Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Is Nancy Lieberman the big lavender elephant?

I have previously blogged about the problems I have with Nancy Lieberman. And when I saw that the Women's Sports Foundation newsletter this month was running a feature on her, I was a little disappointed. It is nothing especially new. She hasn't done something notable of late. The WSF wants to keep lauding women's sports advocates like Lieberman who is a former WSF president.

During the feature Lieberman re-states her complaint (that I initially heard at the Title IX conference at Harvard in April) that women are spending their money on Coach and Prada purses and not on season tickets to local women's intercollegiate or professional sports. Apparently this is a line she uses at most of her public speaking gigs. She also seeks to mention her teenage son whenever possible. My diagnosis: Lieberman has an acute case of apologetic behavior. Apologetic behavior is when female athletes essentially compensate for their presence in sports, a traditionally masculine endeavor, through their behavior, appearance, and discourse.
It may seem like Lieberman is not engaging in apologetic behavior when she speaks of her strength and her very physical style of play or in being quite forthright in her commentary and analysis.
But remember her history. It's no secret that she was Martina Navratilova's lover while she was her trainer in the 80s. But she got married and had a kid. [Marriage and talking about marriage as a goal is a classic sign of apologetic behavior--a la Babe Didrickson.] Of course now she is divorced and rumors about her affair with a Shock player while she was coaching her seem to be not far from reality.
But those things don't get discussed. Lesbianism in women's sports has been called, by Pat Griffin, director of WSF's It Takes a Team program, the big lavender elephant in the room. And Donna Lopiano, WSF CEO, has written, in The Advocate no less, about the problems with homophobia in women's sport. Yet everyone at WSF seems to adore Lieberman despite the many ways in which she seems to cover her (current or past) identity and pretend it is not a big deal. I don't doubt that WSF is committed to combating homophobia in sports, I just wish they would not hold out as one of their stars a woman who does not seem as on board with the mission.

Monday, July 30, 2007

A Billie Jean for every sport, Part II

Most everyone who follows basketball knows of the huge disparity in pay for NBA and WNBA players. NBA players are averaging salaries of about $5 million, while WNBA salaries are capped at $100,000. Smith, in the column I referenced in part I of this post, writes that the WNBA plays in the NBA off-season. Even as she argues for equality she falls victim to the discourse that the WNBA is the awkward little sis of the NBA who only gets to shine when the "real" players are vacationing. Can you imagine the NBA season being referred to as the WNBA off-season.
The reality is that many WNBA players have no off-season. They head overseas to play ball--often for a lot more money depending on where they go. This feature from ESPN details the "off-season" lives of Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi who play for a team in Russia owned by a very generous Russian man who provides them perks usually only experienced by NBA players. The women get free housing--good housing: a villa with an indoor pool. They fly business class or charter. They get three round-trip plane tickets to the US every season.
And they make around $400,000 (US) for their December-May season. Far more than they earn when they head back in early summer to play in the WNBA.
The article is quite detailed, giving readers a good idea of what overseas basketball is like and why players receive so much in a former communist country that they can't get here in good 'ole capitalist USA. But the big point, the one I came away with anyway, is that this practice may not be sustainable. WNBA players often need to go overseas to make money. But that means no real off-season. No time to recover from either season--WNBA or overseas. And Taurasi herself noted that it's grueling and something she cannot imagine doing for the rest of her playing career. If the money remains good overseas--and there are no guarantees given that salaries and perks are up to individual owners--Taurasi predicts that some WNBA players may just opt to play only overseas.
This puts the WNBA in the proverbial rock and hard spot crunch. Salary caps allow everyone to make some money, but also force players into better-paying situations overseas. If the travel and work get to be too much and the WNBA starts losing star players, the draw for the WNBA goes down considerably. But the WNBA cannot afford to pay players more at this time because it has not drawn enough people to games or earned enough through other venues.
Hopefully something will happen, more fans, less money overseas, more cooperation between European leagues and the WNBA, so that the WNBA does not get squeezed out of existence.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Recruiters on hold

I came across this very interesting story about Elena Delle Donne, considered the number one high school basketball player in the country and the top class of 2008 recruit. Burnt out by all the attention from recruiters and the media, who suggested that the battle over getting her was at the center of the recent decision by Pat Summitt to end the UConn-Tennessee regular season match-up, she has decided to take a 2-month hiatus that will end in early September. She is not taking calls, text messages; she is not playing; she gave up the opportunity to play for the USA U19 team. She is spending the rest of the summer volunteering at a school for children with disabilities.
Her decision, and her willingness to talk about it, sheds some light on the craziness that is college recruiting--especially when we are talking about high profile sports and players. And perhaps it will lead to stronger and/or more specific regulations. Of course, this story is only news because Delle Donne is the number one recruit, because she has narrowed down her choices to four schools. (I was disappointed her crossed UMD off her list; I really like Brenda Frese and I really dislike Geno Auriemma of UConn who is still on her list. And my personal word of advice to Delle Donne--UConn may have great athletics and academics but there is nothing in Storrs. It is a sad, sad excuse for a college town given how much national recognition the school has received.) Any other recruit--or most other recruits--would get scoffed at for saying "I'm taking a two-month hiatus from basketball. Please don't call me." And they wouldn't--ever again.
As much as I liked the story, I was not so pleased with this curious line and what followed from it: "Because girls have different social mores than boys, there has been a recent escalation in complaints by players and parents about the attention showered upon girls by colleges."
It is vague, especially the abstract use of the term "social mores." Is the writer trying to say that in our culture boys and girls are raised differently? Yes, that's true. But what follows suggests that girls don't like all the attention, can't handle the pressure, and implies--through an absence of any discussion--that boys are just the opposite. Which all boils down to the idea--the "social more" if you will--that girls are more fragile, certainly mentally. In a story about the most hotly recruited high school players of all time--male or female--it is harder to suggest that girls are weaker physically, so the article trades on sociohistorical constructions of mental fragility. Long live Freud, I guess.
Still, kudos to Delle Donne for slowing things down and setting her own terms.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Billie Jean King for every sport, Part I

This column in the OC Register, written in the wake of the the first Wimbledon that awarded male and female players equal prize money, discusses the many professional sports in which pay disparities are common and extreme and some of the reasons behind the disparity. Actually, columnist Marcia Smith cites one reason specifically: the disparate histories of men's and women's professional sports. The two professional sports that offer equal prize money, tennis and beach volleyball, had men and women participating in them from the start, she (and others she cites) argues. Golf and basketball, she says, have different histories in which men had professional opportunities decades before women did.

She is correct about the influence of history, but there are numerous other factors as well and certainly history does not explain it all. For example, even though the Open era in tennis came for men and women at the same time, the history of disparity in "reimbursing" players for travel, lodging, etc. continued into the professional era. It was Billie Jean King's work that impeded the perpetuation of the disparity.

And we shouldn't necessarily be using "history" be the get out of jail free card for the current situation in professional sports. After all, when basketball was invented in the late 19th century men and women played.

Also, let's not pretend that the world of tennis is all fine and good now that the Grand Slams are offering equal prize money. Most of the rest of the year the men travel on the ATP tour and the women the WTA. There is no equal prize money pressure for tournaments that are single-sex. I don't know how the overall prize money available breaks down between the tours but it would interesting to see if such calculations have been made. Especially in light of a chart in this month's TENNIS that showed Roger Federer made double the amount of Justine Henin (the respective #1 prize money earners in 2006). Well Roger Federer wins nearly every tournament he is in, you say. True, but the chart also has the earnings of the respective #10, #50, and #100 players. The men all earn more than the women.

What the chart, whose purpose was to compare salaries of male and female tennis and golf professionals, does uniequivocally reveal is that male golfers have it made. (Just as a reality check let's note that the prize money is exorbitant in these two sports and I am not suggesting that these players need more money.) The guy who came in 100 in prize money on the PGA last year earned $1.22 million. The woman on the LPGA made $75,000; the male tennis players, $243,000; and the female tennis player, $145,000.

I think what surprises me most about the disparities, especially those between male and female professional golfers is that no one jumped on the Billie Jean bandwagon back in the 70s. Where was the coalition of professional female athletes putting pressure on male organizers and sponsors across the board?

{in Part II, the issues that follow from the disparities between the NBA and WNBA.}

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

News from around the world

I have been very American-centric lately so I thought I would round up some news from across the globe
  • Check out Women Who Serve for coverage of the Pan-American Games where Milagros Sequera from Venezuela and ranked 50 on the WTA tour won the gold.
  • Also regarding the Pan-American Games, I was watching ESPN2 on Sunday waiting for some tennis when I caught a bit of the women's beach volleyball final between Cuba and Brazil. And it was in Spanish. I know ESPN has a Spanish-language channel but I was surprised to see them import that coverage to ESPN2. I don't speak Spanish but it was pretty easy to get the gist of what they were saying; "Fantastico!!" is not that hard to translate. So kudos to ESPN for doing a Spanish-language broadcast on a "regular" (the apostrophes are there to indicate the problematics with associating regular and normal with English-speaking) channel.

  • In Dubai, the Al Ahli sports club that sponsors football (aka soccer) has formed a committee to investigate adding sports for women including volleyball, basketball, and handball.

  • The Bahrain National Table Tennis Team won the recent GCC Table Tennis Championships held in Kuwait. The team was lead by 19-year old Ala'a Hegres who won her singles and doubles match and felt the win would bolster recognition for the female athletes of Bahrain: "Women in our country are now rising in sports competitions in the region and around the world. It is good because everyone can see what we are capable of, and I hope we can continue our progress and good results."

  • The Women Sport and Fitness Foundation of Malaysia awarded its Women and Sport Award to Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said. She is the first female sports minister and since taking her post in 2004 she has significantly increased Malaysian women's participation in sports. Some of the increase is due to Azalina's creation of The Women Games which encouraged women's participation at the grassroots level.
  • And in sad news for Zimbabwe, none of their team sports (field hockey, basketball, or soccer) was able to qualify for next year's Olympic Games.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

You don't have to be Mormon...

...but you can't be gay. That is what is being hinted at by Brigham Young University athletic director Tom Holmoe. In an article* about the lack of female coaches in intercollegiate athletics, writer Rhiannon Potkey, looks at the situation in Utah. University of Utah has ten women's teams; only three are coached by women--a stat that falls below the national average. AD Chris Hill said that he thinks it is important to get women into head coaching positions but not as important as finding a "qualified candidate...regardless of gender" according to the article. Hill said: ""We owe it to our student-athletes to find the best coach available for them. We have that in mind whenever a position opens in coaching or administration. Sometimes the pool of women candidates we get just isn't that big or doesn't include women who are as qualified as some men." There is no interrogation of this hackneyed excuse about "most qualified" candidate, or how the concept of "qualified" has been constructed and is executed by men or of the old boys' network in which ADs and other coaches call their male colleagues when they hear of positions opening up.

Over at BYU, Holmoe notes that it's even harder to get women into the pool of potential head coaches because of its "religious ties." You don't have to be a Mormon to coach at BYU but you have to abide by Mormon rules and standards. Hmmm...no caffeine addicts and no lesbians.

"We don't get a lot of people who would apply and have that alignment with the mission of our school. That is something we are trying to change, but it's not easy," says Holmoe.

No kidding. It's really hard to find people willing to give up their Starbucks. Can you imagine how many short-haired, pant suit-wearing, single women BYU has had to turn away because they called around to other schools and found out that the candidates are frequently seen around town holding a grande no-fat vanilla latte, no whip?

* The article appeared to fall under the category of "it's a slow news week what national trend can we look at and apply to the state of Utah." It didn't provide any new information on the situation of women in coaching. It did point out, however, how oblivious men are to the situation by opening with an anecdote about a recent recruiting trip by a male Lehigh women's basketball assistant coach who all of a sudden realized that about 90 percent of the recruiters in the stands were men; this disturbed him. Imagine how disturbing it is to the 10 percent women and all the women who have been denied positions or left the field in utter frustration.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Traditional sport=non-traditional wedding

I have plenty of opinions on civil marriage and even more on the wedding industrial complex. But I blog about sport so I don't get a chance to vent them here. But I heard a story recently--if you'll pardon the pun--that marries the two.

A NY NPR member station had on the mayor of Cooperstown who was talking about planning for the tourist influx that occurs in the small town every summer during and around induction weekend. She mentioned that she is marrying two baseball fans next weekend. The groom is wearing a Phillies uniform; the bride is donning a Padres uniform. (Or maybe it's the opposite; I can't remember exactly.) Putting aside the fact of the wedding/marriage, I thought it was a rather bold move in a society in which there are more rules and regulations surrounding weddings than there are in any sport. Good for you, I thought. Far braver than some of my queer friends who joke about how their weddings are the only time they will ever be caught in a dress. Basically they are going to their own weddings in drag. At least the happy baseball couple isn't making any pretense over who they are.

No plans for the mayor to be in an umpire's uniform, but maybe guests at the reception can bat around a beach ball from table to table.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

New Title IX link

I've added a new link under my favorite websites: Fairplaynow.org. It's a site sponsored by the National Women's Law Center and is aimed at gender equity in grades K-12. Much of the focus on Title IX enforcement has been on intercollegiate athletics. Recently more attention has been paid to high schools and even lower grades likely because of the successful suit brought by high school basketball coach Roderick Jackson who is featured on the website, and pendin legislation that would require high schools to report athletic department data in ways similar to colleges and universities.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Did you find what you were looking for?

1. As I mentioned previously, there are no nude pictures of Ana Ivanovic here. Neither are there pics or discussion of her armpits. I wondered how anyone found me searching for anything to do with armpits then I remembered that I quoted a journalist who said Nadal's armpits were masculine.
2. I was quite excited to see my average daily hit count up over 30 and then I saw that it's largely because of all the people who want glitter headbands. As disappointed as I was by this attention to female athletes' accessories I did take some heart that the searches were for Jennie Finch or the US softball team and glitter headbands. This means that people were watching the World Cup of Softball last week where glitter headbands appeared to be the new must-have fashion accessory.
3. I liked the search for "odd names for a co-ed softball team" though I really can't think of any at the moment. When I played co-ed softball our team was a now-cancelled TV show reference. Not particularly odd. I have heard great names for all-women softball teams, though again my current team's name is a play on the Red Sox. But the book Diamonds are a Dyke's Best Friend highlights some great team names. If anyone has good softball team names--co-ed or otherwise--please leave them in the comments section or email me. Maybe we'll start a contest.
4. Surprise search of the week: Is Cat Osterman gay? Wow. I think this just goes to show how almost any female athlete is assumed to be gay until she proves her heterosexuality. Osterman does not wear as much make-up as fellow US pitcher Jennie Finch; she did not pose for SI Swimsuit Issue, nor did she marry right of college and have a baby in her mid-20s. I guess that raises the lesbian red flag alert. She could walk down any street in the country and never be suspected of being a lesbian (obviously appearance isn't everything--there are many non-stereotypical lesbians) but put a ball in her hand and have her illustrate her exceptional athleticism and bam! she might be a lesbian.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Too much softball?

A letter-writer expressing his displeasure over the sports coverage offered by the TriCities paper in Virginia got called to task in a column by opinions editor Andrea Hopkins. What was the dude's gripe? Too much softball coverage that he felt bordered on obsessive. He not only cited the paper for too much coverage--including color pictures!--of girls' softball but moved on to diss softball in general. He was especially upset by this year's Women's College World Series which he found boring and compared the efforts of the student-athletes to little leaguers.

He clearly missed the segment in the recent coverage of World Cup of Softball where ESPN showed American pitcher Jennie Finch striking out every Major League Baseball batter she faced. Apparently only one hitter even got a piece of the ball--the softball, mind you, which is larger than a baseball. And he had been tipped off that Finch likes to throw a change-up on her third pitch so he sat back on it. Hardly Little League.

So the US team easily made it to the championship game of the recent World Cup without dropping a game and beat Japan, probably their greatest competition at the moment, 3-0. ESPN and ESPN2 covered the tournament. Kudos. But they keep re-airing the semi-final game where the US beat Canada. I know I always bemoan the lack of coverage of women's sports and particularly ESPN, but re-airing a game that wasn't even that good (the game with Japan was closer) in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week doesn't count toward establishing a commitment to women's sports.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Are you ready for some football?!

Depends on who's playing, you say? What if it's women?
Say you don't know any women's football teams? That's part of the problem Michelle Riddle, an offensive tackle for the D.C. Divas, a team in the Independent Women's Football League, has found. She wrote a very nice but firm letter to The Washington Post complaining about an inaccuracy in a previous article that stated the soon-to-be resumed Washington Freedom soccer team would be the only professional women's team in the DC area. Riddle points out that the Divas have been in the area for seven years but receive little to no coverage.
On the opposite coast, the Seattle Majestics, also part of the IWFL is getting coverage in The Seattle Times. The Majestics, a franchise owned by three current players, won their division this year and hope to win their first IWFL championship. The league, by the way, has 30 teams from the US and Canada. Championship Weekend is the second one in August in Atlanta. If you can't make it, just tune in to ESPN. Oh wait...ESPN is too busy covering every other version of football to bother with women's football. Well I hear Atlanta in the summer is...well at least you can pack light.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The new soccer mom

This story has a little more inspiration in it than the previous post, I think.
The new soccer mom (a term I actually abhor) actually plays soccer. This article about a group of adult women who started playing indoor soccer a few years and recently started playing outdoors in Kansas is cute. The team, called B4 Title IX, recently entered the Sunflower State Games.

It inspired me to add some more adult rec opportunities to my sidebar.

Monday, July 16, 2007

An inspiration?

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.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Recent Title IX happenings

It has been a big summer for Title IX news. In addition to the 35th anniversary last month there have been a couple of prominent cases and/or investigations that the legislation has figured into. One I wrote about earlier this week. Former Fresno State volleyball coach Lindy Vivas won a hefty settlement against her former employer. The follow-up to that story is the interest California state legislators are now taking in gender equity in athletics.
This story and accompanying video clip state that legislators plan on looking into the CSU system to see whether this is a bigger problem or if the Vivas incident was an isolated one. Save your time and money: it was not. The other two cases pending that involve former Fresno State female coaches suggests certainly that Fresno has a problem. But even beyond Fresno I think the lawmakers will be shocked to see the crap that female coaches and athletic administrators endure.
Also in Title IX news, Florida Gulf Coast University just completed an internal investigation into complaints that were collected by their former AD and women's sports pioneer/advocate Merrily Dean Baker. There has been a lot of controversy down in Florida about this investigation but the internal auditor found nothing that suggest the department is violating Title IX. But the response by the school (the interim president forbade anyone to talk about the investigation) and the athletic director has been poor. They have vilified Baker and essentially shut down any possibility of change. The reason Baker put together the complaint that consisted of concerns by coaches and student-athletes was that they felt they would somehow be retaliated against should they voice their concerns to the AD or others. This fear is indicative of the atmosphere in the department. And all the allegedly little things (like towel service and banquets) that the report indicated may seem inconsequential contribute to this atmosphere. One of the problems the AD actually acknowledges is the lack of female head coaches--there are 2 out of 14 total. He said he has offered two different jobs to women, one of them a head coaching position but was turned down. What women would take a job in a department that clearly has issues--and denies them--and is run and staffed almost entirely by men?
The lack of women coaching intercollegiate athletics is a problem many acknowledge. Simply offering positions to women does not make it go away. You have to fix the underlying problems like gender inequity and homophobia before we can see a change for the long-term.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Early ESPY coverage

The ESPYs were taped last night. I completely forgot about them this year. Usually I have some critique to offer. Maybe when they air July 15. (Why does ESPN tape the awards show and air it later? It seems silly given that news outlets will report on the event and winners before the show even airs on ESPN.)
Anyway, I read an Eonline article about the pre-show festivities and the swag the presenters, et al receive and found this aggravating statement by "Party Girl" (you can deconstruct on your own the use of "girl" to describe an adult professional woman) who covers such star-studded events for E!: "for the past three days, athletes, their wives and sports-loving celebs have been indulging in swag and mojitos at the Mondrian Hotel."
So if we follow Party Girl's logic either 1) all athletes are men or 2) all athletes, male and female, date and marry women. Both assumptions of course are problematic.
You can comment on the story by following the link above and let "Party Girl" know that athlete does not equal male; women do play sports! They even receive ESPYs for it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Discriminatory athletic departments put on notice

Earlier this week Lindy Vivas, former volleyball coach at Fresno State was awarded $5.85 million by a jury that decided her former employer had discriminated against her. The Vivas trial is actually the first of three by former female coaches at Fresno State.
The article linked AP story, also used by ESPN, paints the trial as addressing a single issue: that of retaliation. The suit contended that Vivas was fired despite her successful record because she complained about the lack of gender equity in the department. The other coaches have made like accusations.
And from what I hear from California, the jurors certainly saw Fresno State's actions as retaliation against an individual who was trying to get Title IX enforced. But the article leaves out the claims made by Vivas that she was also released because of her perceived sexual orientation: the powers that be thought she was gay. Appalling stories of Ugly Women Athletes Day and of discourse around our team (heteros) and their team (gays) came out during the trial. The jury certainly saw more than just retaliation for seeking gender equity. The jury verdict form shows that they believed Fresno State fired her, in part, because they thought she was a lesbian.
This story from the Fresno Bee about the university's plans to appeal does cite the discrimination based on perceived sexual orientation claim.
The case will go on because of Fresno State's desire to enter the appeals process, likely over the amount of the award, though that remains to be seen. But it seems that few are questioning the veracity of Vivas's claims of an inhospitable atmosphere and an overall lack of serious attention to these issues once they were made public. Fresno State (actually the CSU system) may not end up having to pay the full amount of the award but I see heads rolling (maybe even the president's) in the not too distant future.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Greetings from Guatemala City

The International Olympic Committee has been meeting in Guatemala City. Their most notable announcement, of course, was the awarding of the 2014 Winter Games to Sochi, Russia.

But the IOC has been doing other things down there as well including overhauling the criteria for adding sports. They have capped the number of summer sports at 28, also setting a minimum of 25. They have also set a maximum of 10,500 participants in a total of 300 events. They have gotten rid of the rule that required 2/3 of voting members to approve the addition of a sport. Unfortunately the article does not say what the new process will be. We do know there will be what are considered "core sports" that are protected from elimination except under extreme circumstances, for example scandals over doping. (Seems like maybe nordic skiing should watch its back, then.)

The good news for these rule changes is that softball may be able to get back into the summer games program. Not for London in 2012 but maybe the 2016 games where there will be room for 2 sports on the program.

On the winter games front, the IOC said it will only consider adding women's ski jumping to the 2014 games in Russia if it can prove "significant growth." IOC president Jacques Rogge said the women must show their sport has "universal interest." I didn't know men's ski jumping had universal interest. How many of the winter sports really have universal interest anyway? Sure I like watching bobsledding, luge, curling, and even ski jumping--but I honestly barely remember in the interim years.

The Olympics themselves create interest. How many stories have we heard from female athletes who said "I remember watching so-and-so or this sport and thinking 'I'm going to do that someday.'" Women have been barred access to the sport for so long--by some of the people and their predecessors that have these "universal interest" requirements. It would be nice if those same people maybe helped promote the sport.

This kind of gets to another issue the IOC addressed in Guatemala City: the lack of women in governance positions in the organization. Of the 115 members only 16 are women. And the 15-member executive board--the one the makes all the important decisions--only has one woman. Unfortunately the fact that they have acknowledged this does not mean much. I haven't seen anything that suggests they are going to do anything about it. In fact the article linked above suggests that it might be harder for women to get elected to the executive board because the IOC just waived a rule that said former officers must sit out two years before running for re-election. Lots of talking--not much action.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Oh no, NPR

NPR's All Things Considered aired a segment on Friday about The Championships in which host Melissa Block spoke with Bud Collins who was at Wimbledon.
There were a few gaffs though in the coverage starting with the brief written explanation on the segment which reads: "Venus Williams beat No. 1-ranked Justine Henin to advance to the women's finals." Not that Venus Williams, winner of the trophy this year, didn't play well but she didn't beat Justine Henin. Poor Marion Bartoli, who had a fantastic tournament didn't get much credit.
Also, Bud Collins, who usually does a good job pronouncing players' names (Block also provided correct pronunciations) called Amelie Mauresmo, Amelia.
But worst of all was when the two started talking about Venus Williams and Bartoli and the final which would pit a 23 seed against an 18 seed. Block asked about Williams's level of play and noted that she was hampered earlier in the week by pretty severe leg cramps. Wow! Is another example of the "all Black people look alike" problem white Americans seem to have? Or a more nuanced version: the Williams sister are interchangeable. Collins, surprisingly, did not correct her.
Interestingly Block ended the segment saying the biggest upset was NBC letting Collins go after 35 years. He was quite gracious in saying that he has enjoyed his time with NBC, that he will be back as a writer and that who knows (as in there might be offers from other television media. Will the BBC snatch him up?)

Friday, July 06, 2007

Did you find what you were looking for?

I am always curious how those who are not the six regular readers of this blog find it. The search terms that people put together fascinate me. So this is going to be a semi-regular column where I try to address the inquiries all those anonymous readers have made through their searches.

1. I don't know what it was about Arizona Wildcat pitcher Taryne Mowatt's hair accessories but people want to know more about them. Maybe it's the red glitter. But several people have gotten to After Atalanta looking for "Taryne Mowatt's headbands." I don't know where to get them. Sorry. I did notice though that Northwestern pitcher Eileen Canney had a similar glittery headband in purple.
2. No, there are no nude pictures of Wimbledon semifinalist Ana Ivanovic here (or of Taryne Mowatt). And given that she is only 19, I don't think there are any at all. Guess all those searchers will have to get their fix from Amanda Beard.
3. There is an odd and ongoing fascination with new Texas head coach (and former Duke head coach) Gail Gostenkors's sexuality. Yes, she is divorced. That does not translate to "she is gay." In general people really want to know about female athletes' and coaches' sexuality and how they express it. Is Abby Wambach gay? Is Monica Seles married or have a boyfriend? Is Mary Jo Fernandez gay? (Could be, I suppose, but she is married and I have never heard a rumor to the contrary. Perhaps you are thinking of Gigi Fernandez who is openly gay.) Are people searching as fervently to find out if someone like Roger Clemens who is married with kids is gay? Or questioning divorced coach Phil Jackson's sexuality?
4. I'll end this inaugural column with an interesting question that a searcher seemed to be posing: do Maria Sharapova's grunts constitute cheating? I would have to say no. I have heard she is loudest of all the grunters but I think Venus Williams hits some high decibels when she gets deep into a close match. I also don't have the same issues with it as others who see the grunting as a perversion of some former "traditional" version of the game. It might constitute cheating if an opponent asks that she take it down a notch because it's a distraction and she fails to do so. But her intent is not to distract. If you want to get Maria Sharapova on cheating look toward her box where her father and sometimes her coach can be seen giving her signals and talking to her. Let's not forget last year's Banana-gate. Father Yuri has been warned before but that system does little to deter coaching from the stands. I think the player should be penalized with a warning, a point loss, and so on.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

More football, more excuses

Sam Donnellon, columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, seems to start his piece about the new football league for former college players who don't have NFL stuff complaining about the oversaturation of football on television between the aforementioned NFL, Arena Football, Canadian Football League, and NFL Europa. But really he uses the fact that all these are on television to suggest that men make up the viewership of sports, and despite 35 years of Title IX (not noting of course issues such as lack of enforcement and the fact that there is no requirement for equity on the part of media outlets) women's sports just are not that popular--even with women.
Donnellon tries to play it safe by using phrases such as "reverse injustice"--rather than reverse discrimination. And does not come out himself and say that Title IX is hurting men's sports but that the discontent is a sign of the times: "It comes in an age - as we say in pro football - of further review, the pluses of artificially propping up low-involvement and even lower-interest women's college sports argued against the injustices inflicted upon longer-standing and higher-interest men's sports."
And then he makes the big mistake of saying that JMU, Ohio University, and Rutgers slashed sports to become compliant. Only JMU has proffered Title IX as the reason for its cuts and most of us can see that it's a very weak excuse. Rutgers made cuts because the entire state of New Jersey is having budget problems and the rest of the university had already made cutbacks--the athletic department was just doing its share. And Ohio University's athletic department is running a large budget deficit.
And in the end Donnellon fails to understand the historical and cultural aspects of "interest" and fandom. Most women were 'protected' from the violent aspects of some sports and many more women did not have the leisure time to cultivate an interest. And today a woman who expresses interest in watching other women sweat and run around becomes suspected of being gay. And though many gay women are fans of men's sports, it is very easy for women to express hetersexual desire through their fandom--even making it central to their fandom.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Injury, rain, and racquet abuse--Oh my!

Au revoir, Amelie. We'll miss you on Saturday.

I missed about a day of Wimbledon to go camping/hiking but saw the Serena Williams injury drama and some of the Nadal-Soderling 5-setter. And alas I saw Mauresmo collapse against Nicole Vaidisova. I knew this would be a tough match but I thought if Mauresmo continued to play the way she had been, she would tough it out. She let Vaidisova, who was not serving well, off the hook and into the next round.

The San Francisco Chronicle sports blog runs down yesterday's happenings where writer Bruce Jenkins gives Serena a hard time for breaking her racket. (I will get to the cries of games(wo)manship that have been swirling more furiously than the London winds in a moment.) I didn't think it was that bad. Certainly I have seen far more egregious behavior from other players--mostly men--who receive far less criticism for their actions. Marat Safin is notorious for bad behavior and I remember once Andre Agassi, in his bad boy days, breaking a racket on court and going over to his bag and taking out at least two more rackets and snapping them in half by stepping on them.

Jenkins also reports on the comments in the London papers about various players and matches including a statement by a writer from the Times who basically says Rafael Nadal is intimidating because of he is just so masculine which includes "masculine armpits." And part of it is abut the capri pants which have a long pocket allowing him to shove a ball in deep so that it resembles a "supernumeray testicle."

But of course the real stuff I missed while out in the woods was the many cries of games(wo)manship levied (see the comments on this article) against Serena Williams. A few outlyers have suggested the cramp was faked. How anyone who saw the many, nearly countless, replays that included the close-up of the seized up calf--no, they are not supposed to do that--can think that is ridiculous. Conditions at Wimbledon are perfect for cramping. The cold and damp weather combined with the toll the grass takes on your leg muscles make cramps a reality. That she took time to stretch and that she tried to jump around afterwards does not mean she was not injured. Do the people who made these comments ever actually use their own muscles? The pain from straining and cramping can be alleviated to some degree with certain treatments, but it does not make the initial injury disappear.

And then there was the bathroom break issue. I did not know about the new rule not allowing a break before the opponent's serve--clearly neither did Serena Williams. I see the attempt to curb games(wo)manship but I think that the chance of breaking momentum is greater when leaving the court at a time when no break has been scheduled--i.e. on an even-numbered game--for either player depending on who has the momentum at the moment. I was watching the match with a physical therapist who said, basically, of course she has to go to the bathroom. During the 2-hour rain delay she likely received IV fluids and drank as much water and other fluids as she could get down. She had to continue drinking on the court to stay hydrated. I don't know why Williams opted not to go before her serve but I don't think it had anything to do with trying to mess up her opponent. For better or worse, Serena Williams has always maintained that every match is all about her own performance.

Most of the comments I have read smack of aversive racism. Though I think they have done a lot for the game of women's tennis, I have never been a devoted fan of either sister. And some of things they have done in the past have been worthy of some criticism. But I haven't found their actions or words to be any more egregious than those of other players who are often protected from protracted criticism and laundry lists of past alleged mistakes by their race, class, and ethnicity.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Playing hard or hardly playing?

Reading the myriad of tributes to Title IX that came on or around the 35th anniversary of the legislation, I came across this one written by Susan Reimer of the Baltimore Sun. It is part movie review (Gracie) and part memoir of her own athletic endeavors prior to and post Title IX.

Reimer takes the discussion of Title IX in a slightly different direction from other articles I have seen. She talks not about numbers of opportunities and the experience of winning, but of missing the opportunity to build "a real relationship with our bodies."

This is a crucial point that often gets overlooked when we talk about things like boys' teams versus girls' teams and legislation and court cases and cuts. Why is it actually important for young women to be able to play sports? Because, as Reimer says, the transition from girlhood to womanhood is a time where bodies have a tendency to "shock[] us or betray[] us or embarrass[] us." And, I would add, that women's bodies have historically been used to keep women in an oppressed state. Sport and physical activity help alleviate that oppression. But it's a fine line between getting in touch with one's body and abilities and conforming to a male model of sport.

Reimer, I found, crosses uncomfortable across that line when she expresses her regret at not being able to ever truly discover the limits of her body despite her participation in numerous physical activities in her adulthood. She looks to her children, a son and daughter who played high school sports and continue to be athletes, who did have that chance to feel the burn in their lungs or what it feels like to exceed physical limits (which of course is impossible because clearly it wasn't a limit if it could be exceeded).

What she describes has become an oddly romanticized version of sport. And it is one that women have adopted as they have gained opportunities to play. Training impossibly hard is not the only way to participate in sport and other physical activities. Why do you have to know where your physical breaking point is to feel satisfied with your performance? And please note I am not just talking about women/girls. This "no pain no gain" mentality and all that goes with it is equally damaging to men.

We just cannot seem to accept that there is another way. That there are many other ways, in fact, to participate. They are often called "alternative" practices, like yoga and other, what are being called, "mindful" physical activities. I was disheartened to read that Reimer's daughter, after taking a yoga class with her mother, said it didn't do anything for her. I have heard similar statements from women who consider themselves true athletes. They have been so inculcated into the dominant ideology of sport that anything less than nearly tearing a muscle seems not worth the effort--despite the numerous benefits of mindful exercise.

I foresee bad things from such views of exercise. We can already see the ill effects. Kim Clijsters retired earlier than expected this year after citing the numerous injuries and near-constant pain it took to keep her game at its highest level. Other former pros suffer from lifelong problems stemming from their playing days. And it has filtered down. Former collegiate athletes who pushed themselves to these proverbial physical limits have also experiences the aftereffects: bad knees, bad backs, the inability to participate in recreational sports after their official playing "careers" are over.

Organizations that advocate for girls' and women's sporting opportunities frequently cite the health benefits. But the practices that are deemed most worthy are hardly healthy.

Monday, July 02, 2007

TV network aiming for equality

One of the major complaints by women's sports advocates is the lack of media attention women's sports get. It is a source of major frustration when media owners/administrators charge that people are not interested in women's sports and they don't cover them and we counter that how can they be interested when they are not covered.

The newly formed, to be launched in August, Big Ten Network is saying it is committed to providing equal coverge to men's and women's sports. Jim Delany, Big Ten commissioner said the plan is to achieve equal coverage in three years. If it's a brand new network why don't they just start it up with equal programming? Why ease into it?

As positive as this committment is, there have been some controversies around the network. First, the network wants cable providers in Big Ten states to add the network to their basic cable packages. The providers are not having it calling the network a "niche" channel that will show second and third rate competitions.

Second, this network further enmeshes educational institutions in the corporatization of sport. The line was a little blurry but there when ESPN and major networks were covering college sports but when a conference gets into the act all pretense is lost. And Congress has already questioned whether big time sports are perhaps putting in jeopardy colleges' and universities' tax-exempt status. NCAA president Myles Brand said that even though intercollegiate sports are entertaining, schools are not in the business of entertainment. I hope the Big Ten Network has some very good spin doctors on staff to try to reconcile this one.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Look at all those female fans...

...who aren't watching women's sports. Femmefan.com, a website for the female fan reports on a new study that found the number of American women who consider themselves fans--sometimes "avid" fans--of professional sports (and they mean men's sports) growing. But the bemoans the fact that sports franchises and sports media fail to acknowledge the female sports fan or to know what she wants (because, the author assumes, the female fan must innately want something different). I have problems with the all women are inherently different argument, but I agree that most sport media ignore women because they can't figure out how to talk to them.

She makes a good point when she critiques magazine marketing. One can walk into any bookstore and find any number of publications about sports--some very specific. But in the "women's" section there are mags about marriage and fashion and homemaking.

Unfortunately the author inadvertently raises a point that actually throws a wrench in her own argument. At the start she rhetorically asks what happened to Sports Illustrated for Women. It's another argument that media don't know how to talk to women about sports. But SIW was about women's sports. And that was the problem. All these 50 million female fans are following men's sports. They fall into the same ideological trappings; that men play the sport the way it should be played and that women play a lesser, and thus unworthy, version.

It's not surprising that sport franchises and media don't market to women adequately. Those in control are men who have always thought that women--as athletes or as fans--themselves are inherently different and not worth their attention or energies.