I have been meaning to write about Katie Hnida's memoir Still Kicking for while now. I read it over the holidays while I was sick and on the couch for about 48 hours. So I think that gives you an idea of the type of book it is. It's not especially challenging--which is fine.
I was expecting a little more though than just the details of Hnida's career as a kicker in DI football. It was good in that some of the details were filled in: how she got started kicking (yes, she was a soccer player first who quit after a knee injury), her high school career, and her career post Colorado (where she was raped by a fellow teammate and generally made miserable by the coach and select other players).
The problem I had with the book was that it all operated at an individual level. Again, I was not expecting an in-depth analysis of the patriarchy. I realized it would be difficult for Hnida to critique the ideologies that football reifies as someone who "succeeded" in the sport.
But I was very disappointed that she failed to see anything larger than what was in front of her. At times this came off as the power of hegemony, but other times it just made Hnida appear hopelessly naive.
For example, in high school, where she quickly earned a spot on the varsity team with little conflict from her own community, she was named homecoming queen. There were many reporters at the homecoming game where Hnida had to stay on the field for pictures and the crowning during halftime. She just couldn't understand what all the fuss was about as she tried to make her way to her team in the locker room.
In the end Hnida presented it as a story of good people (male coaches that are supportive, team mates that defend a woman's presence--well Hnida's presence anyway--in football, a family of supporters, a sympathetic reporter) and bad people (coaches that discourage women, a friend turned rapist, teammates that threaten, a stalker, athletic directors that turn a blind eye). But it's a story of larger issues: systems that allow discrimination against women that leads to their exclusion from "male" sports, rape, threats of sexual and physical assault, and media attention for the pretty player so long as she stays quiet and does not complain.
If it's a story meant to inform then it falls short. Even for those unaware of the intensity with which football will try to maintain its position as a male preserve, this story hardly serves as an entry point into a more thorough critique of sport. This is a good good versus evil story in which an individual overcame adversity and made history. It's the American Dream on the football field.