Friday, April 28, 2006

Well that's what happens when you let ESPN help

The Women's Sports Foundation has compiled a list of the top ten moments in women's sports. I just finished reading it so my comments here are somewhat raw. Here is what I noticed in a loosely chronological order that replicates my thought process:
1. Glad they listed Althea Gibson's win at Wimbledon. Also glad that Wilma Rudolph's accomplishments were a top-tenner as well. Tokenism can be a problem in women's sports.
2. Are you kidding me--the number one moment is Billy Jean King's victory over Riggs? I believe in the power of symbolic moments but I feel this moment was purely symbolic. Many people cite it as some kind of defining moment for women in sports but how many minds did it really change? Women's capacity and ability to play sports was still questioned after the event. If public opinion had really shifted so much because of the King-Riggs match then the passage and enforcement of Title IX in the 70s and 80s (and even today) would not have been so contentious. Of course King is the founder of WSF so I am not that surprised. And I am sure ESPN would endorse a moment that really had no effect in elevating the status of female athletes.
3. Individual vs. group accomplishments? Only 4 of the entries are about a group of athletes, either as a team or as an Olympic cohort. Not sure what I really want to say about this. The list though seems to try to portray female sport heroes--an individualist approach that often is expressed through listing the obstacles these women had to overcome. These are juxtaposed with large group efforts that seem to suggest the progress of a movement--not sure which movement, feminism has had a strange relationship with female sports activism.
4. The entries on Rudolph and Gibson mention nothing about their race. The moments are seen as purely accomplishments of women rather than women of color. They mention nothing about negotiating their identities as Black women. This is a very unfortunate omission by an organization that states that it is committed to (and sponsors programs in that vein) promoting the involvement of girls and women of color in sport. It is difficult to actually remedy racial disparities in sport or anywhere else if you can't even talk about them.
So those were my thoughts on the list. I haven't really thought yet about what might be missing from the list or what I would rather see as the number one moment. Thoughts??


ken said...

Yes. I agree with that assessment of the list and I am generally for promoting women's sports and I guess I wasn't truly expecting a critical approach--it's just not innate to the top 10 genre. But I was suprised about the omission of the Rudolph's and Gibson's accomplishments in light of their race. After all--that's why they got so much of the attention that seemingly was a criteria for this list.

Diane said...

The Billie Jean King/Bobby Riggs mention is offensive. It was a cheap carnival trick, which both of them knew, and King says she never would have done it if Margaret Court hadn't acted like such an ass.

King's greatest moment was her courageous founding of the WTA, and the omission of that from the list is, in my opinion, very sad.

I don't have a problem with Wilma Rudolph's race not being mentioned. I do have a problem with a pilot being commended as an athlete, however. What was that about?

ken said...

I agree with Diane's comment on the battle of the sexes. And she is so right that the founding of a sport organization by a woman for women was truly remarkable and has not happened--that I know of--on such a scale and with such success since.
I seem to be having this are aviators athletes discussion a lot lately. In Allan Guttman's history of women's sports he mentions Earhart and I was truly surprised that aviation fell under the category of sport. But the discussion always turns to a question of car racing as sport and the "athletic" abilities it requires. And since I have never flown a plane nor driven a race car at high speeds I always beg out of the conversation. It's just not a battle I find worth fighting at the moment.