Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Is the Save the WPS campaign a little, um, off

So I knew the WPS was not in good shape. I retained an unusual amount of optimism about the league's viability throughout the many collapses of teams, losses of coaches, and that whole weird MagicJack fiasco. (OK I started to lose hope during the MagicJack thing, actually.)
So now the league is on the verge of non-existence again. It needs to add a sixth team ASAP or it will lose its Division I league status within US Soccer. (The league is actually supposed to field 8 teams but has gotten waivers in the past.)
So it's crunch time. And though the league had planned on adding a team for the 2013 season there is no telling whether that would have actually happened or if another team would have folded in the meantime.

I kind of buried the lead of the post but here it is:
The Women Talk Sports network--of which I am a (somewhat ambivalent) member--has started a grassroots campaign to save the WPS.
But they aren't asking money from us regular Joanns and Joes. (Smart--because the general public is probably not going to pull together the funds to keep a professional sports team going.)
They are asking for money from Ellen DeGeneres and Rachel Maddow, however.

My first thought: creepy.
My second thought: really? That's the plan?

Sure WTSN justified this choice by noting that both Ellen and Rachel covered the Women's World Cup this summer. This makes it seem like anyone who expressed an interest would make a viable owner. Jere Longman of the NYT has a lot of interest in women's soccer and was in Germany writing really great pieces about the World Cup. But they didn't call him out.

And the calling out thing is weird. These are the kind of things that happen behind the scenes. This is professional sport. It is a business. Sure celebrities take ownership stakes in teams all the time. But to publicly call out two women who are not in the business of sport team ownership is weird and not very professional. And, it's unrealistic.

And there's the whole we're-not-going-to-mention-that-they're-gay thing.
Women's professional sports have generally liked to ignore the whole lesbian element thing. I am pretty sure the WPS itself would not have called out these two high-profile gay women. In part, because they are gay. Ellen is pretty innocuous but Maddow says some things that are controversial (for which I am eternally grateful). And she will not get a pass for saying those things like other owners who are white heterosexual men would.
There are many high-powered women out there. Business women. (Remember the Virginia Slims tour was funded by a rich woman Billie Jean King had gone to--personally.) Why not call out some of these women? Well probably because it's not a good business practice to publicly shame people for not buying a sports team. I don't think it's a great idea to call on media personalities. In some ways it becomes a conflict of interest for them.

I don't know Ellen DeGeneres or anyone who knows her. Maybe she would be interested. (Also, since we're picking on high-profile lesbians, why not Rosie O'Donnell? She's actually been spotted at women's sports events.)
But Maddow seems a stretch. One, she is not a millionaire (the campaign letter noted that millionaires need to invest in women's sports). Two, knowing what I know about her, and having talked to a few of her friends in the past 24 hours, I imagine that she thinks this is all a little weird too.
This raises a few more issues about women supporting women's sports and normative versus alternative models of sport and ownership. But I think I will end it here and address those later.
I am embarrassed for the WSN. I hope the campaign does not take off. I think it would be an embarrassment if Rachel Maddow had to respond. Don't punish her for covering the Women's World Cup.
Ahh! You want me to do what?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Oklahoma State tragedy

Thoughts go out to the Oklahoma State community--especially the women's basketball team--which lost their head and assistant coaches last week. The coaches were on a recruiting trip when their plane crashed.
Kurk Budke had turned the team around in recent years. Assistant coach Miranda Serna was a former player of Budke's who had been  his assistant for many years.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Poetry Friday

Because so many were lost in our crazy storm a couple of weeks ago. And because whenever I hear the word "birches" I repeat the first lines of this poem (the entirety of which I had memorized when I was 14).


Robert Frost

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay.
Ice-storms do that. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust--
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
(Now am I free to be poetical?)
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows--
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father's trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

And for...

Saturday Night Live.

And Jon Stewart

I don't think the latest crop of Penn State grads will be getting jobs or internships at the Daily Show or SNL any time soon.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Thank goodness for Mechelle Voepel

Dr. Pants pointed out that the article I raved about yesterday was posted on ESPNW which receives significantly less traffic than ESPN.com.
But Mechelle Voepel's contribution to the discussion of Penn State and the connection of the current situation to the Rene Portland situation did make it to ESPN.
And--as usual--it's very good.
Here's a snippet:
Unfortunately, many universities -- if they're being honest -- need to look at themselves and say, "Do we do all we can to ensure that everyone's compass is directed toward doing what's right, even if that might initially cause some bad publicity for the university or mean sparring with a powerful coach? Do we look out for the powerless? Is our moral code as strong as it needs to be? Where are our true priorities? Who are we most concerned about protecting?"

Those can seem like pie-in-the-sky ideals, and maybe they are. Certainly, they're much easier to commit to in theory than in practice. But if there are lessons to be gained from what's occurred at Penn State, the most important need to be learned by those in the most powerful positions at schools and their athletic departments.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Poetry Friday

from "18 Days Without You"

Anne Sexton

December 18th
Swift boomerang, come get!
I am delicate. You've been gone.
The losing has hurt me some, yet
I must bend for you. See me arch. I'm turned on.
My eyes are lawn-colored, my hair brunette.

Kiss the package, Mr. Bind!
Yes? Would you consider hurling yourself
upon me, rigorous but somehow kind?
I am laid out like paper on your cabin kitchen shelf.
So draw me a breast. I like to be underlined.

Look, lout! Say yes! Draw me like a child. I shall need
merely two round eyes and a small kiss.
A small o. Two earrings would be nice. Then proceed
to the shoulder. You may pause at this.

Catch me. I'm your disease.
Please go slow all along the torso
drawing beads and mouths and trees
and o's, a little graffiti and a small hello for I grab, I nibble, I lift, I please.

Draw me good, draw me warm.
Bring me your raw-boned wrist and your
strange, Mr. Bind, strange stubborn horn.
Darling, bring me this an hour of undulations, for
this is the music for which I was born.

Lock in! Be alert, my acrobat
and I will be soft wood and you the nail
and we will make fiery ovens for Jack Sprat
and you will hurl yourself into my tiny jail
and we will take a supper together and that
will be that.

Thanks, ESPN

I know it's 11-11-11 but this is not some kind of Freaky Friday, opposite-world post. I am genuinely appreciative of ESPN running this piece:
Luke Cyphers has a column at ESPN.com on how there have been other things within PSU athletics that were not quite right--namely the tenure of former women's basketball coach Rene Portland. Glad people in the media are making the connection.

Here is a particularly good snippet:
Meanwhile, when we examine the Portland era and the Sandusky scandal through the same lens, what we see tells us a lot about institutionalized hate and systems that equate winning with morality, both of which flourished for decades in State College. The administration's failure to step in and do the right thing, the moral thing, created a void in which dozens of young lives, from Portland's players to Sandusky's alleged victims, were disrupted and forever scarred.

Read the rest--it's worth it.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Whoa--that was fast!

Joe Paterno to retire.
At the end of the season.

Scandal= "retirement"

Scandal = resignation (hmm...)
I may actually watch the game this weekend to see what the atmosphere is like.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Not so surprised by PSU

Of course Penn State was going to cover up the abuse perpetuated by one of its coaches. Of course the institution that sheltered openly homophobic and not-so-openly racist basketball coach Rene Portland for years--years--would cover up for a former assistant football coach who was engaging in sexual acts with young boys. It reminds me of the stories we hear about corruption within police departments. The denial, the looking the other way behaviors, and the active cover-ups meant to protect one of their own. (I heard Michael Chiklis was very good on The Shield, maybe he would be interested in a leading role on The AD. I think he could pull off Tim Curley. He would have to spend some time practicing being on a witness stand, though.)
I read the headlines a few days ago and thought--well, not so shocking that a man would molest little boys or even that a PSU football coach would do so.
Then more got revealed about the seemingly systematic cover-up of the actions of said football coach.
Because, according to the various and myriad charges, athletic director Tim Curley and the VP of Finances knew about some of Jerry Sandusky's "horsing around" with young boys in the program Sandusky founded to help underprivileged youth.
The two men are charged with, among other things, perjury. They may have lied about what they knew to a grand jury when the investigation against Sandusky began several years ago.
They are also charged with not reporting the abuse to the authorities. This is based on the idea that because they are school officials they are mandatory reporters. They might get off on that one because of some details about who reported to whom and the association of the program with the school. They may not be criminally charged with that one--but they're still guilty. Who hears about sexual misconduct with underage youth and does not report it? Come on.
And now it appears that even the most sacred of Penn State figures, the seemingly untouchable Joe Paterno, is going to be touched by this. Charges have not been filed against Paterno who, when told about Sandusky by a graduate student, did report it to Curley and the VP. But:
State police Commissioner Frank Noonan said that although Paterno may have met his legal requirement to report suspected abuse by Sandusky, "somebody has to question about what I would consider the moral requirements for a human being that knows of sexual things that are taking place with a child."
He added: "I think you have the moral responsibility, anyone. Not whether you're a football coach or a university president or the guy sweeping the building. I think you have a moral responsibility to call us."

Will Paterno retire just like Portland did?

Dave Zirin published a very good column about the scandal focusing on how such a revered--by the school, alumni, and the community--football program got away (temporarily) with this behavior. This scandal is soo much worse than the other college football scandals we have heard about recently, Zirin notes, especially because Penn State has always been an "outlaw program." Maybe the football program specifically has not suffered from pay-for-play scandals. But I think it's hard to say that the culture within the Penn State athletic department is healthy or safe for anyone who is a little bit vulnerable. I think the way administrators handled the Portland scandal--and I do believe it rises to the level of scandal--illustrates this.

I am a little bit despondent here. College football is out of control. I would give up on it completely; sit on the sidelines waiting for it to pull a Roman Empire and collapse from within; but it just keeps hurting so many people the bigger it gets.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Promoting the Body Issue

I know I am a little late to the game here but 1) I haven't been checking my After Atalanta email (if anyone knows an easy way to forward gmail to another account please enlighten me) and 2) sick...sick sick sick.
But I did manage to get a copy of ESPN Magazine's third (third, right?) Body issue.
Dr. Pants texted me and informed me that it was a must-see. Dr. Pants is a big Hope Solo fan and Solo did grace one of the covers this year. Me, not so much so I didn't really care much about seeing Solo pseudo nude.
But the article about testicles was too much to pass up. (more on that at a later date)
So I read it. I am getting a little bored of this whole thing actually. (Well except for the testicles article.)
And I wonder if ESPN can sense that the Body Issue just isn't that interesting. That it will never draw the same attention as the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
Because was what was sent to my After Atalanta gmail:
The only magazine that can possibly trump the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue for popularity has to be the 2011 ESPN The Magazine ‘Body Issue.’ Want big stars without clothes? This one is all you. Hope Solo, Alicia Sacramone, Helio Castroneves, Apolo Ohno, Blake Griffin, Jose Reyes and even a professional bowler. The photos would normally be considered NSFW, but chill out, it’s art!

Included in the email were some of the pictures.
It was sent by Stephen Gebhardt, the director of marketing for the COED Media Group, which is some kind of marketing group designed to appeal to college students. I guess that explains why I was told to chill out because it's art. Still not sure why I received this email. Do they assume because I write a blog I am young and hip? I'm not. (I had to look up with NSFW meant.)  And I thought that college kids were, like, so over blogs. It's all about Twitter now, right? (Which reminds me I need to get back to tweeting in an attempt to remain current.)

I can't imagine that this group just randomly chose to promote this issue. That means ESPN must have hired them.
In other words, the "it's art" thing is all tongue in cheek. I think that's a pretty icky thing for ESPN to do. I think it woos some of the athletes and readers with the "it's art, it's classy, it's not the SI Swimsuit Issue." And then it turns around and promotes the product as just the opposite.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

I see gendered people

ESPNW has an interview with Mary Wittenberg who is the current president of the New York Road Runners. And by virtue of her position as president and CEO, she is in charge of the NYC Marathon--which happens this weekend. She is the first female president of the organization--this seems to be part of the reason ESPNW chose to interview her. Here is one of the questions:
espnW: When you're negotiating appearance fees for male athletes with male agents, does it ever strike you as significant that you're a woman running a major men's and women's sporting event?

Here is the first line of her response:
No. I don't think a lot about gender at all when thinking about negotiating appearance fees or putting together the strategy for our pro field.

Oh god, I thought to myself when I read this. Another person who doesn't see gender. Everything is gender neutral. But here is how she finished the question:
What I do think about is always ensuring that we have a really strong women's field. We really highlight the women in New York. Our sport globally does pretty well with keeping men and women even, but that hasn't always been the case, so in New York, where I think about it most is in the strategy around the field -- ensuring a super-strong field and equal prize money. One year we even paid the women more, just to make the point of how important the women are. As you may or may not know, women start the race a half hour before the men, and the entire spotlight is on them.

So she does think about gender--a lot actually. She very purposefully strategizes about gender it seems.
I don't understand these knee-jerk reactions to questions about gender. As if it is so bad to think about the impact of gender on sports. Like it might make people think you are a feminist!
Thankfully Mary Wittenberg does think about gender and about the specific position her race occupies in the global, gendered sportocracy.