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?


anntgaffigan said...

Is us calling out Ellen and Maddow less appropriate than you calling us out on your blog? We certainly didn't insult anyone. This was the way we decided to approach the effort after chatter we saw on Twitter among the ladies whose twitter accounts and blog posts are linked to in our Save WPS page on our site (womentalksports.com/savewps). We don't claim to have the perfect answer; it was just a shot. We wanted to try to help in some way. Similar to the Change.org petition a player started - who knows if it will do anything, but maybe it will garner up enough attention for something to happen.

At any rate, all of the efforts could use support. We aren't trying to embarrass or punish anyone, and maybe we're living in a fantasy world. Sure there are other women we could have "called out" but at the end of the day, these are the two we chose. If we put up a whole list, it might not have gotten any of the potential investor's attention, whereas calling them out specifically just might. We also aren't afraid to mention someone is gay, but it wasn't relevant here. If the WPS really had a problem with an owner being a lesbian, we'd be extremely disappointed. But let's not accuse them of that unless it happens.

It's a shame to hear you're an ambivalent member of WTS, as we are big fans of your contributions to the site.

- Ann Gaffigan, co-founder, womentalksports.com

Anonymous said...

They should add more teams like Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Dallas, Houston, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Washington DC, etc. to WPS plus get coverage on NBC and Telemundo. WPS is a very good league. Look at the Frauen DFB Bundesliga in Germany, for example, it's fully pro like the Mannern DFB Bundesliga.

Anonymous said...

I don't have a problem with the intent of WTSN trying to help but I was surprised that they identified two lesbians specifically.

The league is already in deep trouble. While either Maddow or DeGeneres may have the resources, even if they could fund a team I'm not certain that having an out lesbian celebrity owner would be helpful to the long term viability of the WPS. Most likely it would have the opposite effect.