Saturday, August 09, 2008

Olympics Day 2: A Debbie Downer editorial to ponder

So usually I am the scrooge of exciting sport moments, but Selena Roberts at has a pretty depressing column on the state of female sport stars.
She notes something I have failed to notice, but mostly because I thought I just wasn't paying attention: female superstars have no longevity anymore. Do you remember who the stars of the last Olympics were? Have they endured in our collective memory? Misty May and Kerri Walsh are likely the most memorable (besides the now retired stars of the women's soccer team who had earned their status before Athens). But they also have the advantage of playing a sport that gets some recognition in non-Olympic years.
Roberts attributes this to doping, a sort of Marion Jones effect. We thought she was so pure and great and now she's in jail. Doping, Roberts says, has tainted our views and made us suspicious of these women. But I'm not buying that entirely. Doping has been far more pervasive--if not in practice at least in terms of media attention--among male athletes. People still watch cycling (OK maybe not many Americans but others). Americans are still all about baseball.
If Roberts's hypothesis is even a little bit correct then it means we have another example of the proverbial double standard and double bind that exists for women in sport. Men, as a whole (individuals are punished of course) are excused for doping. Some women dope and all female athletes suffer? Women dope so they can, in part, perform better to get more recognition--the recognition that is harder for them to receive because they are women playing sport--and then they get caught and allegedly taint the whole of women's sports. It's a little bit nutty and quite frustrating.


Diane said...

I don't buy Roberts' explanation as the entire reason, but I have little doubt that there is a double standard (though perhaps an unconscious one) concerning gender and doping. After all, men who dope are trying to get "stronger" but women who dope are trying to get "masculine." There you are.

Also, women who "go wrong" are always looked at as more culpable than men who do. No one talks much about Justin Gatlin, but Marion Jones is the poster woman for female athletes turned bad. It doesn't help that Jones lied repeatedly to so many people and with such bravado. But I think it is still hard for our culture to accept that women can screw up just as much as men, if given the same opportunties.

My own peeve concerns the lack of interest in Natalie Coughlin, who won five medals (one a world record-breaker) in the 2004 Olympics. Granted, her Olympic accomplishments do not approach those of Michael Phelps, but they're also nothing to sneeze at.

Helen said...

A random thought - Greece and China are "off hours" for the US viewers... wondering how that impacts stardom.... Smaller window of prime time means choices....