Thursday, July 31, 2008

Hi-tech (ok not really) cheating

I was astounded the other day when I read over at Women Who Serve, that a junior player was using an earpiece to receive coaching from her father.
The earpiece thing falls into more hi-tech cheating in my mind--though I guess if you've ever watched any James Bond movie or Alias you're probably thinking not so much. A little more low-tech: cell phones.
But apparently they can and have been used for cheating. Or so was reported to me when I got the rules for tennis districts, which start tomorrow.
Be there 30 minutes early, use a super tiebreaker for the third cell phones on court because text messaging has been used for coaching. Seriously?
Previously you had to make sure your cell phone was silent. Any ringing cell phone resulted in point penalties. This year--any sighting of a cell phone on court results in loss of points.
Guess I am just going to have rely on some old-fashioned, tried and true methods of cheating: look up to my fan box and wait until someone waves a banana at me.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008 ick

I can't even come up with some snarky to start this post because I am just so astonished by the news that the Beijing Olympics are going to engage in gender verification.
Oh yes, it's true.
When Ebuz alerted me to the NYT article linked above, I so naively and with the slightest bit of hope said "are they testing the men too?"
Yeah, right.
In fact, they aren't even testing all female athletes or even just a random sampling. They are testing "suspect" athletes. Has there been a situation of late to which we could so aptly apply the term witch hunt?
So many questions...Who decided this? When? Why is it being allowed to happen? Is there any possible way to stop it? And I am so so curious as to the criteria being employed to determine suspect athletes? Do they win too much and too well thus relying on the stereotype that women can't be too good in sports? Are their muscles too big reinforcing some biological essentialism that does not account for a spectrum of abilities? Did someone forget to wax her lip and thus capitulate to the patriarchal standards of femininity?
The article lays out the problematic history of verification tests so I won't. But I did think that such history would convince the powers-that-be that such testing is not only inaccurate and essentialist, it's just plain icky. Can you imagine what would happen if the Beijing organizers (those are the people, I found out after more carefully reading the article, who have instituted the testing) said suspect men were going to be tested to make sure they were really men; that they would have to submit to chromosomal, hormonal and visual testing. Yeah, me neither.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Curious what I never considered

In the car this morning I heard a preview on NPR for this evening's All Things Considered which would air a profile on the US women's water polo team. How interesting, I thought. I don't know anything about the team. I should remember to go to the website and listen to it.
Of course by this evening I had forgotten all about it. Luckily I happened to be in the car when the segment was running. And luckily there is this really long light in my town where I sat through two cycles which enabled me to hear the whole thing.
And I was really surprised by a few things. No, not that some players have such strong legs and good egg beater kicks (it's described in the segment for the uninitiated) that they can propel themselves out of the water to about their hips. Though that did impress me greatly.
I was surprised that women's water polo has only been in the Olympics since 2000. That fact I learned today. But what the whole segment got me thinking about was that this team--the US national team--is pretty successful winning a silver and bronze in the past two games and is currently favored for the gold in Beijing and that we've never heard of them. US women's national teams get a lot of attention--relatively speaking--in Olympic years. Why hasn't the water polo team been grouped in with softball and soccer and basketball?
And the other thing that surprised me was that these women have not used sex to sell their sport. With other Olympic female athletes capitalizing on their bodies, these women--whose bodies are in incredible shape (see above note about verticality out of the water)--have refrained. At least that is what I think they are doing. You have to believe that if the women of curling have come up with the idea to pose naked to promote their sport, it is not a foreign concept to any female athlete these days.
Team members are hoping these Olympics will shine some light on their sport. I hope they're right because it's a fascinating sport. Not sure how it will play on television but in person it's very exciting.
And I hope that the attention they get will be for their accomplishments and that they will not fall prey to the lure of instant attention that comes when female athletes take some or all of their clothes off.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The brawl, the fallout, the return of Nancy Lieberman

I have been putting it off; my thoughts on the fight between the Shock and the Sparks last week. (In my defense I was getting ready to and then riding 100 miles on the coast of Maine.)

I missed the fight live. I actually saw the first little scuffle that Lisa Leslie stopped by grabbing hold of Candace Parker at the other end of the court, thought "bet that will get some media play of the girls-can-fight variety" and then switched the channel. Oops. Guess I should have stuck around a few more minutes. Not that I haven't been able to see multiple angles of the event at You Tube.

So first, the brawl itself. Whose fault? Does it really matter? Some kind of version of "equal" suspensions and were levied by the WNBA. Detroit's assistant coach Rick Mahorn received a two-game suspension. Most are saying that he certainly didn't mean to push Lisa Leslie hard enough to knock her to the ground or that maybe Leslie was already off balance so that Mahorn's light shove produced a disparate effect. (These people seem to come just short of saying that Leslie took a dive.) But the picture of the shove posted at this online news source suggests, to me, that Mahorn's intent was a little more than just trying to protect his players and break up the fight. (Though I realize images are always open to multiple readings and that I am, of course, influenced by his own past involvement in violence in the NBA.) Mechelle Voepel gives her thoughts here on the sanctions and the ramifications of what she is calling the "fracas."

Second, the fallout. Much of the discourse is around viewing the fracas/brawl/fight/altercation, or what I am calling the frawlightation, as symbolic of--depending on your point of view--equity, progress, or the apocalypse. Christine Brennan opts for the equity angle saying that these days "toughness knows no gender." But this guy thinks the frawlightation is a sign of the inequity because we laugh when women fight and we are outraged when men do it. The Wall Street Journal referred to it as a "gender-neutral nostalgia fest" (referencing Laimbeer's and Cooper's past episodes in the NBA. This guy thinks the women are just trying to be like men. First of all, that's far too simplistic of a statement in part because most men out there are trying to act like men too. And second, it should not be truly surprising that female athletes are taking some of their cues from male athletes. Male athletes get paid more, they get more attention, they don't get accused of being lesbians, they don't have temper their aggression as much or as often, etc, etc. It's not an excuse for bad behavior--but it makes sense.

A cultural anthropologist quoted in this article said it had nothing to do with gender at all but was about the passion that is inspired during competition. I agree with the passion/competition connection but that it has nothing to do with gender? If it didn't have anything to do with gender, we wouldn't be talking about it as much as we are. It has everything to do with gender because our level of passion and competition and aggression are all constructed through, in part, a gendered lens.

And lastly, Nancy Lieberman's return. It is no secret that I am not a fan of Nancy Lieberman. Do I think it was a publicity stunt? Oh yeah. 'Cause what about all those women from training camp that didn't make it to the WNBA this year? Laimbeer didn't think they might have had a better shot at actually making a shot during the game? Sure it's great that her presence shows that aging does not mean succumbing to a sedentary life or even that highly competitive venues are out of the question. But how competitive was she really? I didn't think that it was crazy that she was offered a spot. This is the woman, after all, who trained Martina Navratilova in the 80s and brought an intense workout and work ethic to her own and to others' training. [I thought it was very interesting that Lieberman's connection to Navratilova was not mentioned in any of the articles I read--even this one that mentioned Navratilova's own comeback in her 50s.] But Lieberman is no Dara Torres. She isn't even a Martina Navratilova.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Weekend plans

Here's where I and a lot of my friends are this weekend. Positive thoughts for good weather and that my back holds out for the whole ride are welcome!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Oh, Iowa

According the Title IX Blog, the University of Iowa athletic department is in trouble--again.

Several years ago there was Pierre Pierce incident in which the star basketball player was accused of sexual assault against a female student-athlete. His coach, Steve Alford, came to his defense long before any evidence was in. Turns out the evidence did not quite exonerate Pierce who, regardless, got off lightly--to put it mildly. Not too long afterwards he was involved in another criminal offense and this time he was out.

Now a couple of members of the football team have been accused of assault and harassment of a female student-athlete who was told not to come forward with her allegations because it would handled from within. Except that it wasn't, of course. The harassment continued despite assurances from football coach Kirk Ferentz and AD Gary Barta that things would be taken care of.

I mentioned this case to someone not as familiar with athletic department culture who was incredulous that the female victim would believe these men. Maybe she did; maybe she didn't. (She certainly doesn't in hindsight.) But how much of a choice did she have? She is a member of the athletic department herself. The life of a DI athlete these days can be fairly insular unless one makes a conscious attempt (and sometimes that doesn't even work) to branch out beyond the athletic department. In other words, there's some loyalty there and there's fear. It's not as if society has been all too kind to women who report sexual assault generally and even less kind words are reserved for women who tell on athletes.

Though everything seems to be out in the open now with trial dates set, the board of regents is ticked that they were not informed of evidence--letters from the victim's mother advocating on behalf of her daughter who was not receiving any kind of support. And new president Sally Mason is in the hot seat.

Good. Earlier this year Mason refused to (re)address the issue of the pink visiting team locker room entrenched in the football stadium. Granted, it was a situation she inherited but still...

Are we really surprised that a department which actively demeans women and all things feminine--and the institution which supports this--is in some serious trouble over issues of sexual assault? When a culture of misogyny is so blatantly perpetuated there are consequences. Usually they are reserved for women, but now the perpetrators must answer for their (in)actions.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Abby Wambach update

I feel a little bit like a hypocrite. Well not exactly a hypocrite. But I feel a little weird about how, now that she's broken her leg, I so easily put aside my issues with Abby Wambach after she said, basically, that athletes shouldn't be political (in regards to the controversies surrounding the Beijing games next month). And truth be told my infatuation with Wambach has been waning. And I'm a little sad about it. It's a little like a break-up; just realizing you're not quite right for each other. It started a while ago when I heard from someone who used to play against her that she would engage in some not exactly fair defensive maneuvers when the refs weren't looking. And the comments about apolitical athletes was clearly a sign that the end was near.

But how can you abandon someone when she's down?

Anyway, this was supposed to be an update about Wambach, not about my changing feelings toward her.

She had surgery last week. There's a metal rod in her leg. (That's going to make air travel--which she undertakes often--a pain. Do you carry a doctor's note for that?) She's in physical therapy and she hopes to be playing again by the time the new women's professional league launches in the spring of 2009. That would be a good thing; because the new league needs her. Of course her absence next month in China could be a great opportunity for some young players to step in and make a splash which would also be great for the league. I am predicting Natasha Kai comes out of Beijing as one of the exciting new faces of international soccer.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

No British dads on the sidelines

...of their daughters' games. At least if you follow the thinking of this guy who wrote an article in the Telegraph entitled "Men are made to work not rear children." Said writer got out of going to his daughter's sports day to work in the office and make more money.

Because that's what men do. And the forthcoming legislation about parental leave has him all in a tizzy about the changing gender order.

There's not a whole lot to say about his ridiculous stance. My first obvious point of course is that neither men nor women are meant or made to do anything. And second, I wonder how the writer would feel about the necessity of attending the sporting event of his son given that he must believe sports are something boys and men are allegedly meant to do.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bye bye, lady!

So the elimination of "lady" from the nickname of the University of Arkansas is being presented as a smart and logical marketing choice. Who cares what the reason is (okay, I care and I will talk about that in a second)? It's gone.

The Lady Razorbacks (ridiculous sounding of course, though I have heard worse) are no more. The University of Arkansas is merging its men's and women's athletic departments (not surprisingly the woman who was athletic director of the women's athletic department has been demoted and is now answering to the former men's athletic director--a subject for another post. Of course this woman also thought the lady prefix "made sense" when the departments were separate). And to create a stronger brand they decided to just all be one happy athletic department full of Razorbacks. And no one seems to mind. Yeah!

Though no one is really presenting this as the right thing to do for equity. The praise they will get from feminists and women's sports advocates is bonus for them because equity was not their primary concern. In fact many didn't even find it offensive though they were not trying especially hard to hang on to it for dear life the way other people (ahem, that's you Pat Summitt) seem to. Said a woman who is a former Arkansas b-ball player and still involved in the program: I never felt like it was demeaning to have 'Lady' in front of 'Razorbacks,' but I don't think I'll miss it, either. I haven't really even thought about it."
In short, I am glad it is gone. Perhaps other schools will follow suit. (According to the article linked above Arkansas is particularly egregious in its inferiorizing treatment of female athletes.) But I think that the idea for doing so was to improve branding and thus increase revenues, capitulating even further to the DI athletics corporate mentality is kind of lousy.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Who's a good feminist?

It's me! Generally I dislike the phrase "good feminist" because it doesn't say much without an explanation of what one means when using the term feminist and it also is pretty judgy.
But I'm not going there today.
I simply want to point out that sometimes just sharing some facts can make a difference.
Because when one of my tennis teammates emailed the group about the gift we were getting for our team captain, I felt the need to point out a problem. The plan was to purchase two gift certificates: one to the local spa, the other to Tennis Warehouse (so she could get some more animal print outfits--I won't even go there). So I responded that maybe we should consider the fact that TW still retains Justin Gimelstob as an endorser despite his recent misogynistic rants and that the company's recent apology didn't really cut it.
And I was listened to. It could be that going with a local store is more practical (though the local place has lousy selection). But I don't care. I raised some issues, wasn't called a radical, downer of a feminist, and may have actually got what I wanted.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Golf weirdness

So much for Michelle Wie's big comeback. The teen was disqualified from the State Farm Classic where she had been in second place. It looked like today's final round was going to be a good with Yani Tseng, the amazing rookie who won the LPGA Championship earlier this summer, and is the leader, paired with Wie.
Seems like Wie just cannot avoid controversy and this time it was all about a missing signature. She forgot to sign her scorecard on Friday after she completed her round. She left the tent where such an action was supposed to occur, was chased down by volunteers, she signed it outside the tent. But it was too late according to tournament officials who found out after she had already started playing Saturday.
I don't really have an opinion on this whole thing. It seems that Wie is a little distracted though to not to something as basic as sign her scorecard. We could psychoanalyze the behavior but I don't have a whole lot of faith in psychoanalysis as a field anyway. But I can definitely see those outside of golf laughing at what might appear to be a ridiculous rule: you have to sign the scorecard within a certain roped off area. But it is a rule and others don't seem to have problems following it and the overall importance of a proper scorecard is valid.
Given that Wie's game seems to be greatly affected by everything going on around her (no judgment there, just an observation), you have to think she's not bouncing back quickly from this latest blunder.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Utterly devastated

Me...and the US National Women's Soccer team.
Because Abby Wambach has broken her leg. And not just broken her leg. But broken it in two places and in need of a titanium rod.
Of course this means no Beijing for her.
The breakage happened in the first half of a match against Brazil when Wambach collided with a Brazilian player.
Here's a YouTube video in which you can see the incident (over and over again) for yourself. (Someday I will learn how to import these things.) I haven't listened to the audio on the 7+ minute clip yet but you can see how it happened.

h/t to Ebuz for breaking the bad news to me.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Discrimination comes to NASCAR

Well, it's probably always been there but now the organization is being called on it. Mauricia Grant, a former inspection official and an African-American woman, filed a multimillion dollar lawsuit against NASCAR citing racial and gender discrimination and sexual harassment.
Dave Zirin's column, linked above, is the first I had heard about this case though I don't usually pay much attention to NASCAR. I do pay a lot of attention to cases of discrimination in sports though. Of course NASCAR has launched a campaign against Grant saying that she never reported any of the incidents she cites in the lawsuit (and they include some lovely name-calling and incidents in which men exposed themselves to her; why do men find this an effective form of intimidation?).
And this is the problem with dealing with discrimination through the legal system (ok, one of many problems but this is the one I'm focusing in). When the burden for proof is on the oppressed person; someone who is likely to have been trying to make the best of a situation because she, say, actually likes her job and doesn't want to be run out of it by some wacko misogynist racists--it makes for a big he said/she said battle.
I don't know what kind of evidence Grant will be able to present. But my guess is that this case will not ever see a courthouse and that the details of a settlement--including the evidence Grant and her lawyers have accumulated beyond the initial complaint--may never make it to the public's ears if NASCAR, which needs its public, has anything to do about it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Not a Title IX victory

So there's an interesting column out of San Diego whose local Little League teams are in their playoff season trying to qualify for the LL World Series in Williamsport later this summer.
It comments on a situation in which a team manager appealed to the game umps after it appeared that the opposing team's base runner missed home plate thus giving the appealing team the win.
The manager who appealed is a woman. Mostly the story is about how apparently cutthroat Little League has become though the writer kind of shrugs that off and says "c'est la vie"--metaphorically--not literally.
He then turns it into a triumph of Title IX story that a woman is a Little League manager and that she was so bold and so confident in her competitive ways (honed in her days as an intercollegiate athlete in softball and tennis). So she's not some softy woman apparently. Loretta Barlow is tough and not interested in the feelings of the other team, the writer says and then, in what I see as a non sequitur, basically attributes this to Title IX.
First, I don't really see what she did--appeal a ruling--as anything indicative of super competitiveness. My softball team tries to appeal to the umpire all the time--to no avail every time--and we're in a very casual, feminist-inspired league. You can be competitive and still have consideration for the other team, for the game, for the sport. Women didn't learn that when Title IX was passed. What's sad is that most people have forgotten the basics of good sportswoman/manship.
And second I think one of the tragedies that has come in the wake of Title IX is the lack of awareness in female athletes themselves. That Barlow can say (and this is what inspired this whole post) "The only difference between me and the men who are managers is that I put color on my lips." Let me tell you, if you think the only difference between you and the mens is lipstick, Title IX and feminism as a whole really just went over your head. You have received the benefits without doing any of the work. Not even some basic observing of the world you live in.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Nice feature

...on the new Sports Museum of America in The Boston Globe. There has been a lot of media on the new museum in NYC but this one describes some of the exhibits and installations.

I was lukewarm about the place--even with the new Billie Jean King International Women's Sports Center--but now I think I will make a point to check it out next time I'm in the city. After all, how many times can one go to the Museum of Sex. [OK a lot but variety is nice.]

Plus I am interested in seeing if the museum itself covers women's sports or if they've stuck it all in the BJK wing as if it's some kind of auxiliary to "real" sports.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Careful what you ask for

Some Louisiana institutions of higher education are sticking to "tradition" and retaining the lady part of the sports teams' nicknames--the women's teams, of course.
I feel like I have addressed this issue enough and I don't think I have anything really new and/or profound to add to the discussion. Helen over at Women's Hoops Blog talks about it smartly and succinctly when she employs her gender reverse test and replaces ladies with gentlemen and women with men.
I wonder if such play with language would convince some of those women who want to be treated like ladies that this so-called tradition isn't really in their best interest. They cite history and tradition, but do they know what it really means--historically, traditionally--to be treated like a lady? Sure lady has a class (and race) connotation that would seem to suggest that women who qualified as ladies (versus working class women and many women of color) had a better life; were somehow less oppressed. Yeah, right. Get a clue. Then get a history book (but not one of those ones they use in most schools that are frequently written by men or from a male perspective of what counts as history).
Then tell me that being treated as inferior--mentally, physically, emotionally--is such a great place to occupy in society.
But some schools are actually reconsidering the role of history in their athletic programs. University of Louisiana at Monroe dropped the lady--and their Indian nickname--in 2006. Progress?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

New Olympic sport

Did anyone else know that BMX biking (the cross country race course kind; not the tricks and aerials version) had been added to the summer Olympics? Yeah, me neither.
And, of course, there will be women participating because new sports have to have a men's and women's event(s) where applicable.
And, despite the fact that the United States is a BMX powerhouse, there are other countries that have athletes who will strong gold medal contenders in Beijing. On the women's side there's New Zealand, France, and Great Britain. Great Britain??
Huh, interesting. Especially in light of this article about the need for greater promotion of women's sports in the UK. The BMXers are hoping their Olympic presence will increase the sport's popularity. Who knows, maybe post-Beijing we'll see a cadre of British girls hopping on their BMXes and hitting the dirt.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

More sexist yuckiness from male tennis players

Lest you think Justin Gimelstob is an anomaly in his thoughts on women and female tennis players, think again. Diane at Women Who Serve posts on recent comments by Serbian Janko Tipsarevic (whose most recent claim to fame was his Wimbledon 2008 upset over Andy Roddick) which reveal his utter misogyny.
And I am here to add these little discussed comments by ATP tour professional Dmitry Tursunov who feels that smashing a racket is like having rough sex. I was going to copy and paste the remainder of the comments but they're pretty violent and misogynist so you can read them for yourself here. In sum, Tursunov sees breaking a racket as similar to breaking a woman. And he only feels a little bit sorry about it when it's over. Lovely.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Not that kind of coed

Think sport; think coed. What do you think of? Maybe it's just me, but I think of mixed gender athletic activities.
Because surely people don't mean to use coed as a noun referring to the antiquated (well not that old but still...) use of the term that describes female college students.
But, yes, that still happens. The Title IX blog recently noted that in a suit being brought by a young woman's parents against her school the female student was referred to as a coed. First of all, you can check out their link to a post about the egregiousness of the term and its origins in the belief that women as students were add-ons.
Second, the young woman who is experiencing discrimination in the school's apportioning of athletic resources, isn't even a college student. This, to me, illustrates the interesting mental intersections of women's sports and general sexism. Women's sports, like female students--once upon a time--are add-ons in many people's minds.
Even Birch Bayh, who introduced Title IX in the Senate in the early 70s referred to female students as coeds in a speech he gave against the weakening of the legislation. I am sure he wouldn't do that today, but it serves as an example of just how ingrained sexism is and how it manifests itself in our speech.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Oh please, (insert deity of choice here), no

The women should play best of five sets proclaims a British writer for the Guardian.

Why should they play best of five? Because the men do is the answer that it all whittles down to apparently.

And let me just say it's not the logic behind most of these arguments that I have a problem with. Yes, I know that the best of three was instituted to save women from the rigors of sport; preserve their repro systems and all that; to literally keep them weaker. And, yeah, that pisses me off. Because sure the women have the ability to play longer. And yes it has been an argument--however, unsuccessful recently--for giving women less money and less attention.

If women are allowed to play best of five, the writer says, they will create more memorable matches because, to date, all the memorable matches have been contested by men over the course of five sets and many, many hours.

And here lies the problem--problems rather. Because I am sitting here writing and watching as Rainier Schuettler and Arnaud Clement's match [I banked this so I would have something to post over the holiday weekend] goes into a fifth set and I JUST DON'T CARE. I didn't care about Andy Murray's 5-setter the other day. Well, ken, you might say to me, maybe you just don't like the players. True I dislike Murray and have no opinion on Schuettler. But I kind of like the veteran Clement. I like that he wears sunglasses and bandannas and seems to be a little bit of a bad boy without advertising it (I'm talking to you, Marat Safin!). And I would have cared a little more, but I just wanted it to end so I could watch the women.

What point am I making exactly? This: the matches are too freakin' long. And don't give me that television is ruining sports by having too much control over the schedule argument. Though that has happened and continues to happen, and I don't doubt that networks would have a cow if the tournaments said, "by the way, NBC, when you air the women's final this year, you better allot another 2 hours or so because we're going to 3 out of 5." It's not the real answer. The real answer is wrapped up in interest.

Please don't make me watch 3 out of 5 sets. It's tedious. It's tedious watching men play that long. It's tedious on television and it's tedious in person. The only thing 3 out of 5 is good for is getting out of the hot sun beating down on you in Arthur Ashe stadium and heading (in this order) to the bathroom, to the long line at the water fountain, and then the longer line at the food court to buy a $10 burger. All that lasts about a set and bam you're back in your seats in time to see the ending which is--admit it--what everyone cares about most.

We need a paradigm shift on this issue. First, there are have been plenty of memorable women's matches. Just because they don't last 4 hours and 21 minutes does not make them less interesting. The idea that the longer players battle it out, the more interesting it is, is just not true. Five setters are not inherently interesting. Just as three-setters are NOT inherently boring and unmemorable.

This leads to point number 2: make the men play 2 out of 3. They do it most of the year anyway. And make the deciding set a no tiebreaker--all the time--not just at the slams; for everyone.*

With the preponderance of injuries to both men and women--and for a myriad of other reasons--this could be beneficial to players and the sport as a whole.

*And while we're at, can we please change all doubles back to the way it was before the various tours started its doubles downsizing movement?

Thursday, July 03, 2008

More props for USA Today

Forgot to mention another article USA Today that ran during the month of June. I don't know what inspired the newspaper to write so many stories (ok not that many but in comparison to other national media outlets it seems like a lot) but we'll take it--especially when they're covering sports that don't get a lot of coverage, like wheelchair basketball.

Of course the coverage is inspired by the upcoming Paralympic Games in Beijing in September because sports that feature (dis)abled athletes rarely get coverage in non-Paralympic years. And it features a winning team, the US women's national team that will be defending its gold medal. So the tone of the story is upbeat but it does not cross the line to gushing. It isn't condescending.

The article focuses on the captain Patty Cisneros who is also a coach of the women's wheelchair bball team at University of Illinois. I wish the article had mentioned how few intercollegiate wheelchair teams there are. The way it presents the information could give the idea that every school has one--not even close.

Hopefully USA Today, and other media outlets will cover the team--and the other Paralympic athletes, once they get to China.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

USA Today covers the non-traditional

I was pleased with some recent media coverage. (I know, I know; it happens so infrequently.) USA Today ran some pieces on some non-traditional women's sports a few weeks ago.

The first was a feature on one of the leading female motocross riders, 17-year old Ashley Fiolek. Fiolek is heading to the X Games next month where she will participate as one of ten riders in the first women's motocross, which consists of 10 laps around a x-country course set up in the Staples Center in LA. I wasn't too excited about how both the article and Fiolek herself (girls are more hesitant to make an aggressive pass on the track, she said) set up how this is such a masculine sport. But I did like that they mentioned Fiolek's (dis)ability--she's deaf--and how she has had to train to take that into account. They did not posit her as a hero or as someone working against insurmountable odds. One might even be able to argue that her gender was more of an obstacle than her hearing loss.

A few days after the Fiolek article, the paper covered the upcoming US Olympic trials for women's wrestling--only the second ever trials for the women. The article focuses on two women, one of whom won silver in Athens (or rather lost the gold) and another who failed to qualify after being bumped up a weight class. Despite their experience as women in their late 20s who have been on the international wrestling scene for almost a decade, their spots on the team were not at all assured, both having lost early at the national championships this past spring. Though the writers do not come out and explicitly say this, I take it as a sign of depth in the emerging (though not by NCAA standards) sport.

Of course the benefit of being a procrastiblogger is that the trials have already taken place. Neither of the veteran women USA Today featured made the team. It was odd how all the articles I found mentioned that Kristie Marano, the most decorated female American wrestler despite never qualifying for an Olympics, is a single mother. There seems to be some implications about class, gender, and sport going on here.

And finally, there was an article about a week later about roller derby. It was in the Lifestyle section versus Sports where women's sports and physical activity tends to mysteriously (well not really) get relegated. Why roller derby is constructed as a lifestyle issue where figure skating or tennis or rugby qualify as sports is an annoyance. I found it curious that the writers kept referring to it as all-female roller derby. I though roller derby--though men do participate, has always been associated with women--though, I realize, not always in the most helpful way.

Some claim it is the fastest-growing sport in the nation and the article anecdotally corroborates this by pointing out that Drew Barrymore is directing a film about roller derby (this simultaneously intrigues and worries me) which will star Ellen Page (of Juno). So, of course, I will go see it. (It's only in pre-production; don't start heading to the theatres just yet.)

And it may mean I have to give roller derby another shot. I just hope I can find an event where the punk music isn't so loud that it drowns out the announcer's play-by-play. I know I sound like such a fuddy-duddy but you have to remember I was raised in the very quiet, etiquette-driven world of tennis. I have only recently accepted the playing of music at the US Open.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Time to write about Gimelstob

I thought I could just subtly overlook this story and let bloggers like Diane take care of it, but the story about Justin Gimelstob's sexist, misogynistic comments seems to making more news a week after it broke somewhat quietly across the pond.
I didn't have anything profound to say when I read about Gimelstob's trashing of female tennis players generally, his sexualization of a few specific ones, and his violent comments toward Anna Kournikova (all his comments, in my mind, inflict a certain amount of violence, but his one about hitting Kournikova was most explicit). And I don't suppose I have anything especially profound to say about it now either.
Am I surprised a male athlete who only had a so-so professional career by modern standards and has been given a mouthpiece by the media so easily dispenses with misogynist rants? Nope.
Am I surprised that the apology he issued (or Tennis Warehouse issues--hard to tell) wasn't really an apology? Nope.
Am I surprised that World Team Tennis CEO Ilana Koss only suspended Gimelstob for one match without pay, simply saying that his remarks were unacceptable? A little bit. It doesn't even qualify as a slap on the wrist.
Am I disappointed that Billie Jean King said basically the same thing as Kloss and took Gimelstob's unspecified donation for the Women's Sports Foundation? Yep. As a member, I can say that's not really the kind of donation I want the organization to be taking. Grovelling but completely meaningless money.
Do I think the ATP, the organization on which Gimelstob serve as a member of the board of directors, should have done something to address this? Yep--I think they should have kicked his sexist booty out. Was I surprised that they did not? Um, no. I am sure many of them have had some not so nice thought of their own about female players.
Am I now insanely conflicted about shopping at Tennis Warehouse? Perhaps. Well maybe not. There are plenty of other online tennis products websites and I actually don't buy from them on a regular basis. Not that that such reasons should form the basis of my decision. If TW is smart they'll stop airing that commercial with Gimelstob pronto.
And finally am I surprised that many female tennis players who have been asked about the comments seem to be able to shrug them off and say something to the effect of "that's just Justin being Justin" or that everyone should forgive him his trespasses and simply move on? Not, unfortunately, in the least bit.