overtly sexualized Atalanta and an even greater pressure for conformity to traditional conceptions of womanhood.
There is much more to Stimpson's speech that I cannot summarize here but is very much worth reading for its discussion of historical factors that have shaped female athletes as well as shifts in technology and ideology that construct today's version of the female athlete.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Will women's golf ever shed its country club status?

I have only recently become a fan of women's golf. So I don't know much about its history. I do, however, know a lot about women's tennis which I see as similar to golf in some respects. So I always am using the status of women's tennis as the marker against which to measure women's golf. Perhaps this is not really fair, but it's the only frame I have right now.
But it's an interesting frame because I see the disparities as huge especially as they relate to how the women's game has fared compared to the men's game. In tennis the women's game, I would argue, has as much visibility as the men's game. This is of course a recent development--5-10 years--and the visibility isn't always ideal (see my previous complaints about the characteriziation of the women's tour as "drama-filled"). But it's there. And sure there are many people who would rather watch the men's game any day--why I don't know--but there are plenty (men and women alike) who would much rather watch the women play.
The same can be said for women's golf. The media attention it gets is miniscule compared with women's tennis. And the prize money is ridiculously scewed. The women make far less money than the men week in and week out. In tennis we have Billie Jean King to thank for getting the ball rolling on more equitable prize money but because the men and women sometimes play the same events it seems all the more obvious. In golf there is no tournament where men and women are playing. Like tennis the men's and women's tours are separate, but unlike tennis they never ever come together. This means two things. One, the huge disparity in prize money is never really seen in context and two, the potential for achieving greater visibility for the women's game is never realized. Yes, it shouldn't be that women have to get fans from men's golf, but I am only suggesting it as one possible avenue.
Both tennis and golf have country club origins. Both still exude that air of elitism. But tennis has become more accessible whereas golf is still largely a game for the upper (and upper middle) crust. And I would guess that in the population of recreational golfers there are fewer women, proportionally, than there are recreational tennis players who are women. This also narrows the pool of fans.
But there has been no player in golf who has really been able to show the larger world that golf isn't just for the wealthy. Because it's a harder task. Equipment and access to space are larger barriers in golf than in tennis. Perhaps this will change with the increase in development programs offered by the USGA.
All this was inspired by my viewing this weekend of the Longs Drugs Challenge. It was a close tournament with Karrie Webb winning over Annika Sorenstam by only one stroke after Sorenstam had an exceptional Sunday shooting 65. Also rookie Morgan Pressel finally began to show the promise that had been swirling around her since she was 14. But what the commentators kept coming back to was that the race for Player of the Year was coming down to the wire with Lorena Ochoa in the lead but Webb and Sorenstam very close behind and Christie Kerr not out of the running either. All four were playing this weekend.
It made for some good drama. Drama that could garner more viewers. Sorenstam has dominated the game for so long, easily winning Player of the Year since the mid-90s. And before her, Webb dominated. But with four players in contention plus the whole crop of young players Wie, Pressel, and Paula Creamer among them, the game is pretty interesting. It is actually pretty similar to the current state of women's tennis. The older veterans are phasing out--though still quite competitive--and the younger ones are fighting to see who will be the next big thing.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Babies babies everywhere

Mothers who are athletes. It's a pretty new topic of inquiry. A few months ago in The Chronicle of Higher Education Stanford cross country coach wrote a piece (you need a subsciption to access the whole article; but it's the June 30 issue for anyone who can find a hard copy)about her struggles over coaching and being a mother. Was she being fair to her children? To her athletes?
These issues are not so disimilar to ones mothers who are in any occupation face--unlesss your occupation is professional (or even amateur) athlete.
For a long time, and of course there have been exceptions, female athletes had their athletic career and then after they retired they had children. This has been the norm. Chris Evert, Steffi Graf are a few who followed this pattern. Lindsay Davenport, when she talks about retirement, almost always mentions the desire of she and her husband to start a family. She, and others, are suggesting that a professional athletic career and a family are incompatible.
But the winds of change seem to be blowing (again--I know there are athletes who have continued their competitive career after having children, they just seem to be either very few or underreported--or some of both). Joy Fawcett, who recently retired from professional soccer had THREE children by the end of her competitive career. Brandi Chastain, who had left open the possibility of coming back to play after the Olympics, just gave birth this summer. Whether she will return to competition is up in the air right now. But she has not, as far as I know, officially retired. US National hockey player Jenny Potter had a child when she was at the height of her collegiate career and then went on to become a pivotal player for the national team.
There are moms in the WNBA too. But apparently soccer moms is taking on a new meaning because soccer players, in the midst of their careers are having babies all over the place. And they really aren't considering it an impediment to their careers. Kate Margraf is back training with the national team after delivering her baby in July. Christie Rampone, Tina Frimpong (who had a child before she started her college career), and Danielle Fotopoulos are all active players with children.
I learned all this the other night while I was watching the US play Mexico in a lead up game to World Cup qualifiers. At the time it was a little annoying. All they talked about were babies. Julie Foudy, who was commentating, is also pregnant and Margraf brought her baby into the booth to say hello. So it was all a little well normative I guess.
But in hindsight I think it's fascinating. The debate about working mothers is now extended to working athletes and we are also forced to consider the effect this may have on debates over women's physicality. Soccer, hockey, basketball players all play a very strenuous game. To come back from nine months of drastic changes to one's body is pretty remarkable.
But female athletes with children is just beginning to become an issue we are talking about.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Addicted to the withdrawal

Justine Henin-Hardenne withdrew in the third set of the Fed Cup final yesterday in the match that gave Italy the cup. Citing knee pain, HH pulled out down 0-2 in the doubles the match which gave Italy the 3-2 win.
This injury seems pretty legitimate. HH had had knee pain earlier in the summer. Plus her back is bad and she has some other problems too.
Still the retirement raises some questions. After all this is the second high profile HH withdrawal this year. Her retirement against Amelie Mauresmo in the Australian Open final in January with a stomach ailment raised many eyebrows (my own were oddly arched for weeks).
But this one is not generating as much speculation. For some reason because we see a bandage on the knee we are more likely to assume a legitimate injury--most of the time anyway. But a stomach ache is a little more suspicious I suppose even though both injuries are not really discernible to the audience.
Again, I am not doubting HH's retirement really. But I suspect withdrawals will become very much associated with her as we move into the end of this season and the beginning of next. Remember, HH (when she was just H) used to be one of the biggest "chokers" on the tour. She was cited for not being mentally tough enough to close out matches. Now it seems she is having trouble just finishing them.
What this retirement also forces us to consider--and hopefully it forces the powers-that-be to do so as well--is the extreme schedule players are largely forced to keep. If we want Fed Cup (and Davis Cup too) to be more popular or tournaments to have and actually produce big-name players maybe the schedule should be cut back just a tad. Players must be weary by the time the US Open ends but there's still the indoor season abroad and the end of the year championships.
I myself am weary after the US Open and all I have been doing is watching the matches!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Is his tongue in his cheek?

Every Wednesday NPR's Morning Edition airs a three minute (or so) commentary by Frank Deford. In this morning's airing, Deford decided to jump on the boys-are-lagging-behind bandwagon.
But not really...
...I think.
It was hard to tell.
It went something like this (my interpretation is in {}):
Studies {dubious as they may be} show boys are lagging behind in school at all levels. More women enter college now than men.
Deford claims it is because men, as boys, are pushed towards sport. They are rewarded for success in sport more so than success in the classroom. {Interesting hypothesis. I certainly agree boys are rewarded for playing sport and are very much encouraged to play sports more so than girls.}
This has lead to the decrease in boys in college because girls--who aren't encouraged to play sports--spend time studying because they are not preoccupied with sport and thus get smarter. {Hard to tell at this point whether he is presenting this as a legitimate theory we should consider or if this is the moment we should chuckle to ourselves and say, "Oh, Frank."}
And then he started talking about sport management programs for male athletes (who are not so smart but in college because of their athletic abilities) and how they just produce not so smart people to run athletic programs thus perpetuating the stupidity cycle. {While this is not universally true it does seem there are a lot of male athletes in sport management. But if one really wants a position in athletic administration you will definitely need a master's degree if not a PhD. So the stupid that Deford mentions probably get weeded out along the way. Alas I haven't come across a lot of sport management people--even those with higher degrees--who have a very nuanced understanding of critical issues such as gender and race and class and how they play out in sport. Not because they are bad people but because it seems like sport management degree programs don't really stress these things.}
Then Deford notes how smaller schools are adding football to increase the number of men in the student body. {Yes, happened at a school I used to teach at that had gone co-educational in the last decade. He fails to note however that this usually means Title IX numbers are even more skewed with this addition because the percentage of women in the undergrad population is probably higher than the percentage of women playing sports. Adding more male athletes hurts these numbers even more because their addition to the undergrad population has less impact than their addition to the athletic department population.}
Deford defends Title IX however, telling men to stop fighting it because studies show {again, nothing cited or specific} that female athletes start to become more like male athletes. Their grades fall and they participate less in university activities. {OK I have read something like this but it was from the 80s. And it's interesting that when grades fall and interest wanes this makes one more like a man...what's that about?}
So, Deford concludes that the only way to decrease this widening gap between boys and girls is to get more girls playing sports and thus make them more male-like {not masculine because implicit in that adjective is the issue of physicality which Deford stays far away from here.}

In the end of course we can't really take Deford's "suggestion" seriously. It seems like a big joke on the social scientists that are proclaiming boys are suffering in school. But in the process of making this joke, Deford relies on and perpetuates so many stereotypes of men, women, and athletes that I can't even get to them all here.
So it seems his tongue is indeed somewhere in his cheek. My suggestion: next time he should just bite it.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Women make baskets and men just show up

I joined a women's USTA league recently. We haven't started playing official matches yet but there has been lots of email contact among us as the start of the season nears. Today I received a forward advertising a charity tournament this weekend. In addition to the tennis there is a basket raffle. Teams create baskets. (Everything in yellow is from the email sent by one of the coordinators.)
Some “basket” themes to get those creative juices flowing, but you can do anything you would like. Surprise me - BBQ; Golf; Romance; Pet Supplies; Caribbean Fiesta; Think Pink; Gourmet Dinner for Two; Housewarming; Virgin Olive Oil & Accessories; Beach; Lobster; Gardening; Get Away.
Baskets get raffled off and the proceeds, in addition to the fees for entering the tournament, get donated to a local hospital's breast cancer division.
But there are incentives to get people to make the baskets:
Some Women's teams are entered into the fabulous basket fundraising raffle - they are creating their own basket that will be raffled off to lucky winners the day of the event (you do not need to be present to win). The baskets will be judged on various categories - teams that win will receive a fabulous prize.
Lest you think that the coordinators are discriminating against men. Oh no--the men's teams too can win a fabulous prize (no word on what the fabulous prize is).
For the Men's teams I have a seperate challenge - the men's team that has the most people playing in the event on Saturday - will win a fabulous prize. What do you have to do - have attendees provide your team name when they sign-up or come in to play. At the end of the event - the men's team with the most players participating gets a fabulous prize - oops I said that already.

Women make fabulous baskets--and men just show up. Yep--that sounds about right.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Some (mostly trivial) reflections on the US Open

I missed the men's final this afternoon because I was being a good faculty wife at a function. But from what I have read it was pretty standard Federer Grand Slam final fare.
Federer though had a new friend in his player's box: Tiger Woods and his wife were in attendance. Apparently they just recently met. I was surprised at Woods's very casual attire considering he must have known he would be shown on television: backwards cap, nike shirt, and jeans. He actually--when I first caught a glimpse looked like a teenager.
Controversy continued to emanate from Maria Sharapova's box last night as she was making her way to the 2006 title. "Hitting partner" Michael Joyce held up not only a banana and also mimicked taking a drink but held up 4 fingers--a code no one has yet to break. Sharapova attempted to address the signals today while showing off her trophy by saying that she gets so wrapped up while playing she needs reminders about when to drink, eat, etc.
Last night Mary Carillo said it was coaching and thus not allowed. But I find that hard to believe given 1) how blatant it is and 2) no warning from the USTA given all the publicity around "bananagate."
Given all the hype around Agassi's retirement, I was happy to see that the second week of the tournament was focused on the people that still remained. Nothing against Agassi and all due credit to his career but the montage was getting old pretty fast. You would think the networks would have made more than one given the magnitude of the event but no.
Was I the only one who thought Agassi's post-match on-court remarks were incredibly schmaltzy? I guess I wasn't that surprised given the speech he gave at Steffi Graf's induction into the Hall of Fame a few years ago. At least this one was shorter.
I discovered this Open that I am not a fan of Vera Zvonerava. I was largely ambivalent about her before but after seeing her play in person (against Dementieva) and in the doubles final today I have decided that she is kind of bratty. All her huffing and pouting is getting old--especially as Zvonerava gets older. And she looked pissed off today when Srebotnik and Safina actually were discussing strategy between points. I was surprised at her impatience.
Despite the very disappointing score in the semis, I think Mauresmo has had an amazing year. If she turns in a semi-decent fall hard court season I think she will be the indisputable number one female player of the year. But if I were her I wouldn't even feel the need to play this fall. Everyone knows tennis needs an off-season, anyway. Take it off, Amelie. Drink some fine wine. Tool around Europe on your motorcycle. You deserve it.

Friday, September 08, 2006

So not the drama

Very good match in progress between Jelena Jankovic and Justine Henin-Hardenne. Well it was good until the third set anyway--we shall see what happens.
When I tuned at the very start the first comments I heard were about all the "drama" on the women's tour. Mary Carillo called Jankovic a "drama queen" and John McEnroe said she was in good company. The genesis of the comments was the observation about all the injuries. Injuries of course seem to lead to a preponderance of trainers jogging out to the court during matches. I know this happened with Henin against Davenport but I hadn't seen Jankovic call a trainer (though admittedly I have not seen every match.)
I object to the term "drama" as it has been applied acritically to the women's tour. I know I have said this before but I feel the need to reiterate. I also think it's interesting that the term is usually just applied to the pretty girls on the tour. Henin calls the trainer--whether out of necessity or not, and we'll get to that in a sec--and it's games(wo)manship. Davenport calls the trainer and we get into a discussion of how old she is and how much longer she will be around. Jankovic lets it be known she has a back injury--she hasn't called a trainer yet this match or in her quarter round match--and she is a drama queen. The moniker is applied because she has personality on the court. Because she is "feisty."
My second gripe is that the commentators are talking about of both sides of their mouths with this one. There's plenty of commentary about the length of the season; the lack of a true off-season; the scheduling of the summer tournaments. All factors that everyone believes have lead to the preponderance of injuries this year certainly and for several of the past years. But when these injuries are being attended to we get "drama."
OK that's it. I am going to let this topic lie now. Promise. Well unless McEnroe says something particularly egregious. So I guess may be posting again within the hour.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Is that a banana you just waved at me and do you want me to eat it?

Maria Sharapova faced a tough test last night in the US Open quarters playing Tatiana Golovin. It was an interesting match with many breaks of serve and Sharapova pulled it out in the end in two tiebreakers. The match of course was not without its controversies.
First, Golovin, down 0-3 in the first set tiebreaker, went to the chair, asked for the trainer and sat down in her chair quite resolutely. She had a large blister on the bottom of her foot and the trainer came out and taped it.
Did I mention it was 0-3 in the tiebreak though?
I thought this was appalling and certainly done as a form of games(wo)manship. Yes, I saw the blister; it was large and red-looking and I am not denying it was painful to play on even after it was taped. I have had large blisters on the bottom of my feet from tennis and they hurt a lot and the commentators were right: the actual taping feels odd and does not completely eliminate the pain. But I think unless you are unable to walk or swing your racquet or near death you wait until a changeover or at least the end of a game. Golovin's blister did not look new--it was too big and too ripped up looking. While she may have aggravated it, it was not a new injury. She could have taken care of it before the match. A pre-existing blister, hard courts, Maria Sharapova--she must have known it would have to be taped at some point. That point should have been either before or after the tiebreak--not during.
But most of the controversy came from Sharapova's end. The grunts of course. Golovin lodged a complaint. Sharapova shrugged it off saying she doesn't really care what her opponents think of her. I am not opposed to grunting but I do think continuing to do so at such a high decibel after complaints have been made is a form gamesmanship. Sharapova, despite notions to the contrary, can control her grunting. It isn't innate. It changes decibel levels throughout the match depending on the score. If you can control the point of contact, the amount of spin, the grip on your racket, the bend in your knees, you can control the sounds coming out of your mouth.
But by far the most interesting moments last night (outside of some very good points) came during the changeovers.
Sharapova's father and coach, Yuri, has been accused of coaching from the sidelines and last night we saw a form of that. He pulled out a banana and shook it in his daughter's direction while she was sitting down. What happened next? She pulled her own out of her bag and took a few bites. At another time her agent held up a cup to her and she pulled out and drank some kind of elixir.
It was comical. I was actually on board with Tracy Austen's take on the signals from the box. It's not a form of coaching according to officials because it doesn't "assist in strategy." I think I would disagree with that but regardless of the technical definition it is ridiculous that they do it at all. Talk about micromanagement. They don't know how she feels on court at that moment yet they are telling her what to put in her body and when.
It is surprising to me given how mature Sharapova seems in interviews and on the court. She appears very much in control of her life and her game. How much of this is a facade though I have to wonder. Has she bought in entirely to her father's take on her life, career, bodily functions?

Maybe. But she's not admitting it:

Sharapova's father, Yuri, kept a watchful eye on the match. He seemed to signal his daughter at one point when he pulled a banana out of his bag. Moments later, she took out a banana and ate it during a changeover.
"Is it a coincidence? Probably," she said.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Commentators say the darndest things

There is one good thing about the commentator line-up this US Open--no Brad Gilbert. Since he got his coaching gig with Andy Murray the commentating has been just a little bit better. Now if only someone would hire away John McEnroe.
But Gilbert's absence doesn't mean all is well in commentator-land. Last night Tracy Austin, in a discussion about Benjamin Becker, was dismayed by all the European players coming to the United States to play collegiate tennis--coming and taking up all the scholarships that should go, Austin reasons, to American players. She wants a limit of 2 "foreign" scholarships per team.
Hmmm...interesting. Sport is, theoretically, a "may the best person win" kind of endeavor--so if the Europeans are doing the best job then they should get the scholarships. And given Americans' love of (the myth of) meritocracy, one would think Tracy Austin would appreciate that these young Europeans are coming over and working hard for their place on the team. But I guess meritocracy only applies to those already living here. All the hard work one may put in in another country just doesn't count.
But in the end Austin's comment really just reads as highly xenophobic. Despite our immersion in a global economy, Austin believes that Americans deserve (whether they have earned it or not) preferential treatment in American colleges. She fails to see the benefit of non-American students attending American universities. She also clearly does not understand that European recruiting is one of the least egregious aspects of the current win at any cost philosophy of big-time collegiate athletics.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

US Open Blogging

I was one of the lucky ones. I had tickets to the day session on Friday. This meant I saw a lot of tennis and got out just as the rain that cancelled that evening's tennis began. Of course anyone down at the Billie Jean King USTA Center today must be psyched--great matches all day.
But Friday was pretty good too. Here's my report:
First of all, I have to admit that this trip to the US Open was a little different from my other excursions in the past. One, it was cold: pants and sweater all day long. No sun at all. And this was actually a good thing. Too often it has been sweltering down in Flushing and it just zaps your energy. You can't sit in the sun watching a match for more than 30 minutes at a time. So I was quite pleased--plus much time is saved not putting on additional coats of sunscreen.
Another big difference this year: I never set foot inside Ashe Stadium. We had the tickets but didn't go inside. The matches scheduled were fine but the stuff that happens on the outer courts in the first week is usually far more interesting. (In hindsight it wouldn't have been bad to see see either Henin-Hardenne or the Blake on Friday but it takes so long to get up to the seats that by the time we realized they were interesting matches, it was too late.)
But I was much more content watching the last set and a half of the Vaidisova/Jankovic match on court 11 and the Dementieva/Zvonareva contest on the Grandstand. I also saw great doubles including the Bryan-Morariu/Bryan-Navratilova match (well the first set anyway) and good teams such as Stubbs and Black and Shaughnessy and Groenefeld (who look nearly twin-like when on court with their matching blond ponytails and Adidas outfit).
When I go to the Open I want to see what I know I would never see on television. And since I knew that bad weather was approaching I figured this was even more important as the weekend would be filled with previously taped matches.
The Open crowd seemed a but more savvy than the folks in New Haven--for example I didn't hear anyone complaining about the length or level of the women's matches. At the Peer/Schiavone match, where there were several Israeli flags flying and words of encouragement in Hebrew, it was obvious that most people knew why this was a good match to come see--even if it was on court 4. Of course the women in front of me, as we walked in had this conversation:
"Why are we here again?"
"I don't know--because it's that Israeli woman."
I guess that footage played at Wimbledon (or was it the French?) about Peer and her army duties created a lot of publicity for her. The crowd was clearly on her side.
The only comment I overheard that made me groan was a young guy who in discussing with his friends which match to watch next said "I want to check out those Russian Amazons." I kind of just stared in disbelief at him. I think he thought he was being complimentary. But it read, to me, as a move to reassert his white male power over women who are taller and likely stronger and faster than he, by deeming them abnormal--i.e. Amazons.
But surprisingly that was my only negative experience of the day. Well except that all I got for USTA member appreciation day was a can of "commemorative" tennis balls. I guess I didn't really need another bag or cooler anyway--gifts from past years. And I did get a free soda that would have cost me $4 inside the grounds. Woo-hoo!