Saturday, May 29, 2010
Anyway, besides the obvious counting issues, there is the issue of which team to extend the invite to. It's pretty much all about money and which team could lead to some nice(r) television contracts. Also there's supposed to be a commitment to strong academics and athletics.
But then the (in)famous Joe Paterno, of Penn State, the 11th Big Ten team added in the early 1990s, said this:
"It's not a question of just bringing somebody in that you're just going to kick around. It's a question of bringing someone in who can handle the academics, the research, AAU schools, people with a commitment to the women's sports, a commitment to all sports programs, a commitment to the ideals of what intercollegiate athletics should be all about." [emphasis mine]
Whoa. Thank goodness for media relations people, eh?
Friday, May 28, 2010
I am currently watching Venus for the second time in two days and I have to say I don't see what all the hoopla is about. The flesh colored underwear we already discussed when she wore them at the Australian. And the lace and the illusion of bareness? One, I don't think the illusion is that great. It looks like lingerie. It's black with red trimmings. Two, it's very French in my mind. Very stylish. And three, let's not forget that Bethanie Mattek has worn actual lingerie (not that there's anything wrong with that) before.
I don't know what is so revealing about it. I mean it's kind of annoying that she pulls up the straps after every point. But other players are pulling down their compression shorts every point, too, which speaks generally to ill-fitting or designed sports clothing.
So please stop talking about it.
I mean if she shows up at Wimbledon in an all-white version of the dress, that's going to be something to talk about a la Ann White's unitard! Until then, let's talk tennis.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
But now those smiles are turned upside down! Because WPS announced today that St. Louis Athletica is folding--immediately. As in right now. As in no games this weekend for Athletica players. The rest of the season's schedule is being adjusted and Athletica players are free agents as of June 1. So Hope Solo, Shannon Boxx, and Lori Chalupny, all key players from the US National Team, are now on the job market.
What happened? A funding crisis is what is being given as the reason. One would think given the current economic situation the whole country finds itself in, largely a result of failing to look at things closely and putting too much faith where it shouldn't have been placed (that's the my liberal studies explanation of the crisis) that WPS would be careful about who it lets own franchises. Again, I don't know anything about the ownership group except that they also own a men's team in St. Louis. But these things don't just happen. Someone, somewhere must have had a clue. If it was someone within WPS, that's unfortunate. But it's equally unfortunate if someone in WPS didn't know.
It's a huge blow for fans, players, and WPS's reputation. I hope someone does something soon to turn our frowns upside down.
Monday, May 24, 2010
I guess when that year was over we went back to It's Always Already All About Men. I didn't get the memo which must be why I'm just kind of shocked by the announcement that Boston Breakers co-captain Kristine Lilly (I love the way she spells her first name--so unique!) is being inducted into the The Sports Museum under the special Traditions program which honors Boston athletes. Not surprised that she is being honored in this way. But definitely surprised that she is the first woman to be so honored.
I could not find the criteria for induction just that it honors the athletes who have helped make Boston a great sports city. Not sure if it has to be professional athletes or not. If not, how about hockey player Angela Ruggiero who played for Harvard (ok, so it's technically Cambridge) and went on (actually overlapped) to play for the US national team in four Olympics?
What about runner/marathoner Joan Benoit Samuelson who won the Boston Marathon twice and went on to win a gold medal for the US at the 1984 Olympic games? Or Kathrine Switzer who was the first woman to run Boston--though technically illegally. She wasn't from Boston but I think it qualifies as a moment that made Boston a great sports city. Nancy Kerrigan is from the Boston area.
I realize this induction is skewed toward men who have four longstanding professional sports teams in the area--in addition to professional soccer and lacrosse (I believe still). Other than the Breakers, there is no well-known women's team. But I have to believe there are Boston women out there--either who play individual sports, on for minor or semi-professional teams, or for national--who deserve the recognition
Friday, May 21, 2010
This morning, reading the headlines in my alert, I had a pang of blogger jealousy. Someone had come up with a title that was very After Atalanta-esque--and it wasn't me! And it was about softball--and lesbians. How could this be?
Well because it was Dr. Pat Griffin who wrote the piece "Can Jennie Finch Even Say Lesbian?" and so I feel much better now. And especially so after reading it. Griffin calls out all (or most) of the people who have been speaking up in the wake of the astounding revelation that Elena Kagan once played softball--and the messages that sends. And Griffin's critique of the women's softball spokespeople is right on. Everyone is dancing around the l-word and being generally vague about the presence of said l-worders in the sport and how that affects the image of women's softball. And like I was earlier, Griffin is pretty unapologetic in her messages: 1) get over it, and 2) educate yourself about how to talk about these issues. While some preach acceptance, the level of discomfort belies their fear of (even more?) lesbian visibility. Softball player, commentator and current Women's Sports Foundation president Jessica Mendoza's comments were particularly disappointing. "We've come so far" she said. We who? And far from what? As in we women who play sports have come so far because we have more opportunities now? Well women is a broad category and some of us have come farther than others clearly and some of us owe a lot to those who came before us. And a lot of those women were/are lesbians. And I know they/we weren't always perfect in the handling of homosexuality in sport, but I don't think we can even quantify the numbers and the ways lesbian women have taken us "so far."
The column made me think about the blame cycle. We could blame Elena Kagan for not coming out (or for being out and going back in?). We can blame the media for their suggestive photos and their suggestive questions. Even the writers who are asking Mendoza, Jennie Finch, softball spokesfemme extraordinaire, and International Softball Association president Don Porter have a role in this. No one had to report on this angle.
But you know what? There wouldn't be a story about how Kagan's softball-playing days reflect on the current state of women's softball if the people who are responsible for the current state of women's softball weren't so damn scared and homophobic themselves. We can certainly blame the media for asking the questions. But we should definitely be blaming softball for kowtowing and for not standing up and supporting the thousands of lesbian who have built and supported the sport.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Nonetheless, I find it difficult to refrain from infusing some critical commentary when the issue comes up.
This one is not a diatribe. I just happened to come across news that the University of Alabama (whose softball team just won the SEC regular season and tournament and got a #1 seeding in the NCAA tournament) has renewed its contract with Nike. (This isn't even going to be an anti-Nike post!) As part of said contract (which runs through 2018!) Nike will provide 'Bama with apparel, equipment, coaching gear, and shoes. They will also:
will allocate funds...for the athletic department's annual Power of Pink initiative in which the company will provide specific "pink garments" to be worn by each women's sports team at one contest per year.
"Pink garments"? Like underwear? Or Easter dresses? Such strange wording. Of course, what they mean is that when someone decides that a game will be a cancer awareness/fundraising one, Nike will make pink uniforms so the team can wear them for that one contest. What's interesting is that there is no mention of cancer in this. We just--myself included--are now simply assuming that any pink initiative is cancer related. [And I have posted previously how breast cancer isn't even being mentioned anymore--pink is standing in for all cancers now? Or just female cancers? It's all getting kind of fuzzy (and pink of course!)]
And also is the obvious: women's teams are the ones engaging in these events--at the collegiate level anyway. It does not appear that the Alabama football team and Coach Saban will be sporting pink uniforms this fall. Apparently one of the other things football is exempt from is the Pink Initiative. When men do such events they seem to be happening almost exclusively at the professional level (MLB, NHL) and there are jokes and winks about men wielding pink bats, hockey sticks, gloves (but never uniforms you will notice!)
There is a difference between women stepping up to help other women and universities (largely under male control, still) creating initiatives--supported by somewhat misogynist corporations--in which women are mandated to participate (because if you don't, you're a bad woman) while men are excused.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
This is an ingoing debate in the study sport, gender, and culture and I myself haven't come down on any particular side (shocking, I know!). What worries many, myself included, is that we just don't know what will happen if sports that have not been integrated (and some certainly have and some certainly should be--hello, billiards??) begin to move in that direction. Will women lose opportunities that have been gained over the past three plus decades (in the U.S.)? Will girls be dissuaded from or discouraged by playing with boys? And note that that is the way this is being framed (not necessarily by Pappano and McDonagh but in the general discourse): girls joining boys on their teams.
It looks like we are going to start seeing some data--from Canada. High schools in Ontario have recently decided to let girls play on boys' teams. And people are abuzz about it with some arguing that elite level athletes, like speed skaters and hockey players, have been competing against men (largely in practice granted) in order to improve their skills. But others suggest that the move will deplete women's teams and leagues of their best players and may ultimately lead to the elimination of women's team and leagues altogether--which would, in turn, lead to more women and girls dropping out of sport altogether.
In other words, the debate up north is very similar to the one we have been here. But I am very interested to see how this plays* out.
*Yes, the pun was intended!
Thursday, May 13, 2010
So I missed the whole Wall Street Journal printing pics of SCOTUS nominee Elena Kagan playing softball--on their front page! I did see said pics in various postings/blogs around teh internets.
And of course I have been around for the remarkable silence around her sexuality--besides that whole denial thing by the White House. This situation seems to be getting stickier every day. And I could pontificate about political strategy and the ins and outs and in-betweens of the closet.
But I'd rather talk about softball! And lesbians! And lesbians who play softball!
Because you gotta love the New York Post chiding the more snooty and allegedly high brow WSJ by publishing an article about the connection between lesbians and softball. And even getting one my favorite (former) softball-playing lesbians and sexuality and sport scholar, Dr. Pat Griffin, to comment on it.
Why yes, Virginia, there are lesbians who play softball! And no it doesn't mean that all women who play softball are lesbians. But, yes, many are. And yes, as you will read in the Post article, in Yvonne Zipter's book Diamonds are a Dykes Best Friend, and in Drs. Susan Birrell and Diana Richter's article "Is a diamond forever?: Feminist transformations of sport" softball has been an important part in many lesbians' lives and the lesbian community.
So suck it up, straight girls. Tie as many ribbons in your hair around those too-tight French braids as you want, but stop complaining about being confused for a lesbian. And stop with your raunchy heterosex stories and the talk about your wonderful boyfriends on the bench (yes, I'm speaking from personal experience). Lesbians have to live in your heteronormative world all the time. So what that softball is associated with lesbians? Isn't pretty much everything else unapologetically heterosexual? Stop making us feel bad for the fact that lesbians dominate the sport. Play with us! Please. We'll love you, too. But not in that way--unless you want us to ;)
I was going to come back to the Kagan issue and tie it all in, but I am going to save that for forthcoming post about softball, lesbians, community norms, generational shifts, and progressive and gender politics.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
But losing by a string?
Or rather losing because one was wearing a string, in the form of a friendship bracelet? And not just losing the event, but losing the meet and thus the championship for one's team.
Oh yeah, and losing because the opposing team pointed out your "jewelry" which required your disqualification and gave the tattle tale coach's team the victory--by default. That's rough.
And that's what happened in California a couple of weeks ago when pole vaulter Robin Laird successfully cleared a height that gave her team the win in the meet and the league title. She was wearing a friendship bracelet when she jumped, an infraction (because it is considered jewelry), that cost her team the aforementioned accolades when the opposing team coach, let's call him Coach Machiavelli (since I just finished reading The Prince), pointed out said jewelry.
There is some question as to whether Coach Machiavelli saw the bracelet when Laird was preparing to jump, which she did twice because she stopped herself in her first attempt down the runway only to return to the start, compose herself, and clear the bar on her first attempt of the day.
After she landed and started walking away amidst cheers, Coach M pointed to his wrist and Laird was disqualified.
Where do we start with this one? The perversion of youth sports? The weird messages young athletes are receiving not from professional athletes with suspect morals and problematic relationships to the term "role model" but from their own coaches??
And how about gender? Yep, I'm going there. Not sure whether a female coach would have responded any differently. Women want to win, too. And we are not exempt from Machiavellian tendencies. Some coaches may even embrace them in order to remain in the profession. But would there have been a different tone on a female-coached team that would have said, yes, a rule was broken, but we don't want to win this way? Would there have been more space for even a discussion of the incident rather than that provided by Coach M who pointed to a piece of string and said "we win" subjecting his entire team to his decision to enforce this rule. And please don't come back to me with a "rules are rules" rationale. Everyone knows the "rules" are created by a certain body of people with certain privileges and are applied differently to other groups and individuals based on a whole 'nother set of factors.
This story isn't astounding. No one got physically hurt--or worse. There were no parents yelling or attacking coaches, refs, each other. No athletes behaving badly. But it makes me a little melancholy nonetheless.
Monday, May 10, 2010
It's the last part that seems a little off when we think about--or when Christine Brennan makes us think about--Nike continuing to sponsor Tiger Woods, Ben Roethlisberger, and Kobe Bryant. Sure "image is everything" is Canon's slogan. (Of course it was famously spoken by one-time Nike client, Andre Agassi.) But clearly, as Brennan points out in a very good column* (and sometimes I think Brennan is a little too easy on certain aspects of sportocracy so I was pleased by this one) Nike does not think it's image will be harmed by continuing to be associated with these men. Conversely, Nike also sponsors out US soccer player Natasha Kai, so I guess their devotion to their stars cuts in many different directions.
Former Women's Sport Foundation CEO Donna Lopiano felt that Nike's refusal to admonish their athletes sends a clear message to consumers about the image of the company (macho, edgy--Kai certainly fits the latter and maybe even the former which is also exemplified by US soccer star Abby Wambach--not as out as Kai, but definitely has that macho, bravado thing going on. And we could enter into an interesting discussion of how female macho might challenge the Nike rhetoric here--but we'll just let those thoughts percolate for now.)
Brennan ends with a quote from Lopiano about how these decisions by Nike regarding their misbehaving athletes sends a message about the ethics of the company as established by its leadership. Here's what else it says: Nike is kind of untouchable. Other companies have pulled out when celeb spokespeople behave badly. But Nike, which certainly must have some kind of cost-benefit analysis team, clearly doesn't see it as a risk. This is company whose practices and ethics have received almost (maybe even more?) attention in print, in film, and on television as the evil empire Walmart. But so few are phased. Which leads to my second point: it says something about American culture, and the global culture of which Nike is a part, that we don't punish Nike for their misdeeds and those of their representatives. You can be outraged by Nike and what they do and say, but look down at your feet, or the logo on your chest, (as I will this afternoon when I teach spin with my Nike cycle shoes and tank top) and think about the consumer's role in all this.
* from over a week ago. So it's old news. But still important to discuss, I think, especially with Woods and Roethlisberger starting to enter the everything's back to normal zone.
Thursday, May 06, 2010
Not just because I hate the TODAY show, but because I hear more about stories I had kind of been avoiding, like the murder of University of Virginia lacrosse player, Yeardley Love by her (ex?) boyfriend, George Huguely, also a lacrosse player. Not avoiding because I am indifferent to the murder of a young woman, but because the more I listen to and read the coverage, the more irate I become.
This column was particularly bad. I do believe writer Les Carpenter had the best of intentions in trying to both memorialize Yeardley Love and bring attention to the issue of bad behavior by student-athletes. But in attempting both, he succeeded in neither.
First, I found it highly problematic that in describing the vigil for Love held on UVA's campus, he wrote only of women holding candles in their "flowing summer dresses" and sandals coming to the vigil site from all over campus. It was kind of Greek tragedy, chorus-like. Plus the fact that there were not only women in attendance. But the picture Carpenter paints is that this chorus of women emerge from all over to honor their fallen sister reifying ideas that 1) only women mourn and 2) that only women are victims. It was how he opened the column, and it was very off-putting and not, in my mind, a tribute to Love.
Second, in his desire to point out the issues of violence and crime among college athletes he--and others are and will be guilty of this as well I am sure--neglects to fully examine the issues. I don't know. Maybe it's not his job. But in an article about a lacrosse player from a prominent lacrosse school who is accused of committing violence against a woman, I am pretty sure not mentioning the Duke case is a big oversight. And it makes me wonder how this case will be portrayed differently. Because the Duke case is also about violence against women perpetrated by privileged white athletes. But the victim in the UVA case was a matriculated white female who was also a student-athlete.
I am not comparing the level of crime or the facts, such as they are, but I am worried about the lack of critical analysis that takes into account not just the male on female violence, but issues of race and class as well. And not just on an individual level but looking at it from a sport-by-sport issue. We frequently hear about the misdeeds of male basketball and football players, but clearly lacrosse players are no angels either. (And neither are hockey players if you read Crossing the Line about sexual violence in Canadian hockey.) Maybe we should be looking a little closer at who gets away with what and in what situations. It seems wrong to treat every male student-athlete as a suspect, but it is equally wrong to suspect some over others. And it might even be deadly.
Wednesday, May 05, 2010
First was the controversial press conference by the new women's head coach at the University of Missouri. Robin Pingeton's press conference in which she announces her Christianity and talks about the family atmosphere of her coaching staff (all married to opposite sex partners and with children) has been fairly well covered but I thought I would mention it anyway. You can check out Pat Griffin's blog for an excellent assessment of the conference and the ramifications of Pingeton's discourse.
In the aftermath of the press conference, a lot of comments have been made about Pingeton's intentions. There is a lot of skepticism regarding them; about whether Pingeton was sending the message to potential recruits, their parents, and fans that this was not going to be a dyke-y program. But this guy, an avowed atheist, is giving Pingeton the benefit of the doubt. I think it's a little naive actually. And those of us who have just the slightest familiarity with the business of intercollegiate recruiting know that those statements are not benign. That Pingeton had no complaints about mixing religion and coaching in her former position at Illinois State, does not really convince me. After all, student-athletes are not exactly in a position to protest the pre-game prayers or other manifestations of Christianity that may appear in their sporting lives--sporting lives that they are not likely to put in jeopardy because their coach is an out Christian. After all, it's pretty hard to argue--in our culture--that Christianity is harming them. That prayer here and there is offensive.
But here is my positive take on this (I know--it's unusual; just go with it for a sec). Student-athletes are more aware--I think. They are certainly more aware of sexuality--their own and that of their peers. Sure, there are still anti-gay teens that will enter the recruiting pool. But there are probably a lot more who do not care. Or even those who care that their future coach might be a homophobe. In other words, I think and I hope that we are reaching some kind of tipping point where being anti-gay will be a detriment for a coach and not an asset. My hope is that with this new generation where people aren't really "coming out," there is less tolerance for those who are not so open to all sexualities. I hope the "we are who we are--no labels" attitude translates into disdain for those (like coaches) who will keep insisting on labels and using them to judge and discriminate.
Also on the issue of women's basketball, in the wake of March Madness, Salon published a column on lesbian athletes--especially basketball players, titled "Lesbian athletes just can't win." This is the kind of cynical title I would expect from...well, me. But, of course, it's not untrue. Salon mentions the Rene Portland case, talks to the only out DI coach Sherri Murrell, discusses how the Women's Basketball Coaches Association would not show the film Training Rules (about homophobia in women's sport which highlights Portland's behavior) at their annual convention, and Pingeton's press conference. It discusses the pressure on all female athletes anywhere on the sexuality spectrum to conform to gender norms (even as playing a sport--certain sports in particular--is itself a departure from historical constructions of femininity). And though the writer acknowledges the homophobia in all for sport--for men and women--she writes:
what is particular to female athletes is that they bear an additional burden of having to constantly justify their game. Women's sports are compelled to prove again and again that they are worthy of attention, fans, and funding.
With such absurd day-to-day defenses foisted on women's sports, it seems that few gay athletes and coaches are inclined to meet additional backlash by coming out. It's hard enough to validate women's sports; to embrace women's sports that include out lesbians seems to be too much to ask.
And finally, as I was looking into the Pingeton situation, I found an old column from Inside Higher Ed about the University of Virginia fight song (written in the late 1800s) which includes the phrase "bright and gay." Apparently students, not content with the historical meaning of gay as happy, will yell out after the line is sung after UVA scores (in football) "not gay!" You know, just in case we outsiders thought that singing the line meant everyone at UVA was gay. This was a few years ago and some students took action to explain why the "not gay" chant is offensive and encourage education about the behavior. There was some success with people noting the chant got softer (i.e. not as many people who using it) but also some backlash with students who did not want to be told what to do and those ubiquitous free speech arguments. Yes, congratulations, you have the right to say "not gay" wherever and whenever you want. Note though that many people--with those same rights--are not able to say "gay" whenever or wherever.
As far as I can tell, the practice has not been eradicated. But apparently the campaign advisor for the Republican candidate for Congress in Virginia was one of the students who spoke out in favor of the "not gay" chant. And his participation has come to light and forced the candidate to "rebuke" his staffer's comments. My cynical self says this is just lip service from a Virginia Republican--but at least it's making news.
Monday, May 03, 2010
And maybe there is not an uproar in Ireland. But there is this one sport columnist for Irish Times who did a very good job assessing the situation and chiding both Hunky Dorys and his professional colleagues and people in general. [He does note that some rugby officials might be not so pleased with the campaign by one of their sponsors as it counters the less "bestial" image rugby is going for.] I also learned what camogie and hurling are--bonus!
Here are some excerpts:
The reason Hunky Dorys didn’t have to think twice about descending into the world of dreary single entendre with their ad campaign is that women in sport are demeaned and diminished all the time, in terms of funding, in terms of coverage, in terms of attitude.
Hunky Dorys need to do penance by throwing many packets of crispy high denomination notes at sport for young women.
The sadness is that the attitudes are virtually all-pervasive and it is only when we are faced with an effrontery like the Hunky Dorys nonsense that we even go through the lip-service of pretending that we all take women’s sport terribly seriously.
We don’t cover women’s sport because people don’t watch them. And people don’t watch women’s sport because we don’t cover them and tell the stories. And there are too few stories to tell because there are too few funds and too few facilities and too few people of quality will to get involved in coaching and encouraging girls to take themselves seriously as athletes to fully explore their potential.
The Hunky Dorys debacle has provided us with an easy leg-up onto our high horses. We have galloped to the high moral ground where the air is thin yet satisfying. We haven’t really got the right to our indignation, however. Not yet.
So this last comment, which ends the column, is the one that got me thinking about righteous indignation. I think it's an important idea for all of us who comment upon sport to remember. We can sit here in the safety of our offices, our kitchen tables, our academic jobs (not that those are particularly safe these days), our favorite cafes and rail against the media and sportocracy but we should also be engaging in some self-reflection about what we are doing besides eruditely complaining.