Monday, December 31, 2007

Past, present, future, Part I

{I was going to run one post about all the columns, articles, etc. that reflect on 2007 or predict 2008 but there are so many--not even including all the ones local papers are running about people and events no one outside these small towns and cities know or care about. So I am dividing this up into two posts.}

'Tis the season for trotting out predictions, reflecting on the past year and wondering exactly how current players, teams, athletes, conflicts, etc. will play out.

In other words there are no shortage of sports writers (and others) playing Nostradamus and patting themselves on the back for how well they did as Oracle of 2007.


I am not going to do that. [Well a little bit I am.] Mostly I am going to comment on what everyone else thinks will happen because it's easier to critique than to come up with some grand predictions on my own. (It's lazy, I know. But I have ^%$# to get done this break.)

In the International Herald Tribune, Christopher Clarey has some thoughts on tennis and the Olympics and some other things that I don't much care about. Calling himself a "sports visionary"--tongue-in-cheek one would hope--Clarey notes that the new surface at this year's Australian Open will hurt defending champs Serena Williams and Roger Federer. Mostly I think the new surface (which will be blue like the US Open) will benefit everyone because they won't have to worry about tweaking, twisting, spraining, and straining joints, ligaments, tendons and the like on that crappy Rebound Ace surface that becomes quite sticky in the heat--of which there is plenty in Australia in January.

He hints that Kim Clijsters will pull a Lindsay Davenport and come back to the game. I tend towards thinking that more unlikely than likely. Though I do think Davenport will have a good season and (here comes the prediction) make it to the quarters in Melbourne. [Here's a story on Davenport's preparation for the Open and how she is combining motherhood and tennis--easily she says--and what she thinks of athletes as mothers.]

Clarey also hazards some guesses at what will happen at the Olympics next summer calling notable match-ups. I predict that the pollution in China will stymy many athletes and result in some crazy upsets and serious medical complications.

Here is a very hateful post about the naming of Lorena Ochoa as Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press. Blogger Chris Baldwin says it has nothing to do with Ochoa, who is a great athlete who had a great year, but rather with the lack of good female athletes. In other words, he thinks the field is weak and that those who came in behond Ochoa, like Justine Henin and Candace Parker, are no-names. There are plenty of female athletes known to plenty of people. A weak field isn't the problem--it's weak coverage of women's sports.

Over at the Daily Herald, a Chicagoland paper, columnist Patricia Babcock McGraw counts down the top ten stories in women's sports for 2007. It's not quite clear what her criteria are. It seems to be considering the whole of women's sports when, at number 10, we read about the successful year Lorena Ochoa had. But that she considers the Chicago Sky's losing season (well they almost made it to the playoffs, she says) a top-ten story makes me wonder.

She cites the emergence of the Big Ten network--which is airing a lot of women's sports--as a major 2007 story. I don't live in Big Ten country anymore so it's difficult for me to say how much of an impact the network is having on the promotion of women's sports. Last I heard, very few people actually had access to the network.

And finally I was shocked that McGraw did not find the Imus/Rutgers controversy the top story of the year--in fact it didn't even make her top ten. She mentioned it briefly when she wrote that the Pokey Chatman resignation generated more news and strong opinions than the Imus/Rutgers story.

Part II coming tomorrow.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Thanks be to God...

...for bowl games. And especially let's give thanks for bowl game wins.

I wonder if that's what the priest who was on Boston College's sidelines at Friday night's Champs Bowl game in Orlando said when the team returned to the locker room after their 24-21 victory over Michigan State.

It's naive, I know, to be shocked to see, as the camera zooms in on the head coach, a smiling man in all black sporting a white collar close behind him. I would be smiling too--someone who takes a vow of poverty ends up with one of the best seats in the house. And all he had to do was pray. And I guess it worked--or at least that's what BC is preaching--because BC pulled out the win despite a 4th quarter touchdown by Michigan State. Ah, the glory of God descended on the school (along with millions of dollars and probably a hefty bonus for first-year head coach Jeff Jagodzinski--though some of his 4th quarter plays are being questioned).

My area of study is not sport and religion, but I know enough to not be surprised at the overt ways in which religion is incorporated so blithely into sporting events. But I am--continuously. The ironies of most of these situations are endless. I would list them but I have to get to church.*


*Not really. I have to go to teach indoor cycling--which, if I do a good enough job, could manifest as a religious experience for some people.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Can polka dots build confidence?

I had to wait over a week to blog about this story I came across about hockey gear for girls because I was so irate about the ways in which people like to break gender barriers by reifying gender stereotypes.
A mother in Maine found it impossible to find hockey gear for girls for her daughter, Bela, a kindergartner.
"There was nothing but black - you know, boy's stuff," according to Anna Carol Alvarez Cloutier. She joined forces with another hockey mom, Justine Carlisle, who has two daughters who play the sport and they created a line of gear for girls called BelaHockey.
Before I begin my rant, I want to say that gear that fits properly is of the utmost importance. Frequently, throughout history, as women have entered sports that have been traditionally masculine they have had to improvise the gear. While there are plenty of options for women these days who want to gear up for the gym, for yoga, tennis, swimming, etc., those who play sports where men still dominate (in terms of numbers) like ice hockey, sometimes have to make do with ill-fitting gear or undertake some creative improvisations. I know some women who buy boys' gear, which can actually be beneficial in terms of cost but certainly does not work for all women.
If this was the issue Cloutier and Carlisle were addressing I would be on board. But it's not, as evidenced by the gear they have available: personalized polka-dot sticks in colors such as blue/purple and pink/purple, and "colorful" socks (there's a picture of black and hot pink striped ones at the above link), t-shirts, hats, and gear bags.
Their mission has been to overcome the(ir) reality that "girls might be playing hockey but they had to dress like boys."
And here is the problem: what is this "like boys"? Girls doing or being "like boys" in the context of sport (and elsewhere of course) has been quite problematic. When you're talking about 5-year olds, there is no issue of size difference. All the gear should fit regardless of gender. I wish it wasn't labelled by gender. I wish you didn't have to go and buy boys' hockey pants. But I also wish that sizing in general was gender-neutral.
Cloutier has said the line isn't about making hockey-playing girls look pretty but rather "it's about letting them know that hockey is a sport for girls as well as boys. It's about building confidence in girls, letting them know it's a girl's sport, too."
Well if they're playing it--they should know. Okay that's a bit simplistic and naive and assumes a pretty high level of feminist consciousness in 5-year olds. But many parents these days, and certainly the ones who enroll their daughters in ice hockey, are telling their girls that they can do anything. And why wouldn't girls believe that? Because when they go shopping for sticks and socks they find colors that are not pink and purple?
Remember, it's likely those same parents, following the same hegemonic gender order, who help construct the "girls like 'girly' colors." A fact that Cloutier herself basically acknowledges when she talks about expanding the line: "some girls aren't into pink and purple so we're going to add sportier colors."
She just reified the impossible dilemma women who have entered traditionally masculine or more physically aggressive sports constantly face: you can be girly or you can be sporty.
Making pink socks and sticks is not going to eradicate that binary. Is this really the way we want to attract girls to ice hockey anyway? Telling them, don't worry, you can play hockey and still wear pink? That may work for a while with 5- and 6-year olds but those girls will still face the be girly or be sporty dilemma as they get older; except that "sporty" frequently slips into dyke-y as girls become teenagers.
Polka dots will not make that situation better.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

You like me. You really like me.

Guess who was cited at the Ninth Carnival of Radical Feminists hosted at unconventional beauty? Yep, it's me. Blogger ladoctorita/lily liked my post, Viva Las Vegas!, about gender in the gym and included it in the carnival. I like to think it had something to do with my snarky writing that day which included the line that she pulled as a header "But hell hasn't frozen over yet, so I'll revert to my cynical explanation."

Ladoctorita offers some gym anecdotes of her own--well actually those of her friends--and recounts the story of a man who goes to the gym, for hours, just to ogle. He never works out. He has been kicked out of one gym thus far for his staring and hitting on women but persists nonetheless.

This situation seems more egregious and potentially dangerous than the one in my gym but since I have been irked by one particular guy twice already this week, I am going to take this opportunity to complain. "The Admiral" (nicknamed by RP) has been there during both my weight workouts being loud and offering advice to anyone. Today it was to a very fit woman lifting a lot of weight. In other words--someone who knew what she was doing. Yet he felt the need to tell her to lift faster and breathe better. The other day, The Admiral was being exceptionally loud and carrying on with a much more quiet fellow about reps and food and the size of his chest (the homoeroticism was palpable). I cradled a 2.5 lb plate in my hand and contemplated violence. Luckily, for The Admiral anyway, he has never spoken a word to me. I think it's the company I like to keep in the gym. I don't think he's all that interested in discoursing with some pretty smart, pretty strong, pretty confident dykes.

The performance of masculinity in the gym continually amazes me. The amount of space men take up in the gym amazes me. The apparent need to raise their voices and talk about how strong they are and how totally awesome their lifting music is amazes me (and EB). Actually it usually enrages me. This is why I was so disappointed that I hauled my butt out of bed at 6 the day after Christmas to get to the gym early, which usually guarantees a fairly quiet and uncrowded space, only to be interrupted by The Admiral.

I think most of us who go the gym on a regular basis have stories like the above from myself and ladoctorita. We probably have enough to comprise a book. Anyone interested??


And now time for some thank yous. I know I am supposed to do the thanks first. But given that I am so radical, I decided to put them last. First, I'd like to thank the feminist blogosphere--for existing. For offering some sanity and the feeling that I am not alone in my allegedly radical ideas. To EBuz over at the Title IX Blog for sending a link to my post over to Ann Bartow at Feminist Law Professors. And to Ann for posting it. And to ladoctorita for naming it to the carnival. It's encouraging to see feminists recognize the importance of sport and physical activity to the feminist discourse.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

"Look, they give each other exercise food!"

It's nice having friends, lovers, family members, etc. who are athletically-inclined. Because athletically inclined people give other athletically inclined people very useful and fun gifts. And sure, some people, like a friend who uttered the above as she watched the gift exchange, don't quite get it--but that's ok.
Given and received around here this year:
  • A membership to the Women's Sports Foundation--and yes, there is still time to become a member and have your donation be matched by an anonymous donor. So my $50 membership is actually worth $100.
  • Stuff to keep warm: ski cap, wind-resistant grippy gloves, toe covers for cycling shoes, wind-resistant reflector vest
  • Accessories and necessities: tennis balls, handlebar wraps, bike odometer
  • Workout stuff: "just the right length" shorts with pockets, Life is Good t-shirt
  • Oh yes, the above mentioned "exercise food": trail mix and Shot Bloks.

Not bad.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Overheard...

...by EB on a local radio station, a quite disparaging remark about women's sports and dealing with relatives. The DJ was giving advice about dealing with in-laws and said that all one has to do is find a sport on the television and sit down and watch intently, thus avoiding having to make conversation. And it didn't matter what sports. Any would do, he said--even women's curling.
It was disappointing on multiple levels. One, the radio station had become a favorite because it was the only one (besides NPR) that had not, once Thanksgiving had come and gone, decided to play all Christmas music, all the time.
Two, it's stupid, unrealistic advice. If your in-laws are really that annoying, sitting down and watching sports is probably not going to deter them from pestering you. And it's insulting. How hard is it to make conversation with relatives for one afternoon or so?
And third, of course, the choice of women's curling as the epitome of a just any sport will do example is highly disparaging. Curling is pretty interesting. And as I have noted before on this blog, all the tickets to curling matches in Salt Lake City during the 2002 Olympics were sold out. And why would women's curling be any less interesting than men's curling? I am actually a little curious as to why curling is segregated by sex. It seems to be one of those sports that could be integrated.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

I wouldn't say "kudos"

Not too long ago I mentioned briefly that Cassie Campbell was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame--the first female hockey player to "earn" that honor. I use the term earn cautiously because I am sure there were many other female hockey players before Campbell who were good enough and deserved their spot in the HoF but were never recognized because of the lack of attention the women's game receives--even in Canada. At that time I noted that the induction of the first female hockey player was long overdue.
Also long overdue, the induction of female hockey players into the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame. Three women will be inducted this year: two Canadians, Geraldine Heaney and Angela James, and American Cammi Granato. The IIHF website is touting the induction of these three women as barrier breaking.
Hello? You set up the barriers! You never inducted women despite the fact that they have been playing since the late 1800s by some accounts. Hang your head in shame--don't try to come off as some kind of progressive organization.
Angela James has said "Kudos go to the IIHF for recognizing the women's game." Sure. The IIHF has only been around for a century. It seems to take women at least a hundred years to get some basic recognition and rights--like suffrage in the United States--that should have come a long time ago if we truly lived in the liberal (in the classical sense) society which everyone seems to think we do.
Oh, but what fun would it be or how could one feel satisified if it wasn't earned?
The IIHF president RenĂ© Fasel said, “I am immensely happy that we have reached the phase in hockey history when we rightfully can induct women to the player’s category.”
It sounds like Fasel is saying 1) it's the right thing to do, and 2) only recently have women been good enough to get it. I think the right thing to do would be to recognize that we have kept women out of physically demanding activities like ice hockey, that we still discourage their participation in such activities, and that we often force them to compensate for their success in these activities in ways which undermine the perception of their level of comittment and skill. I think it's the right thing for organizations like the IIHF to acknowledge that men who have been in positions of power have contributed to the stereotypes of women in ice hockey, have constructed barriers to their success, and are responsible for all the missing faces of female hockey players on the walls of IIHF (and other) Hall of Fame.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Make your plans now

With any luck, two years from now I will be very excited for an upcoming trip to Vancouver.
And now, with the schedule of events out, I can start planning my 2010 Olympic experience.
Let's see: place to stay, tickets to the events, warm boots, time off from a job I don't yet have...
Good thing I have two years to get this all together.

A day of follow-ups

Once upon a time I was a journalism major; and during this time I learned about the importance of the follow-up story. The "what ever happened to (pick issue or person or event)?" story that was especially good to trot out in the middle of summer when there was nothing going on, as I learned, once upon a time, when I was a reporter in a small town.

Following up, as I hope to demonstrate here, is a transferable skill. So here goes.

1. Following up on my post about holiday gifts in the form of books, is the observation, made by my partner in the throes of last-minute Christmas shopping, that about 99.9% of the eff'in books in the sports section at Barnes and Noble are about men. I was told "that if aliens landed on earth and went to Barnes and Nobles they would have no idea that women played sports." I personally think that if aliens landed, we might have bigger problems, but point taken.
Because even if the books seem gender neutral, they are not. Case in point, a book about cycling after 50 (years of age, not miles) features a man on the cover. Teeny tiny ray of hope: there was one copy of the new book on Title IX, Equal Play: Title IX and Social Change.

2. Following up on my post about holiday gifts in the form of donations, I received an email from the Women's Sports Foundation today reminding us all that if you donate before December 31, an anonymous donor is matching contributions (up to $75,000). Here's the very easy to fill out donation page.

3. And following up on my post about women and fitness fashions, I have been informed (thanks, RP) that both Craft and Patagonia make very good gear for women, though Patagonia's women's line runs a little small. [I hate that, by the way. Why do we still have a sizing system that is gender-based anyway? Why is it that a women's XL is equivalent, in some cases, to a men's small? What is that about? (these are largely rhetorical questions)] I don't have any Patagonia in my wardrobe currently, but I did once commandeer the Patagonia fleece of a now ex-girlfriend and was quite enamored of it. But they don't seem to make their classic snap pullover fleeces for women anymore and offer limited (and last I checked, ugly) colors in the men's. I don't have much experience with Craft clothing having only last weekend donned, for the first time, a pair of their windstopper tights when I went skiing.They kept me warm and dry though, so yea to that!

4. And the big follow-up is actually more like a new piece of news unto itself: the papers gathered during the lawsuit against former Penn State coach Rene (remember: it rhymes with weenie) Portland by former player Jennifer Harris are going to be made accessible. A lawyer representing a former faculty member who is claiming gender and sexual orientation discrimination has asked a judge for the ability to subpoena the materials and has won (initially a federal court denied the request for this information). No one knows what exactly will be obtained--or if Portland, Athletic Director Tim Curley, or Jennifer Harris will fight the subpoenas. (It's doubtful that Harris will. Her side seemed eager to reveal the sordid details of Portland's tenure as head coach as well as highlight Penn State's amazing ability to sit on their hands.)

But if this discrimination suit goes to trial, it is likely we will learn more about the Harris-Portland situation and the climate at Penn State.

In other words, there will definitely be some follow-up on this situation.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Will Candace Parker save the WNBA?

This is the question asked by LA Times columnist Kurt Streeter this past weekend.


Before I go any further, I have to say I don't have an answer. Streeter doesn't really have one either so I don't feel that bad.


My first question from the column, though, is: does the WNBA need "saving"? We can trot out dismal statistics about attendance and television viewership but all those things do is put the responsibility firmly on the WNBA--and sometimes a little bit on the NBA--for failing to make the league popular. But the WNBA, over ten years ago, was established in a culture that 1) is not lacking in the number of professional sports; and 2) is pretty sexist and misogynist--especially when it comes to sports. Professional sport seasons seem to get longer and longer and no one is benefiting. Does the NHL really need to be playing in in April--especially given the downturn in popularity post-strike? When the WNBA began, the decision was made to have the women play in the summer. Playing the same season as the NBA made scheduling venues more difficult and there was also a fear that simultaneous seasons would not be wise in terms of building popularity.


But the summer? So instead of competing against men's basketball they have to contend with the baseball season and major events in both tennis and golf. Next year, of course, there will be the Olympics. And how many of us are sitting around in the summer watching television? I am actually out playing my own sports in the summer. The NBA has a more captive audience in the winter.


And even if the scheduling was better--as it is for collegiate basketball--there would still be the issue of sexist excuses: they just are not as good as the men; not as fast; too much outside shooting; no exciting dunks; no sweet moves.


Streeter seems to think that Parker, she does dunk and has some sweet moves and is generally thought of as an exciting player (and he makes sure to note that she's pretty), may be the person to change the minds of those excuse-makers. But this puts Parker in the unenviable position of having to be a huge draw when she goes pro after this season, her last. What Streeter does not understand is that there will always be more excuses. Maybe Parker will be one of the greatest players of all time, but in such a deeply patriarchal--yet purportedly liberal--society where we may, in theory, support equality in sport, we don't want to see women performing too well. So even if Parker is all that and then some don't be surprised to hear things like: she doesn't dunk hard enough; she doesn't get enough air; she is only one person--she can't compensate for the boring play of the rest of the league's players.


Because the thing is there are and have been great players in the WNBA all along: Taurasi, Sue Bird, Sheryl Swoopes, Lisa Leslie, Rebecca Lobo; players who received significant press (relative to the era during which they played) when they were student-athletes. Every year exciting players emerge from the collegiate ranks, gain notice during March Madness and move on the WNBA (Ivory Latta, Lindsay Whalen, Shay Doran are a few who come to mind). But it's like they disappear when they get there. Streeter's right when he says that Parker's popularity, press coverage, attention will likely dissipate when she goes pro. That's a pretty sad comment on the state of women's professional sports in this country. And I don't think it's a state that Parker can change all by herself.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Fitness and women's fashion

'Tis the season for unabashed (well there is some bashedness--at least on my part) consumerism.
Anyway, I thought it would be as good a time as any--if not better--to address some articles I have come across in the last few months about women's fitness fashion.
This one [oops--I lost the link--sorry; this whole holiday thing has me a little discombobulated] out of Colorado has a "see how far we've come" theme that includes a timeline detailing what female athletes wore over a century ago to do things such as swim and play tennis. The author credits the passage of Title IX with the changes in women's fitness clothes though it should be noted that the jogging craze of the 70s had little to do with Title IX but apparently everything to do with the creation of the sports bra in 1977 when two women sewed together two jock straps for support during their runs. [A little bit it blows my mind that there was no such thing as a sports bra when I was born given that over half the bras I own are sports bras.]
But the article has points with which I take issue. First, it cites historian Patricia Campbell Warner, whose new book When the Girls Came Out to Play: The Birth of American Sportswear I have not read though it looks interesting. Warner says that "men and women are finally, finally able to wear the same kinds of clothing." Umm...I don't think so.
I suppose if she's referring to the fact that women wear pants and no one wears corsets and petticoats anymore then, well, okay. But men don't wear skirts or dresses or nylons or bras (and yes some of them have significant breast tissue--more than many women I know). And that's just general fashion.
In the realm of sport and fitness, let's note that men don't wear tennis skirts--despite how comfortable they are and the amount of room underneath them for stuffing extra tennis balls! And there's my never-ending search for workout bottoms with pockets. All summer I looked for shorts with pockets. One, I need them for when I don't wear a skirt playing tennis and two, I don't carry a purse so after workouts or softball games or tennis practice I want a pocket to throw my wallet and keys in. It took me months to find a pair of basic black sweatpants with pockets. But women's clothes--workout and non--just don't seem to come equipped with pockets. [I heard Michael Kors say on Project Runway a few seasons ago that women don't like pockets because they make them look fat. I love it when male designers speak for the female population at large. I want my pockets, Michael Kors! And I am not the only woman out here with such a desire.] Men's shorts and sweatpants more often than not have pockets.
Warner's belief in the equality of fashion is actually contradicted a bit in the article which highlights the company founded by triathlete Nicole DeBoom that makes skirts for running, biking, and other athletic pursuits. The reason they are selling out is not because men are clamoring for a skirt to run in. They are marketing and selling difference.
This brings up another issue with women's fitness clothing: a lot of women don't want to wear it because it's very girly looking. Does everything really have to be pink or some other soft color? Do we have to endure cycling shirts with leopard print? Or running tights adorned with lotus flowers? Ski caps with daisies? (Check out sites dedicated to women's fitness fashion like Title 9, Lucy, and Terry and you'll see what I mean.) Sure some don't mind these things; but I know a lot of women who generally don't wear a lot of women's clothes (because of the uberfeminine look). But it's difficult to find men's fitness wear that fits right.
This article from WaPo announces Under Armour's new line of clothing for women. And I have to say a lot of Under Armour stuff is pretty gender neutral looking. It's good gear clearly meant to function for and fit serious female athletes. Of course it took them over a decade to develop a decent line for women and the majority of their production is still of men's high performance clothing.
But enough of this. I have to go Christmas shopping now--for not-too-girly, with pockets, still stylish fitness clothes. It may be a long day.

Monday, December 17, 2007

How to give and support sports


I am always leery of giving gifts that allegedly benefit an organization. So I try to look into what exactly is being promised to said organization and what the organization does with the money. For example, I don't buy anything that is for breast cancer because I think most of it is a waste of money and provides more money to the companies that actually produce carcinogens and, as Diane has pointed out, research organizations that test on animals.


But since this is supposed to be a positive seasonal post, I will move on to suggestions of how you can give this season and support women and girls in sport.


  • Donations. I received an email not too long ago from It Takes a Team! the branch of the Women's Sports Foundation (WSF) that addresses homophobia in sports. Dr. Pat Griffin and her staff do an amazing job bringing issues related to sexuality to one of the most difficult places to talk about them: college athletic departments. But the organization needs your help. Think about it while you're checking out all the free resources It Takes a Team! provides.


  • The Women's Sports Foundation also accepts donations, of course.


  • The Girls Gotta Run Foundation works to buy athletic shoes for girls in rural Ethiopia. You can donate to their cause. Or you can purchase products, the proceeds of which go to the organization's effort. Last year I bought the notecards, which can be personalized. Also available this year is apparel and a tote bag. And, if you're in the DC area this season check out the foundation's art exhibit at the Modern Times Coffeehouse.


  • The National Center for Lesbian Rights is the group that represented former Penn State basketball player Jennifer Harris in her discrimination suit against the university and former coach Rene Portland. They have a sports project that has done a lot of more behind the scenes work on discrimination in sport. I credit them (along with Harris, of course) with helping oust Portland and making Penn State look really bad for overlooking years of discrimination. You can donate to NCLR. You can also purchase NCLR gear here. (I have the red t-shirt that says JUSTICE on the front and I wear it to the gym all the time--this morning in fact. What I really liked about the shirts was that the "femme cut" shirts actually were true to size.)


  • If you want to help save Title IX head to the Title IX Store. I got an "I exercise my rights" t-shirt several years ago at a conference. (Note that unlike the shirts from NCLR, the baby doll ones are teeny tiny.) And last year my friend Amy bought a bunch of us the Save Title IX bracelets when we were in Cleveland for the Girls and Women Rock Conference. (I took a picture of mine on my wrist but it came out blurry so I am just using the photos provided by the website. Copyright violation for a good cause??)

Happy Holidays!





Sunday, December 16, 2007

News from around the world

1. Last time I wrote about international events, I mentioned the report out of the UK about the decrease in the activity level of women that is causing some concern among health experts and proponents of women's sports and physical activity. This story offers a different angle on the report that other news outlets do not seem to be addressing: the physical activity level of Muslim women. Some of the reason for the disproportionate level of activity is attributed to the different constraints on some Muslim women. Those who wear the hijab and/or adhere to the rules of sex segregation have an especially difficult time engaging in sport and other physical activities once they leave school.


But the issues are being addressed--including in Great Britain where more and more opportunities are being especially created for Muslim women as well as opportunities that would not preclude Muslim women's participation. These involve sex-segregated spaces in locations with Muslim large populations. Also, sportswear manufacturers have been designing clothes that allow freedom of movement, comfort, and the benefits of technology but still cover women who would like to wear the hijab. We could call it altruism on the part of Nike who outfitted Rugaya al Ghasara of Bahrain at the Asian Games last year and makes Muslim-friendly clothing. But the potential cash reward is great. More and more Muslim women are involved in sport and there are 650 million women practicing Islam worldwide.


2. It's almost tennis season again! Oh, that's right. There is barely an off-season in tennis anyway, which makes the news that this year's Australian Open will be the strongest ever all the more surprising. Of course there are still weeks left during which players can injure themselves, decide they aren't really over an injury or illness, or just realize that their off-season training is not going to cut it down under. But as of now 99 of the top 100-ranked women in the world are planning on showing up in Australia next month.


3. I was always surprised, when looking at the rosters of women's collegiate ice hockey (especially University of New Hampshire), how many women had played youth hockey in Mississauga, Ontario. Now I have an idea of how Mississauga was pumping out these great players: Mabel Boyd. Boyd, who died earlier this month, started ice hockey teams (and baseball, too) for girls and welcomed anyone who showed up regardless of skill level. The current director of the Ontario Women's Hockey Association, Fran Rider was a beneficiary of Boyd's organizing. She found Boyd's team during the 60s when women just didn't have many opportunities to play hockey--yes, even in Canada. Rider believes Boyd helped thousands of female athletes over her lifetime.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Mitchell Report coverage

Here I am, two days in a row, writing about baseball though I care very little for it.

And even though I don't feel the need to blog about major stories in mainstream sports, I try to address the ones that are relevant in ways that fall under the (somewhat abstract) purview of this blog.

The mission of Sports Law Blog, from what I can discern from the title and description, is to write about issues that pertain to sport and law. Or as the authors put it "all things legal relating to the sports world..."

This is what one finds when one does a search of the blog using the term "Mitchell." Seems reasonable. This is big news. The bloggers have some very strong opinions on it. They are adding to the growing discourse. It is certainly about sport and there are legal implications and analysis one can engage with.

This is what one finds when one searches the blog using the term "Fresno." Don't bother scrolling all the way down; there's nothing there. The Fresno State cases--note the plural--have been big news. Last week's jury award of over $19 million to former basketball coach Stacy Johnson-Klein who was the third employee to successfully bring a gender discrimination claim against Fresno State made international news. (Seriously, I saw a story in a French paper about it.) No one at Sports Law Blog wrote about the verdict or any of the past cases. These are actual cases that went to trial or settled. They involved legal procedures. Many posts over at SLB merely provide a legal analysis of a situation that is not even in the judicial system, which, I am not saying, does not fit their scope--it does. But it just seems to me that you would want to cover an actual trial.

So I am not blogging about baseball per se, but rather the coverage of it, using the Mitchell Report as an example of how much attention we, as an American society pay to this sport--to the exclusion of other, pertinent topics--just within sport itself. This report is something that is unlikely to result in specific charges being brought against specific players, trainers, owners, etc. It was an extensive exercise that is supposed to bring about change in professional baseball in regards to doping. As I noted yesterday, there doesn't seem to be a need to change any kind of public percpetion since all the fans plan on sticking around regardless. But it is not legally binding. Baseball does not have to change anything.

Fresno State is being compelled to change its ways. Sure, it does not have to; but how many more millions of dollars are the tax payers of California going to let Fresno administrators waste because they can't seem to wrap their heads around this concept of gender equity?

And how long will the folks over at Sports Law Blog be allowed to claim they cover "all things legal about the sports world" and not include women in that world?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Blinding flash of the obvious

I was snowbound from about mid-afternoon yesterday until 8 this morning. National Public Radio was on the whole time (except during the few hours when I was sleeping). And in that time I heard the story (there was actually more than one version) about the Mitchell Report and doping in baseball at least a dozen times.

The first time I heard it I said "Hey that's the guy that spoke my commencement, except he was talking about Ireland then." When I kept hearing it, I started thinking, "well dur--of course there was widespread doping. What do you expect will happen within an organization that only began drug testing less than five years ago and has pretty lax testing procedures and standards?" Come on. Did everyone really think that Barry Bonds was some kind of outlyer? Have we really wanted to believe so badly that 40+ year old Roger Clemens was doing it naturally that we refused to even contemplate the notion that he might be doping?

If you're a baseball fan, you have to know this is/was happening in a big way. If not, where have you been? To me, this story was on par with other breaking news yesterday: Jodie Foster is gay. This is not really news to those who are attune to the gay community. If you weren't aware--where have you been?

What really perturbed me about the coverage of the Mitchell Report was the discourse about what is "fair." NPR ran a "man on the street" segment (and it was all men) asking baseball fans how they felt about the "revelation" of all this doping and what it means for record-holders/breakers and future Hall of Famers. There was a lot of agreement that it just wasn't fair that some of these guys broke the records of men who did it with just plain hard work.
The nostalgia for a simpler time when America's favorite pastime was pure and honest just oozes from these sentiments.
How fair are sports these days? How much money does it cost to put your kid into camps and gear so s/he can earn a college scholarship? How many people actually have that kind of money to spare? And let's not forget baseball's own history with segregation as well as the exploitation of athletes of color in so many sports. The hard work rhetoric is not startling when discussing such an American sport as baseball as it is very much in keeping with our persistent to desire to believe in the American Dream.
Of course no one is really going to boycott baseball because of this. Fans plan on tuning in next season. Do you know how many times I have heard people say they could never get into cycling because none of the results can really be fair given that so many cyclists dope? Americans don't watch cycling because it's just too European and not masculine enough (which is the same thing in many people's minds). And they watch baseball because it is hyper-American and very masculine. Drugs have nothing to do with it.
Me, I'm going to watch some Jodie Foster movies.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Viva Las Vegas, baby!

Oh how I love to discourse about the gym. And this case in Nevada where a man has filed a complaint with the Nevada Human Rights Commission citing the Las Vegas Athletic Club for providing discounts to women and women-only spaces is a great place to start a conversation. It's the first gender discrimination claim ever brought in the state where the discrimination is against a man.

According to lawyer Todd Phillips, who filed the complaint, when he was touring the LVAC with his wife he found out that women received a lower sign-up fee and also had access to areas of the gym men did not. The issue of a lower fee was analogized to those ubiquitous and atrocious "Ladies' Nights"--ever so-popular in Vegas apparently. I am not going to address that particular connection, though it appears some bars and casinos are concerned they won't be able to lure women in, ply them with alcohol, and then let the men in after them: an event that eerily resembles ones that took place in the Coliseum--the one in ancient Rome--not the one in Caesar's Palace where Celine Dion performs.

Though it's odd that women get a discount on their joining fee, the whole joining fee has always been negotiable from what I understand. There are times of the year when it is waived. Sometimes it is waived for students. Sometimes it is waived for friends of the staff. I had a friend who worked at a gym who was able to get it waived for a woman she was interested in dating.

Obviously the discount, as it is being employed at this club, is an attempt to get more women working out there. I could take the view that LVAC is encouraging women, who have been historically excluded from strenuous physical activity, to get active and isn't that great. But hell hasn't frozen over yet so I'll revert to my cynical explanation: they're there as eye candy. The article itself makes that implication with the analogy to Ladies' Nights.

On to the women-only workout areas. Chad Smith, the executive VP of the club said those were there to enable LVAC to compete with women-only chains such as Curves. A lot of gyms have similar spaces for similar reasons but also for ones that center around the alleged fact that women don't like working out next to all those sweaty, grunting men or they feel self-conscious, etc. In general I oppose women-only spaces, but not because I feel like men are getting screwed by them. [The one in my former gym had older equipment, was small, and had poor ventilation--in part because the women refused to keep the door open because they were preoccupied with men peeking in.]

I used to be on the fence about women-only gyms and spaces because I thought they enabled women who would not otherwise work out because of general discomfort to do so. I had problems with these women, of course. I wanted them to suck it up, show up in the weight room, and show men that women can and should and have a right to be there--all women, no matter their fitness level. Because certainly I see all types of men there who do not appear the least self-conscious about their weight, etc. But I also want women to be healthy and strong and if they felt they couldn't get there by working out alongside men then so be it.

But I changed my mind when I read "'Cause That's What Girls Do': The Making of the Feminized Gym" by Rita Liberti and Maxine Leeds Craig about women-only gyms (they used a pseudonym but it seems obvious that they visited and spoke with women who went to Curves). [The article was in the most recent issue of Gender and Society. I downloaded it so email me if you want a copy.] Basically it reifies all my fears about women-only spaces. They are infantilizing and heteronormative; fail to empower women; encourage women's dislike of physical activity; fail to teach them anything substantive about fitness and their bodies; and emphasize weight loss over all other indicators of improved health and fitness.

I'm not planning on making Mr. Phillips my bedfellow any time soon but we both, for very different reasons, have problems with these spaces.

But what I am really interested in should a decision come down that women-only spaces in a mixed-gender gym are a legal no-no is what it means for the locker rooms. I would find it ever so amusing if Mr. Philips reactionary complaint about discrimination against men lead to the quite radical result of mixed gender locker rooms.



[h/t to EB for sharing this story.]

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Books to give

USA Today has a column on the best sports books to give as gifts this year. It's a little disappointing to see that only two are specifically about women. (I haven't read Dave Zirin's Welcome to the Terrordome, which is on the list, but I suspect he mentions women in there somewhere.) The first is Baylor basketball coach Kim Mulkey's memoir, Won't Back Down, which columnist Carol Herwig describes as "rambling" and most appropriate for young adults and young athletes looking for inspiration (at least she didn't say young female athletes!). Pat Summitt has written the foreword of the book.
The second is Fast Women: The Legendary Ladies of Racing by Todd McCarthy. Herwig mistakenly refers to it as "revisionist history." Revisionist history is when one changes the "facts" of history to meet an agenda. Those of us who do women's history are not changing the narrative but rather adding to it the stories of women who have been ignored by historians. It's more of a recovery effort. I'm not sure what McCarthy's philosophy of women's history is; he's not a historian--he's the film critic for Variety--so he may not have one. Though the blurb from Booklist describes it as social and sports history.
Herwig did do a good job including books about athletes of color, specifically black athletes. Most are biographies/memoirs (work on Jackie Robinson seems to be especially popular this year) but there is a history of the Negro league in there as well as an analysis of the situation (systematic exploitation) African American athletes find themselves in called Forty Million Dollar Slaves.
But believe it or not there are other books out there about female athletes and women's sports. Sitting on my coffee table right now (it's not a coffee table book, it just hasn't made it up to my nightstand yet) is Playing with the Boys: Why Separate is Not Equal in Sports. I am eager and yet hesitant to read this book about the heart of the contradiction of Title IX and women's sports that many of us are hesitant to engage with: is separate really equal? And are we limiting ourselves by continuing to fight for this model of sport which separates the boys from the girls and inherently inferiorizes the "female version" of sport?
Also somewhere near the nightstand but not yet read is the collection edited by Title IX scholars Andrew Zimbalist and Nancy Hogsgead-Makar Equal Play: Title IX and Social Change. If you're well-informed about Title IX you may not need this book, but if you want to know more--and I'm talking to all those sportswriters at local papers who continually misinterpret the law--it's a good place to start.
If you are a UConn or Tennessee fan or just enjoy the rivalry, there's a book specifically devoted to it: Lady Vols vs. UConn: The Greatest Rivalry in Women's Basketball. Unfortunately the first word of the title is "lady" and I don't know if "women's" is needed. It's a great rivalry in basketball regardless of gender. And it's exceptionally sad that there is no longer a regular season game between the two teams. What caused the cancellation is still subject to speculation, but regardless of who initiated it or why, the result is a hit for collegiate basketball. Though this book only came out last month, it may just qualify as nostalgia for those pining for what has always been one of the best games of the year.
If I've missed anything notable please post a comment or send me an email!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

'Tis the season for giving

I had planned to do a more complete post about charitable giving oportunities related to sport this season, and I will, but I saw this brief in The Mercury News today about bikes for kids. This Saturday a group will gather at the San Jose Convention Center to assemble about 2,000 bikes to give to underprivileged kids in the area. Brandi Chastain will be there will some young female athletes from the Bay Area Women's Sports Initiative. The group sponsoring the event is TurningWheels for Kids who said they have plenty of volunteers for the assembly process but would like to raise about $6,000 more to buy more bikes. If you're interested in helping out in that respect call Turning Wheels at (408) 316-3497 or go to their website.
It sounds like a good program, but I hope they're giving out helmets with all those bikes!

So sad, but it was bad

The movie Gracie about a high school girl who tries out for the boys' soccer team (inspired by the memory of her dead brother) came out last May. I finally got around to seeing it last night.

It was bad.

I wanted it to be good; but it just wasn't.

It was very predictable. As my fellow movie-watcher noted, "when a movie starts out with a sentimental, touching scene between siblings you know one of them is going to die."

And cliched: there was an injured bird in a cage that the (now dead) brother was trying to nurse back to health. Gracie, the devoted little sister, released it at the end and it flew away.

And guess who scores the winning goal against the team they lost to in the previous season's championship? Well I won't ruin the movie for you.

And a little unrealistic. Gracie was based loosely on the childhoods of Andrew and Elisabeth Shue, both soccer players/fans who have roles in the movie. The movie is set in the 1970s--Gracie evokes Title IX when arguing for a chance to try out for the team. It's not the fact of Title IX or a girl playing with boys that is most improbable; it's the level of interest in soccer. The crowds at the game; the interest by every family member in the sport; the level of community interest. Soccer is not that popular now; how could it have been such a crowd pleaser in the 70s?

It had potential as a movie about a girl fighting for her right to play and gain the respect of the men in her life (father, ex-boyfriend, brothers, coaches), but the whole dead brother thing kind of got in the way.

I don't think this one is winning best sport movie of the year at the ESPYs.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A cheerleading apocalypse

Yes, doomsday has arrived in New York state because high school cheerleaders must cheer for girls too.
The event that has brought about such travails began almost a year ago when a parent of a female basketball player in Binghamton complained that there were no cheerleaders at the girls' games but that they were always at the boys' games--home and away. This resulted in the decision to have cheerleaders at all home games--regardless of the gender of the players. Much outrage and a lot of discourse was engendered by the decision. Cheerleaders quit and complained about how awkward it was to cheer for other girls.
The decision in Binghamton--which was a Title IX complaint (schools are required to provide equitable support and publicity for their women's teams and cheerleading falls under that category)--has lead all NY schools to make the same policy changes, at least according to this letter to the editor. The writer rails against Title IX and makes reactionary statements about the law, cheerleading, and women's sports as epitomized by this opening statement: "cheerleading as we know it is over."
His tone is apocalyptic; my view is that if it's really true that cheerleading as we know it is over (which I doubt having watched a pretty egregious epeisode of MTV's MADE yesterday) then it's a sign of the long overdue revolution.
The writer finds it completely unfair that cheerleaders can no longer attend away games (with the boys--he doesn't seem too sad that girls' teams have never had cheerleaders at any of their games unless they don't overlap with the boys' games) because they will "no longer be sharing in exciting road victories or tough losses." Here's my tough love response: if you want the excitement of good wins and tough losses, join the team and stop experiencing everything vicariously.
How ironic this all is, the writer proclaims. Title IX is now limiting the experiences of cheerleaders (it isn't, by the way) but before Title IX one of the few options open to girls, he tells us, was cheerleading. We call that progress--not irony.
The fact that he might not, if he had a young daughter, encourage her to cheer (because he feels its future is so uncertain) is also progress. We should be encouraging young girls to actually play sports and not just cheer on the boys (and actually the growing numbers of girls who play with boys). Because cheerleading, until it gets to an elite level (and I have some reservations there as well), is not a sport.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

More coverage of women's sports: The follow-up

Last month, a Virginia sports editor wrote a column reflecting on the coverage of women's sports in her own newspaper and other local papers. This is Laura Clark's follow-up on that column. She interviews other editors and journalists, including Christine Brennan. What she heard from editors: more coverage goes to better-attended events; you have to give readers what they want.
What Christine Brennan said: "If we only covered what people wanted to see it would be nothing but football and NASCAR. [...] We are trained professionals, and we make decisions about what news is."
Specifically addressing the argument that more popular (well-attended) events get more coverage she said that a writer/editor who believes that is "abdicating their [sic] duty as a journalist."
Clark seems committed to adding more coverage of girls' and women's sports to her own sports page. She does not believe she has lost readers because of too much coverage of girls' sports and too little of boys'. She even has some anecdotal evidence of increased readership by parents of female athletes who turn to her paper for scores and coverage.

In a similar vein, a student journalist at Georgetown University asks whether the publicity provided to women's teams is really fair and equal. She cites a promotional email sent to the student body about Georgetown basketball in which 24 of the 25 paragraphs were about the men's team. [The writer also takes up a number of other issues around women's sports including derivative nicknames like Lady Vols and the decrease in the number of female coaches.]

Friday, December 07, 2007

Title IX tidbits

Title IX is always in the news (as you will see if you check over at The Title IX Blog), but a few interesting things have happened this week:

1. Anson Dorrance, coach of the very successful women's soccer team at University of North Carolina, is heading to court in the spring of next year to answer charges of sexual harassment brought by a former player. This case began in 1998 and was initially dismissed before a Court of Appeals overturned the dismissal. Unless there's a settlement, a jury will hear all the stories of how Dorrance kicked soccer balls into the backsides of his players and other such egregious behaviors in April.

2. Down in Florida, former (now fired) assistant softball coach Gina Ramacci at Florida Gulf Coast University has filed a complaint with the university alleging Title IX and Title VII discrimination in her case. Ramacci was accused of having inappropriate relations with a student-athlete on her team. A sexual relationship was never proven and Ramacci is asking to be reinstated with back pay. Technically she was not fired, her contract was not renewed.

She and her lawyer are claiming the investigation itself was faulty and that none of the charges against her were proven.

And though I speculated, given the coverage of the incident, that Ramacci is an openly gay coach, this article corroborated that. Additionally, her lawyer said that part of the cause for suspicion about Ramacci's firing is the near-simultaneous suspension of volleyball coach Jaye Flood, also gay, according to the lawyer and Ramacci.

“My client finds it interesting that two female coaches with the same sexual preference have been placed on administrative leave,” Vasquez said.

I find it interesting, too. But not especially surprising. Flood's case seems to be indefinitely on hold. There has been no word on her situation in weeks.

3. Settlement was the big news in Colorado this week where, after six years of legal wranglings, the University of Colorado settled a case with two plaintiffs who had been raped at an off-campus party for football players and recruits. The university will pay out over $2.5 million to end the case which began when UC football recruits (along with current players) got treated to booze and female undergrads at recruiting parties. The plaintiffs were sexually assaulted at one such gathering and sued the university for not doing enough to stop the activities after they had been aware of them. The letter from the president about the settlement suggested that further legal proceedings would have been drawn-out and costly. It should be noted that many in top administrative positions at the time of the assaults are no longer at the university.
Though the university admitted no wrongdoing, they have agreed to appoint an advisor to the Chancellor's office on sexual harassment and misconduct prevention. Also, another part-time counselor position in the Office of Victim's Assistance will be created.

4. Settlement is probably a word ringing in the ears of Fresno State administrators. Arguably the biggest story of gender discrimination and sport this week was the $19.1 million the jury awarded to former basketball coach Stacy Johnson-Klein. This is the third payout to a female coach or administrator in about six months at Fresno State. Former volleyball coach Lindy Vivas won over $4 million at the conclusion of her trial. Diane Milutinovich reached a $3.5 million settlement after the Vivas trial and a month before her case was set to go to trial. But apparently Fresno State thought it could win--or that it had to win--this one. The idea of a settlement was bandied about apparently. Johnson-Klein wanted $950,000; the university was only willing to offer $550,000. Whoever does cost-benefit analysis for Fresno State may not have a job much longer. Neither may president John Welty who is being pressured to resign. He says he's staying, though. I don't know. You're 0-3 on gender discrimination lawsuits which is costing the CSU system over $27 million. This is more than just a slump.
This case is not over, of course. Fresno will appeal and we have to remember that the jury award in the Vivas trial got reduced. I will be surprised if the $19.1 million award stands. Though I was pretty shocked that such a strong statement of support came out for Johnson-Klein came out in the first place so who knows what will happen.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Don't worry, she still primps

I was excited to find out that a Massachusetts girl was playing in the Pop Warner Superbowl this week down in Florida. She didn't make it to the Today Show like Holly Mangold (high school player) or Katie Hnida (DI collegiate player) but her story made The Boston Herald. The short story tells us that 15-year old Jane Peters has been playing football---just like her brothers--for 6 years. She plays both offensive and defensive end and her favorite part of the game is "hitting the boys."
This kind of information makes one feel good. But then this kind of information makes me cringe: According to mother, Trish, "her daughter still primps off the field, wearing make-up and doing her hair." Yes, don't worry, folks, she is still a girl. Because god forbid a female football player not care about her hair and lip gloss.
Peters may be younger than Mangold and Hnida but there are similarities in the way the stories are presented; mainly that there is attention paid--required almost--to their feminine sides. When Hnida was playing in high school there was much attention paid to her place on the Homecoming Court. Mangold's appearance on television featured pictures of her in a formal dress.
If Peters keeps playing football (she ages out of Pop Warner this year) I am sure there will be plenty of pics of her in gowns and glitter eye shadow.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Little bit of activism: Cycling safety

If you live and ride a bike in Massachusetts please consider emailing your senator and representative to ask them to support a pending public safety law that would mandate that police officers know more about bike safety, specifically the rules of the road in regards to cyclists. It would also impart fines on drivers who injure cyclists by pushing them off the road or opening car doors into them. [Please, please get into the habit of looking back before you open your door when you're parked on a street--any time of the year.]
Mitt Romney vetoed a similar bill last year (of course!). Check out the Action Alert issued by MassBike which is asking concerned folks to help get the new bill out of committee.
And check out their website if you want to know how to be safe on a bicycle and if you want to know how to be a safe and conscientious driver when you're around cyclists.
Of course being safe--as a driver and cyclist--does not eliminate the harassment cyclists face from drivers, which was my motivation for doing something. A woman, who the police have identified but refuse to release much information on, in my area of the state has been harassing cyclists since the beginning of the summer--including putting anti-cyclist signs in the windows of her pick-up truck. So lovely.
Local cyclists are pissed. They want the woman's name and they want her to be punished. So far nothing has happened.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Women and coaching: The case of skiing

The Women's World Cup held in Canada last weekend prompted this very good article addressing the lack of female coaches in the sport. With the 35th anniversary of Title IX and the continued work of scholars like Vivian Acosta and Linda Carpenter, we in the US hear about the lack of women coaching fairly often. I probably see at least one article on it a week these days.

But according to the reporting out of Canada, the situation in international women's skiing is far worse. There was only one female coach present at a meeting of coaches that took place during the World Cup. And most every skier the reporter spoke with said she preferred a male coach.

I had flashbacks to my master's degree research on gender and coaching in women's ice hockey where no player said she preferred a female coach and only a few said they had no preference. This was despite the fact that the majority of them had been coached by very successful women.
None of the skiers interviewed could give very good reasons why they preferred men. There were some pretty weak explanations such as feeling more "at ease" and having a difficult time being coached by women.
So besides the preferences of female skiers, the article mentioned a few other reasons women do not go into coaching. The first is not specific to skiing: families. The amount of travel and the demands of the job have been cited as reasons why women do not want to coach. The second is that it's tough work: standing in the cold, trucking up mountains with equipment, and drilling holes in ice.
These explanations suggest that women do not want to coach. But clearly that is not the case. Many women are pushed out of the sport by 1) beliefs like the above, 2) athletes like those cited in the article, and 3) a myriad of other factors including one of the least talked about, homophobia. Because if women want to coach other women and not raise a family and carry heavy equipment up mountains that must mean they are gay.
And of course sexism manifests in numerous ways. I found it most obvious while reading the article and hearing interviewees refer to female skiers and coaches as girls--more than once. Six times actually were athletes and/or coaches called girls, effectively making them inferior--as both athletes and coaches. This is somewhat ironic considering that many female athletes desire male coaches to legitimize them and their participation in sport to the larger (patriarchal) sport culture.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Still fighting homophobia

The latest update from It Takes a Team!, the arm of the Women's Sports Foundation created to address issues of homophobia in sport came out earlier this week. Usually featuring stories of athletes and teams, this issue from director Pat Griffin is an update of the organization's progress over the last three years. Check out what they have done to combat the subtle and not-so-subtle discrimination faced by gay athletes (and those suspected of being gay). And how you can help.
And for more frequent information and news about homosexuality and sport you can check out Griffin's blog.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Sports teams "Think Pink"

Did I really make it through October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, without blogging about the connection between sport and physical activity and breast cancer activism?
Apparently I did. Luckily this story out of Canada has come along and provided me an entry into this discussion. And actually, these days, most pink/breast cancer campaigns are not October-specific. For example, I could pick up a can of pink tennis balls to take to the court with me any time--and probably a pink racquet bag as well.
And in Toronto this weekend, proceeds from ticket sales from the games of University of Toronto's women's team are being donated to Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. It is the first Varsity Blues Think Pink weekend, the slogan for which is "Cheer Blue, Think Pink." Many schools are being encouraged to host Think Pink weekends.
I find it interesting that it's women's teams that are being asked to host these events. But, of course, I also have a problem with the paternalism that comes out when professional men's teams in the US have done breast cancer awareness events.
This is probably because, in general, I have a healthy amount of skepticism (aka cynicism) when it comes to breast cancer awareness events and products. I am not condemning this particular event because I don't know all the facts and realities behind it. It's possible that the CBCF is better than some of the American foundations that court the money of carcinogen-producing companies. It looks likely that the weekend event will garner more in proceeds than it spent in advertising (not always the case with breast cancer events and products).
But we don't really know until we ask the questions and do a little digging. And most of us would rather just go buy a pink product or run a 5K, think we're helping other women, and go on our way, in part because we don't know the questions to ask and we don't see how such campaigns have become big business.
If you're interested in knowing more about this, I cannot recommend highly enough Samantha King's book Pink Ribbons, Inc. which is full of statistics, empirical evidence, and frank discussion about the corporatization of breast cancer. It includes information about pink products and events like the Race for a Cure and other runs, walks, and sport/physical activity events. You should also check out the Think Before You Pink website.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Boxer keeps fighting

Earlier in the week The Boston Globe had a feature on a local boxer, Wendy Sprowl, who was the first woman from Massachusetts to win an international boxing title. [The feature was in the Living Arts section which made me ask the somewhat rhetorical question: if Sprowl was a man would this story be on the Sports page?]
Sprowl is not fighting professionally anymore though she did indicate that she would return to the ring if the price was right. This speaks to an interesting aspect of her story. She started boxing after she got hurt on the job working construction and had near instant success from the moment of her first fight. She turned professional and one year later won a championship belt to much fanfare--but no money.
So now she does odds jobs, landscaping, trains others, and has a DVD out called "Sweatin Bullets" which is also a class she runs out of a Cohasset gym. The "Sweatin' Bullets" program seems to be pretty successful and I was quite impressed that Sprowl chose to produce it using people who took her class and represented a variety of sizes and levels of fitness instead of the models the production company offered.
It suggests a healthy philosophy of fitness though one Sprowl hasn't always adhered to. The reason she lost her first attempt a world championship was because she decided to drop down a weight category less than two weeks before the fight because her original opponent dropped out of the competition. She lost 14 pounds in ten days and was basically too weak to fight. Interesting how standards seem to differ depending on why and what form the sport/activity takes.
There seems to be a lot of double-sided mouth talking going on in our fitness-obsessed culture. There's the encouraging "you can do it no matter what level of fitness/activity you start at"; a philosophy programs and even gyms (a la Curves) are built around, but we haven't altered our idea of what the end result should be much at all. Beautiful is thin and toned no matter that someone who does not qualify as thin might have a high level of fitness and the super thin body may not be that fit at all.

[h/t to RP for finding me the story]

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Culture, class, race and fitness

The need for a fitter population is a concern frequently covered by the media. Yesterday I mentioned the WSFF report on the state of women's fitness in Great Britain. There was no mention, though, in the coverage I saw of the report, about disparities in fitness levels across racial and class lines. In the United States that concern is very real and many are trying to address it.
When I was in graduate school in Boston I worked on a project funded, in part, through the Women's Sports Foundation where organizations that offered programs aimed at increasing the participation of girls in sports and physical activity--especially girls of color and those from working and lower class backgrounds--received grants to continue (or begin in some cases) their work. In return, some eager researchers came in and observed the process and collected data.
Boston was a target city because statistics at the time showed boys in the city had twice as many participation opportunities as girls.
Yesterday, Billie Jean King and Kristine Lilly were in Boston to launch the latest WSF GoGirlGo! program. Though the program I worked on and this one are separate entities I imagine some of the same groups will be involved and the research (about successful models, girls' likes/dislikes, levels of activity, etc.) from the previous one will be of assistance to current project coordinators and participants.
But if you've aged out of GoGirlGo!, don't worry, there's an excellent model of getting fit and then helping others do so as well in 28-year old Jeanette Arroyo of New Jersey. As a teenager she weighed over 200 pounds. After successfully getting fit and losing over 100 pounds, Arroyo decided that she needed to help the Mexican-American community in which she lives. Mexican-American women are one and a half times more likely to be obese than the general population. Recognizing the need, Arroyo opened up her gym, Shape and Tone, that caters largely to Mexican immigrants. And though her following is small, they're loyal. The article addresses the cultural constraints placed on women's physical activity--something we often think about in "foreign" populations like Muslim women in Palestine--but fail to address within our own borders because of a belief in an egalitarian society.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

News from around the world

1. A new study in Britain by the Women's Sports and Fitness Foundation has found that more women need to get active--now! In the US we like to talk about "progress" and the numbers of women participating in sports and other physical activities; especially using 1972 (the passage of Title IX) as a reference point (even though women did engage in sport before then--sometimes we forget that). But there is no Title IX in Britain and now it seems that more and more women are not engaged in any physical activity. The study estimates that if the current trend on non-activity continues, there will be 1.25 million fewer women engaging in the recommended amount of exercise just one decade from now. One of the obstacles: image. Apparently being sporty is not sexy and though women want to be thin, they do not want to be athletic-looking. Having an athletic body (well a cetain type of athletic body) is not as much a problem in the US and certainly athletic is not equivalent to un-sexiness--as evidenced by the hundreds of visits I have received from people looking for pictures of naked female athletes. But both situations are problematic obviously. In the UK the plan is to develop a "national strategy" to raise participation. Sounds sufficiently vague enough to accomplish very little by the time the next report is released. Combating such ingrained stereotypes is going to require a large, coalition-type effort from multiple groups and interests. I hope that's what they have planned. [Here's more coverage of the report's release which includes the concerning statistic that only 20 percent of British women are engaging in the recommended 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 times/week and this level of activity is the same as it was twenty years ago.]

2. This is a very nice story out of Israel about a group of women who were encouraged and took up flag football several years ago. It addresses the desire for competition and physical activity and how these women negotiate their playing lives (including getting out of the home twice a week for games/practice) with often very religious and domestic lives. [As an American who plays flag football I found it very amusing to read the level of detail the writer provided to explain the rules of flag football, including what exactly those odd belts with two flags are for.]

3. In post-war Rwanda women and girls are finding more and more opportunities to participate in sports. All the sports federations in the country have male and female teams but there is still work to be done. Convincing people, including the women themselves, that women can (and should) be involved in sports can be a hard sell. In part, this is because there are so few female role models--not just in Rwanda but internationally. The article reports that it is common for schoolchildren to wear t-shirts with pictures of male superstar soccer players. But it does not seem like t-shirts of Mia Hamm or Marta are very popular. (Do they even exist? Hey, if they do, Christmas is coming and I would love a t-shirt with a big picture of Abby Wambach on it, Santa.)
What is particularly impressive about the Rwandan initiative is the training of female coaches. The commitment to increasing female participation has many benefits, some more universal such as health or countering gender hegemony. But in a post-war country such as Rwanda more sports means economic benefits (the creation of jobs on sports teams) and continuing resolution of group conflict.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Alex Trebek's double jeopardy

It's so rare I get home in time to watch Jeopardy these days but for some reason I was able to catch it several times last week. And in those few times I heard host Alex Trebek make two questionable comments about gender and sport.
The first came when he was interviewing one of the contestants (does anyone else hate these things as much as I do? I usually mute them). The contestant reported that he is both a high school swim coach for the girl's team and an ice hockey coach. Alex, apropos of nothing, said something like "and I assume the hockey team is boys." Why he would assume that is curious. Women play ice hockey--most people know that even if they don't watch or even support. And, hello, Alex Trebek is Canadian. Canada has the best national team in the world right now. Women's hockey has been around in Canada just as long as men have been playing the sport.
So I thought it was a little bit of poetic justice when, later in the week, the defending champion was a woman who had played college hockey. He didn't ask her whether women played hockey. But he did make another remark when the Final Jeopardy category appeared. It was "professional sports team names." He read it aloud and then said (again not a direct quote) "this is a very male category." Right, because all men have a wealth of knowledge about sports teams and women know nothing.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sports editor calls herself to task

A sports editor in Virginia examines the coverage her newspaper provides to girls' and women's sports. She notes that her paper is above the national average (it's at about 11 percent right now) in terms of coverage provided to female athletes but that 32 percent still isn't equal. And, of course, she asks why and tries to offer explanations like there are 5-6 male football players for one female volleyball player. But that one is a little weak given that newspapers cover contests not individual players.
It's good that a sports editor is self-reflective on this issue. Interesting that I have not seen the same type of analysis of the sports page by men who are at the helm of sports pages. And she doesn't really promise things will change, but rather asks readers to comment (you should, if you feel compelled, email her using the above link and give your opinion). And she generally relies on typical excuses: readers want to know about boys' sports, the department is understaffed, etc.
The most ironic comment that came out of this piece was from one of the editor's colleagues, a male sports editor at another local paper, who said:
"Sometimes covering women's sports comes down to manpower."
I'll just let you all interpret the many meanings in that one.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Reaction to the Jets

This article is an interesting take on the recent public uncovering of the "halftime show" at Jets games where men line the pedestrian ramps and sexually harass women below.
It puts the situation in the context of women's professional football which the author presents as a more pure version of football than "this hedonistic, misogynistic spectacle the NFL has been giving [us] lately."
And as much as I support women's professional football and believe it is one of the most undercovered women's sports in the country, I am always leery of the implication that some women's sports or female versions of sport can be an alternative to men's sports. This does two things (well probably more than that but two for today):
1. One, it presents men's sports (some not all) as beyond reform essentially letting all this bad behavior by fans, players, owners, coaches slip by because "boys will be boys" and suggesting they are a lost cause because of the excessive commercialism.
2. It limits women's sports. There is the suggestion that women's sports will always be "purer" because of the fact that women play them. This trades on essentialist notions of woman as gentler, less aggressive, less competitive. Let me just say right now that I have no desire to see women's sports conform or fall prey to the same evils some men's sports have. But I also see this "aren't women's sports better because they're pure" as a backhanded compliment that can, in reality, limit women's ways of being involved. For example, many women engage in apologetic behavior to counter criticism that they are too aggressive or competitive when playing or that sports will turn women into aggressive, competitive people which would apparently be a perversion of some kind of natural order.
So, in sum, that stuff going on at the Jets' stadium is beyond bad behavior; women's football is a good thing--you should support it; but I don't necessarily think the two are related in the way the writer suggests.
Oh--and this was not the only follow-up* on the NY Times article. Here are some links:
  • More arrests of the most egregious of fans are planned though the head of the facility said this likely wouldn't help all that much citing finger in the dam situation.
  • The president of the NJ state senate has been making some phone calls to people in the NFL, state police, and those in charge of stadium operations because he is unhappy with the lack of attention paid to Gate D fans.
  • Officials with the Jets have put the blame firmly on Giants Stadium security and are urging them to put an end to the "unruly halftime tradition."
  • Columnist Wallace Matthews critiques this passing of the buck by Jets management.
  • You can see what others think the Jets should do about the situation by viewing current poll results here. (refresh for most current results)

*Unfortunately many media outlets have been emboldened by this situation and seem to think using the term "boobs" in their coverage is acceptable--or at least not as egregious as the harassment itself, keeping them in the clear.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Since I wrote about football yesterday I don't feel the need to dwell on that particular Thanksgiving tradition.

So I'll just say "Happy Thanksgiving" to everyone. Here are my Thanksgiving wishes (I know wishes are for Christmas and Thanksgiving is for giving thanks but...) for you:


  • I hope you eat everything you want without guilt and with much enjoyment.

  • I hope you did not spend extra time at the gym this week working off what you have not yet eaten--a spin instructor once told us that as encouragement during class.

  • I hope you are not taking advice about eating a small salad or drinking ten glasses of water before the meal.

  • I hope if you're running in a turkey trot that you're doing it because it's fun and eating a good meal after an outdoor run makes food so much more enjoyable.

  • And I hope if you do go to the gym this weekend it's not because you're anxious about holiday pounds and that no trainer or instructor pushes you to work harder by invoking that pecan pie or second helping of garlic mashed potatoes. And if they do, you are always welcome in my spin class Sunday morning where I will not make any mention of Thanksgiving feasting or holiday calories.

  • Enjoy your food! Enjoy your workouts! Enjoy your holiday!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

What a lovely tradition

I read the NY Times article about the "tradition" of sexually harassing female fans at halftime during Jets games yesterday afternoon. And in that time of processing I have felt a myriad of things: general disgust, a certain level of despondency, and validation from peers and colleagues about how atrocious this practice is. But I think, in the end, one of the most disturbing things about this news of men who line up on the spiral ramps and harass women below encouraging them to flash their breasts (and security guards and police who do nothing about it!), is that it isn't news at all. It's been going on for a long time; years apparently.
Hard to believe that no one knew about it or thought to report on it before now. I mean, there are You Tube clips of this halftime event. Not much of a secret, I would say.
What happens now that the Times has brought it into a little brighter light remains to be seen. What has been done thus far is absolutely nothing--tacit acceptance is too innocuous a phrase to describe the attitude towards the chants, and whistles, and throwing of money (and then bottles if breasts do not make an appearance) by those who are supposed to be in some kind of position of authority.
Security guards just watch. Police won't come in unless an arrestable offense occurs. You know, because this is a free speech issue. (Until a reporter asks for comments and is hauled away and has his tape recorder taken.) And really, those public decency laws don't apply to women who want to bare their breasts. The one woman the writer saw comply with the men's desires was warned before she went on her merry way having done her public service and so very proud of her body (she and Amanda Beard should hang out). [Note the contradiction: women who show breasts in public for male enjoyment are barely slapped on the wrist but women who are revealing far less usually when they breastfeed in public are harassed in an entirely different way.]
No one from the Jets would comment but I don't think they'll be able to keep that position for long. Because ending this practice is as easy as owner Woody Johnson saying, "no more." And if he doesn't he's going to have to come up with something better than "free speech" to justify the continued practice of sexual harassment in his stadium.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Working conditions for female refs

Need a decent-paying part-time gig? Are you a former female athlete? Try refereeing.
This article from an old Baltimore Sun addresses the need for refs at the junior and high school level because of the growing number of girls playing youth sports. This piece focuses on the lack of refs in lacrosse and field hockey but the overall trend is a lack of female refs in all sports.
Because the pay might be good and it's a great way to stay involved in a sport you grew up around, but the work conditions are not always ideal. The article speaks to "the increasingly hostile environment for officials at games" and related the story of one new referee who quit after a season because of all the bad language directed her way.
And one has to think, and there seems to be some research to back this up, that female refs get more crap than their male counterparts. A good example was Celtics commentator Cedric Maxwell saying that NBA ref Violet Palmer should "get back in the kitchen and fix me some bacon and eggs" last February.
This past weekend I saw something I had never seen before in my entire fan career: three women refereeing an ice hockey game. The UNH/Wisconsin game in Durham on Saturday featured an all-female referee staff. Hockey fans can be pretty tough on refs--the student section at UNH games enjoys singing "three blind refs, three blind refs" when they skate out before the players at the start of every period. And there were a lot of penalties called Saturday night against UNH which made many in the crowd none too happy. Hard to tell if they were getting more derisive remarks than male referees might. I listened as best as possible (it was kind of noisy in there) for remarks that seemed gendered and/or sexist and couldn't find anything obvious. But I have to say, if I was a ref at that game I would have been glad for the plexiglass barriers. They're there to protect fans, of course, but I think they provide referees a certain amount of comfort as well.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Zirin on Imus

Dave Zirin has a column in the LA Times about the return of Imus to the airwaves next week. He doesn't really say anything new--but that's okay because at this point, it's more important to keep the discourse going which is harder in our 24/7 news culture. Plus he's a good writer; intelligent and just the right amount of snarky. (I've been using that word a lot lately--I must be feeling kind of snarky myself.)
Some highlights:
Imus' punishment in retrospect appears like a massage on the wrist: He received a $20-million settlement from CBS for cutting his contract short, he took a nine-month vacation, and now he's returning to commercial radio.
We are relentlessly sold the idea that our games -- our precious sports -- are a safe space from this kind of political abuse. Sports are a "field of dreams" where hard work always meets rewards. We treasure this idea. When the Rutgers basketball players defy the odds and make the NCAA finals -- and get called "nappy-headed hos" for their trouble -- it presses an all-too-raw nerve.
But I do have to take issue with one of Zirin's points. He says: Every woman who has played sports, and every man with a female athlete in the family, felt Imus' words in a way that cut deeply.
The implication there is that every man who knows personally--okay maybe not just knows--but loves and cares for a female athlete is on board with the whole gender equity thing. I don't disagree that these men probably did feel Imus's insult in ways others not associated with female athletes did. But there is plenty of evidence out there that shows that association does not necessarily engender consciousness-raising. In fact, David Whitley, the writer who complained about women's intercollegiate bowling, has an athletic daughter himself.
Think about it: most men know some women--many men know women intimately. Doesn't mean they're not sexist.
The people who believe what Imus said was acceptable are outlyers, certainly. But those who believe in true equality, the kind Title IX (which Zirin invokes) has been constructed to achieve, are not. And some of them even have daughters, wives, sisters, friends, girlfriends, mothers who have benefited from the law.