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.


Diane said...

Who (besides me) is outraged when men fight? From what I see, people expect men to fight, and get upset when "too big a deal" is made of it. I think people are more outraged when men do not fight. Violence is as much a part of sports entertainment as anything else, and abuse is also part of some training programs.

I am opposed to all fighting, but, of course, when women fight, they are either "acting like men" or they are engaged in a "cat fight."

ken said...

I agree that the degree to which we have accepted violence in men's sports is outrageous. I just don't watch professional hockey anymore because it is so gratuitous. And it makes me so angry when a community becomes outraged when there are incidents of violence in youth sports, especially ice hockey, often perpetrated by adults. Doesn't anyone see the connection? How can people tell their children it is not acceptable for adults to behave that way and then take them to a hockey game to cheer when one guy punches out another or takes a stick to his head?
And women are just in a no-win situation with this discourse. The articles and commentary I read all came back to that. Christine Brennan tried to make some lemonade out of it but I just wasn't drinking it.

Carol Anne said...

Val Whiting's column gives us a former player's perspective on the brawl/fracas/melee: "Female athletes are allowed to get aggressive, too."

As for Lieberman's one-night stand with the Shock, I'll bet she has (yet another) memoir in the works.