Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Not exactly a promotion of women's rugby

Some time during the past couple of weeks (even though I wasn't blogging, I have been trying to keep up) I read about the growth of women's rugby in the NYT:
"Women make up the fastest-growing segments of rugby players in the United States," the writer notes.
And most of it is at happening at the college club sport level (though there has been a recorded growth at the youth level as well.
Let me say, for the record, that I think club sports are great. But I am a little disappointed that, eight years after the NCAA put rugby on its list of emerging sports, only one university (Eastern Illinois) started a varsity program. Again, there are hundreds of club teams with various levels of institutional support. With the addition of rugby (7s) to the summer Olympic Games roster, we may see changes within the collegiate sports structure. But I wonder about the cultural legitimacy of the sport in this country, and specifically how this will affect female rugby players.
What I don't have to wonder about is the relationship between gender and rugby in, say, Ireland thanks to my favorite rugby coach who re-posted this about a potato chip ad.
Because here we have women, in pseudo-rugby gear showing off their shiny decolletage all so Hunky Dorys potato chips can sell some snack food and use some of the money to sponsor the men's national team. I am not even going to ask whether it is better or worse that the women in the ads are not--we assume--actual rugby players.
There is just nothing subtle about this, which is good in some ways for cultural critics like myself. This is no Lindsey Vonn SI cover where some might argue there was no sexualization of the athlete. But then, these women are only playing at being athletes, right? That makes the whole shebang a lot safer. These women are not trying to break into the historically male-dominated European sport. They are just trying to sell potato chips.
Regardless, not a huge help to actual female rugby players. None of the rugby players (current and former) in my life look like this, and I have say I am glad for it!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Major news from Title IX Land

So Joe Biden got up in front of some Girl Scouts and US Women's National Hockey team members yesterday--in addition to the usual crowd of reporters and assorted others--and announced that the Obama administration would be rescinding the 2005 "clarification" of prong three compliance. The clarification which came from George W. Bush's administration, stated that schools could exhibit compliance with prong three of the three-prong test that ensures the provision of equitable opportunities for athletic participation, by sending out email surveys to gauge female students' interest in sports not currently offered at the institution. Non responses would be interpreted as lack of interest. The clarification came to be known as the Title IX loophole because administering a survey over email to undergraduates--come on. Not to mention that it is unlikely that a student who was truly interested in playing a sport would attend a school where said sport did not exist. (There were other issues as well.)
So to clarify, the Bush era clarification is no more.
And this has made some news. Seriously. NPR and the NYT (and others) were reporting on the announcement before Biden even made it yesterday. Good, I guess. I mean sure I wish when the "clarification" was actually out into effect in 2005 that there had been more mainstream press about it rather than the "the feminists are pissed" kind of rhetoric I saw. But hey, we take what we can get.
And of course yesterday's announcement drew heartfelt blog posts about how great Title IX is. It's a pretty good piece of legislation--don't get me wrong. But it would be nice for some ongoing advocacy and not just fair weather reflection (I am not talking about posts from advocacy groups). I am not holding it against people, of course. Praise away.
But in reading one such praise be to Title IX post, I was disturbed not by the post, but by the first comment on it. It wasn't an outright, straight from the College Sports Council, anti-IX post. Which made it all the more disturbing.
It was from a former Senior Women's Administrator (the highest-ranking female administrator in an athletic department) who recognizes that Title IX has indeed afforded women opportunities. But she doesn't like schools who cite budgetary reasons when they cut men's sports. She is "resentful that so many schools drop men's sports as a solution to Title IX. Title IX has killed Football (sic)."
Crap! I missed the funeral. Though I seem to always be at Title IX's trial. This charge of murder is new one (regarding football anyway). Football is not dead. It is very much alive and well all over the country. Just because Hofstra and Northeastern dropped their programs this year does not mean the sport is dying. Look around. This is the United States. This is college football. There is no way American culture will let intercollegiate football die.
Look a little closer and you will see that the money allegedly needed to keep football alive and well is the culprit behind a lot of these budgetary issues athletic departments face.
Schools drop sports for economic reasons. When making decisions about which sports to cut they must consider gender equity. It's really not a lot to ask of federally-funded institutions. If they had the money they would add women's sports or roster spots to achieve Title IX compliance. But they don't for so many reasons I won't go into here.

I agree with the argument of many women's sports advocates that more women should be in athletic administration. But as this woman proves so well, the add (any) woman and stir method is not likely to engender great changes in the somewhat stifling environment of many athletic departments. I think we need a lot more clarification.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Oh Lorena, you made a fool of me

You know, Lorena Ochoa, I went to bat for you. When that idiot commentator asked whether you were thinking retirement when you announced your engagement last summer, I noted that no man would ever be asked that question. And your response that you would continue to play made my rant seem justified.
So, really? You're retiring? At age 28? To concentrate on your family duties and charitable work? I mean, I think you're good and all, and I know your new new husband, like, owns an airline and you probably don't need the money, but your first name is not Annika.
I mean, if you want to pull a Kim Clijsters, I would be fine with that, but I am not so sure I can be as supportive of that comeback.
I do have to thank you, though, for getting me out of this blogging slump I have been in. I was just whining about the lack of blog-worthy sport news when I casually glanced and Yahoo! sports and there you were!

Ochoa will hold a press conference Friday to share more details about this "new stage" in her life. It is not known whether the retirement is effective immediately.

Friday, April 16, 2010

No play on Sunday for BYU

It is not news to most that BYU athletic teams (or even, I suppose, the debating team, if they have one) do not compete on Sundays for religious reasons. It is not especially difficult to control when scheduling regular season contests. Post-season can be a little more tricky. But the NCAA does not allow scheduling that would infringe on a school's religious practices.

But the BYU women's rugby team is a club sport (not governed by NCAA rules) and the women have made it to the national championships which are being held this weekend on Saturday and Sunday. By the time the scheduling issue was realized plane tickets had been purchased by BYU and other teams and it was too late.

So if the BYU women win on Saturday, they cannot play on Sunday. Actually they are not officially affiliated with the school (not sure how that works) so they can play, but being practicing Mormons, they will choose not to.

My reaction to this story is a mix of "live and let live" and "screw you religion--especially corporations disguised as religions that discriminate in the name of a god" philosophies. And I don't really know how to reconcile it all. What is the separation of sport and state and religion? Or rather what are the entangling interests between the entities?
My knee jerk reaction is, "oh well, you have a choice of following a religion and if that religion interferes with a sport then tough luck." But that's pretty much because I have some major issues with the Mormons. But I also have problems with religious prescriptions that, for example, don't allow women to participate in sports at all or minimally. But then I go back to the whole "choice" issue and the fact that religion--no matter how many books or texts or symbols a religion is based on--is all a matter of human interpretation. So I am back to the "well, you chose poorly" And then I remember that free choice is a construction and I am more conflicted.
Needless to say, I am not quite reconciled on this.
It was kind of refreshing, in the world of college sports (though we have to remember this rugby team is a club sport and not varsity which makes a difference) that student-athletes would choose to put something above sport, even if I happen to think that that something is both kind of ridiculous and harmful.
But then I thought about if they win on Saturday, they will forfeit their Sunday match and the team they beat on Saturday is out and there is no competition on Sunday for either the losing team or the winning team. The BYU women know they will not play on Sunday and so they are denying another team a chance to have the experience they themselves are sacrificing. This doesn't seem very Christian-like. It seems very competitive sports-like, but BYU is forgoing that attitude in favor of a Christian one--or so it seems.

Clearly I should not have tackled (hehe) this topic this morning after a week of not blogging and before a healthy dose of caffeine. But that's what I've got this morning.

Friday, April 09, 2010

In case you missed it...Tiger's back

I know, it flew under the radar and all, but Tiger Woods is out of rehab and playing the Master's this week. And The Globe and Mail is wondering whether his return will offend women who make up a pretty decent sized segment of the golfing audience. They play less but spend more on the sport. (It's because halfway decent-looking golf clothes for women cost more than those ubiquitous polos guys throw on with their khakis. Women of course could wear the polo/khaki combo, but I, personally, have an issue playing a sport in khakis. I mean is it golf or casual Friday at the firm?)
Anyway, some are worried that women are going to be offended if things are just allowed to go one without comment or sanction.
Tiger cheated. Cheated with women deemed unsavory. And he got caught. It's a scenario "women" are familiar with. I wonder how many wives of August National members have an intimate knowledge of such things??
Give me a break. People cheat. I am not saying it is right; I'm just noting that it's not unusual. If the fact that a known adulterer is playing golf again turns women away from the sport more so that women have long experienced discrimination in the sport--especially at Augusta National--than things are more effed up than even I thought.

Thankfully schadenfraude does a lot to put me in a better mood about such things. And I'm not quite sure whether someone at Nike (or Nike's ad agency--not sure if their commercials are created in house or contracted out) is either going to get fired for the really bad Tiger commercial or get a promotion for all the buzz it has generated. Spoofs appeared within a day of it airing. Here are some of my favorites:

That one is from American Psycho.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The privilege of outside status and a narrow view

Until yesterday morning, I had not read anything about how Brittney Griner of Baylor has been treated by the fans and by the media. And I don't mean the reaction to her punching a Texas Tech player a couple of months ago. We all know that. I meant the reaction to HER as a very tall, slightly androgynous, deep-voiced, woman of color with a so-called aggressive style of play.
But I knew that similarly situated players, like Courtney Paris, experienced racialized and sexualized taunts from the crowd. And I heard that from a fan, not from the media.
This recent NYT article reported that Griner has been the subject of web chatter over her sexuality and gender (which is tied up in her race as well, though the NYT fails to note this). (Little aside: check out Dr. Lavoi's report on the experiences of two high school players on their meeting with Griner down in San Antonio last weekend.)
But despite this information, the writer seems to think that Griner is part of a group of female athletes who are helping change "feminine beauty ideals" which "have shifted with amazing velocity over the past several decades, in no realm more starkly than sports." Also part of this group speedily changing the standards of beauty: Maria Sharapova, Misty May, Kerry Walsh, and Mia Hamm (who is described as "thick thighed").
Let's note for the record that this article appears in the Fashion and Lifestyle section of the paper--not the sports section. And this is very obvious throughout and certainly by looking at the above group of thin, mostly tall, women with long hair, some of whom compete in little bitty bikinis.
Give me a break. These women are not challenging the feminine beauty ideal--they are reifying it. I don't care that they merely have muscles (and Hamm's thighs are not that thick!). They have socially acceptable muscles. They have toned muscles and very little body fat. They have what all those women who go to "sculpting" classes in the gym are after. Why isn't there a hockey player on that list? Those women have mad muscles--everywhere! Of course you don't get their full effect under all that padding, and maybe that's why we don't really see them--or want to see them. What about speed skaters or bobsledders? Note that even Serena Williams, whose muscles are considerably larger than those on that list, is missing from this discussion.
Sure, feminine beauty ideals do change over time. So do norms of masculinity, though. Let's remember, NYT fashion people, that it was men who first wore shoes with heels.
And maybe androgyny is making a comeback as the writer and some of the quoted experts suggest. I don't know. I have the privilege of living in an area and a community where androgyny is always in fashion. But even if it is coming back, is it the Brittney Griner version of androgyny? I happen to think she is attractive. But my aesthetic has never been much in keeping with these normative "feminine beauty ideals." When the fashion world says androgyny is in, I think about models who cut their hair short, ditch the red lipstick, and wear more "masculine-looking" clothes and pout like slightly fey teenage boys.
But even if it is coming back, and even if Griner is part of this new look (and if she is, let's just state again for the record that Maria Sharapova is certainly not), it is just a different standard that women will conform to. Androgyny, when it's the norm, is not empowerment. It doesn't present a legitimate challenge to hegemonic femininity or the gender binary when it is anointed as the latest version of femininity. Because there will be rules about how to "do" androgyny.
What this article seems to ignore is that there have been androgynous women in sport since--well forever. But also that while sport and culture are mutually constitutive, there is a specific sport culture, one that can be very rigid; and it is one that does not get enough attention in this article. You cannot ignore that a lot of people care and think about Griner's sexuality and gender presentation or that Paris, who I would not label androgynous, was subject to what amounts to hate speech; and that all this is tacitly sanctioned in women's sports. Fighting for access to sport while trying to adhere to social standards of femininity (which again don't change that much) has resulted in interesting negotiations and concessions and, as a result, a complex history--a history that has more influence than the current fashion trend.
Do we really believe that if androgyny had been en vogue when Jennifer Harris--or any of the other dismissed or ostracized players--was playing basketball for Rene Portland at Penn State, she wouldn't have been told to wear less baggy clothes or take her cornrows out and subsequently dismissed from the team? I don't.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Incredulous weekend moments

1. The moment, described as tender/nurturing/loving between West Virginia's Coach Bob Huggins and player Da'Sean Butler happened when the latter went down with a knee injury during the semifinal game against Duke. With Butler writhing in pain on the floor, Huggins came out and knelt down and cradled his head and kind of stroked his face and got really really close and was talking to him trying to calm him down. I read it is as quite a queer moment in men's basketball. Not a "that's so gay" moment. I just thought it was interesting, especially given that coaches often do not come off the sidelines when players get injured (I watched a women's hockey coach talk strategy with his players on his bench while one of his players was down on the ice for an extended period of time, eventually going off on a stretcher with a season-ending back injury.) And the ones that do come out to check on things don't kneel down and whisper comforting words while cradling their player's head.
I haven't quite decided though if the moment was made more or less queer by the fact that Huggins is widely known as a jerk.

2. Speaking of coaches who fall in that category...Geno Auriemma gave a sit-down interview to ESPN on the eve of UConn's semifinal against Baylor. It aired last night before the game. In addition to being defensively arrogant about coaching women's basketball, he said that all the people who want UConn's streak to end just fuels his name. But he also said that he does not think it will last much longer; that there are too many good teams out there and line-ups are changing a lot next season. He even went so far as to say the streak will be broken by December. And if it isn't he said he wouldn't come back in January* (because he would be so dismayed at the poor coaching of his colleagues). So here's hoping that UConn stays unbeaten until December 31!!

3. If I was Elin Nordegren and/or John Daly I would be pissed right now at the sympathy spilling forth for Tiger Woods and his addiction. I mean ESPN is just bringing in people to talk about how hard it is to "work on yourself" so intensely. It's not that I don't believe that sex addiction exists (also note that the word sex is not being said; there are a variety of euphemisms being bandied about and Woods himself will not say what he was in treatment for). But other people who engage in drug and alcohol abuse don't garner this kind of sympathy. And even though everyone says, "oh what he did was wrong. But he acknowledges it and he went to treatment." If I was in his situation, I would have gone to a place where I could be isolated for 45 days, too.

4. I won a sports bra for participating in the Women Talk Sports NCAA bracket challenge! Not because I am doing well in the pool, but because I joined. I like winning things but mostly I liked that I got it today and can put off doing laundry for yet another day.

* Note that my incredulous nod matched those of both Kara Lawson and Carolyn Peck when they discussed the statement afterwards.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Daily Show does sport

When Moose Lewis announced he was starting an all-white, American-born basketball league, there was a fair amount of uproar--and rightly so.
But Lewis came off simply as a racist (not that there is anything simple about racism--he just appeared to be a one-dimensional racist guy spouting neo-conservative catch phrases). Thankfully, the Daily Show got Lewis to do an interview. And nothing aids in character development like a good mocking from the Daily Show folks.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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huge h/t to my friend, Jane, for making me aware of this video.