Friday, February 24, 2006

Johnny Weir a traditionalist?

This Olympics marked the first time the female figure skaters were allowed ot wear pants in competition. That actually surprised me. I guess I had always thought there were no such restrictions (at least in this the twenty-first century!) and that women chose not to don pants. (I suppose I could try to deconstruct why women would have wanted to to keep wearing those flitty little skirts but I am not in the mood.)
So bronze medal winner Irina Slutskaya wore a very attractive pants outfit in the short program and I thought she looked great. She went back to a skirted outfit in the long program (perhaps the reason for her letdown???) But others came out in pants including Slutskaya's team member. (Hers was not as attractive, though.) And I found a little blurb about the other skaters who have embraced the skating federation's 2005 rule change:
"Other women who have gone the pants route are Fumie Suguri, competing for Japan; Elena Sokolova of Russia; Tatiana Totmianina; and German pairs skater Aliona Savchenko. She and partner Robin Szolkowy perform their edgy short program dressed in matching black unitards sleeked with white stripes."
Costumes seemed to be a big topic of conversation among commentators and fans and Slutskaya's was no different. For the most part I heard good things about her costume and the way it fit the style of her sakting and her body type. But yesterday during Olympic Ice, Mary Carillo asked skating bad boy Johnny Weir (anyone remember when Christopher Bowman used to be skating's bad boy because he didn't like to practice and had contentious relationships with his coaches??) what he thought of the outfit. He said it wasn't too bad but he liked the
traditional" look of women in skirts better. Umm, Johnny Weir, aren't you the guy who rails against figure skating traditions? Aren't your own costumes as you yourself has said like a "Care Bear on acid" or "an icicle on coke"? Seems there is only room for one trendsetter in figure skating costumes, and Johnny Weir has appointed himself the rebel in charge of all things aesthetic. Johnny, just because you may be the queerest queer figure skating has seen in a long time doesn't mean you are the sole possessor or either taste or a healthy amount of rebellion.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Bye-bye, Ben?

So apparently I was not the only one to think that maybe it was time for Ben Smith, USA Hockey's women's national team head coach. During the bronze medal game (which the US won 4-0 over Finland!) commentators discussed as interview Smith had given prior to the game. Apparently he was evasive about whether he would return but he hinted around that he was ready to leave (because he sees the writing on the boards perhaps?). But I give him considerable credit because he said that perhaps it was time for a female coach to lead the team. Canada was the only team with a female head coach, as I have mentioned previously, in the field of eight teams. Canada has a commitment to grooming female head coaches. It is time for USA Hockey to follow suit.
Commentator A.J. Mzelcko said while it would be nice to have a female head coach, USA Hockey should find "the most qualified person for the job." This is the spiel I heard from many female hockey players when I did my master's thesis a few years about gender preferences in hockey coaches. Basically this is the rhetoric that is passed around in all professions about race and gender. It is typical anti-affirmative action propaganda that appeals on those who still adhere to the myth of American meritocracy.
I can't wait to see what happens!

Monday, February 20, 2006

Whoa NBC

A little over a week ago my alma mater, University of New Hampshire, made headlines (mostly in New England) for taking off of the hockey playlist the song Black Betty. Black Betty is traditionally played when the team comes onto the ice and fans start clapping in sync.
Apparently various constituencies at UNH have been protesting the song for years and trying to get it removed because of its racist overtones. I had never heard anything about it when I was there--maybe because coming out against a hockey tradition at UNH is like coming out against University of Iowa's pink visiting team locker room football tradition. You're going to draw a lot of fire.
But for some reason Athletic Director Marty Scarano chose to finally take Black Betty off the playlist this year. He did not cite a particular group or person's complaint that caused the decision but apparently there was at least one made recently according to Scarano's statements to the press.
The 1970s rock song has been called offensive to black woman by the NAACP for thirty years now and UNH finally decided to do something about it. (As much as I love my alma mater, they are a little bit slow on the uptake.)
Interestingly, NBC seems to be a little slow on the uptake too. On this morning's TODAY show, Matt Lauer got dressed up in goalie gear to take the ice with the women of Team USA and during the montage of shots taken on Lauer, NBC played Black Betty--not the words, but the melody. Apparently they have not gotten the memo.

There have been numerous calls by UNH students and alum to bring the song back. They all cite "tradition." But no one seems to be questioning the concept of tradition itself. Why do we have the view that tradition is always a good thing? Clearly, traditions can be offensive. Arguments that things were different "back then" do not hold up. Sure, "things" were different back then, which is why things are different right now. Traditions have to be carried throughout changing times; the contexts in which traditions exist are constantly altered--and when they no longer work they must be altered.
This is the context in which I put the Black Betty tradition at UNH. Sure, I am sad I will never be able to go back to the Whitt and hear the song and clap along. But it will not take away from my overall excitement. There are plenty of other songs out there.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Moment of silence...

...please for the US women's national team that lost in a shootout to Sweden today 3-2. Alas I did not get to see the game (these damn academic things like teaching and studying are truly getting in the way of my own Olympic experience). But, like any good blogger, I certainly have some things to say about the loss.
First, I am truly sad and actually almost glad I was not able to watch because I would have been devastated. I had a firm plan to ditch all things school-related Monday and make it home (or to the nearest sports bar) to watch the gold medal game. I don't even know when the bronze medal game is being played. And I am very nervous about this game given that Finland was a tough opponent for the US a few short days ago. The team is going to have to very quickly go through all the stages of mourning in order to get psychologically ready to compete in the bronze medal game.
Second, the numerous comments about the lack of depth in women's hockey should wane somewhat now. Sure Canada is still leagues above the rest but the outcomes of certain match-ups now will not be as predetermined as once they were. Unfortunately, it takes a US loss to prove this but maybe in the long run it will be better for the sport...I hate that I have been forced to use such logic and is not much (or any) consolation to Chanda Gunn, Krissy Wendell, Angela Ruggiero and the rest of Team USA, I know.
And lastly, this tournament and the US team's performance in it suggests to me that it is time for Ben Smith to leave. Canada, I believe, had changed their Olympic head coach every time since Nagano. I am not suggesting such dramatic turnaround but I think the national team needs some new blood--and please don't bump up asst. coach Mike Gilligan--how he ever got that position with no experience coaching women's hockey is beyond me. Maybe it's time to bring back former asst. coach Julie Sasner who was forced to leave her post because of the off-ice relationship she had (has?) with Smith. The pool of good coaches in the US is pretty deep. USAHockey should try taking a swim--and soon.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Who's grandmother is she?

OK I hate to be the Debbie Downer of the Grandma Luge celebration but I have some concerns over how she is portrayed and how she portrays herself.
I am wholeheartedly in support of Anne Abernathy's representation of the power and ability of women over 50. She counters stereotypes of the aging woman. But she simultaneously reinforces stereotypes of the role of women over 50 by calling herself Grandma. (I don't even think she is really a grandmother--but I couldn't find any family bio information.)
The nickname also reifies common connotations of older women as nurturing and kindly (often read as passive and only good for comforting others) when clearly Abernathy is quite different from the stereotypical grandmother.
Viewing her website it is clear that nickname is an asset to Abernathy's career. Who wouldn't want to (economically) support Grandman Luge? And I do want to support her and I feel nbdly she couldn't race in Torino--I just want her to change her nickname.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Smile for the patriarchal, homophobic masses

Maybe that title is a bit scathing for what follows but what the heck.
So, if I truly am an academic I will be able to turn my few observations/anecdotes into a theory about which I can write and publish a paper, which will lead to a job, which will lead to tenure, and so on and on...
But for now here is something to ponder.
Watching the two games the US hockey team played this weekend was pretty interesting. Of course the games--handily won by the US--were exciting (OK not so much exciting as fulfilling to someone who never gets to see women's hockey anymore living out here in the midwest.) But, as always, commentary is the topic that draws my attention.
Cammi Granato is doing the studio coverage of the hockey tournaments with some dude (S.D.) I have never seen nor heard of. Another guy was interviewing players between periods. They were pretty good interviews actually, but S.D. seemed to be more interested in how the players looked without their helmets on. He commented on the wonderful smile of Helen Resor and then on Granato's wonderful smile and how the women (he may have even said girls) were just so pleasant and smiley.
Seemingly minor, the smile talk reminded me of a former spin instructor who told us once that someone had commented on that fact that she didn't smile enough while she was teaching. And these incidents together got me thinking of a discussion about the directive for women to smile on a listserv to which I subscribe and the general perception that feminists and other serious women are frigid and have no sense of humor.
Why are athletes supposed to smile? Are only certain athletes supposed to smile--perhaps the ones that engage in historically masculine sports? It seems to be a device to make these women, who play an extremely aggressive sport, more palatable to the general public. Heaven forbid girls should appear too serious about a sport. Lighten up, baby, and give us a big smile.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Torn over Kwan

Michelle Kwan withdrew from the Olympics today because of a groin injury--allegedly a different one from the injury that prevented her participation in the US Nationals that serve as the Olympic trials for figure skating.
When Kwan received a bye from the powers-that-be I was almost entirely supportive of this move despite my sympathy for Emily Hughes, the third-place finisher at Nationals whom Kwan replaced essentially. I was a little suspect of the possible economic motivations for the bye (i.e. Kwan's appearance in Coca-Cola Olympic-themed commercials and Visa too I believe) but she is the reason the US could send 3 skaters this year and she is an icon--one who's ability has not, in my opinion, waned.
But her withdrawal makes me a little uneasy. This was it for Kwan--her last chance. The competition is still a few days away. Kwan always seemed like the type to push through adversity. This situation reminds me of the one a few weeks ago in Australia when Justine Henin-Hardenne retired from the Australian Open final with a stomach ailment giving Amelie Mauresmo her first Grand Slam victory. People--myself included--questioned Henin-Hardenne's commitment especially in light of Mauresmo's assertion that she was "prepared to die out there" in her attempt to win her first Grand Slam. I don't approve of the "no pain, no gain" theory of training and believe we should all defer to an athlete's own judgment about an injury. But I was honestly surprised that Kwan did not have a similar mentality as Mauresmo's. There is nothing left, as far as I can see, for Kwan to save herself for.
Of course I couldn't possibly know the severity of the injury and in the end I have to applaud Kwan for withdrawing in time for alternate Emily Hughes to make the trip over (assuming she can get out of snow-covered NY) and compete.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Olympics are here! The Olympics are here!

I meant to post this yesterday but the opening ceremonies were so riveting that I couldn't bear to look away. Yeah, not so much this time around. I am not sure what it was; maybe NBC's coverage, the modern industrial-themed dances, the somewhat hackneyed cirque-de-soleilesque acrobatics. I am sure it had something to do with Bob Costas and whatever news guy was co-commentating with him last night. How long has Costas been doing the Olympics? And he still isn't good at it? I think he just gets too enamoured of his own smooth voice and doesn't think about THE WORDS THAT ARE COMING OUT OF HIS MOUTH! Maybe I am just getting too old, have seen too many opening ceremonies but they all seem the same now. There is always a little kid component, some interpretative dance number, the acrobats, the diplomat speeches (thankfully short this year, I thought), and the lighting of the torch--the last does not seem less meaningful thankfully.
I was disappointed that when the US team walked in we heard very little about the athletes. Usually the fortnight is filled with moving stories or hardship, heartache, injury, perseverance (which too get hackneyed) yet the only people we heard about really were Bode Miller--multiple mentions, flagbearer Chris Witty (deservedly) and mogul skier Jeremy Bloom and of course Kwan (more posting on her to come!). I want to see and hear about the people who may get no more attention for the rest of the games. I want to see the underdogs, and those from less popular sports (of course given that this is the winter games the last is all relative).
Oh well--I am pretty much over it and have moved on to exciting things like the women's hockey team which won their first game today!
But on a somewhat sadder note. Even while we celebrated the opening of the games yesterday, we had to mourn the defeat of softball's reinstatement to the 2012 London Games. Baseball didn't make it back in either. There are some interesting things to examine in the responses.
US National Team coach Mike Candrea said: "I think this is really going to make some kids make decisions quickly: Do they start raising a family or do they keep pounding away, not knowing what the future is?" Yes, because the only two options for women playing softball are either to keep playing or to start popping out babies. Way to heteronormalize the sport and set the women's movement back a few decades, coach! Also--Candrea's use of the term "kids" is rather disappointing and ironic given the starting families part of the comment. Kids is a diminuitive term--they are women--and of course if kids having babies is actually not so accepted in our society.
Another interesting comment came from a US IOC member who noted that the "packaging" of softball and baseball may have hurt softball's bid. True dat, sister, but softball participates in the construction of that packaging by making constant comparisons between the games, with players who cite baseball players as role models, and with commentators' remarks during broadcasts. I am not filled with schadenfreude over this--I am truly disappointed by the IOC vote--but this might be a good time for softball to really look at how it packages and presents itself to the world.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Cute, but dangerous?

I stuck around my house for a few extra minutes this morning to catch the Today show's feature on the US Women's Hockey Team. It was a correspondent who conducted the interviews with four of the veteran players about their training but Matt Lauer is scheduled to get in goal when he heads to Turino later this month.
It was a pretty standard segment: shots of practice spliced with interview comments. One of the segment's themes was the whole women play hockey too and this is how the game differs (and maybe is even better) than the male version. And somewhere along the line, when noting that just because the women are not allowed to check, the interviewer noted that these women are still dangerous (shots of players being held against boards and fighting for the puck along the boards) but wait, it's ok, because they're cute. Oh good. I was worried the women representing the US in hockey would be ugly. Who the hell cares if they're cute? Oh, that's right the people who are afraid of strong women in male-dominated sports. The label "cute" accounts for multiple sins: the fear of masculinization of female athletes, it makes less threatening the actual physical capabilities of these players, and it infantilizes and marks as child-like, these WOMEN who play at the highest level of their very physical, very demanding sport.
On a different note, there was a brief interview with coach Ben Smith, about the team's progress and also a mention that Smith cut two veterans in August, including Cammi Granato who has arguably been the Mia Hamm of women's ice hockey. There was a small mention of the shock these cuts had but I feel like this initial shock is being downplayed. There were big problems with team dynamics in Salt Lake City that stemmed, in part, from controversial cuts. They were largely ignored and the effect was obvious. Given the team's pretty poor performances (it's all relative of course--mostly relative to the Canadian team's progress) in the tour leading up to Turino I would say team dynamics are still very much a problem. Smith himself noted that the offensive lines need to improve and the interviewed players admitted that they aren't ready yet but said that they will be. It's more than just drills and scrimmages though. I hope team USA gets it together off the ice.