Friday, June 30, 2006

Venus Williams on equality

Before the start of Wimbledon Venus Williams wrote a column about the tournament's continuing practice of awarding the men and the women unequal prize money.
Good for her, I thought to myself. But then I read it and was not as convinced it was such a valuable exercise.
It was well-written and she made some good points. But I was surprised by her meritocracy argument which she personalized by discussing her own struggles and the work ethic of her father who conveyed to his daughters that hard work pays off. That Williams buys into the myth of meritocracy is disappointing to me. She must literally see how American systems (education, legal, etc.) work against some people (mainly racial and ethnic "minorities") and work for others (primarily white people). And most of the time it doesn't matter how much hard work one puts in. Williams does a disservice to everyone who has worked hard only to have the system descend and keep them down by extolling the value of hard work. Wimbledon's prize money itself policy is an example of the myth.
And ultimately, I was left thinking, well if she is that pissed off about it--and she should be--maybe she should be doing something more. She invoked Billie Jean King but there was no mention of the sacrifice King made by organizing boycotts of tournaments in the 1970s. The powers that be at Wimbledon are not threatened by written or verbalized attacks on their prize money policy. They have experienced it for years.
Williams is right--Wilmbledon can easily cover the difference in pay based on the profits they turn in food sales alone. So clearly it's not a money issue--it's some kind of principle, often under the guise of tradition, that they keep holding on to. But nothing makes people reevaluate their principles like money--or rather the lack thereof. If key players like Williams, Clijsters, Henin-Hardenne, Mauresmo, Sharapova decided they just would refuse to play until the prize money was the same, Wimbledon would fold pretty quickly I imagine. Ratings would plummet--maybe even ticket sales.
But the likelihood of that happening is, well just as slim as the cigarettes that used to be the primary sponsor of women's tennis. For one, the pressures of sponsors and the tour itself with its system of bonuses and penalties make it difficult for an individual player to make that stand. Second, it would mean the top players, who are inherently competitive with one another, would have to switch paradigms and form a coalition in order for a boycott to be effective. And lastly, the players would have to be willing to give up a big chunk of (potential) money in order to gain a small amount for the larger good. Somehow I can't see Sharapova (and some others) agreeing to that.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

I'm not homophobic...

...I'm going to the Gay Games. That's the rationale of White Sox coach Ozzie Guillen who called journalist Jay Mariotti a fag last week, took a lot of flak for epithet, then issued a non-apology, received more flak and is now claiming he can't be homophobic because he plans on going to the Gay Games next month in Chicago. MLB has fined Guillen (an undisclosed amount) and is making him take sensitivity training classes. Come on--he's going to the Gay Games--can't that count as his sensitivity training? Some kind of transfer credits.
I'm not a homophobe because I am going to the Gay Games is similar to the hackneyed rationale offered by white folks that "I'm not a racist; I have black friends." A problematic rationale in itself that refuses to see racism at the structural level or acknowledge and account for the invisible system of white privilege. To make it more analagous to Guillen's situation though that rationale would be given by someone who unapologetically throws around the n-word. To make it worse the Gay Games is just one argument for Guillen who also notes that he has gay friends and goes to WNBA games--um--what is he saying with this? Oh yeah--and he likes Madonna.
We don't need someone like Guillen at the Gay Games, or at the WNBA or even at a Madonna concert. I wish he would just stay home. Of course maybe he won't be able to attend now that he has to squeeze in those sensitivity training classes.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Where are the women?

Are there women playing Wimbledon this year? I see scores scrolling along the bottom and I saw Maria Sharapova interviewed this morning but I haven't seen any of them actually playing.
Instead I get to watch the Nadal match that, despite being on grass, still took two hours to play 2 sets.
It seems that ESPN is sticking with its French Open policy of staying with a match, no matter how lackluster, until the bitter end. And unfortunately all these matches feature men.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Wimbledon "Rebels"

Last month I noted how a grunting black French man probably wouldn't sit so well with the Wimbledon traditionalists. Gael Monfils may not even have to utter a guttural syllable to irk some. (And I didn't see any coverage--if there was any--of his first round match to be able to calculate the decibel level.) 'Cause Monfils has undone the corn rows he was sporting at Roland Garros. So he has this great not-quite-an-afro going on. The only thing holding it all back from being completely "wild" is his Nike headband. James Blake is also sporting a Nike headband--blue--but it holds back nothing and seems like it might just create a very odd tan line.
Of course Monfils lost in the first round. It doesn't look like he is playing doubles. The mixed draw isn't out yet, though. But it appears that any raised eyebrows Monfils may have garnered have past.
So too those raised at the appearance of Svetlana Kuznetsova's first round opponent, Romina Oprandi have quieted now that Sveta dispatched the other Swiss miss (OK she's really Italian but she was born and lives in Switzerland) in straight sets today. This player isn't exactly miss material--if you read between the lines of the match report. The Wimbledon web site noted that Kuznetsova had some troubles against the heavy-hitting Italian:
While the Russian was finding the range, however, Oprandi, with her cap back to front and a couple of rings adorning her lower lip, struck out like the young blood she is.
Hmm...what could this mean? Backward cap plus facial piercings. Anyone else reading this as Wimbledon's hints that we may have a lesbian out there on the grass?
Even if that's not what they are hinting at, someone felt the need to point out that Oprandi's appearance is non-normative. Except that I don't think it is that non-normative. Two facial piercings and a backward cap? Please, that's nothing. (NOTE: it took me a long time to find a photo in which you can actually see the piercings--and you still have to be looking for them.)
But in tennis apparently it is something. I remember when Mauresmo first played with her tattoo and that was all commentators were talking about. And then when Kournikova was around there was wild speculation that the back wrap peaking from her short shorts and crop top was actually hiding a tattoo!! I wonder if there is some fear of tennis devolving into sports such as basketball or football where tattoos are ubiquitous.
I am actually more surprised that more tennis players haven't pierced and inked parts of their body--the ones that are visible anyway--given the growing numbers of the rest of us folk who have.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Do not go gently into that good night

Wimbledon started today. Well it tried to start anyway. Rain got the better of day one activities and no one was able to finish a match.
So ESPN2 chose to air--when I flipped over anyway--last year's women's final between Venus Williams and Lindsay Davenport. Williams is in this year's draw and got a decent seeding. But Davenport withdrew before the draw was even made as did Mary Pierce and Serena Williams.
I hope today's airing of last year's final is not the last time we get to see Davenport who has been troubled--again--by injuries this year.
I haven't ever really been a Pierce fan along the way--her personality is a bit off to me--but I think her perseverance over a decade of competition in this sport has been amazing. Her last few years of play have been especially impressive.
And Serena Williams. Well again not so much a fan but I do have some empathy for all the crap the media has strewn at her over the years. Sure her family seems a little odd--but who's family isn't a little dysfunctional these days?
Maybe Williams and her sister for that matter have lost the desire to play tennis. That's fine. But it seems like their tennis careers are just dragging. But if they plan on going out, I hope they get in super physical and mental shape, win a few grand slams, and retire at their very best. And I hope they beat Martina Hingis in the process so I can see that awkward look on her face when she shakes hands at the net realizing that not only did she lose to a black American woman, but she has to look gracious in defeat as well now that she has her new mature image.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Why Northwestern is not Duke

Jenny Haigh, the soccer coach at Northwestern resigned the other day. Perhaps we should put resigned in quotes, though. She is leaving in the wake of the hazing incident. Or rather she is leaving in wake of the publicity that emerged when photos of the incident were found on the internet (posted by team members on a personal website).
I was a little surprised by her resignation because--unlike the Duke lacrosse coach who seemed to know about and condone the behavior (pattern of behavior--not just the alleged rape)--Haigh likely had no specific knowledge of the event. I don't know the climate at Northwestern around athletics. All teams seem to have some kind of bonding events at the start of the season. This one crossed the line to hazing. Others have crossed that line as well. But there were no records of it. I am not diminishing the severity of hazing (see previous entry below) or that it is symptomatic of an attitude that collegiate student-athletes have certain immunities.
But how responsible is a coach in such an incident? She can't--and she shouldn't--be with her team all the time. A coach can instill a certain amount of values but it's ridiculous to think that one person's moral standards--no matter how high--can overcome the larger cultural attitude that what we call hazing is just harmless fun or team bonding.
In this light I suppose it is possible that Haigh simply resigned (without being pressured to do so). At some point it must be like hitting your head against the wall. You try to combat prevalent attitudes but the system in place impedes you and then when something that isn't all that surprising given the systematic constraints occurs--correction, is made public--you take the heat for it.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

GLBT Sport History

I was in San Francisco this past weekend and went to a reception at the GLBT Historical Society and Archives. I actually kind of tagged along with friends with whom I was going out with afterwards but I am really glad I went. There was a new exhibit on the history of GLBT athletes and sporting events. (I stole this picture from the web site. I hope they don't mind. I am doing it for promotion rather than exploitation.) It was very well-done. There were lots of pictures and various installations. I was impressed given that the organization is primarily volunteer-based and in a very small space.
The archives were amazing too. They have tons of stuff one could get totally sucked into--pictures, letters, flyers, signs. I hope to get back there for some research on the Gay Games.
Anyway--if you're in the bay area check it out (it's about 2 blocks from the Montgomery BART station). And if you want to help preserve GLBT history (it was mentioned that often times the archives get donations of things that would have thrown out by family members such as a 1970s wedding album from a couple that were together for over 40 years and died in the same retirement home) make a donation.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

If you don't put it on the internet...

This was the post I started when I was at the airport late last week waiting for my flight to CA. But alas I am only finishing it now because there was no where in the whole city of Oakland that had free wi-fi and I was not going to pay $10/day for internet access at the hotal. So here it is:

This story about student-athlete behavior came out a few weeks ago but I was busy watching and blogging about tennis, golf and softball. I mostly thought it was amusing--ok, yes somewhat serious--but somewhat missing the point as well.
So some schools have mandated that their student athletes refrain from using Facebook or MySpace. OK sure--such rules impede naive SAs from posting incriminating photos of themselves hazing other team members a la the women's soccer team at Northwestern. But the rule misses two key points.
The first is that--hello there appears to be rampant hazing going on and just because there may be a decline in a photographic record of the incidents doesn't mean this is not a serious issue. It seems that the focus has been on hazing in fraternities and sororities but other student organizations engage in them as well--especially athletic teams. This is clearly a serious enough issue to warrant institutions regulating how their SAs use the internet. But they see it as serious from a PR perspective--not a SA welfare perspective. And this is troubling. But not surprising given that other SA indiscretions (sexual harassment, rape, theft, assault) warrant this same PR concern over aspects such as the cause of such behavior.
Oh darn--I forget what the second key point is. Sorry--it was a long weekend. I'll add an addendum is I think of it.
Oh wait--I remember now. The rule neglects any consideration of the larger issue of student awareness about the internet. When I was in college we had just started to address the issue of harassment via internet/email. Policies had to be rewritten to take into consideration the new means of enacting harassment. This was good but seemingly only half the project. Meanwhile, we seem to have neglected to engage in conversations with students about the implication of posting or making available personal information. Please please note here that I do believe that harassment is never warranted and mitigated because of the actions of the victim. But I don't think some students really understand the implications of some of the things that post on the internet such as pictures of them taking hits from the bong which I found on my student's facebook page. How about not banning SA use of facebook, blogger, etc. but teaching them--and other students as well--about responsible uses of the internet.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Oh no they didn't!

Michelle Wie won her first major this weekend at the LPGA Championship.
Oh wait--no it was Si Re Pak who won the tournament in a playoff against Karrie Webb, who herself won the first major of the year.
Headline said Wie; article was correct in noting that it was 30-year old Pak, already qualified for the Hall of Fame, versus the teenager who hasn't won a major yet.
What does this faux pas suggest? Perhaps on the most basic level it shows that there is a sloppy headline writer somewhere. But of course if I was happy with things on the most basic level I wouldn't bother to blog.
Obviously I don't know what happened but it seems like one Asian golfer was all too easily confused for another. Wie of course is the headline grabber. Ask someone not familiar with golf to name a female golfer my guess is that either Wie or Annika Sorenstam are the top guesses. Pak, though just a few years ago was tearing up the LPGA. She, like Webb, have had some rough years. This, in part, is why Pak's playoff win was so spectacular (not that I saw it because I don't have the Golf Channel--see below for another reason why this headline mistake is not so hard to believe). And this is also why the headline was so egregious in its error.
We're not all golf fans--I understand this. But mistaking an American teenage golf phenom with a (young) South Korean veteran is just...well it's bad. In the end it just shows how women's sports (and especially how women of color fare in them) are seen as so unremarkable that one athlete is mistaken for another.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Why niche channels are hurting women's sports

I swore I had blogged about this last year but when I went back through my archives I realized I only started blogging in earnest in July 2005; after the McDonald's LPGA Championships were held. And I can't remember whether ESPN and/or one of the major networks actually showed the tournament last year. Regardless, this year it's ALL on The Golf Channel this year. I have been reminded of course that I am not even going to be near a television this weekend. But that is little consolation (especially since I am definitely here today).
Frankly I was surprised that not even the final round would be on a more accessible network. I mean Annika is going for her 10th major and Michelle Wie is eager to prove she can win against women. With the crop of young women that have been in contention this year including Paula Creamer and Morgan Pressel who have made good showings the past few weeks plus the folks you can never count out: Gulbis (hungry for a first major), Carrie Webb who apparently has her game back in control, Christie Kerr (though her putting has been off lately). And then there is a whole new rookie (or near rookie) group from Asia who are ubiquitous figures in the top ten including Japan's Ai Miyazato who lead going into the final round and eventual champion Seon Hwa Lee of Korea who won by 3 strokes.
The whole point of this is really to say that this kind of action needs to be on ESPN in the first rounds and one of the big three networks on the weekend. Getting highlights on Sports Center is more difficult when ESPN isn't the one shooting the footage to begin with. Basically if it isn't on a major network it's like it doesn't exist. This has what has happened, in my opinion, to a lot of the events that have been contracted out to the Tennis Channel. Mary Carillo just commented on the number of titles the two Belgians have accrued so far this year noting that it's not surprising that these two are in the semis. But it is a surprise when it's so difficult to keep track of who has won tournaments to date. All I knew about the European clay court season this year--and I am tennis fan--was that Hingis won Rome.
Guess I'll just have to take what I can get including what looks to be a very good match between Henin and Clijsters.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Grunting--it's not just for girls anymore

I only checked in occasionally this morning to Gaels Monfils match against Djokovic. But whenever I did, I noticed that there was a lot of grunting going on. Grunting that seemed on the same decibel level as Sharapova (who was noticeably more quiet this year except maybe for that last match against Safina). It seemed to be coming mostly from Monfils side of the court. They're not going to like that at Wimbledon! A black Frenchman making lots of noise on the hallowed grounds? Oh the horror!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Weekend Highs and Lows

It was a weekend jam-packed with sports--well sports I am interested in anyway: softball, tennis, and women's golf. It was especially difficult this afternoon trying to channel switch between the three when they overlapped.
The saddest moment of the weekend was Amelie Mauresmo's three-set loss to Vaidisova. Though Mauresmo was my sentimental favorite to win the French Open, I was not that surprised that she lost and to an up-and-coming teen. Didn't she lose to an -ova last year too? I just didn't see her making quick enough work of her early round opponents to carry her into the second week with enough mental and physical confidence. I don't know is going to show up at Wimbledon (Serena W. is out but Davenport?) but I think she will go farther there.
The high of the weekend has to be Northwestern's amazing unbeaten streak at the WCWS. They took on #1 seed UCLA this afternoon who, coming out of the losers' bracket, had to win this game. NU held a 1-0 lead for much of the game and going into the 7th when UCLA in their last at-bat scored the tying run off a pinch-hit by Kristin Dedmon. But NU, who easily could have had a let down and just decided to re-group for the evening game because they were not facing elimination, came back strong and fast. Williams and Cooper hit back-to-back home runs and pitcher Eileen Canney held her ground in the last half inning to pull off the victory.
And in the not-so-bad category was Annika Sorenstam's second place (tied with 2 others) finish at the ShopRite Classic. Annika had an amazing (or so I heard because I was busy watching the NU-UCLA excitement) 40-foot eagle putt on 18. But I love Annika because she's really humble in victory and defeat and I think she handles the inane questions the media asks expertly. Case in point:
Q: You seemed very confident yesterday when we talked to you, so is it a little disappointing to come up short today?
ANNIKA SORENSTAM: Well, sometimes when they play well, there is not much you can do. For me to shoot 4-under, that is a good score. It was not enough today. I needed another three to tie and that is a stretch, so like I said when somebody plays well you just have to congratulate them. One or two better would have been great, but it just did not happen.
Note the stupid question; of course it is disappointing to lose after you have been leading or near the top of the field throughout. But note Sorenstam's credit to those who played better.

And on a final note: it looks like Tennessee is about to be knocked out of the WCWS by Arizona who got beat by the Lady Vols this afternoon. But really what do you expect from a team that explicitly invokes its femininity? 'Cause everyone knows "ladies" can't throw (or hit or run).

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Picking who to root for

The Women College World Series is this weekend--action began on Thursday and it was a great day of softball. But of course given that my team lost in the regionals several weeks ago, I am left figuring out who to root for. I have chosen Northwestern because 1) they're the only Big Ten team to make it through to the final weekend, 2) they had an amazing win over Alabama on Thursday, 3) I really like their coach, and 4) they have a very visible, positive team dynamic and oodles of unbridled enthusiasm.
But there are other games to watch of course and because I come to softball fandom with a tennis fan mindset, I have to have a favorite--or at least a leaning--for all the games. Thursday's game between Texas and Arizona State was hard to pick though. Pretty much anything Texas makes me a little queasy and I am not--unlike everyone else--a Cat Osterman fan. I don't know why. I do like her better than Jenny Finch however, because I think she is a better pitcher.
So I was ready to root for Arizona State but then I caught wind--sometimes those commentators who talk way too much are actually good for something--of how ASU got their new coach: the old boys network. First year head coach Clint Myers was coaching BASEBALL at Central Arizona College and got this gig because UArizona head coach Mike Candreas is a friend and recommended him for the job. This is a pretty high profile coaching job; ASU has a strong softball program that includes NCAA titles.
Women in head coaching positions are, since the passage of Title IX in 1972, on the DECREASE. Why? Well for numerous reasons--one of which is that coaching women's sports has become more lucrative and prestigious. So when jobs become available the network of male coaches and male athletic directors and other administrators doesn't have to go very far to find candidates.
And let's not forget that new head coaches frequently bring with them all new staffs. This was the case for Myers who hired former Washington asst. coach Robert Wagner and also took a former ASU player. So one female on the coaching staff of a sport men don't even play collegiately.
Myers actually has softball coaching experience and I don't know enough about the technical aspects of the game to really assess how different the two sports are to coach. But if so many former baseball players can coach softball then wouldn't it hold that former softball players should be filtering in to baseball coaching? And yet--they're not. The boundary seems to be impermeable for female coaches. So when someone like Clint Myers gets a job in the way that he did it makes me a little grouchy and makes my decision about how to root for a little easier.
Plus he really pissed me off when he said the main difference in coaching softball has been getting used to the hair and make-up routine of his players. Apparently it is much easier for Myers to get used to all the homoeroticism in baseball than women who wear ponytails and eyeliner.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Musings on the women's double draw

As promised, here are my thoughts after reading the women's doubles draw. I always find women's doubles fascinating and whenever I go to a tournament I watch as much as I can but alas even with the return of Martina Navratilova and the fact that many of the top players (in contrast to the men) play doubles too it gets next to no television coverage. Of course the French is in the midst of a rain delay and showing the matches they didn't show live yesterday. If the rain keeps up and they run out of taped singles matches maybe we will see some doubles. But I doubt it. They'll probably re-run every Federer and/or Nadal match first.
The first thing I noticed was that not as many of the top women are playing doubles this year. Mauresmo and Sharapova (1 and 4) have never been big doubles players anyway. Clijsters used to be a regular playing most often with Ai Sugiyama who is playing now with Hantuchova. I wonder if winning a Grand Slam has changed her priorities a little bit. Also Nadia Petrova, who succumbed to injury and got knocked out early after being picked by most as a favorite, always plays doubles and has had a lot of success with Meghann Shaughnessy. But Shaughnessy is playing with Navratilova's partner from last year Anna-Lena Groenefeld.
But most surprising to me is that Hingis isn't playing doubles. She was a staple in women's doubles. And she's good at it. Of course she is playing mixed so I guess three events is a bit much.
All this partner switching is very lesbionic. Navratilova is like the older lesbian (ok she really is an older lesbian but I am analogizing here) who keeps partnering with younger and younger women as a sort of mother-figure/tutor. Then she either sends them on to make their way in the world or they leave her looking for someone younger, flashier. Then there's the slightly younger veteran lesbian like Lisa Raymond who sees she still has something to offer the younger women (after having had a long-term relationship in her 20s--Renae Stubbs) and she may stick with them (or them her) for a little while if she likes what they've got. But she will always move on. And then of course there's the long-term monogamous couple who have been together forever and are clearly better as a couple than individually: Suarez and Ruano-Pascal.
I could go on and on but I don't really want this to turn into the WTA version of the L-Word--though I would definitely watch that show!
Other things of note: (Gabriela) Navratilova has to play (Martina) Navratilova (with their respective partners) in the first round. Ruano-Pascal/Suarez are seeded 8th! How did that happen? And has crafty lefty Patty Schnyder gotten so crazy that no one of repute will play with her? She is teamed with someone I had never heard of: Liga Dekmeijere who is only entered in doubles.
And has anyone seen that Mauresmo is playing mixed with Fabrice Santoro. I bet that will be a huge draw for the French crowd but be stuck on some outer court if the French run their slam like the Americans do.
Well the rain delay is over. Let's see what ESPN has to offer us now...