Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Do I trust Jessica Mendoza?

I just read about the forthcoming issue of ESPN, The Magazine which is being called the "Body Issue." (Isn't every issue of a magazine that covers sports exclusively always a body issue given that they are talking about and photographing bodies?)
The USA Today article makes it seem like a good excuse to get some athletes nearly naked. (Or at least that was my interpretation.) So I was really surprised to see that Mendoza, current president of the Women's Sports Foundations, was featured with some of her team USA colleagues. Plus I also knew that given the date of the magazine, Mendoza was likely pregnant during the shoot.
And I was right. I headed to her blog where she wrote briefly about the photo shoot. She presents it a little differently than USA Today.
Then last week I did a photo shoot with teammates Cat Osterman, Natasha Watley and Lauren Lappin for ESPN the magazine’s new “Body Issue”. I am really excited about this because I feel the “bodies” young girls are looking up to are just unrealistic and make you feel so insecure. This issue is using male and female athletes of all shapes, races and sizes in such a beautiful way, even with me and my 9 month pregnant body! Not too many magazines that are trying to show off the body would choose a pregnant body, but that is why I feel confident this issue with all us athletes is going to be different from the norm and good for our youth to see how many successful, different bodies there are out there.

She seems convinced that the shoot is a good thing. She does not mention what she and her teammates were wearing during the shoot. A feature of a female surfer from Australia apparently has her in just some bikini bottoms.
It will be interesting to see how the men versus the women are posed and presented. I don't think the presence of nearly nude men negates the sexualization of female athletes that could potentially be going on. And I am curious about just how diverse these bodies really are. The presence of a pregnant body is not really groundbreaking nor is it non-normative these days--Demi Moore took care of that years and years ago. Also a female athlete's pregnant body also helps reassure those wary of the masculinizing effects of athletics on women.
I was pleased to see that openly gay athlete Lauren Lappin has been included in the shoot. I wonder just how many athletes of color are in the shoot, though and whether the bodies of differently-abled athletes were included. Looks like I might be buying my first issue of the magazine next week.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The athletic sabbatical

So of course the tennis world is all atwitter with Justine Henin's not-so-surprising announcement last week that she would be returning to tennis.
And so begins an even more fervent discussion of the player sabbatical or the non-retirement or the mental break or the recharge--whatever you want to call it.
It's an important discussion to have given the recognized intensity of the sport. (Both the men's and women's tour are making concerted efforts to reduce the playing schedules to offer more down time to players.) But the concept of the sabbatical--an official one--is not one on the table at either tour's next organizational meeting apparently. This means that the current practice of retiring and staging a comeback remains the only option for players who need a break.
Pam Shriver finds it wrong--of course. She told USA Today:
I'm tired of them announcing retirement when what they are really doing is leaving the tour for a period of time.
Well, Pammy, what choice do they have? When you don't announce a retirement, a la Jennifer Capriati and Monica Seles for example, people hound you about your return and speculate about your mental and physical state. You enter the "where are they now?" gossip category that commentators love to talk about. Of course now that there have been all these un-retirements, the hounding may include those that believed they were once safely ensconced in retirement.
I also believe that many of these people believed they were truly done with the sport. Clijsters was clear throughout the final years of her playing career that her life plan did not include tennis after a certain age. Henin's retirement was a shock but she seemed happy to not be playing tennis, to have time for herself, to engage in other non-tennis activities. She was one of the most tennis-focused women on the tour when she was there. That can be exhausting, especially when you have to deal with people talking about your faily life all the time as well (her estrangement from her family, her marriage and subsequent divorce at a young age). Lindsay Davenport enjoyed her brief return after giving birth to her first child.
And let's not forget that this is not a tennis-only phenomenon. How many times has Brett Favre retired now? And of course there is Michael Jordan who tried his hand at baseball and then came back to basketball after initially retiring.
Tennis just doesn't offer much wiggle room. The female soccer players who take time off to have children don't seem to have similar issues. Kristine Lilly never said she was retiring. Neither did Christie Rampone or a myriad of other players who have had children in the prime of their playing careers. They have their children, they set a schedule for their return, they train, they stay involved with their respective teams, they come back. The same occurs in women's golf. Of course these are all women who had babies.
The mental break that Henin apparently took (and Hingis too though she was also plagued by injury) is likely not as acceptable given the "mental toughness" that is prized in sport and thought to be some naturally occurring gift despite the good money sports psychologists are bringing in to treat these high-level athletes.
In other words, there will be more on this issue.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Your chance to learn more

Since the issue of intersexed individuals has arisen lately, I thought I would share these two opportunities to learn more. Especially because the Caster Semenya situation revealed just how little people seem to know. Granted, because intersex is an umbrella term for many conditions, it can be confusing. Here's the chance to educate yourself.
The first is geographic specific (sorry).
If you live in the western MA or northern CT area Mount Holyoke College is sponsoring a talk on Monday September 28 called Intersex on the Brain:
7:30pm Gamble Auditorium
Mount Holyoke College
In this unique blend of spoken word performance and Intersex 101, author and intersex activist Thea Hillman navigates the tricky intersections of sex, gender, and sexual orientation and suggests ways to make the world a safer place for differences of all kinds.

Logo is also airing, On Demand and online a documentary called 1 in 2000. It is part of their Real Momentum series.
http://www.logoonline.com/video/one-in-2000/1595418/playlist.jhtml
It's short. I have only watched the first 6 minutes, though so I cannot vouch for just how informative it will be. But in those first few minutes we are introduced to at least 5 different intersex conditions. So it looks promising.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The mommy discourse: Motherhood and sexification

Misty May is coming back to professional volleyball this month. May is the latest athlete mommy to return to competition. And thus the mommy discourse continues. Laura Pappano comments on May's return and discusses the other mommy returns. It seems like so many when you read them all in one short column, but there are actually many more than even Pappano recalls.
But, as she points out, when mommy plays beach volleyball, it's kind of a different dynamic. In beach volleyball, sex sells. (Of course in all women's sports there is a sex sells angle--just recall the calendar of nude female curlers a few years back.) But Pappano asks whether May and Walsh's mommy status (Walsh has a child as well) will hurt their popularity noting the limited role options for women: mother, bitch, bunny--she says. But things are not quite that limited--certainly not for white middle-class women. The stereotypes are there but even the image of motherhood has multiple sub-categories these days. And if fans are interested in keeping the sexy fantasies of May and Walsh going they will simply put them in that ever so lovely category: MILF.
Beach volleyball is an easy sell. Adding motherhood to it won't damage these particular players but neither will it offer than a reprieve from the sexification they have already experienced ( we can debate later about how much they contribute to this themselves).
We can look at the case of Kim Clijsters--who Pappano mentions, of course. Obviously sexualization of female tennis players is ubiquitous these days. But Clijsters was never a participant. And so in her return there was no worry about whether she had lost her appeal. Her appeal had always been based on her play, her professionalism, and her personality. And that remained when she came back this summer.
Of course Clijsters can put into one of those narrow categories of womanhood too: the good girl. She does not escape the labels just because she does not sell her sexuality. Let me be clear: the need to put women (and it happens and has happened to men as well but in different ways) into categories is problematic.
But if I had to be a heterosexual professional female athlete who wanted kids, I think I would choose Clijsters as my model. It seems so much less fraught.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Recession, health care, and roller derby

I was just talking to a friend the other day about how roller derby is such a hot topic in sport studies because it's a great venue for examining gender roles, subversion, aggression, alternative sport, sexuality, and a host of other things.
And of course the forthcoming (I cannot wait!!) Whip It with Juno star Ellen Paige and directed by Drew Barrymore will draw even more critical and popular attention to the sport.
Unfortunately, with the recession, roller derby has been experiencing some problems. Most articles about sport and the recession have focused on keeping fans in the stands, but this one is about keeping players in the rink. Roller derby is not a professional sport--the players do not get paid. They have to finance their own gear, travel expenses, and health coverage. And we all know what kind of a state health care is in these days. And even though some players could skate by (pardon the pun) on multiple part-time gigs, if they are without health care, roller derby is not the sport to be participating in.
It appears that it's the economy, not the injuries, that are bringing most players down.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The football post

Title makes it sound like this is my only one of the season.
May be. Remains to be seen
Anyway mostly it's a generic title meant to encompass two articles I came across that I don't want to talk about in two different posts.
The Wall Street Journal has an article entitled "What's the Point of Cheerleading?" Such a title is more appropriate for an editorial it would seem, but I have to be honest, I nodded me head in a agreement for a second. Unfortunately it's not a great piece of journalism really only highlighting the high injury rate and then chastising cheerleaders for being whiners because the catastrophic injury rate in football is so much higher. So once again we have all athletic endeavors being measured against football.
The only helpful question the article asked was whether cheerleading has moved too far afield (hehe) from its original purpose. Unfortunately it does not really ponder that issue too much deferring instead to a history of the practice and noting, at the end, that UConn recently replaced its cheerleading team with a spirit squad. Not sure if this was just football cheering or all cheering. There are different cheer teams for different sports and of course a resulting hierarchy.

An LA Times columnist takes up another questionable practice--Native American team names/mascots. Actually it's not a questionable practice at all. It's just absolutely wrong. The late Myles Brand made a concerted effort to rid such naming practices and mascots from NCAA member schools, but in the world of professional sports they still exist and remain difficult to get rid of. One of the biggest offenders is the NFL team from Washington--this is how everyone should refer to them and some media outlets do indeed. But others keep using the term "redskin" in conjunction with the team thus approving of the use of a blatantly racist term.
A group that long ago brought a lawsuit against the team trademark is renewing their fight. Unfortunately the NFL has sided with Washington and is even paying some of their legal fees! One of the plaintiffs describes it as "fighting Pepsi backed by Coke."

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Some follow-ups

In the wake of the leak to the press about some findings from the medical examination of Caster Semenya, Dave Zirin and Sherry Wolf (I am going to hear her talk tonight!) have another Nation column about the situation. They take to task the IAAF of course but also Australia (probably not the whole country) who called for the initial examination and the Australian press that printed the leak from some IAAF official, and all the people--officials and press--that continue to use the quite unenlightened term "hermaphrodite." One would have hoped that the people who were actually doing the examining would know better. But even some using the term intersex are transferring the literal definition of hermaphrodite. There are many intersex conditions; they do not all--actually very few--manifest in the presence of both (historically defined) male and female genitalia.
Dr. Alice Dreger must be very busy these days. I think every member of the IAAF and any person in the media who has covered the Semenya case should be required to read Dreger's Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex. (Note that Dreger is using the term hermaphrodite in the historical sense--not because she is unaware of the derogatory connotations.)
They also point out a pretty important fact: being intersex does not prevent one from competing. Intersex athletes have indeed participated in elite international competition. Unfortunately the publicity surrounding Semenya's case makes me wonder if she will ever want to or be able to enter the international stage again.

The Serena Williams situation remains quite visible. She has been placed alongside Joe Wilson and Kanye West because apparently it was the week of the outburst. Thankfully others are seeing the sexism and racism in the handling and coverage of her actions. Still, I read probably one of the most naive articles I have seen to date on Serena's actions. The NYT does that ever so liberal move of saying let's not look at this through a gendered lens. The writer acknowledges that the reaction has indeed been due to gendered expectations. (He fails to talk about the racism--a glaring omission.) That McEnroe and Connors and Nastase can get away with such behavior because they are men. So the writer seems to suggest we just de-gender athletes all together--no men, no women--just competitors; and view their behavior thusly.
Yes, let's just all walk around with our hands over our eyes screaming "I don't see gender! I don't see gender!" I am sure that will work out just swell.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

NCAA president Myles Brand dies

Myles Brand died today after a battle with pancreatic cancer. We knew his medical condition was not good when he did not attend the the last national conference so his passing is not a huge surprise. Still the NCAA president will be missed. A former philosophy professor and president of Indiana University (he fired Bobby Knight--yea!!), Brand worked, during his NCAA tenure, at reforming NCAA policies on academics and other issues such as recruiting.

The competing mommy discourses

Throughout much of the US Open I was thinking, "glad I don't have kids!" But the other day I started thinking "I gotta get myself knocked up!"
Why the radical switch? Well the former sentiment emerged after hearing, ad nauseum, about coming back from pregnancy and all the emphasis on motherhood in the wake of the Kim Clijsters return. All the attention made it seem like motherhood is some kind of disability. Is it really so astonishing that someone who is a great athlete, is young, and gave birth over a year ago can get to the top of her game again? So what's up with the kid gloves for mommies?
Then there is the opposing discourse which cites all the benefits of pregnancy: an increase in red blood cells, the endurance from said increase, the mental benefits, increased flexibility (which could be a bad thing depending on where it is happening and what sport you do), possible muscle increase in the first trimester because of the hormone surge.
There have been rumors that the East Germans used to encourage their female athletes to get pregnant (and then abort) to experience the legal benefits of pregnancy. Of course there are a lot of rumors about what the East Germans used to do and most of them would seem to be incompatible with even the possibility of pregnancy.
Seems like the jury is still out on this whole pregnancy thing in female athletes. Think I will remain child free and stick to drinking my Muscle Milk.

Thumbs up for WaPo

Every once in a while I catch WaPo's Top 10 sports photos of the week. And I have to say, I think they do a pretty good job--not just the quality of the pictures which, of course, are great--but in what they choose to photograph and display. The variety of sports they present is impressive. I mean it is the start of football season and only two of this week's ten are of football games. In addition there is a pic of team rhythmic gymnastics and a female canoer, men's rugby, and Canadian cheerleaders.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Female jumpers: Whatcha talkin' about, Rogge?

Well they put it much more politely, of course. But here is the letter by female ski jumpers basically asking for explicit answers as to why they have been excluded from the forthcoming winter Olympics.
In addition to citing the human rights laws of Canada--the ground they attempted to stand on in a recent lawsuit--they also cite the IOC's statement that the sport had not met the technical merit criteria. They are asking what constitutes technical merit, citing a journalist's earlier assessment of the lack of technical merit--under IOC standards--of women's pole vaulting as compared to ski jumping.
Given the clearly subjective nature of technical merit, I am not guessing the women, and the rest of us who support their cause, are going to be getting any satisfactory answers any time soon.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Troubling comments from the US Open

Ok so I have decided to address the Serena Williams incident in the context of all the other interesting gender stuff that occurred at this year's US Open.
We had all the "women's game sucks" comments from the print and television media. Commentators of course were not saying such things--preferring to highlight the interest that comes with not knowing who is going to win any given match. The men's game, at times in the not-so-distant past, have been subject to similar criticisms. But much of the "lousy women's game" discourse entailed some problematic blaming on fragile minds (and a little on fragile bodies). The Serena situation and Melanie Oudin's amazing run quelled some of that talk. But it has re-emerged with Kim Clijster's win last night.
In the end, though, this was not--obviously--the big issue. Which I will get to--hold on.
First, let's talk about smiles. I heard a lot about them this tournament. In addition to the usual talk about "girls," John McEnroe mentioned, during the Wozniacki/Oudin match, the two great smiles out on the court. It was if it did not matter who won or lost because they both are so pleasant and smiley.
What's wrong with smiling? Well nothing if you believe all those Crest Whitestrips ads. In fact, it is actually helpful--again if you believe said ads. But historically women have been compelled to smile according to various social theorists, most notably Erving Goffman who found that a woman's smile is viewed as proper deference to a man. The smiling woman is also found to be taken less seriously. In short, she is less threatening.
And speaking of threatening...Serena Williams, as most of us know by now, lost her semifinal match against Kim Clijsters when she received a point penalty for her second code violation--a tirade directed at the linesperson who called a foot fault on her second serve. The point was match point unfortunately for her--though I have heard some say her behavior warranted a default anyway.
Diane over at Women Who Serve did a nice job with her take on the situation--which I completely agree with. Since then though there has been plenty of discussion of the incident--which continues to be investigated--including by commentators. Mary Carillo's comments last night were ridiculous: that she has never seen such behavior by a woman and that it is a blight on the sport and that Serena should be suspended. She tried to equalize things a little bit and add by a man either but that rings a little false--especially given who she was sitting next to for much of the tournament. That John McEnroe--who was actually defaulted from the Australian Open one year for his behavior (as in he actually had the three strikes that warrant default)--can still hold such a position of respect in the sport is ridiculous. The man works with junior players and has represented the United States as Davis Cup captain. His reputation as a bad boy gets a nostalgic chuckle. (This article mentions some other bad male behavior including by the beloved Andre Agassi. After watching one of Agassi's tantrums when I was a youngun, I tore down the poster of him in my bedroom. Quite a traumatic teenage moment for me.)
But there's just no way tennis or the media are going to let a black woman get away with the same behavior. The talk about a blight on her career is maddening in contrast to McEnroe's career. (I would be interested in his post-tantrum press releases and whether he apologized for his abusive behavior.)
I in no way think what Serena did was acceptable. But I in no way consider what the media and those in the tennis establishment are doing to her--and have done to her in the past--is acceptable either.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Troubling news for Semenya

And troubling news all around really. Unofficially, the "gender tests" Caster Semenya underwent during and after the World Championships indicate that she has internal testes and no ovaries or womb. She has pulled out of a race in South Africa that she had said she would compete in.
It seems doubtful that her gold medal from worlds will be taken away from her because it was not a doping case and because so many in South Africa have come out in support of their new superstar. (The apparent contradictions in South Africans' behavior on gender and sexuality have been noted including their early denial of the AIDS crisis and its effect on women and the problem of "corrective rape" against lesbians.)
Words such as hermaphrodite and normal are being thrown around rather problematically. It is so very unfortunate that the issue of intersex is so misunderstood (Oprah did very little to shed light on it when she tried to address it a few years ago) and that Semenya's privacy has been utterly demolished in this process.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Caster Semenya femmes it up (for critics)

What was so great about Caster Semenya's response at the World Championships to the controversy over her gender presentation was that she did not change a thing--and she won the gold medal. She was completely unapologetic about not meeting the standards of femininity set by all around her.

Something changed. Perhaps as the weeks have gone by she became more aware of the severity of the controversy. A South African coach (not her personal one) resigned because he was part of keeping Semenya somewhat in the dark about the nature of the testing--he initially told her she was being tested for doping. Other high-ups in the South Africa have come out publicly condemning the tests.

Perhaps she realized the ripple effects of this situation and felt the need to quell criticisms. Because this is what her latest response is.



I don't usually publish pics from other sites but this one seemed important.

The blogger at the above link does a good job parsing out the situation and has a similar take as my own. She should be able to dress and present however she wants, but if this is really what she wants, that's a little curious given her previous presentation and response to the controversy.

In a TIME article though, the picture of her seems to be more in keeping with her presentation and attitude of yore. The article follows her back to her home in South Africa after the Worlds. This piece is a little different than the above blog post. First the writer think he is being clever or something when he notes that Semenya's village (villages are named after planets in her region of the country) is named after both Mars and Venus. Because that must explain everything.
But it also lifts the veil on the support Semenya has received throughout the controversy. She may be getting it from coaches and officials but other competitors--not so much. I have already heard the remarks of an American runner (linked in the initial post on the issue) but an Italian runner who finished 6th in the 800 said "For me, she's not a woman. She's a man." Quite unequivocal--wonder what she (thinks she) knows and how she knows it.
This excerpt was a little problematic:
at a homecoming in Polokwane, Limpopo's main city — Semenya's appearance was just as startling as it was on the track. At first, she rode high in an open-topped car, blushing and waving like a prom queen. A few minutes later, it was a burly-looking Semenya who rolled up to a microphone, baseball cap on backward, and thanked the crowd in a cracked baritone.
Especially because it was followed by this:
Science recognizes androgyny.
Too bad society doesn't. And too bad that anything androgynous or gender atypical (like waving like a prom queen and having a deep voice) is a) deemed atypical and b) attributed to an anomaly of nature.
Well I am off to play tennis now--in a skirt--with unshaven legs. Hope I don't get stopped by the gender police!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The unknown quarter

Live-blogging--sorta--the quarterfinal match between Bondarenko and Wickmayer.
  • Had never heard of the latter before this. I got down to the Pilot Pen this year after she had already been eliminated.
  • Bondarenko is down a break. Leg is still heavily strapped. (Are we back to this strapping over the physio tape stuff? Haven't seen much of that at the Open.) Saw her and her sister play one set of doubles in New Haven this year. They retired in the second set but not sure whose injury prompted it--both had their legs strapped at different places.
  • Um...Bud Collins what do you mean it's rare to see a woman volley well? Yes Wickmayer's stab volley was very nice but there have been plenty of other good volleys executed by women this Open.
  • How does Bondarenko play with that large pendant necklace?
  • Wickmayer's grunt reminds me of Seles's in its two-syllable-ness.
  • Nice hat, Bud. Very daring to go with polka dots.
  • How cute are those shorts of Wickmayer's? She wears Erke, a Chinese apparel company. Looks like Chinese companies are getting into sports apparel. Jankovic and Li Na are also wearing a Chinese label.
  • The "green light special" Pam? Never heard that one before. How about just calling it a "winner" like everyone else? No need to prove how different you are. Your wardrobe this week has shown us that.
  • We shall see how Wickmayer deals with pressure down a break point serving for the first set.
  • Not so well
  • Bondarenko is a little bit badass, eh? She's got the nose ring and I see part of a tattoo on her upper back. Women's tennis needs more edgy players.
  • Wickmayer pulls out set #1.
  • Hmm...Rennae Stubbs is texting Pam Shriver to say that Wickmayer can have a pretty bad temper. Seems this is a pot/kettle situation. Or a takes one to know one.
  • "Ladies" not being able to keep their emotions intact says commentator? You know Oudin was not exactly keeping her emotions intact those last three matches. If she had lost any of them I am sure there would have been commentary about whether she let emotion get the better of her--a criticism previously levied at Andy Murray.
  • All of a sudden "steady emotions" are the prized possession. Can you imagine if we had asked Monfils or Nadal to steady their emotions last night?
  • I knew we were going to get to the "women players and their dogs" conversation when we saw a pic of Alona Bondarenko holding a chihuahua. And alas there was Pam's unfortunate "hope there's not a dogfight"comment.
  • Oh goodness, another Belgian player with a deceased mother--we're going to be hearing about this tragedy every time we see her play. Not that it isn't tragic for a child to lose her mother but why does the media play on (and on and on) the "tragic circumstances of ___'s life"?
  • Good for Wickmayer. Way to pull through nerves and get the second set.
  • Bud Collins should not be allowed to do on-court interviews.

(No) check, please

The perennial debate in women's hockey is back, intensified by the forthcoming start of the season, and the Vancouver Olympics. To check or not to check.
It's an issue the semi-pro players in Nancy Theberge's study of Canadian hockey spoke about. And it appears not that much has changed in 10 plus years. Some want it. Others don't.
US defenseperson Angela Ruggerio has said she would like to check--but acknowledges her opinion is based on her ability as one of the larger players in the game to effectively check. In general, she doesn't feel it would be good for the game as a whole. And many others feel the same but for different reasons.
There's the: no one wants to see girls get hurt rationale which extends to the "mothers won't sign their daughters up for hockey if they can get hurt" thinking.
Not a fan of this line of thought. After all, if we don't have a problem with boys getting hurt...
The other reason is the one I subscribe to: it's a better game without checking. There's skillful passing and skating. It also allows for a variety of players with different strengths and skill sets.
So good are these reasons that I think there should be no checking in men's hockey either. But I doubt the hockey=violence paradigm is going to change any time soon.
It also does not appear that checking in the women's game is imminent. No formal request--or informal from what I can tell--has been made to the hockey governing body to allow women to check. Unfortunately the women's game will continue to be seen as less than, and female players as weaker and frailer, because there is no checking.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Oudin and Williams to double(back)handedly save women's tennis?

OK, yes, in the "killing fields of Flushing" as one reporter put this year's US Open women's field, Melanie Oudin is the proverbial (or hackneyed) beacon of hope, ray of sunshine, girl-next-door. But she is not going to save women's tennis or even American tennis all by herself. And she's going to be facing a lot more pressure than that imposed by Caroline Wozniacki's backhand if she is deemed thus by the media. But it already seems to be happening. In fact, after all the putting down of women's tennis in the lead-up to the US Open, this NYT article is suggesting the women's draw is far more interesting than the men's this year. Um, yeah, I think so too. But I always thought that.

In a separate but related story, the NYT also addresses the lack of diversity in American women's tennis post-Williams sisters. It's true. For a while--like that one summer many years ago--it looked like Alexandra Stevenson could be a suitable successor, but her game never made it that far and the Williams sisters are still going strong. Angela Haynes makes a little noise every once in a while and she is fun to watch when she plays WTT but she can never make a dent in the Slam draws it seems. Vania King is similarly situated. A minor upset here and there.
The USTA has a new chief diversity officer, but the NYT thinks that the USTA should hire Richard Williams and Oracene Price to help out. I'm not a huge fan of that suggestion. Williams would do coaching, the writer suggests, and Price would counsel young women of color on how to deal with the pressures of tour life as an American racial minority. I can see the latter situation--but I actually think Venus and Serena themselves would be better at that. Sounds like a great position for them after retirement (assuming they ever retire!!) But Richard Williams as a coach makes me a little nervous. His unconventionality worked--for a while--with his daughters, but I have found some of his past actions a little suspect and I doubt the USTA would take such a risk. I think he says brilliant, insightful things at times, and at others...not so much.
[Of course Brad Gilbert says inane things all the time and people just keep handing him a mic.]
But the gist of the article is correct. The USTA needs to do something about diversity in its player development program. And it needs to draw on experience to do so.

Friday, September 04, 2009

It's coming...

I am headed to a Harvest Bonfire tonight which means it is getting chillier (at least at night). And if it's getting colder out that means....
Hockey!
The US National Team, heavy on the youngsters, is prepping for the Olympics. Right now they are in Vancouver at the Hockey Canada Cup. They beat main rival Canada 4-2 the other day. Demolished Sweden 7-0 after an opening game loss to Finland (3-2). [You can follow the team on Facebook which is where I get all my info given the dearth of coverage in mainstream media.]
But the really cool news is this:
UNH is playing Northeastern January 8 at 4:30.
So what, you say. Sounds like Hockey East business as usual. But oh no, my friends. The game is being played at Fenway Park! Oh yes. In a Hockey East promotional the teams are playing outdoors on a rink to be built in Fenway.
Tickets go on sale to the general public September 17. I have the secret password though and should be getting my tix shortly. It might finally be the year to knit that wool UNH sweater I have been planning--'cause it's going to be brrrrr cold.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The Williams sisters in review

The Atlantic has a good piece on the Williams sisters in which writers from different media outlets contributed their thoughts on the, as one writes, most dominant pair of women in sports.
The highlights include a point that I think has not been made enough: with all their success (they hold 6 of the 11 last Grand Slam titles) and longevity (they have outlasted their contemporaries and show no hint of retirement) they are the most downplayed story in sport. Even if one has issues with their personalities or their style of play or their father, let's remember that sport media love these things. And yet the common equation of success plus controversy does not seem to have garnered the Williams sisters the kind of media attention given to say Tiger Woods or Brett Favre.
I was quite disappointed that the last comment was a critique and one that I find completely unjustified. Greg Couch of Fanhouse calls the Williams sisters underachievers. This is not a new argument but most go on to talk about how they were distracted by outside interests. But Couch goes on to say that they could have been so much more than tennis players. I am not sure exactly what he wants them to be but they are so much more than tennis players--because they have a seemingly (more) healthy relationship to the sport and their place in it and its place in their respective lives. Maybe Couch wants them to be humanitarians doing charity work: they do. Maybe he wants them to more multidimensional: they are.
Couch must have caught POWTS (Picking on Women's Tennis Syndrome).
If anyone knows of a cure, let me know.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Female fandom: Study says they don't like the pros

A study out of Canada about the gendered nature of fandom reveals that women are not huge fans of professional sports. Not a shocker despite the plethora of popular media accounts of women forming fan clubs and becoming the latest target demographic for fan apparel.
Some women just don't like professional sports, some go just for the social aspect, and some like sports other than professional sports. In other words, it's not that women don't like sports. Studies like these--or rather the way they are reported on--always worry me because of the generalizations that often manifest.
Otherwise I don't find the results startling in the least bit. I mean did anyone see the Cardinals game a few nights ago when that women got a beer spilled all over her? Who wants to pay (a lot) for that privilege?
I personally used to like professional hockey. But I stopped going to games and watching on television (for the most part) because it was just getting too violent. Too gratuitously violent. And the way the crowds cheered for fights made me crazy.
But I like collegiate hockey. And a lot of other sports. I still watch golf and tennis. In other words, I am a fan. But I think we also need to consider the definition of fan. Because it still is closely related to word of origin, I probably am not a fan of any sport. And the people who are fanatical about certain sports and teams--those people scare me.
And a note to the Ottawa Citizen (where I read the article), cheerleaders (who you picture next to the article despite no mention of cheerleaders) are not the ultimate fans. From what I hear and have witnessed, the majority of cheerleaders know very little about the game for which they cheer. (And a PS to the researchers, the presence of cheerleaders could be one of those deterrents for female fans.)

(h/t to ns at Out of Left Field for the story)

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Stop picking on women's tennis!

Seriously, what is this about?
When Steffi Graf ruled the court people didn't like it. When the Williams sisters were squashing everyone on their way to finals, people didn't like it. And now that things are up for grabs? People don't like it.
Most admit that the Williams sisters dominate most of the time. But injuries and reduced non-Slam schedules mean they now meet before the finals. Though again let us recall that not too long ago the above-mentioned complaints about this frequent meeting in the finals and their dominance over other players.
So now we have Dinara Safina at the #1 spot in the rankings and the US Open seedings. And what do they say? She hasn't earned it because she hasn't won a Grand Slam (and she has choked in a few slam finals of late.) But she's getting to slam finals and she's pretty entertaining along the way--on the court and off. Today she had to fight it out again, almost becoming the first number one seed to lose in the first round. Was it entertaining? I thought so. But we'll hear all about the illegitimacy of the rankings system, yada, yada.
And then there was Venus Williams last night--also pushed to three sets. Also entertaining. (Also note that Venus did not have the best of summers post Wimbledon.) But likely to be heard is the prevalence of injuries among the sisters Williams and their "distractions" off the courts.
And now Kim Clijsters is back and instead of being wicked psyched--which one should be because she's fun and nice and a good player--people are all like "well what does it say about the women's game that she can come back and have a 6-2 record for the summer season?" Well I think it says that she--as she always has--trains very well. And that she's a veteran and she has almost nothing to lose.
So let's just stop all the trash talking, please. Yes, there are issues in the women's game. (Like the lack of variety in terms of playing style.) But I personally like that it's anyone's guess as to who will be in that final in less than two weeks. And I look forward to seeing how they get there.