Tuesday, January 25, 2011

No kidding!

Journalist Shannon Owens has penned (can one still say that in the digital age?) a column about how Venus Williams's exit from the Australian Open--and the press coverage of her during it--says a lot about the position of women's sports in the media and the collective imagination.
We all know by know the dress controversy and the controversy over the controversy.
Owens points out that part of the problem is that we (women's sports fans, sports fans generally, maybe even society generally) are so stuck on a few faces that it becomes a problem when one of the faces makes an early exit--a la Venus Williams after her leg injury to that muscle that so few of us even knew we had. Of course Owens could be accused of being a little American-centric here. After all Kim Clijsters is still around and any follower of women's tennis knows her face and story.
But her overall argument is on target. So few female athletes get any kind of star billing and when they do, they stay there. Good for them, not so good for women's sports. The newcomers and now-players aren't put in the spotlight in women's sports the way they are with men's sports. If Alex Morgan were a guy, she'd be getting a lot more press right now. (Yes, I am going to make you Google Alex Morgan just to prove my--or Owens's--point.)
This is one of the saddest moments in the piece, in my opinion:

Candace Parker is the biggest name in American women's pro sports today to Dr. Phillips freshman basketball guard Taryn Griffey.

Griffey, the daughter of Cincinnati Reds great Ken Griffey Jr., dreams of competing on Parker's level one day and she's on the right track so far. She leads the No. 1 ranked Panthers in scoring and rebounding – an impressive feat considering she is just 5-feet-5.

I asked Griffey to name other recognizable faces in women's pro sports besides Parker. her first pick.

"I can't think of anybody," Griffey said after a long pause.

Two points about this exchange.
One, who you were taught to look up to and exposed to matters. Griffey comes from a pretty privileged background in terms of access to sports. She clearly could have been exposed to women's sports, but she wasn't.
Also, still sad that so many female athletes take on--almost exclusively--male athletes as role models. I don't quite understand how Griffey (I don't mean to pick on her, I feel like I am using her more as a concept in this moment) can admire Candace Parker but not know any of her teammates or rivals.
I guess this goes deeper than just some press about a dress.

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