Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Playing hoops with the prez

As is tradition, the national champions went to the White House to get their pic taken with the president, give him a #1 Huskies jersey (but not a lady Husky jersey--after all, it's not Tennessee!), and get some well-deserved pats on the back.
This time around though, they got to actually play ball. President Obama is, of course, a huge hoops fan. And he took the women out to his own private (no press) half court to play some P-I-G. And the president used the event as an opportunity to praise the visibility of women's sports.
No mention of his own erasure of women's hoops when he failed to fill out a bracket for the women's tourney earlier this year.
And I was a little but surprised to hear him say that his daughters get to see, while he sits down for a little Sports Center, "women staring back." Not sure where they see this. I rarely see women on Sports Center. I can't even get highlights of WPS games, so I don't hold out hope that they will make the Top 10.
The president's endorsement of ESPN's "coverage" of women's sports is just going to go to the station's head. I can see next year's Women's History Month press release already: ESPN endorsed by President Obama and his daughters.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Dictionary.com's Word of the Day...

...is ken:
ken \KEN\, noun:
1. Perception; understanding; knowledge.2. The range of vision.3. View; sight.

No more working out for Saudi women

I see articles or scholarly presentations about the "progress" of women in the Middle East, especially in countries or regions in which there is little separation between Islam as a religion and Islam as a government.
Invocations of progress always raise those little red flags for me, but I, too, was pleased to see more Muslim women or women living under Islamic rule, working out, participating in sports, and generally finding their own place and activities in sport and physical activity. From adaptations to fitness clothing to facilities, it seemed that more and more women had the opportunity to become physically activity and even compete at the highest levels of their chosen sport.
In Saudi Arabia, a country with very strict regulations on women's movements, habits, and dress; a country that has never sent a woman to the Olympics; many women-only gyms were sprouting up and becoming quite popular. But many are now being closed. Gyms in Saudi Arabia need licenses and though the government can license men's gyms, the only women's gyms that can receive licenses must be affiliated with medical groups. But these clubs are more expensive. And there seems to be no good reason why various government departments will not license commercial gyms even for owners who already run licensed male-only gyms.
The emergence of women's gyms has created some consternation among clerics who have "warned that women would be tempted to leave their homes and neglect their husbands and children."
And for all those Westerners who think Saudi women or Muslim women generally are passive and letting their religion just walk all over them, there has been an online protest of the closures entitled Let Her Get Fat. [Not sure about the issues that seem to emerge here around cultural standards of beauty...]
Interesting is this article from the Guardian that suggests that in exchange for even greater limitations on their physical activity, women in Saudi Arabia may get to vote very soon. Hmm...there's a great paper in this about nationalism and physical fitness. Of course it remains to be seen whether this rumor of suffrage materializes or how the protest against the closure of many facilities will proceed.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The sports bra seen round the world...

...needs a new home. With the closure of the Sports Museum of America, all the items donated by athletes are without a permanent place of display. But the down and out museum will not give them back to the donors, which has a few people pissed off. Brandi Chastain, former owner of previously mentioned sports bra, doesn't seem to be too hurt over the loss of the famous bra. If she wanted it back, she would have to pay $250. The Soccer Hall of Fame is interested in the item. [I bet if the museum put it on Ebay they could get a lot more for it!]

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Oh, ok Donna Lopiano

So it turns out I was not the only one who was a little concerned about Donna Lopiano's new position as head of the Women's Baseball Committee for the International Baseball Federation. She told me last night (well me and the rest of the audience at her talk) that Sue Enquist (former UCLA softball coach) and sports writer Christine Brennan had called her up, a little incredulous themselves. Their worries were slightly different: that Lopiano was going to be hurting softball's chances of getting back into the Olympics.
But she's pretty confident that that's not likely to happen. There's no way women's baseball can grow quickly enough to be viable for the 2016 Olympics.
Her acceptance of the position made sense, especially after I was reminded of her story of her Little League baseball experience: she was "drafted" first in tryouts as a pitcher and was told she could not play because Little League rules banned girls.
So her goal is to bring baseball to more girls. And it seems she has an awareness of the potential pawn-ness of her position.
She also believes that softball will make it back in. That its dismissal was a mistake born out of confusion.
Let's just hope that the growth of women's baseball which she is now promoting, doesn't create some more confusion among all those (mostly) old, white men on the IOC about the differences of softball and baseball

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Who's allowed in?

To the Olympics, that is. I am not talking about the bids by various sports (karate, softball, baseball, rugby, golf, among others) to earn a spot on the Olympic roster, but two situations all about gender exclusion.
The first is the ongoing battle by female ski jumpers to get into the 2010 Winter Games. Their day in court came yesterday (and will continue all week) as they argue that the Vancouver Olympic Committee (VANOC) must allow them to compete because the organization is bound by the Canadian Charter and not the IOC. The jumpers' lawyer presented the legal arguments yesterday and will do so today as well. VANOC will respond later in the week. There is no testimony, just arguments.
It's going to be an interesting decision; perhaps even precedent-setting. What happens when federal law applies to one group that is subject to the rules of another organization/group that is not bound by the same laws? Happens sometimes in the United States with Title IX. Schools are bound by the law but entities that work with schools frequently are not.

Second issue of wanting to compete but being barred by gender comes from a synchronized swimmer from Germany who wants to compete with his team in the Olympics but cannot because he is a man. Niklas Stoepel has been fighting various governing bodies in an attempt to be able to compete in his sport. His story was picked up by ESPN. You know what that means, right?
Lots of "jokes" as the writer makes his end point, which is that Stoepel should be allowed to compete. Same conclusion that I have reached--but without making quips about shaving and sequins. So let him compete but don't make him wear sequins, is what the message is. It is a team sport. Maybe he should wear what everyone else is wearing. Maybe sequins are needed in the sport so the judges can see all the movements in the water. I don't know. Or maybe Stoepel and his teammates will come up with something really innovative and change the culture of the sport. Regardless, let the man swim, and stop worrying about his exfoliation and sartorial habits.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Well this makes me a little nervous

The International Baseball Federation is just relentless! Realizing it could not get back into the Olympics on its own merits (or rather because of its many demerits), it cozied up to International Softball in an attempt for a joint bid. It wanted to ride the more clean (i.e., not steroid injected) coattails of its "sister" sport. But softball said no thanks.
Baseball's plan b is to include a women's division. They plan to grow women's baseball. As I have said, "yes, let's grow women's baseball." But the timing, of course, is suspicious given that so much energy has been put into keeping women out of baseball. But now baseball needs women.
And it apparently needs Donna Lopiano to convince everyone of its commitment to women's baseball. Lopiano has been named chair of the International Baseball Federation's Women's Baseball Committee.
Well, they certainly cannot be accused of engaging in a half-hearted attempt. While I certainly do not doubt Dr. Lopiano's intelligence or desire for the project, I remain skeptical of baseball's intentions and worry they are using her as a pawn.
Maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe if more women, and girls, get to play baseball I shouldn't care why IBAF is doing this. [I'll have to ask her about it on Wednesday night when I see her speak at Western New England College at 7pm (for those interested).]
In the end, I don't think it's going to matter. I doubt the IOC will view women's baseball as viable enough at this point (remember softball's viability on the international stage has been questioned) to convince them to welcome baseball back with open arms!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Really, Dave Zirin?

This is my week of incredulity, clearly.
And it has been topped off by Dave Zirin, whose work I usually admire. Whose books I actually assign in my class.
But his piece in The Nation really ticked me off. And what ticks me off more is that he's making a great point. A point that I have made in various ways for a while now. Basically that Geno Auriemma is an egomaniac, slightly off, and a grandstander who is taking away from his players.
Unfortunately he keeps calling the UConn team the Lady Huskies. As I have mentioned previously, the UConn team actually does not use the term Lady to refer to its women's teams. (It's one of the few things that doesn't irk me about them.) Also, as I have mentioned previously, we shouldn't be using the term lady even when the teams themselves do so because it just reinforces all the negative stereotypes about women playing sports.
A few years ago, Zirin spoke at the annual meeting of the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport and a few women in the crowd kind of grumbled about the lack of attention he paid to gender issues in his overall talk on sport and social justice. But I thought, "well at least he has an awareness of gender issues and see them as part of social justice." But now I am not so sure. For someone who clearly understands the power of language, he seems a little blind on this one, as evidenced by his last two lines:
Gender should be irrelevant when we reckon with perfection. But perhaps we should accentuate it even more and recognize that the Lady Huskies right now are as good as it gets.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Really, USA Basketball?

Like I am not feeling ill enough with a yucky cold, now I read that Geno Auriemma is going to be the next national team coach. It's enough to make a gal want to stay in bed all day.
I don't get it. Sure he's a good coach if you look at his record. I happen to think coaching is more than a record. And it's no secret that I am not a fan of Auriemma and his latest reward for coaching a national championship team has landed him a permanent spot on my "I really don't like you" list.
It's not as if previous coaches have done such a bad job; at least the pile of gold medals would seem to indicate that. It's not as if there are not plenty of other people who can do the job.
Because on the international stage and especially at an event like the Olympics where there still isn't gender equity, I think it's important that the US send a coach who is at least an advocate for gender equity and/or women's sports. But I think that Geno just likes being a big man and getting lots of attention and if he can do that coaching women, so be it. He may understand the "women's game" but I don't think he understands the larger context of women in sport.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Gender verification in women's tennis

I thought this story was going to be a little more controversy laden when I read Diane's snippet about the gender verification of professional tennis player Sarah Gronert from Germany.
Of course the controversy could be larger than the article is letting on. After all they only say that Gronert was born with male and female genitalia but has been living and certified as a female since birth. Kudos to the writer for not referring to her as a hermaphrodite. But someone should have explained what exactly Gronert's condition is.
I think they should have, anyway. I kind of have mixed feelings about this. If it had been explained that Gronert has one of any number of genetic conditions, it might have helped defer some of the controversy and some of the apparently vicious comments she continues to encounter. (Apparently not everyone has seen that Oprah episode.)
On the other hand, do we really need to know? Is it a bit voyeuristic of us to demand explanations for every non-conforming body?
Which of course leads to the problematic issues of conforming and non-conforming bodies. What counts? Who decides? Etc.
I imagine Gronert's case will be invoked by various scholars in sport studies, sociology, queer theory, etc. because there are so few known cases of intersex individuals in sport. And most of those cases have troubled histories. Perhaps Gronert's will be a little less tragic.

Monday, April 13, 2009

This isn't funny or amusing

In fact, it's a little bit disgusting.

When I was watching the championship game last Tuesday--or rather the pre-game--I thought I heard something about Geno Auriemma and Augusta National. But I was doing other things, I didn't hear the exact context, and when I googled seeking further information, I couldn't find anything.
But a re-googling brought up this article about Auriemma's friendship with golfer Fred Couples. Couples promised his friend a weekend of golf anywhere he wanted if UConn won the championship this year. Auriemma's choice: Augusta National.
People accuse me of "reverse discrimination" (no such thing by the way) and not believing in the better candidate getting the job (you know, the myth of meritocracy) when I start to go off about men coaching women's teams. And moments like these just affirm all my objections.
So here's a guy who coaches women's sports; who is regarded as one of the best coaches in all of women's basketball--even all of basketball; someone who has certainly helped bring greater attention to the women's game and produced or nurtured great players who themselves bring greater attention to the game. And he wants to play on a golf course infamous for its discriminatory ways. A club that still has no female members and only lets women play as guests of members.
You are a coach of a team that certainly has a place in the history of women's sports, and you are going to a place denies women access to sport. My usual flippant response here is "lovely."
But this is just so much more serious and irritating and frustrating.
What's worse is that Auriemma thought he was being funny when he said in response to who he plans on taking with him (Couples said he could pick his partner):
"I'm confident none of these guys [UConn players] will be my partner,” Auriemma said with a smile. “Caroline (Doty, UConn freshman) is really good. … I don't think they have ladies' tees at Augusta.”


I'm sure if Couples can swing an invite for Auriemma, the coach will fit in just fine down there.

*Note all the gender confusion here: are they guys or are they ladies?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Will all this new technology help women's sports?

Don't get too excited. I'm not actually going to answer that question.
I just raise it in light of my new ability to actually follow the Women's Hockey World Championships in Finland. The US lost their first game of the tournament yesterday to Canada, 2-1. Know how I know that? Because I read it on Facebook! Yep, I joined the US National Team's Facebook page and I get the status updates (every period of play, actually) along with the blog team member Caitlin Cahow is going while in Finland.
Also, UniversalSports.com is live broadcasting the games. I think this is the first time ever. So if you want to watch the gold medal game between the US and Canada on Sunday, head there.
So the point is that all this technology makes it easier for fans to follow. And if we prove ourselves to be a formidable group maybe we can start moving up and get, I don't know, a spot on the ESPN ticker??

Friday, April 10, 2009

Will public shame do the trick?

Doubt it, but I am still glad that there is a documentary in the works about the female ski jumpers' battle with the IOC for inclusion in the winter games.
Virginia Madsen's Title IX Productions is part of the project which will be called Fighting Gravity. No word on the film's estimated time of arrival.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

WNBA Draft

Today at 3pm. Megan at Because I Played Sports (see blogroll to your left) is blogging from the draft and probably Twittering (tweeting?) too if you're looking for some live action.

More international baseball wranglings

When international baseball got rejected by softball in their attempt to sweeten their IOC bid for reinstatement into the summer games, they went back to the drawing board. Their latest plan: add women's baseball. My thought on their latest plan: get a new plan.* Women and girls have been dissuaded--by various means--from playing the game. (I haven't read Stolen Bases yet, but it's on my list.) And it appears that they are only encouraged when men's baseball is in some version of dire straits, a la WWII and now when they have been eliminated from the Olympics because of...well...a bad reputation, basically. But that's the tactic they are going with. More details are coming soon, apparently. But the head of international baseball says women's baseball is a growing sport with an estimated 300,000-500,000 women playing internationally. Not sure where the numbers come from, or how they compare to the numbers of female softball players. But remember that it seemed part of the issue the IOC had with softball was low numbers in countries not named USA. I am all for women playing baseball. But I think this is a sneaky move by international baseball, and one that doesn't have anything to go with gender equity. * It also appears that softball is trying the same tactic: adding men's softball. There are a myriad of jokes here...but I will refrain.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The f-word and basketball

So it's over. We can all get back to our lives now that March Madness has ended.
But before I put an end to blog posts about collegiate women's basketball, I have a few things to say about...yes, feminism.
I will start with what I am sure many would call the nitpicky: an article in the NYT about last night's championship game, the Big East, and the surprising appearance of Louisville. The men's team at Louisville, of course, did not make it to their Final Four as expected and so that meant, according to one player, that star Angel McCoughtry had become "the man"--a term she had no problem with because, as the writer notes, she's no "raging feminist." And she understands that men's basketball gets more attention, though she believes it's because men's basketball "has been around since the Stone Age."
I don't mean to pick on McCoughtry here. My point is that a smidge of feminist leanings, or heck just a little bit of women's history, would reveal that it's not because men's basketball is older--because it isn't--it's because well there have been some issues over women and sports and women and aggression and basically women and anything that doesn't involve them sitting still and looking pretty.
I have accepted that many young women today do not identify as feminists, but it worries me that so many just have no idea what is going on and what has been going on--you know, since the Stone Age.
Moving on...I saw the several requisite articles and/or blog posts this past season about the use of the term Lady when referring to women's teams. I had thought that I didn't have all that much more to say about the issue.
I was wrong.
Because I got to thinking about how often I read the term lady throughout the season in articles, editorials, blog posts that are simply about women's basketball. Sure, I cringe when I read whether it comes from some jerk talking about how sub par the women's game is or whether it is from Christine Brennan making some excellent point. I never think about the writer's use of the term. I think about how backwards the school remains for continuing to use the term.
But I think that not questioning the use of the term whenever and in whatever context it comes up is a problem. Because it makes it seem acceptable. I even saw some male writer refer to the UConn women as the Lady Huskies!
It's time for us all--the media, the bloggers, and even the water cooler conversers--to stop supporting the use of this term; even when Pat Summitt is using it. It's time to start doing what we do when we refer to that NFL team with the offensive Native American mascot: we just call them Washington. Or use an asterisk. Or come up with something else.
But we have to stop using "lady." Because if you think it doesn't contribute to the continued position of inferiority most women's sports experience--you are wrong. And if you think it does not contribute to a homophobic atmosphere--you are wrong. Because remember a lady cannot possibly be a lesbian.
It is not a coincidence that at Penn State, where Rene Portland was allowed to enact her homophobic crap for years and years, they retained (one of the few schools in the northern part of the country to do so) the nickname Lady Lions.
So let's stop deferring to what schools or coaches want to call themselves--that excuse has never worked on the mascot issue; or taking into consideration how much money they make off of their own and others' oppression.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Dear ESPN:

I decided to write you this letter to try to get my feelings out. I just...I just can't do it aloud. I need to work out some of these thoughts I have in writing.

I think a big part of the problem is my own mismanagement of expectations. I mean, I know your history, I know your patterns, and yet my hopes seem to rise despite my best intentions to control them. And them--boom-disappointment. And I hope you don't see this letter as me taking it out on you. But...well...I am. I am. 'Cause I am mad, ESPN. And I am sad. And I am disappointed.
I mean, I know Women's History Month is over, and that the attention I experienced last month was bound to wane. But I waited and waited this morning. I waited throughout Sports Center. I watched the segment on Tiger and opening day hoopla. I was pleased to see coverage of the Kraft Nabisco Championships and Brittany Lincicome's first major win. But I wanted highlights. Highlights of all the WPS games this weekend. Highlights of my Boston Breakers and their tragic opening game loss to St. Louis. I wanted to see Natasha Kai's tatoos in HD.
And this is not the first time I have been kept waiting. The other day I had to pedal through (I was on the stationary bike--trying to stay in shape--for YOU) a dumb segment on some NASCAR driver's backflips. (And don't think because there was a cameo by Shawn Johnson in it that this somehow makes it about women's sports.) All I wanted was a little women's b-ball news. Is that really so much to ask?
You're just not meeting my needs. Even as I waited for those non-existent highlights this morning, I thought, well at least I can see the scores on the ticker. I got ready as I saw SOCCER next up and then...well...the usual disappointment. The soccer you were covering: Italian serie or something like that.
Did you know that some people actually think the WPS could be the most successful women's professional league yet? You might want to get on board--NOW. Then you could say you had something to do with it in those annual Women's History Month press releases in which you so enjoy counting up the hours of coverage you provide to women's sports.
I know this is the second time I have mentioned Women's History Month and that it makes me sound a little...bitter, I guess would be the right word.
That's 'cause I am bitter, ESPN.
And it just isn't a really healthy place for me to be right now. I think we need to reconsider our relationship. I know you are going to say that you are pretty much the only viable option around. And you would be right. You hold most of the cards. But I can't just let you walk all over my emotions like this anymore.
And please stop sending your excuses via Mary Carillo. It just isn't working anymore.


Monday, April 06, 2009

Thoughtful Venus

I have had my issues in the past with the Williams sisters (and their father!), but I think Venus Williams has really become a thoughtful person. This seems like a mundane and/or abstract statement. But I think it's unusual among professional athletes and it's especially unusual among female athletes to be thoughtful about issue like gender equity.

But this brief interview the elder Williams sister did with a Charleston paper reflects her awareness of the world beyond tennis. And all that crap the sisters have gotten over the years for allegedly not being dedicated to their sport and too "distracted" by outside interests is just that--crap. In addition to the fact that they did not have the sheltered privileged tennis childhood of many other tennis pros, they have not lead a sheltered adult life either.

I was especially impressed with her answer about why there are not more American women at the top of the rankings. Her response did not contribute to the general panic I hear in the voices of most commentators. She basically said, look, there are a lot of options for young people in the US, education for example. They do other things. And, by the way, there are young players who are good and there will be another wave, at some point, of dominant American women.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

World Championships start today

The women's hockey worlds started today in Finland where the US national team will be attempting a defense of its 2008 title.
Not likely to see any of it on television so I guess I will searching the internet for scores. Canada's national team site actually does a better job updating than US Hockey.
The AP had this little article about the training that has occurred the past several months in Minnesota for players who have graduated from college.
The program was a first and coach Mark Johnson (Wisconsin's head coach) said the time and training these players have done will make a big difference.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Soccer stuff

New blog--ok just new to me--about soccer. Former coach Amanda Vandervort is the author of Soccer Science a blog that "look[s] at the soccer world from the personal perspective of Amanda Vandervort, a former college coach and fan of professional soccer, with an emphasis on the technologies that are revolutionizing the way we see the beautiful game." Vandervort has a Twitter account (is that what they are called?). This whole Twitter thing and the number of WPS players and sports bloggers who are Twittering makes me wonder if "ken" shouldn't be getting familiar with this. But I'm not sure I really need another distraction from my dissertation. [h/t to Sean from sportsBabel for sending me the link]

Here's a local controversy--not local to me, but to someone. A youth soccer coach has resigned after sending an interesting email to the parents of 6- and 7-year old female soccer players in a club league in Massachusetts. There are a lot--a lot!--of comments on the article that reported the situation. Most of them accuse people of being too PC and from parents of girls saying "I would let this guy coach my girls!" I think I'll just let you all read it and make your own opinions. I do think the letter was in poor taste and did not reflect the level of play that would be occurring. In other words, even though most of it was satire--satire is meant to address serious situations. And this one did not call for it. Plus it was super long and thus likely contributed to the feeling that he was going overboard and of course to the idea that he has a little bit of a problem with ego. I don't think he is evil incarnate. I do not think he would have been the worst youth coach. I am sure there are far worse coaches in the very town in which he lives. And I think it was admirable of him to step down and not draw out the controversy so that the girls and the league can get on with their season.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Some men like women's hoops--it's true

Christine Brennan's column today highlights the support some women's teams are getting from coaches of men's teams, and men more generally.
Brennan points out the support Rick Pitino, Louisville's men's head coach, threw behind the women's team who made the Final Four by upsetting Maryland even though his own team, a #1 seed, was ousted last week. [Note to Brennan, though, not all of us were unaware of the Cardinal women; I actually picked them (in the bracket in my mind) to upset UMD--sorry, Pat.]
Anyway, Pitino was all about getting behind the women and encouraging all the encouragement he could via his own high-powered position.
And Brennan notes other examples of men supporting the women's teams and how this all points to a more enlightened generation of men and male coaches specifically. And that's all good. I am not as Pollyanna-ish (a word I heard Brennan use to describe herself more than once during her talk at the Sport, Sexuality, and Culture conference in Ithaca) and also have seen multiple headlines about how boring the women's game is and, by extension, all women's sports. This time of year there is always a slate of articles and editorials that take one of two positions: the women's game rocks and is achieving parity and you should watch; or the women's game is slow, boring and the players are unskilled amateurs.
And so I do agree that these signs of men supporting--and being excited about--women's basketball is a good thing; growing the game, Brennan says, like Johnny Appleseed.
Careful, Christine. Remember Appleseed was growing all those apples not for some desire to infuse wholesome goodness in America, but to make alcohol. Not sure what that does to her metaphor...

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Add a tag; there's a new sport in town

I have been trying, of late, to whittle down my many post tags (largely unsuccessful as one can see). But it's time to add a sport to the list: kettlebell.
Never heard of kettlebell? Join the club. Well I have actually heard of it and knew people who did it, but I did not know it was a competitive endeavor. But indeed it is, with its own world championships (which means it's not as "new" as I may have lead you to believe. In fact it's a pretty big deal in Russia). There are two events, a snatch and a jerk (done with 2 kettlebells) and the competitors perform each for 10 minutes. Highest score wins.
And women do it too! Or they are just starting to. A club in Albany, NY is boasting that it is the first to form a women's kettlebell team. Experts say that women love it because it makes them strong but not bulky (god forbid!) and is a good combo of strength, flexibility, and cardio.
And apparently its popularity is growing in the US with many athletes using it to crosstrain and many companies producing kettlebells (the traditional ones look like cannonballs with handles) and kettlebell workouts. And in the most obvious sign of achieving popularity or notoriety, one can head to You Tube to watch some videos featuring kettlebell drills.
Looks interesting and I have been looking to add some variety to my workouts. But I am worried about the danger factor: when that bell gets swinging...watch out!