The WNBA is in trouble. And it isn't because of attendance or financial woes or the lack of festivities around the All-Star Game--it's because they think Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is an inspiration. Yes, the WNBA gave Rice its 2007 WNBA Inspiration Award Friday at a luncheon with the WNBA all-stars and other figures including Women's Sports Foundation CEO Donna Lopiano. A complete copy of Rice's remarks can be found here.
This award (or rather the giving of the award to Rice) epitomizes some of the big issues I have with mainstream sport and with some aspects of women's sports advocacy groups. Rice has a very successful career in an historically male field. She is intelligent and a proven expert in her field. I don't know her entire history but it seems likely she has succeeded in the rich white man's world despite obstacles she, as a black woman, faced.
But she is not an inspiration. No one in this administration is an inspiration. In promoting sports and physical activity for girls, some advocates engage uncritically in a discourse that fails to interrogate what success really is and what we want girls and women to actually get out of sport. I hear facts and stats thrown around about female executives and the role of sport in their lives when they were younger. We all know the problems with corporate America; and of course the Bush administration has been an excellent example of the problems with American politics. So if this is what we want young girls to aspire to and we think sport can get them there, then maybe we should reconsider this whole girls playing sports thing.
Of course I am not serious but this inspiration award is troubling. Rice, in her remarks, gave us some of the typical anecdotes about what we learned--what she learned--through participation in sport. I thought perhaps Rice was sending a secret message about her true feelings about the administration when she said she learned: "above all, that the key to success in sports, and in life for that matter, is perseverance and tenacity and that goes and that goes for even when your team's record isn't so great." Hmmm....like her "team's record" that isn't looking so great right now? Interesting.
Rice also gave props to Title IX and the opportunities it afforded to women who were born after her: a statement which received much applause. Too bad her boss has repeatedly tried to gut the legislation.
Not sure who made the decision to promote Rice as an inspiration but I bet WNBA president Donna Orender would know. I can't find her email but she does have a blog that allows comments.