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.


EBuz said...

Interesting post. I agree that the media is not wrong to focus on mother-athletes and call them remarkable. They are. Ideally, though, there should be more balance, some attention paid to the sacrifices of father-athletes. (Can you imagine? "So-and-so's sitting this season out because he's got a newborn...") This way society gets more accustomed to associating parenting role with men as well as women.

Diane said...

As long as athletes-as-mothers are considered special, it just reinforces the very sexist belief that athletes-as-fathers are not, for the dreary reasons with which we are all too familiar.

Sybille Bammer, by the way, frequently takes her little girl on tour with her.