Thursday, May 31, 2007

Tennis tidbits

1. New blog!

Diane of The Dees Diversion (sadly she has decided to discontinue this blog) has created a new blog called Women Who Serve devoted entirely to women's tennis. Yea!
2. Ashley Harkleroad.

Ashley Harkleroad was supposed to be one of the U.S.'s next stars on the women's side. Alas after some good results she has kind of faded away. I always found her too cutesy in an "I'm so innocent and I carry the Bible to every tournament and my nickname is Pebbles, tee-hee" kind of way. This reputation was enhanced when she married, at a very young age (19), fellow American pro Alex Bogolomov. I figured it was the strict Christian thing--if they wanted to have sex and not feel too guilty about it they would have to do so within the confines of a marriage. Harkleroad says it is Georgia thing: "that's what they do in Georgia; get married at 19 and start having babies."

And then they get divorced, if it's economically feasible, that is. Luckily it was for Harkleroad who said it was fun while it lasted but they're both better off. Besides Harkleroad said it was tough being either alone or having to be there for Bogolomov while he was playing.

She now seems to have figured out how to have a boyfriend and travel the world playing tennis--make your boyfriend your coach, or your coach your boyfriend. Harkleroad's new coach/boyfriend is Chuck Adams. Not sure which came first, the boyfriend or the coach position. He was her World Team Tennis coach in 2004 when she (and Bogolomov) played for the NY Sportimes so probably coach first, boyfriend as a bonus.

3. Changing names

At least Harkleroad didn't change her name when she got married. If she had she would now be dealing with what Justine Henin is--commentators using her married name. As of yesterday morning I had seen about 10 minutes of coverage of the women's side of the French Open and heard commentators say Henin Hardenne three times. I realize the alliteration is alluring, but Henin has being playing on the professional tour for eight years. She was only married three of those. It shouldn't be too hard to make the switch.

Also, while I know commentators are not exactly skilled in pronouncing names, I would think that they would be able to differentiate between Emilie and Amelie. Cliff Drysdale kept calling Emilie Loit, Amelie throughout her second round match with Maria Sharapova.

4. Fashion Police

Maria Sharapova, Jelena Jankovic, and Ashley Harkleroad have all been spotted sporting capri length leggings during their matches. Sharapova's seemed to match her outfit a little better--though I don't think the flappers of the 20s, whose outfits Sharapova's seemed to be based on, would have worn leggings, more reminiscent of the 1980s. Harkleroad wore hers under her skirt which already had attached compression shorts. I can't imagine that that was comfortable. Now I know it's a little chilly and damp this week at Roland Garros but all these women played in sleeveless tops. Leggings should never have come back.

5. The crisis

All nine Americans lost in the first round at Roland Garros. So proclaimed the commentators as we watched the pitiful montage of all nine of them in their various losing moments. Frequently the fact that it's the American men's crisis got lost. American women are faring better.

So once again we get the questions: what is happening to American tennis? will American men ever succeed on clay? And the new one this year: will the Americans stop coming to Roland Garros? James Blake says, speaking only for himself, no. But I think it's a very real possibility in this age of specialization in sport. Six-year olds are picking their sport (or their parents are picking it for them) and playing it year round. So even though Roland Garros is still tennis, and their is a certain amount of prestige in winning all four slams, you have to believe that at some point Andy Roddick and Marty Fish are just going to cut their losses and focus on what they're good at--faster surfaces. It is not as if tennis has not experienced some degree of specialization already; though, to date, specialization in tennis is usually seen as less than. For example, there are the "doubles specialists"; the suggestion is there that these are the people who could not hack it mentally and/or physically as singles players. And, of course, at this time of the year we hear all about the clay court specialists who cruise up the rankings in the spring and then drop back down (usually) for the remainder of the season. The clay court specialist, as much as he is applauded for being a grinder, is generally seen as someone who does not have the power to remain competitive against big hitters on other surfaces. And sometimes they mysteriously disappear in the two weeks between the French and Wimbledon.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Damned if you do, damned...

You know the rest. This seems to the situation the WNBA is facing. The league recently launched a campaign to encourage more local press coverage of WNBA teams. On each team's home page there is a link to a local paper that allows you to send a letter to the paper asking for more coverage of the team. It's a form letter. This a point of contention I will get to later.
It's no secret the WNBA is struggling when it comes to attendance. And it's also no secret to some of us that greater media coverage will bring in more fans. So, in addition to changes such as 4 quarters and 24-second shot clock,* Donna Orender, David Stern, and other sport administrators met with key people at the Associated Press before the season started asking how to get more press. And, not surprisingly, they got back the same old line the media gives us regarding women's sports: we cover what our readers want.
Well Orender knows WNBA fans want more coverage and so this email campaign was launched. But editors and writers are poo-poohing it saying that an organized campaign doesn't really show interest. What the &^%$? An organizedcampaign indicates fleeting interest?
I see the point about form emails not necessarily showing some deep, emotional vested interest. (How many fans of men's sports have been required to indicate some level of passionate interest?) All the email campaigns I have participated in encourage senders to add something personal somewhere in the letter or to just write one from scratch. But saying WNBA fans' letters are not genuine, that they somehow indicate a lesser interest, is basically just a way for media outlets to ignore it and diss it--the campaign has been described as "desperate."
Oh and one of the "desperate" comments are coming from alleged fans. Kim Callahan, who runs, in addition to calling it desperate, said "you don't see this on the MLS site." Well MLS is, despite its subordination to other sports in the United States like basketball, football, baseball, still played by men. The WNBA must do a lot of things that other leagues do not have to do. Last night for example, during the fourth quarter, Sheryl Swoopes, who was on the bench, not having a great scoring night, and her team was behind, spoke with an ESPN sideline reporter. Women athletes have to make themselves available to the media in ways male athletes do not.
The problem is that as much as they put themselves out there and the league puts them out there, so few people seem to be taking advantage of their accessibility. Maybe they're too busy whining about how the big stars in men's sports are so aloof and so stingy with their time.

*Which it seems San Antonio has not gotten used to yet if last night's win over the Houston Comets is any indication. They had more than one shot clock violation and during the one I saw, no one even let the shooter know the clock was running down--not a player, or a coach, or the fans.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Reactionary gender norms

Twisty at I Blame the Patriarchy comments briefly on the current Newsweek cover story on the "ancient riddle of identity" noting that it didn't do much to "solve" it. I saw the cover on the magazine rack at my gym and thought, "yeah, I don't really think they're about to shed any light on gender" and I figured the piece would likely make me a little crazy, so I refrained from picking it up. And Twisty confirmed my decision when she noted that she herself threw the mag across the room. Which part did it to her? Former tennis player Renee Richards's comment that "God didn't put us on this earth to have gender diversity."
I have previously commented on Richards's rather conservative (and self-hating) stance on GLBTQ issues. What's unfortunate is that "mainstream" stories like these always seem to seek her out for her opinion. The Newsweek article was trying to address the issue of transsexuals who *gasp* want to play sports during and after transitioning. There are other trans athletes out there now and I think Richards's reactionary views have had plenty of airtime. Let's start talking to people like Mianne Bagger (though from what I hear her beliefs about gender and the gender binary may not stray too far from Richards's) or mountain biker Michelle Dumaresq. Of course, given the generally conservative culture of sport and its reliance on a gender binary, it's possible that any trans athlete (and some do not consider themselves trans but rather the gender to which they have transitioned--not a judgment, just a note) will follow a similar line to Richards and Bagger who, to be allowed to compete, must rely on a strict gender system and proclaim it as natural.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Thanks, Mills College soccer team

The Mills College soccer team, after having suffered from racist, sexist, and homophobic slurs and harassment, directed their off-field energies into getting the NCAA to change the rule regarding ejection from games. Prior to the Mills College campaign the rule stated that "abusive, threatening or obscene language, behavior or conduct" was grounds for ejection. But, as we see, that language is kind of vague.
At an NCAA meeting* the soccer coach and Mills College athletic director advocated, on behalf of the team, that the language of the ejection rule be changed to read: "engages in hostile or abusive language or harassment that refers to race, religion, sex, sexual orientation or national origin, or other abusive, threatening or obscene language, behavior or conduct."
And in March, the NCAA approved the change. Collegiate soccer doesn't start again until the fall so we'll have to wait to see how the rule is enforced and/or changes behavior and conduct.

* There were several other steps in the process that included appearances in front of and changes to other governing bodies. The above link details the process.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Unprosecuted rape: As American as... pie and baseball. Good thing, too, for the members of the De Anza Community College baseball team in California who are being charged with absolutely nothing after sexually assaulting a teenager (17 years old) at a house party. The ripple effects of the Duke lacrosse apparently have run all the way across the country because despite witnesses and a huge amount of local publicity, none of the eight men are being prosecuted because the DA claims there is not enough evidence.
Twisty at I Blame the Patriarchy and Diane at The Dees Diversion have posted about the case so I won't go into just how ridiculous it is that once again the players and their supporters are crying "poor persecuted white men are we." That's been covered.
I will say that it is quite saddening to find that, even as many of us yearn for more women in positions of power, that a woman actually in power were at the center of the decision not to prosecute: the DA Dolores Carr. I figured out long ago that just because women are in power does not mean they are actually going to make the world a better place; that women are not inherently better than or more moral than men. But I still hold out hope that women who have experienced some of the crap the patriarchy throws at us (though the patriarchy throws a lot of crap at men too and not too many of them have risen up) would make women who actually get to make important decisions more likely to see through all the rhetoric: that consent is pretty hard to come by when you're nearly passed out drunk; that girls enjoy sex so much they want to have it with three different guys one right after the other; that girls are so magnanimous that they want other men around to watch them enjoying all this sex.
Despite the despondency that seems to set in when reading the details of the case, major commendations have to go to De Anza students Lauren Chief Elk and April Grolle who rescued the victim from the room and took her to the hospital. And further kudos to community members who have protested at Carr's office.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Sorry Mizzou fans

I was so pleased last month when I read about the University of Missouri having a gay (club) lacrosse coach for their men's team. There was a little bit of controversy but at the time of the article it seemed that most of the team was on board, along with the university. Not so much anymore. Hawkins has been fired.
The article's sub-headline reads: Student-run lacrosse team lets gay coach go, says sexuality was not an issue.
Yeah, right.
The team asked Hawkins to resign and when he refused they fired him. Because lacrosse is a club sport the team has the power to make these decisions. Apparently they wanted to do it last year but because Hawkins had just come out they felt it would have looked like they were making the decision based on his homosexuality.
A year didn't really make that much of a difference--it still seems pretty clear from the weak reasons they provided, that there was discomfort with Hawkins being gay.
Karen Mitchell, a graduate student who serves as one of the team's advisors apparently (she was part of the conversations about letting Hawkins go at the very least), said the issue of sexuality never came up in the discussions; that it was all about his coaching abilities and the way he ran practices. That seems to be what everyone is saying so they can sleep at night. Hawkins's win-loss record over his nine years was very strong and he has built a national reputation as a coach.
But Mitchell makes abstract statements about "concerns" and "comments" from players and parents. And one of the reasons Hawkins was given for his firing was that he did not represent the team or the university well on the road.
So while it could very well be true that in the meetings the issue of Hawkins being gay was never mentioned. But everyone was certainly thinking about it, and there is no knowing what was actually said among players and even among advisors and players. There are plenty of ways of talking around a subject and still conveying exactly what you need to without ever coming across as anti-gay.
But the team and its advisors are naive if they really think that a coach who received national attention--and a lot of support--when he came out can be fired the next year without a lot of press and a lot of speculation that this was not what it really was: a decision based on homophobia.
And it looks like the attention will only grow. ESPN is planning a segment on Hawkins that will air some time this month. If I find out more I will update.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The perversion of recreational tennis

Every month TENNIS magazine runs a column/feature called "The Tennis Life" that is usually written by a recreational player and highlights his/her history with the game--shining moments, embarrassing tales, etc. In general, I find it a good addition to the magazine, one that highlights the publication's commitment to promoting the game as one for everybody. You feel a little better about yourself as a player when reading the narratives, especially after being regaled for pages upon pages of the feats of Roger Federer, Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, etc.
This month's Tennis Life though is a little different and quite disturbing. The writer, Tom Stein, is a recreational player but he writes about a man named William Wu who captains USTA league teams in the San Francisco Bay area. He is a player as well but is well-known--infamous is more fitting as you will see--for his captaining tactics. For those unfamiliar with a captain's role, he or she is in charge of putting together the rosters detailing who will play each match and in what position and for the general logistics like making sure everyone knows who, where, and what time they are playing.
William Wu relishes his position as captain. Usually this would be a good thing since being captain is sometimes a dreaded position--lots of drama about who gets to play the most, in what position, with which partner, and on and on. Wu though takes captaining to the extreme. He scouts other teams, takes notes on players and knows nearly everyone's strengths and weaknesses and develops his line-ups accordingly. Not much wrong with that. It seems more on the level of what a collegiate coach might do, but hey, if you've got the time to do it--more power to you.
Unfortunately Wu comes dangerously close to breaking rules and he has certainly violated the spirit of USTA leagues by, for example. signing up (including paying league fees) players--aka ringers--who has seen around that he wants to play for him without even telling them first! He can bring them into the line-up whenever he wants or needs them that way. (You're allowed to play on multiple teams so long as you sign up and pay for each opportunity.)
At Nationals one year players who were signed up for Wu's team as well as others, played against his team. When some lost in the early rounds with other teams they just moved over to play for him. [The USTA nipped this in the bud with the "William Wu amendment" which states that players signed up on multiple teams have to commit to one team prior to playoffs.]
He'll kick players off his team if they lose.
The author refers to him as "the Machiavelli of the Bay Area tennis community" yet admires Wu. And this is what I find so disturbing. While it's true that Wu hasn't broken any rules, he has put winning above everything else. Stein paints him as a narcissistic middle-aged rich guy yet applauds him for grilling chicken for his team after matches. I can't imagine that playing in that kind of atmosphere is fun or rewarding or conducive to development.
Last month, the magazine reported on another team captain who had broken the rules by doctoring rosters including making a player compete under someone else's name. Having just won my first match of summer season last weekend I can say that winning is nice. But this is recreational tennis. In some respects--by the standards of the sportocratic culture in which we live--we have already failed as tennis players, as athletes, because we aren't superstars. I don't see how being so obsessed with league tennis that you break the rules, or come darn close to doing so, is really worth all the emotional and physical effort.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Opening weekend WNBA

This weekend marked the opening of the 11th season of the WNBA. I didn't watch any of the games because I was either playing my own sports or watching golf and softball. And frankly professional basketball has never been my sport of choice. But it's not because I think the women are slower or not as exciting--as a column I read the other day contends.
The start of the WNBA season has brought commentary that seems to fall into one of two camps: the WNBA is flailing and it may plod along for a while but it will never be as popular as men's sports because no one cares--even other women!; or please give women's sports a chance--if you watch them you may like them (as exemplified by this column).
There are problems with the arguments put forth by both camps. The first column about how women's sports will always be a niche market is irritating. First the author admits that he has never seen a WNBA game because he has never had any desire to watch. I have only ever seen one NBA game in my entire life and that's only because somehow we scored free tickets to a Celtics game when I was teenager. I have never seen a men's collegiate game. This means I really have to basis for comparison. But I also am not, unlike the above columnist, arguing that men's basketball is more interesting than women's or vice versa. I guess if you like it when men's coaches and male players throw temper tantrums that cause the veins in their necks to bulge or when players throw punches at fans in the stands then maybe it is more interesting.
Unfortunately, the WNBA powers-that-be are also worried about the lack of interest and so have changed some of the rules (4 quarters versus 2 halves, and a 24-second shot clock) to make it more interesting. And by "interesting" they mean more like the men's game. And this is the problem with even the well-intentioned "please give the WNBA another chance" pieces. They use the men's game as the basis for comparison. I do not think this is a winning strategy. The more the women's game tries to model itself on the men's game the more it invites disparaging comments from fans of men's sports who see women as wannabes.
Because liking men's sports--the the exclusion of women's sports--is more than just about which games you watch on Sunday afternoons; it is about supporting an ideology. Comments and beliefs such as "men are faster," "men jump higher," "men can dunk," all suggest that men are just better--period. Sure we cannot get away these days--well it's harder at least--with saying women are not as smart or as capable in positions of power, in business, etc. But it's still acceptable to engage in side-by-side comparisons of a sex-segregated physical activity and say "look the men are just better" without ever questioning the criteria for assessing "better than."

Saturday, May 19, 2007

New movie

Saw an ad for a new movie about women and sports, Gracie, coming out June 1. I watched the trailer at the website and it looks good. It's about a high school girl who wants to join the boys' team after her brother, the star player, dies. It appears to take place maybe in the 70s because there was no girls' team for her to play on. It is not hiding the fact that it is a feel-good feature, but I am trying not to hold that against it. When I see it, I will report back.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Lack of rec sports for adult women

A few weeks ago I came across an article that said women seeking recreational sporting opportunities can have quite a hard time with it. There are several reasons for this. Because women generally have less free time, often having to work outside the home and shoulder the majority of household responsibilities, there just are not enough interested women to comprise teams and leagues. Also, because women, as young girls, were less exposed to and encouraged to play sports, they often don't seek out something unfamiliar in adulthood.

The growing number of girls whho play sports is most likely to effect change in the latter situation, hopefully bringing about more opportunities for adult women.

Also, sometimes finding out about what's out there in terms of sports for adult women can be difficult. So I've added to the sidebar programs and teams for adult women that are either women-only (W) or co-ed (C). It's a work in progress and will be organized by state. If you know of a team/league that has a website I can link to, let me know ( and I will post it.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Clijsters backlash

Critics are being quite harsh about Kim Clijsters's retirement. In this month's TENNIS, which was put to bed long before her announcement, they deride her for then intention to skip the US Open.
But this column from Selena Roberts of the NY Times (kindly sent to me by a reader because I do not have a Times Select subscription) is the harshest condemnation I have seen yet. Roberts suggests that Clijsters is turning her back--negating practically--all the work that pioneers in the sport, like Billie Jean King, Martina Navratlilova, and Evert (note that Evert was not initially on board with this whole equality thing) did in the 70s and 80s.
She writes that Clijsters would make " a terrible bra burner." (Of course all feminists are terrible bra burners given that no bras were ever burned; it's just a (anti?)-feminist urban legend.) Yes, some of us are none too pleased with the married/having children discourse that Clijsters herself is putting forth, but this is not the same situation as the power stockbroker leaving her job for stay-at-home momhood. Women's liberation has not hurt the women's tennis tour, as Roberts suggests it is doing by paying women players big bucks and thus making it economically feasible to retire at an early age.
Clijsters does not plan on secluding herself in her home for the rest of her life. She has always been involved and will continue to be so. Just because she isn't playing tennis does not mean she is dropping out of the public sphere to change diapers, make meals, and organize play dates.
The idea that people--including Roberts--do not believe the injuries and the perpetual wear and tear on the body are legitimate reasons to retire goes to how deeply the idea of "no pain, no gain" has been ingrained in our culture. Roberts acknowledges that the idea of health and happiness over long-term injury seems right, but she just can't excuse Clijsters for leaving the game high and dry--putting women's tennis as a whole at risk because, she contends, there will be a loss of rivalries.
Clijsters has been giving to the game for a long time--longer than most players who will or have played twice as long as her. And I believe she will continue to do so.
She alone is not responsible for making sure the game continues. If injuries and burnout are the reason women are retiring "early" then maybe the tour needs to take a look at what is going on.
Besides, Roberts's contentions are way off base. Because, one, most players are not retiring in their early 20s--even the ones who have never made it to number one in the world or won a slam. Look at Rennae Stubbs who is in her 30s. Davenport retired after turning 30, Capriati is now 31--and though she hasn't officially retired it seems unlikely she will return. And second, there are plenty of young women who are looking to take Clijsters's spot. There are many rivalries in the making and though we will miss Kim Clijsters, I am excited to see what becomes of players like Jankovic, Safina, Vaidisova, and others.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Where are they learning about feminism?

My usual gripe about young women and feminism is their denial of the need for feminism which sometimes manifests in the "I'm not a feminist, but--" syndrome. But I have found teaching women's studies or gender-focused courses is a helpful way of feeling like I was doing something to combat this.
Lately though I have seen an interesting inverse of the "I'm not a feminist, but--" syndrome. It's more like "I am a feminist, but--". The but in the cases I have seen being "but I don't really like women's sports" or "but I think Title IX is discriminatory against men."
The first case is from a student columnist from The Loyolan (in LA) who seems to get it initially. She talks about sport as male-dominated, the attention female athletes get only when they take off their clothes, and the failure of professional women's sports to really take off.
Unfortunately she says she really can't blame the American public because she too likes men's sports more than women's sports. They're just more exciting, she claims. I think she missed the part of feminism that talks about social construction or she may have seen that she is making men's sports the default--the norm--against which women's sports are compared and deemed less than.
Then there is this column, also by a female student in California, who thinks Title IX may have been a good idea once upon a time but it has done "more damage in the long-term than it did good." [I am surprised she does not have an angry mob of female athletes after her.] She is referring to the cuts many schools make in the name of Title IX compliance, failing to see that the damage that has been done, has been done by men (because men dominate athletic administration) to men by favoring some men (those that play football and basketball) over others.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Sex doesn't sell

Dr. Mary Jo Kane's research (with Heather Maxwell) on sexualized media images of female athletes was released a few weeks ago and there has been some publicity about the ongoing project to assess the situation. I have seen a story here and there about it, but you know it's making waves when a Sports Illustrated columnist picks up the story.
The gist of the research: sexy pictures of athletes may draw some eyes and numerous internet hits but they do not increase the popularity of women's sports.
In fact they may be harming women' sports because such pictures are actually a turn off to real fans. So the rationale offered by many female athletes who do pose in nothing or next to nothing in various men's magazines--that they are bringing attention to their respective sports--is now going to ring a little falser (even before the study, some of us had doubts).
What the SI column does not address is that this practice is likely to continue because the less altruistic reason for posing is individual fame or fortune. This may be more obvious in the case of individual sports stars like Maria Sharapova--who I have never heard argue that she does her Canon commericals of Rolex ads for the good of the sport. But someone like swimmer Amanda Beard, who cannot make a living off her sport, has something to gain monetarily from posing. And thus this issue of posing has gotten more complicated with the Kane study. When posing means perhaps doing good for yourself but harming your sport as a whole--do you still do it?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Women's golf will go on

About a month ago I came across this curious post on the Golf Blog about the potential demise of women's golf when Annika Sorenstam leaves. I was shocked because I see the LPGA as having a lot of depth--granted I don't watch men's golf so I have little as a basis of comparison; but when I look at the rising young talent in golf, it reminds me of the viability of women's tennis which will go on now that Lindsay Davenport, Kim Clijsters, and seemingly Monica Seles and Jennifer Capriati have left. And it will go on when marquee names like Serena and Venus Williams are no longer on the draws.
Don't people generally like it when there is no one top contender? Isn't this past of the reason why men's tennis is losing its appeal? Roger Federer, as great as he is, has become a little too predictable--unless he's playing Nadal. I would think people--who aren't Sorenstam fans--would be happy she has slipped from the number one spot. I thought men--who seem to be in charge over at The Golf Blog--would be happy to see young women contenders on the LPGA; women like Natalie Gulbis who are not hesitating to use their sex appeal to promote themselves and the sport. (Not that I approve of these tactics.) Then there were the "genderless" anonymous commenters who spouted vitriolic comments about Sorenstam, lesbians on the tour, and fat women golfers. One would think they would be happy to see Sorenstam, who they accused of steroid use and being too masculine (are you kidding me with this?) retire.
Whether Sorenstam is playing or not, people like this will never like women's golf because women play it. There will always be, for them, too many lesbians, too many "fatties," too little skill, too much choking, too few Americans, too little strength, and on and on.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Thai women's boxing

I recently read an article about Katie Dallam (the "real" Million Dollar Baby) excerpted in Susan Cahn and Jean O'Reilly's new edited collection Women and Sport in the United States and I have to say, having been pretty ambivalent about boxing in the past, I now wonder why anyone thinks this is a good sporting option. The training indeed gets you into great shape and I see the appeal in working out aggression, but doing it competitively seems a little...extreme.
In a Thai women's prison though the appeal of participating in bouts between inmates is pretty obvious: if you win, you get out early. A convicted drug dealer recently won an officially sanctioned match against another prisoner and was pretty much assured of early release.
Curious and with very little knowledge of either Thai prison culture or women's boxing, I asked my Thai colleague what she knew. Nothing--she found it curious too as did all of the friends she made inquiries of.
Unfortunately does not do a good job (surprise!) of giving us much context for this match. It is very much presented in a sensationalist fashion down to the detail about the transvestites "in high heels and skimpy outfits [who] were allowed out of their cells to parade around the ring with placards at the beginning of each round."
I don't really want to end with this sensationalist detail myself but I am still having difficulty wrapping my head around this event and the reporting of it.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Clijsters retires

I read this morning that Kim Clijsters is retiring--effective immediately. She had said, for some time, that this would be her last year but she decided she just could not make it to the end of the season as planned given her nagging injuries and the physical toll the game takes on the body.

Although I have not always been on board with the "I want to get married and have babies" housewife discourse around her decision, I think the retirement is still a huge loss for tennis. And I think her retirement brings up two important issues to consider.

The first is an old one that is allegedly being addressed by the WTA. How absurd has the sport gotten that 23-year olds are retiring early because of persistent injuries and pain? And actually they are not specifically addressing this but rather the length of the season which they see as a contributing factor in injuries and burnout. Unfortunately I see the plans that aim to make some events mandatory as counterintuitive.

I just finished an interesting article by sport sociologist Nancy Theberge about the Canadian sports medicine system that works with elite athletes. One of the shocking discoveries--to me anyway--in Theberge's study of sports medicine practitioners was their top priority: performance--not health. The WTA may present its decision to shorten the season as one of health but it's really about performance. They want the athletes to be able to perform well at the height of the season--the summer months.

Second, Clijster's retirement will, no doubt, have commentators speculating on a possible nomination to the Tennis Hall of Fame. And this is also an issue of performance. Clijsters has one singles Grand Slam title. When Patrick Rafter, winner of two US Opens, retired there was speculation about a potential nomination. Some feel that two is not enough--even if he was (probably still is) a nice guy. Despite Clijster's very consistent performance over her ten years on the tour, including two WTA championships, and her doubles and mixed doubles wins at Wimbledon, many will say she is not Hall-worthy.

I think the performance-based criteria that seems to dominate the recent player category misses a lot. It misses, in the case of Rafter, that fact that he donated half of his prize money from his two US Open wins to the Starlight Children's Foundation. Half. And in the case Clijsters it misses the work, both informal (like hitting balls to the crowd at rain-delayed US Open) and formal, that have made her one of the best ambassadors to the sport. In an era where most professional tennis players are plagued by solipsism and are nearly untouchable because of the layers of entourage surrounding them, Clijsters was accessible and generous.

I think that's more than enough to get you into the Hall of Fame. In fact I think if you don't display enough "good person" characteristics you shouldn't even be considered.

So in five years (when a player becomes eligible) I will start an Induct Kim Clijsters campaign.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Deford strikes and incites--again

I have mentioned previously that I go hot and cold on Frank Deford who provides a piece every Wednesday on NPR's Morning Edition. Yesterday's (and the written version which is at is about Title IX. And I am now decidedly cold.
I am not going to go into all the problems with Deford's assessment of the situation, most egregiously his belief that Title IX requires proportionality. (Will sports writers ever learn what Title IX really is?) He does trot out again his potential solution that college sports be deemed entertainment--which would basically give athletic departments carte blanche.
What was really disturbing was the collection of comments from readers posted on a blog, sponsored by FanNation, linked from the site.
There were some smart comments from Title IX supporters that attempted to show how these cuts anti-IXers are bemoaning are really all about economics and institutional priorities: basketball and football. But people still cry out about how this "equality" (they often think equality and equity are the same thing) is anything but fair and that football should be exempt from Title IX because it's just different. That's it--different. Why is football different? Why isn't tennis "just different"? Oh, because football is better, that's what you really want to say without insulting say male lacrosse players or baseball players.
And of course there is the "but football generates revenue while other sports lose money" rationale. How people feel entitled to make claims without even looking at any evidence just baffles me. The majority of intercollegiate football programs in this country LOSE MONEY. It does not matter how much money they generate through ticket sales, apparel, concessions, etc.; their costs exceed their revenue. (I am bookmarking this post because I have a feeling I may have to say this again.)
Kurt Austin (the name given in his profile), a student at JMU (whose cutting of 10 sports Defrod cites), wrote a lengthy comment about the situation at his institution, which, although he himself is not an athlete has "many friends who are being effected(sic) by Title IX." Austin has some good points about the injustice of the nationally recognized "archery teams (mens [sic] and womens [sic])" being cut. I think it's tragic that a school would cut any teams let alone ones that have national reputations.
But Title IX is not the reason JMU cuts those two teams. They are spending their money on facilities and football. (These facts will come out if this Equity in Athletics--note the irony of an anti-Title IX group using the term equity--case gets anywhere.) They had priorities that apparently did not include fostering the skills of potential Olympic-caliber archers. And that is JMU's fault--not Title IX's or any of us wacky feminists who support it.
I haven't taken a poll but I don't think feminists are anti-archery. In fact, Geena Davis, who is a Title IX and women's sports advocate, is an archer. We are not anti-men's sports either. Our utopia does not include a world where only women play sports and men are cheerleaders who bake cream-filled cupcakes to sell at our games. Our utopia is a place where a male football player looks at the conditions under which a female field hockey player trains, competes, is recruited, and travels and says "I can--and will--work in these conditions too."

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Asian women's sport boom?

A few years ago the talk in women's professional tennis was all about the "Russian Revolution"--all the Russian women who were quickly ascending the rankings and, in 2004, winning 3 of the 4 Grand Slams. Though the cadre of Russian women--some of the same, some new--are still a formidable threat at every tour stop it seems, a new revolution is brewing. This one is a little farther east: China. Chinese women are making a name for themselves in both women's singles and doubles.
But what's interesting is that they aren't being discussed in the same ways that the Russian women were. In fact, whereas names like Sharapova, Kuznetsova, Dementieva, etc. are known to tennis fans, there are probably few who could actually name some of the dominant Chinese players right now despite their success. (Yan Zi and Zheng Jie won the doubles title at this year's Australian Open.)
There are probably many factors that have contributed to this lack of attention. It does not seem like many Chinese players speak English which is quite a turnoff to American broadcasters who cannot do impromptu courtside or locker room interviews. This may also lead to the lack of information and personal stories being circulated about these players--something that was not in short supply when the Russians came of age. (How many times have we heard that Maria Sharapova and her father left her mother in Siberia and came to Florida with just a few hundred dollars to convince Nick Bollettieri to train the nine-year old Maria?) The Chinese players also don't fit neatly into the two stereotypes Americans have of Asian women: subservient or exotic. If they're not bowing to men or posing in a dark and sultry manner we just can't seem to comprehend their purpose.
Their purpose, it seems, is a nationalistic one. China is hosting the Olympics next summer and is vigorously supporting women's tennis (and other sports) in an attempt to make a strong showing as the home team.
The situation still calls for further scrutiny, especially because it seems sports for Asian women are on the rise. Perhaps this is also part of the 2008 Olympic fever or maybe a more general movement is afoot. Whatever it is, it is generating news. I am seeing far more stories about Asian women in a variety of sports: cricket, ice hockey (the Chinese had a team in the most recent world championships and were scheduled to host the annual tournament in 2005 but had to cancel because of SARS), and now rugby.
Doha, Qatar just hosted the Asian Women's Seven with teams from across Asia competing in rugby. Qatar also played host to the December 2006 Asian Games. Sport, in general, is on the rise in the country but "participation of locals, especially women, is low, and it is this kind of event that may encourage local women to get involved in sporting activity."
What the article does not mention though are the limitations that prevent Asian women's participation. Two that come immediately to mind are class and religion. Poor and working class women--worldwide--have few, if any, opportunities for sports participation. This situation is rarely recognized and certainly not addressed.
And Muslim women--many of whom live in Asia--can face nearly impossible constrictions on their athletic participation. The pictures from the Asian Women's Seven do not show any participant trying to adhere to hijab. There was no mention of special conditions that would have limited the audience to only female viewers. But these are issues Muslim women who want to participate in sports have to negotiate if they want any chance of participating.
The number of Muslim women who participated in the last summer Olympics was minuscule. It will interesting to see how much of a difference four years and a non-Western venue makes.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Interesting contradiction

I have long been perturbed by the uncritical use of male pronouns in women's sports: defensemen, first baseman, Ironman, etc. I am very much in the minority in these views, I realize, and so rarely bring them up.
But I had a mini-epiphany the other day at a softball game. I went to see UMass take on George Washington. The announcer gave the line-up: "up for the Minutewomen, first baseman ____."
So some schools go out of their way to distinguish their women's teams from the men's by giving them separate ridiculous names like Minutewomen but persist in calling them men.