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.

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