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??

Sunday, April 23, 2006

A consciousness-raising at Duke?

I haven't written too much about the Duke lacrosse scandal. I was going to say alleged scandal but whether there was a sexual assault or not the whole thing (party with stripper, violent emails, etc.) is pretty scandalous regardless of what else comes to light in the coming weeks and month. Anyway, I haven't written too much about it because the stories seems to change daily. I mean this thing is in the news constantly. I don't know how anyone is getting anything done down there at Duke. Even an alumni weekend was interrupted by a Q&A with Duke president Richard Brodhead who came under attack for scrapping the season, the coach, and suspending the two players charged in the event.
My comments aren't about the suspensions, though, but rather an interesting remark by 1970 grad Joe Baden who bemoaned the fact that because lacrosse isn't as popular or as successful as Duke's NCAA-championship-winning basketball team they got cut apparently without some kind of due process. G-d, don't you just hate it when teams at the same school aren't treated equally, Joe? I mean really--where is the fairness in that? Baden is pointing out here that some teams seem to be more important than others and are given certain accommodations/considerations that others are not. Wow--he has just shattered all my illusions about equality in intercollegiate athletics.
OK--the dripping sarcasm may be a little over the top but I needed to point out that equality only seems to get some attention when A) a privileged group of men become subject to the actual rules and laws that they had previously been able to skirt, and B) when another privileged guy is the one pointing these things out.
Also of note in the lack of female alums mentioned in the article. Wonder if they would have been the story if Brodhead hadn't taken the measures (which some still see as a too little too late response from the administration) he did.

Monday, April 17, 2006

My "Oh, dur" moment

[sorry for the lack of posts--I have been sick, sick, sick. But now seemingly on the mend so here is some stuff I have been meaning to post.]

I was talking with my father on the phone the other day. He had sent me an article about my alma mater, U of New Hampshire, which is cutting more athletic programs due to a budget shortfall. When I was a student, there were a series of cuts: baseball and men's lacrosse. This was due to budget of course and Title IX compliance. UNH was a prong II complier back then--they intended to show a history of continuing expansion of women's programs. Not sure where they are at now. My guess is still at prong II given they just cut women's crew which is usually what schools with easy access to a body of water will add because you can have huge rosters (to counter football). I highly doubt they have achieved substantial proportionality. [4/21--see Ebuz's comment about how wrong I was about this.]
Anyway--it's a pretty sad situation. Swimming and tennis are being cut as well and skiing is being downsized. Tennis I can kind of see going. But UNH has had a fairly successful swimming program and they already have a pool so facilities are not an issue.
Anyway the debate is not over which sports got cut in my mind rather answering the question why is football never blamed for any of this mess? Critics like to point to Title IX as the evil-doer--I, and others, prefer to take a magnifying glass--hell you don't even need a magnifying glass, it's right there for all to see--to football (and sometimes basketball--though not in UNH's case). Why why why why? I asked my father do they always fail to see that a roster of 100 football players is a waste. Cut that to 75 (and I am being generous given that NFL teams carry 50+) and you have a men's wrestling team, or a swim team and probably 2 tennis teams. Do you think those last 25 guys actually play during their 4 (or 5) years? No. Do you think they get things like training tables, apparel, trips to bowl games? Yep they do.
I hung up the phone dismayed at the state of intercollegiate athletics, finding it more and more difficult to reconcile being a fan of DivI sports and being a scholar whose work is based on the potential of sport to empower as well as alter hegemonic constructions of gender, sport, sexuality, etc.
Shuffling around the living room I inadvertently kicked a library book and there was my answer. The Stronger Women Get--The More Men Love Football--a book by Mariah Burton Nelson. Of course--football rarely is on the receiving end of substantial cuts (unless you are the Boston University football team that got cut in its entirety in the 1990s, which was not as big a deal as everyone thought it would be because they have a perennially strong men's hockey team). Football is the ultimate bastion of masculinity. Maintaining sport as a "male preserve" (Nancy Theberge's term) means protecting football at all costs. And those costs are to the male swimmers (after all they shave their legs), or to male wrestlers (a sport even more homoerotic than football--and with a history of being done in the nude in front of entirely male audiences) and of course to women's sports such as crew (take care of a bunch of women and lesbians all at once).
I wonder where the tipping point will be for DivI programs. UNH's athletic director pointed out that the school is still well above the minimum teams required of NCAA schools but that seems like little consolation to the current and potential future athletes that would have benefited from and been a benefit to the athletic, academic, and social environment at UNH.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Stop going to the White House

As is its periodic custom, the White House hosted NCAA championship teams on April 6. Maryland was well-represented with three teams: the recently crowned women's b-ball champions along with field hockey and men's soccer. Let's contemplate this event for a sec shall we? The White House meaning President Bush who makes a speech (including little quips about what the VP can learn from the championship rifle team) and takes a picture with the teams, wants to celebrate these champions. OK--that's fine. Too bad his policy doesn't support these teams who have triumphed in spite of Bush's attacks on Title IX. The initial committee Bush put together in 2003 (I might be off on the date) came in with recommendations to change Title IX to make it more "fair" to men basically. Committee members Julie Foudy and Donna deVarona dissented with their own report and the outcry from groups such as Women's Sport Foundation and other allies was so loud that the recs were dropped from consideration. And then about a year ago, the Sec. of Education issued a "clarification" of prong three of the regulations that set the bar for compliance much lower. It was essentially one of the recs now disguised as a clarification.
Setting the bar lower means smaller sports and women's sports suffer. Luckily UMD has a strong women's b-ball program so it would be unlikely to be affected though theoretically it could be. But field hockey and men's soccer? They could easily be on the chopping block when the budget gets tight--which it will because MD fields high profile b-ball programs for men and women and a decent football team too. Field hockey is usually kept around because it keeps some of the numbers in line (it doesn't have an equivalent men's sport). But men's soccer is in a precarious position. Collegiate soccer is not that popular. Granted it doesn't eat up a huge chunk of budgets but that doesn't seem to matter (UNH cut tennis which costs very little comparatively to sustain).
So the point of all this is--why doesn't anyone ever protest these pleasant little photo ops? People in other sectors turn down awards and accolades from governments whose policies they disagree with. Why don't athletes say "hey this guy is not working for our best interests"? (on so many levels of course but I'll just keep this to athletics for now.) Would it really take so much to say "thank but no thanks. We'll just wait for someone who actually supports equity for all"?
I am not surprised it was not Maryland given they still refer to their female teams as the Lady Terps. And the picture of a strong, tall black woman standing over the president as she presents him a shirt is pretty priceless in my mind. Still, I hope some team or coach raises the issue soon and takes a stand. I think it prove instrumental in raising awareness about the continued inequities that Title IX has allegedly cured.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Comeback Kids Weekend

It was a good weekend for former top performers in tennis and golf. Both Karrie Webb and Svetlana Kuznetsova won tournaments this past weekend. The bigger win was probably Webb's at the Kraft Nabisco (still known as the Dinah Shore to every lesbian in the U.S.) who had been in a title drought for over a year and a major drought for several. She very much deserved it and earned it winning in the first playoff hole against Lorena Ochoa. Alas I didn't see this momentous event because Ebuz pulled me off the elliptical trainer at the gym where I was very into both my workout and the tournament (which I was watching on the cardio tv) all because of a silly tornado that had been spotted in our county. So we left and by the time we got home it was over. I couldn't even find the results on the ESPN ticker (quel surprise!) and had to go online eventually. Oh well. I was happy for Ochoa that she came back from her deficit after leading for three rounds and faltering on the final day. But before she hit her first playoff drive she crossed herself and the commentators spoke of this ritual and also how her father came to the first tee that day and they prayed together. This, for lack of more critical language, weirds me out. Sure, sure--everyone is entitled to their religious beliefs and at least when Ochoa enacts hers she isn't harming anyone else--directly anyway. But still despite the many connections we can make throughout history between religion and sport I find it somewhat anachronistic in the contemporary United States. Of course Ochoa is Mexican so I am clearly putting my own white American standards on this act and I do understand the cultural significance of Catholicism in Mexico. But still...a little but it reminds me of Michael Chang's statements about owing all his success to God. Do we really believe that any god (besides the ones of ancient Rome and Greece) cares about sport? I realize I seem to be negating my whole academic career based on the cultural significance of sport but we're talking about a higher power here. I don't think God helped Michael Chang win that one French Open or Lorena Ochoa make it the playoff against Karrie Webb. And certainly if it was the Christian God everyone is always talking about here in the States he certainly would not have had her lose to a lesbian from Australia!
That wasn't really where I was planning on going with this post but oh well.
Anyway, kudos to Kuznetsova as well for starting to come out of her post-major (US Open 2004) slump. She had a great tournament beating Mauresmo (sniff sniff--but I guess is someone has to beat her Kuznetsova is ok) and Sharapova in the final.
It's been an exciting start to both the golf and tennis seasons this year; I'm looking forward to seeing what happens.