Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Tennis Dopes

It's hard to believe that I am scooping amateur on doping news. But here it is: in the past two days, two separate stories have appeared about doping offenses in professional tennis.
The one that seems more credible--or rather with the least amount of unknowns--is the case against Mariano Puerta, 2005's French Open finalist. This is his second offense and has warranted an 8-year ban by the ITF--a light sentence given that it could have been a lifetime ban. Either option ends his career however as he is 27 and the only 35-year old playing today is Agassi and Puerta is no Agassi.
According to reports, Puerta ended up with the banned substance, etilfrine, in his system because it was in his wife's medication for hypertension. But it was such a trace amount that it could not have enhanced his performance--and he did lose to Nadal after all. So many questions still though. Why is Puerta's wife on hypertension medication anyway? Is there something about being married to Puerta that causes high blood pressure? These are the questions that come to my mind immediately whereas others are probably more interested in the sentence, the substance, and Puerta's doping history. Frankly, not as interesting to me, especially given that Puerta is a clay-court specialist who is not a big name on the tour. But I think it's interesting that it seems to be these lesser known specialist types who are getting caught versus bigger names.
This leads me to case number 2, which was actually reported first. Sesil Karatantcheva, another teen (almost) phenom also tested postive for a banned susbtance (nandrolone) at this year's French Open where she lost in the quarters. This story seems to have mutiple sides and many confusions. It isn't clear whether Karatantcheva has appeared before any governing organization to answer to the charges. So clarifications should definitely be forthcoming. Most interesting to me, who predicted a skeleton would come out of the closet this year (of course it was Henin's not Sesil's), was that the excuse offered was that Sesil was pregnant during the French Open but later miscarried. Allegedly a pregnancy test on her urine sample was negative however.
The whole situation is weird. What will be seen as the worse offense: doping or a 15-year old pregnant professional tennis player? Craziness.
I wonder though if this marks a watershed moment in doping on the tennis tour. Rumors have abounded for years and I personally was a little suspicious of Jennifer Capriati's much improved physique during her big comeback year. But apparently I was the only one thinking that. Doping though won't become big news in the tennis world until a major player tests positive. We'll see what 2006 brings!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

*Big Sigh*

Doing some holiday shopping this afternoon, I stopped into Barnes and Noble to take a look around (and to use the bathroom which is nicer than the mall's facilities--a potentially interesting observation to explore further for those who do bathroom studies). Because I was just casually browsing I was sucked in rather easily, as they knew I would be, by the display table simply with the sign SPORTS on it. What did I see? Lance Armstrong, Toger Woods, boxing, golf, Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, football, football, football, baseball, baseball, and misc. No women anywhere. I have read all the studies about lack of media coverage and the general disinterest in women's sport. But I was still surprised nary a woman graced the table. Perhaps because I have been immersed in writing on women's sport--some of which warned me in some way that that table in B&N would not represent women--I have been living in a false reality, also known as academe. In a (near) Olympic year one would think the selection would be slightly more representaive of the actual population of athletes.

More Rene the Weenie News

I was giddy with schadenfraude this past weekend when I flipped on ESPN and saw a special piece on the new accusations against Rene Portland, head coach of the PSU women's basketball team. They interviewed fairly extensively (enough to draw out some tears) a former player who was forced off the team in the early 80s because Portland threatened to reveal her homosexuality.
Another player--not gay, but sister is--from the 90s has also come forward to dicusss the homophobic comments and atmosphere Portland made.
PSU students are starting to protest. [Alas PSU is not playing at my Big Ten university this season so we cannot stage a protest here.]
Jen Harris's lawsuit has finally set off all the furor over Portland's overtly discriminatory ways that should have been dealt with years ago. I am buoyed by this activism yet also cautious as I think about all the coaches who are not as obvious as Portland and harm just as many people who, because of the often covert homophobia in athletics, will go virtually unnoticed.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Women's Tennis Preview

I am just too tired to review last year. We all know what happened. So here are my thoughts on 2006.
The Comeback Kids?
Martina Hingis is staging her comeback this year. It’s in the back of Kournikova’s mind. And Monica Seles is thinking about it as she trains 5 days a week at her Florida home. As much as I would like to see Seles return to the game, I think she should cut her losses now. I wish she could have gone out on her own terms but I don’t think it is meant to be. If she does come back my prediction is she will play one grand slam, lose before the quarters and call it quits.
As for Hingis—well this should be interesting. Just because she beat Martina N. (her namesake—I wonder which Martina cringes more at that) handily this summer in World Team Tennis does not mean she is ready to play with the big girls again. My prediction—third round loss at the Australian. And if she sticks it out, 4th round at French—after all clay is the equalizer, though it is also the one Grand Slam she continually has meltdowns at. The irony would be sweet if she had great comeback success there. But I still think it’s unlikely to happen.
As for Kournikova—I think she’s having too much fun being a draw at exhibition matches and living the life of a Latin popstar’s wife to engage in a legitimate comeback attempt.

The Others
Williams sisters:
[on the court] Two slams between this year, like last. Hard to say which ones who will succeed where—not the French Open I would guess--, but I still think they are constant, if not consistent (shades of difference) contenders.
[off the court] Rumors will abound about a boyfriend for Venus. Serena will NOT be nominated for an Emmy for her supporting role on ER. (With any luck she will give up acting, not because she needs to spend more time on her tennis game, but just because she’s a bad actor.]
Kim Clijsters:
[on the court] It’s all about the momentum, baby. I think Kim is NOT going to be a one-slam wonder (shame on all the commentators/critics who have already proclaimed otherwise) and she will prove that this year—at the Australian.
[off the court] She’ll get engaged to this American basketball player guy and buy a house in FL like the majority of tour players.
Justine Henin-Hardenne:
[on the court] Truly, I just don’t care. The woman is less charismatic than Pete Sampras. Sure, we shouldn’t judge based on personality, but let’s face it, unless she has some skeletons in the closet her actual performance is of little matter.
[off the court] A skeleton emerges. And it has something to do with her extended absence last year. There has got to be more to this unnamed fatigue virus story.
[on court] She’ll win a major again. If Kim falters at the Australian, Maria will be there with her Canon sureshot digital camera taking a picture (‘cause it’ll last longer) of her opponents’ stunned faces.
[off court] She and Roddick hook up, then break up. No relationship with that amount of diva-dom can last very long.
Amelie Mauresmo
[on court] I smell a major for Amelie. Now that Kim has one, Mauresmo takes over as “the best player to have never won a major” and it is not exactly the title she is looking for. It won’t be the French of course (is anyone in position to win the French??), but maybe the US Open or Wimbledon but it’s a longshot if either or both of the Williams sisters are there.
[off court] She’ll break up with whatever girlfriend she currently has and somehow find me (I’m working out the details), a witty, intelligent redhead with calves of steel who speaks just enough French to be cute and charming thus breaking the stereotype about obnoxious Americans and their freedom fries.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Men's Tennis Re/Preview

It wasn't an exceptionally interesting year on or off the court in men's tennis. Roger Federer dominated--again. I predict similar things from him next year--maybe a few more of the top ten men will have flashes of brilliance, like Safin at the 2005 Australian or Nalbandian at the year-end Master's, and knock out a win or two. But no one will beat Federer's record which is a product of his superhuman consistency. This prediction could all fall apart however if Federer actually gets a full-time coach. Off the court, well no one really cares about Federer's off the court life. But just in case there are some passionate Federer fans out there...I think something will happen on the long-time girlfriend front; perhaps a pregnancy or a proposal.
Probably the most interesting thing that will happen this year is Andre Agassi's retirement. And if it doesn't actually happen his deteriorating performances (not that there's anything wrong with that) will certainly be the story of the year. Come on, Andre. The sooner you retire, the sooner you will be eligible for the Hall of Fame where it will be Steffi's turn to give a super shmaltzy speech about her undying love and devotion. The Newport organizers start salivating at the thought of jacking up ticket prices for the event.
As for Slam performances, Federer will win two out of the four. I am not going out on a limb here to say that a clay-court specialist will win the French. I think it wil be an Argentinian--but not Nalbandian who I think will take the US Open. Roddick will once again this year be Federer's bridesmaid and people will start to utter the term "one-slam wonder" after having thought it last year. [That wasn't just me, right?]
Once again the US Davis Cup team will disappoint anyone who actually still cares about Davis Cup.
And finally, the big Wimbledon betting pool this year will not lay odds on who will win but rather how many times per match Lleyton Hewitt will say "COME ON!!" and the likelihood that Marat Safin will moon the royal box.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Women's Crew and Title IX

The women's crew team at the University of Cincinnati is bringing suit under Title IX (and the equal protection clause) against the university for failure to provide adequate funding. This is going to be a fascinating case to watch. Title IX does not mandate that equal funding--dollar for dollar--go to men's and women's team--it mandates equity. The crew team notes that they had been promised a boathouse to be completed by this year and it never happened. University officials claim the original estimate of $3million doubled to $6million and made it less feasible. Yet the baseball stadium is a brand new 11 million dollar complex and the football stadium also underwent substantial renovations. And, it should be noted, that in NCAA re-accreditation reviews of gender equity which look for the completion of proposed action items,"it was too expensive" is not an acceptable excuse for failure to complete a project. Additionally, there is a million dollar differential between men's and women's scholarships. (Guess who's a million ahead?)
The team's lawyer has stated that the university treats women's crew "like orphans." It's an interesting comparison. The team was added in 2000 to meet Title IX participation compliance. But apparently has received very little support since.
This is actually not that surprising. Athletic departments like adding women's crew because it's a quick fix to compliance problems that result from the super-sized football squads universities carry. Because crew carries larger numbers than any other women's sport, adding it reduces the disparity drastically and immediately. But it is not a quick fix if you don't provide them adequate facilities and funding. The University of Cincinnati women's crew team has finally called the bluff. Athletic departments can't just use women's crew to fix the numbers and then leave them to pee in a port-o-potties and without a (promised) boathouse. Success in the lawsuit will hopefully strengthen Title IX and women's athletics. In a year when the Department of Education compromised the commitment to equity by altering prong 3 compliance regulations, we certainly need a case to swing our way.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Female coaching Part I

[I added the part I because I anticipate future entries on this subject. I limit this entry, however, to a short anecdote, followed by an even shorter comment.]
I was watching the Grand Prix ice skating event which is taking place in Paris this week when I was at the gym yesterday afternoon. I have been out of the ice skating loop (both the double and the triple loops--ha!) this season and since it is an Olympic year I thought I would see what was going on and who was hot/injured/without a coach/etc. I turned it on during the men's short program which frankly is probably the least interesting to me. But I stuck with it (Sunday afternoons do not offer great programming variety). The actual performances didn't really impress me but as usual what comes out of the commentators' mouths is always of interest and worthy of comment.
Gheorghe Chiper was skating first. I had never heard of him. He happens to be having a good week--he got the bronze. Chiper is 27 and from Romania where he has won their national chmapionships seven times and he is coached by his wife. The commentators--all men--gave a chuckle at that last piece of information and said facetiously--I can't imagine how that works.
My guess is that it works just fine given that he's one of the top twenty male skaters in the world. Women coaches are not as anomalous in figure skating as in other sports but apparently it's not okay, abnormal, unnatural, for a woman to coach a man, especially if you're having sex with that women. Never mind that men frequently coach their wives, or daughters, or that men are most often those that sexually abuse their pupils. These things are all apparently much more normal than wives coaching husbands. Good grief! In arguably the gayest sport in the world, we still have to deal with all this gender norm bullshit.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Brazen European Curlers?

[apologies for not blogging sooner--major computer meltdown this past weekend. But I am up and running again.]

So the girls of curling calendar I wrote about earlier still has me thinking. Oh sure--there are lots of examples of female athletes acquiring material (and non-materials even) gains from their sexuality. So the concept of the calendar I guess does not really shock me, only that it was so blatant in its attempt to get people to watch curling by using near naked photos of athletes. I have to question whether this will really work anyway. It's not as if when you tune in to a curling match the women are going to be in sexy outfits or anything (at least let's hope it doesn't come to that!)--won't those who tuned in to get turned on quickly realize they are not getting the calendar version of these women?
Anyway, what intrigued me about one part of the story was the construction of the European women as much more sexually free than the Canadian women. Do we really still have this stereotype? Sure different cultures have different restraints and freedoms regarding the expression of sexuality, but are European women really that much more "free" that they would readily agree to be in a naked curling calendar whereas Canadian women would have to think about it a little more? I am all about social construction and do believe our sexual behaviors are highly indicative of our culture/environment but it seems too easy and frankly ahistorical and lacking proper analysis to just say European women are more comfortable with their bodies and so have no qualms about posing nude. ALL European women? What about the influence of Catholicism in Italy or Ireland (so they curl in either of those places?)? This construction of European women as some sort of monolith is problematic in that it makes them--all of them--subject to the interpretation that they are all sexually available. Of course I guess if you pose naked for a calendar that is the dominant reading--even if it is not the correct one.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


Yikes--I hadn't realized it had been so long since my last post. It's been a busy few weeks leading up to Thanksgiving (US version for my international readers) break. And still there is work do get done so I simply offer here a preview of what is to come:
More on this curling calendar-- I am still a little stunned and amazed.
Progress of the US women's hockey team's road to the Olympics tours in which they are not doing so hot. Canada keeps beating them handily. Not good with so little time left to prepare.
And lastly since the year-ending tournaments are over (for the women) and near over (men's master's event is currently underway) I will do a tennis year in review and maybe even make predictions for what is to come next year.
Stay tuned!

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Now I've seen everything (?)

And if you take a look at the new "ladies of curling calendar" you too may just see everything! A former curling skip who is also a photopgrapher has created a calendar in which female curlers (including her) pose nude or nearly nude in an attempt to generate more interest in the sport and make some money for curling teams.
Oi vey--where do I even start with this?
How about with the prophetic statement by former world champion Colleen Jones: "I think the women are going to have to curl naked in order to get people out there,” she said at the time. “I'm not kidding."
Apparently she wasn't. Jones also mentioned that curling needs their own Anna Kournikova. So curling wants someone who is really beautiful, hangs out with (and eventually marries) A-list celebs, engages in cattiness with teammates, and has a mediocre career from which she basically retires at a very young age. I don't think any sport really needs their own Anna. Women's tennis was gaining in popularity before Anna and continues to get very good TV ratings (not that I truly believe such standards are a true or fair measure of relative popularity).
Again on the issue of female sexuality in sports I find myself conflicted. As a believer in the power of individual agency to disrupt hegemony, I try not to disparage the women who made the choice to pose for the calendar. But as a good postmodernist, I also realize that the concept of choice is problematic and that "agency" can never exist outside of ideology.
As a sort of sidestepping of the above issues, I want to focus on the reasons behind the calendar: to promote the sport and raise money. This makes the concept of the calendar a little more creepy. This is not a celebration of the human body type of collection a la Annie Leibovitz. The connotations of the calendar format prevent such a reading especially when considered alongside the photographer's intent to show that curling can be sexy.
And herein lies the problem. Why does curling have to be sexy to draw attention? I don't see any plans by male curlers to attract attention to the sport (which I would argue is equally obscure) by posing naked. Yes, I know that in some sports (beach volleyball for example) the athletes' sexuality is a draw but they aren't necessarily actively encouraging this. In the case of the curling calendar, the intent to sexualize the athletes in the pursuit of more attention is the primary motivation.
I have more to say on this calendar including the strange construction of European versus North American women and their respective levels of sexuality. But I shall save it for another time.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Divorcing (homo)sexuality

Recently out WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes gave an interview to Planet Out where she mentions the climate of the WNBA and her experience in this climate. Swoopes seems to be a little too kind (naive?) about the organization saying that she doesn't exactly think they are homophobic, just that they have issues about how much to market to their large gay fan base.
The "not exactly" homophobic position of the WNBA is apparent when Swoopes recounts her conversation with WNBA president, Donna Orender who said (and I believe Swoopes may be paraphrasing here): "Sheryl, your sexual preference has nothing to do with who you are on the court and who you are off the court. What you choose to do is your business and we're happy for you."
Why do people want to divorce your "sexual preference" (learn how to say gay or lesbian without getting tongue-tied, Donna!) from "who you are"? Of course it is about who you are! Orender would never suggest that Swoopes's race has nothing do with who she is or her gender. If sexuality is so divorced from who you are as a person (whatever that really means) then I guess everyone could just be gay then since it really has nothing to do with who you are. This move of separating the sexuality (i.e. the homosexuality) from the person is a version of homophobia.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Spin Pedagogy

I have been teaching in higher education for about 6 years now and have always been very conscious of my pedagogical practices. And I have been going to the gym since...well...a long time but have not, until recently thought about the pedagogical practices aerobics instructors employ. And even more recently I have been moonlighting as a spin nstructor. So I have decided to combine all my interests as well as my work on women's activity and its empowerment potential and write a paper about feminist pedagogical practices and spin/indoor cycling. This is very convenient because while I am taking and/or teaching spin classes, I am also doing research.
I have made many observations thus far some good, many bad (many instructors continually reify the hegemonic female body and the male model of sport) but last night a good thing occurred.
During one of the sprinting drills which was done in stages the instructors described our effort level by encouraging us to visualize another biker just ahead and we had to work to keep up with HIM because HE had just passed us. Oh no--I thought to myself. She's succumbing to the dominant paradigm in which we picture the bicyclist as male. I was dismayed, especially because the instructor is my girlfriend and I did not want to have this conversation with her after class. Luckily I didn't have to. Because as we moved to the next stage of the drill the bicyclist passing us was a SHE and we had to keep up with HER this time. She really is a feminist who practices feminist pedagogy. Phew.

Friday, October 28, 2005

It's hockey season!

Woo-hoo it's hockey season finally. And while there is next to no hockey shown on TV out here in the middle of America, I am still excited to be able to surf the 'net for the latest hockey news.
First, a somewhat reluctant but nonetheless huge shout-out to the BU Terriers who are in their first season in Hockey East and have lost only 1 game; a loss they avenged the other night when they beat Northeastern [which has slid steadily downhill since the loss of team USA goalie Chanda Gunn (graduation) and their former coach (to UConn)]. The reluctance is because it is practically sacrilege for a UNH alum to give props to anything BU. But any supporter of women's athletics, particularly women's hockey, cannot let this pass with comment.
Also, it's almost an Olympic year which means women's international hockey gets a little more recognition (fingers crossed). I have been meaning to check out the potential roster for a while now but keep getting sidetracked by silly things like papers, and teaching, and Judith Butler (not in person, just in the form of her book). So I went to USA Hockey today to see who is in the running to make the roster. Alas I cannot find it, which is not too surprising given that I don't think it is finalized yet (though I can't even find out if that's true or not). So I thought I would get an inkling at least by looking at the roster from the Four Nations Cup that was held in late August/early September. No such luck. And what was even more suprising was that the coverage of the Four Nations Cup was incomplete. There were news stories about team USA's first two games but nothing from the medal rounds. This is just ridiculous. I don't know what's worse: not covering it at all or doing a (literally) half-assed job of it.
USA Hockey's website seems to be even worse than it was when I complained previously about it. They used to at least have rosters for the women's tournaments. Now I can't get those or any kind of up-do-date results.
I hope USA Hockey gets its act together in time for the Games. Hockey is already on pretty shaky ground here in the US; it would be unfortunate if the troubles in the men's game also brings down the women's game which is in a really exciting growth period right now.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Whoop Whoop!

Can I get a whoop whoop for Sheryl Swoopes?! Swoopes came out as gay today and not because she was pressured but because she said she was tired of hiding her relationship with her partner. (Of course the partner is not named but I expect her identity will be revealed shortly.)
I was initially wary of the way the article read. Swoopes could be read as being somewhat vague or even exhibiting "apologetic behavior": she says she has not always been gay, that her homosexuality was not the reason for her divorce, that she doesn't want to "throw it in people's faces." This was my initial reaction only because it is not the out and proud and going to get married Rah Rah lesbianism that perhaps many are accustomed to (and afraid of?). But this of course is a good thing, I realized. Swoopes shows us that there are many ways of being gay. She presents the view that is often not voiced: not everyone thinks being gay is an innate characteristic and that just because its not innate does not mean it is any less valid.
These aren't the issues I think will be taken up in the subsequent discussions of this news but I do think (or at least hope) that Swoopes's high visibility and success will allow for those who are less well-known or even WNBA rookies (yeah, you know who I'm talking about) to come out in a more visible way.

Monday, October 24, 2005

The curious nature of mixed gender competition

OK--I am finally going to do it. I am going to bring up the issue of mixed gender competition. Of course I am doing it in a very safe way by focusing on two particular examples I observed this weekend. I don't want to explode this discussion too much so soon.
So there was crap on TV this weekend which actually allowed me to get some work done but still in those moments when I was ready for a break I was flipping through the channels for some salvation (but not the kind found on BCTV). The Travel Channel had a poker tournament on. It was a women's tournament. Why is there women's poker? I have seen some mixed gender poker on ESPN but I am left wondering why, more often than not it seems, there is a separation of the genders in the game of poker. Seems like it plays on a pretty antiquated notion that women are not as smart as men since poker does not involve physical strength (the usual reason for separating the sexes). Is there something I, a non-poker player, am missing here about the nature of the game that would contribute to the need for sex segregation?
I found this especially interesting as it was juxtaposed in my flipping series with a promo for motorcycle drag racing (excuse my lack of proficiency in the drag racing lexicon) which pitted a male rider against a female rider. How is it that mixed gender drag racing is acceptable but mixed gender poker is more anomalous than common?

Friday, October 21, 2005

A little something is being done

Not happy with the response from Penn State administrators, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) has decided to sue the university on behalf of former player Jen Harris who was dismissed from the team last March, allegedly because coach Rene (rhymes with weenie) Portland thought she was gay. The suit was actually triggered by Portland's public response to the allegations initially made by the NCLR. Portland launched a character attack against Harris citing her poor basketball performance (she was one of the team's top scorers) and poor grades (she had a 3.0 GPA when she left PSU). I checked out some of the message boards where Penn fans have been posting about this issue. Mostly they all adore the homophobic Portland and think Harris is a whiner out to get some money--though there are some sound minds pointing out that Portland's track record on the issue of lesbians in sport is not pristine. Not surprising responses. Fans like their winning teams and their winning coaches and in the name of winning and this weird conception of "tradition" they will support egregious behaviors that would not be tolerated elsewhere.
There will be some interesting things to watch about this case. One, the NCLR is citing a Title IX violation for the sex discrimination part. I wonder if this will work. Apparently it has been successful at the high school level but untested in collegiate waters. And second, when will PSU administrators reach their breaking point and decide that the negative publicity Portland continually generates and the PR work they have to do as a result is not worth her alleged talent as a coach?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A Quick Hurrah!

Because I complain so bitterly at times about the lack of media coverage of women's sport, I thought I would say something positive. Of course I can only say something positive when something positive has occurred and it has. Checking my Yahoo sports page this morning I noticed that they top three stories listed under the category College Hockey were all about women's games from this past weekend. OK--so two were about the same game--but they were different articles which just goes to show that more than one media outlet actually covered the game. So I think it's a win-win all around (unless you are the UVM Catamounts who lost two game to the Badgers this weekend both 5-0. Don't give up, Catamounts--it's only your first season playing in the big leagues. Things will get better!)

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Will something finally be done...

about Penn State basketball coach Rene Portland? Have almost three decades of anti-gay recruiting policies and various levels of subtle and not-so-subtle harassment finally caught up to her? We shall see. The National Center for Lesbian Rights has demanded the Penn State president look into the allegations after the latest incident of harassment forced one of the Lions best players off the team and to another school. The former player, Jennifer Harris, allegedly isn't even gay. Of course this is her mother saying this and denial, especially publicly, of homosexuality isn't exactly a foreign concept in women's sports.
Of course what actually comes of this remains to be seen. We should note that while the NCLR is a worthy group, usually we hear about organizations such as Lambda or even the ACLU intervening in cases such as this. While Harris does have a lawyer, I have not heard of any actual suits being brought yet. And we must also remember that Portland has not been subtle all these years about her anti-gay beliefs. She has been quoted saying she does not want lesbians on her team. And the university does nothing besides point to their policy about discrimination as if to say "well she can't possibily be discriminating because we have an anti-discrimination policy." Seems similar to the same kind of administrative blind eye that allows pink visiting team locker rooms in football stadiums to go unaccounted for.
It is time--no it is way past time--that Portland be called on what she has been doing and continues to do. Because I just can't deal with having to choose who to root against if the Lions play Jerry Falwell's Liberty University in the NCAA tourney again this year.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Transexuals go old school?

In honor of National Coming Out Day I have decided to write about some famous sport icons who faced intense coming out processes while playing.
OK--the coming out day thing is a pretext. I thought of the idea before I realized it was coming out day. No matter. (And Happy Coming Out Day to all those for whom that is relevant. Woo-hoo, Go Gay!)
So back to the icons. I am speaking of Rene Richards and Martina Navratilova. What inspires this entry is some recent light reading I have been doing where they were mentioned--deparately, but in ways which disappoint me.
Richards first. So Richards is a transexual, MTF, who played as a woman for a but on the women's tennis tour. Obviously with some controversy--including legal battles. In the most recent issue of Bitch, Richards comments on the presence of MTFs in sport. (The article was about golfer Mianne Bagger.) Richards believes they should not be allowed to play--even after completion of reassignment surgery and hormone treatment--which makes MTFs considerably weaker. Something about some things can never be changed. What would that be, Rene? No details are provided. I just find it so disappointing that someone like Richards who has been through the ordeal of having to fight for the right to play the sport she loves in the gender she feels she belongs to would say such a thing.
Which leads me to Martina. This issue is admittedly not nearly as serious but still disappointment courses through my veins. Martina, I read in Curve, does not like The L-Word. She wishes there were fewer dysfunctional relationships and more solid monogamous ones. Let me say that I do respect the work on and off the court that Martina has done throughout her life but sometimes I just don't know what she's talking about. Is this the same woman who lived with her "coach" Nancy Lieberman--a woman who despite her gay beginnings is now born-again? And anyone who has read Rita Mae Brown's book, Sudden Death, which was based on her relationship with Navratilova, knows that it was not all that functional at times. And didn't Martina's former lover, the Texas beauty queen Martina converted, sue her in a palimony suit? Seems like Martina's love life would fit right in on The L-Word.
Interesting how both these "radicals" are getting pretty conservative these days. I know the memory goes as we get older but it seems unlikely that these two especially would forget all the obstacles they had to overcome in and out of sport and then not support those who continue to fight.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Sport, Feminism and Breast Cancer

Many thanks to amateur for pointing me to this fascinating blog entry by sportsbabel about his experience running in a recent breast cancer charity event. Here are his very interesting observations as he questions if such events are really "feminist" (noting that there are many types of feminism of course):
"1. There is a bounty of sponsor-provided free food offered to the runners after the race is completed, while Toronto's homeless peer in through the semi-enclosure or sleep on grates nearby.
2. After the post-race refuelling is finished, there do not appear to be temporary recycling facilities anywhere to collect what will be thousands of plastics and tetra boxes.
3. Men can get breast cancer as well, yet I could only find this nugget of information buried away on the web site's Breast Cancer Statistics page. Saying so out loud must confuse the "Think Pink" message.
4. In the ultimate irony of "Thinking Pink," there is predominantly pinkish skin in attendance at the event held in what is purportedly the most multicultural city in the world. One presumes that the minimum requirement of $150 in pledges or a paid $40 registration fee places real economic pressure on those (particularly minorities) who would like to contribute their efforts as runners, rather than as volunteers."
Point 1 about the homeless is well-taken, but as someone who teaches women's studies and continually hears from her students about the multitude of issues out there I can unserstand that every event cannot address every issue. So long as the charity event did no harm to the nearby homeless, I do not think they can be faulted. But I do hope others noticed the situation and were perhaps moved to consider ways to address this issue as well.
Point 2 about recycling is quite surprising. Because it's in the purview of the event, organizers should have had recycling bins. And participants should complain about their absence.
Point 3 is somewhat contentious. While men do get breast cancer, they get it much less frequently--which does not mean that they should be ignored. But grassroots movements by women fought so hard for so long to get recognition for and research on this disease, and I don't truly believe they have an obligation to place men at the center of the discourse alongside women.
Point 4 is particularly compelling to me given the recent stats I have heard about the increase in cancer among African-Americans. I understand the need to have a registration fee for these events because too many people would just run it as part of a larger training regimen. But I do think there needs to be a sliding scale for these events. Will this draw more people of color to the event? I don't know. Like the original women's movement of the 70s, breast cancer activism has a very white movement and it might take a lot more purposeful outreach to change that dynamic.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Calling all snowboarders

I have decided to write my cultural studies paper about subculture on snowboarders. Though I was intrigued by wrestling, I cannot pursue it because the assignment calls for analysis of a youth subculture and while youths watch pro wrestling they are not actual participants.
So, I have never been a snowboarder and was only a fair-weather (almost literally) skier so I have not spent a lot of time observing the habits of snowboarders. And now that I am out here in the flatlands I can't jaunt off to a ski resort to do some ethnographic data.
So I am asking snowboarders to give me some details. Please, please comment.
Here's what I am interested in:
1. style: the fashion, is there one style? do you have to wear certain clothes to be accepted? are there identifying clothes both on and off the slopes (i.e. can you pick out fairly easily a fellow snowboarder)?
2. class/economic issues: what socioeconomic class do most snowboarders come from? are they adhering to their class status or trying to shun it? why and how? do snowboarders have part-time jobs to support their habit or do they rely on mom and dad for funds? is working (or not) a part of snowboarder culture?
3. gender: are there differences in how male and female teenagers do snowboarder subculture? what are the gender relations that exist in this subculture?
I think that's the basics for now. Thanks!!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Male Fans

Despite the title of this entry I am not going to make sweeping generalizations about male fans. because sweeping generalizations are bad--very bad. Instead I am going to relate an incident I observed this past weekend and offer a brief analysis.
I went to a women's Big Ten volleyball match. Not a big crowd but very enthusiastic. Arriving shortly after the first serve (is there a volleyball equivalent to tip-off or faceoff?) were two men I had seen at women's softball games the previous spring. Both were wearing rather offensive (sexist/homophobic t-shirts) which initially made me wonder why they support women's sports at all--an incongruity to analyze another time. Both cheered but one was cheering in a different sort of way. He was, essentially, coaching. He would tell players, by calling out their numbers, what they needed to do: "Number 5 you need to set up the pass." Most obnoxious was that whenever a home team player went to the line to serve he yelled where she should serve: "Go short left" and "Hit deep middle."
Umm...they have a coach, dude. Do you really think they are going to listen to you yelling from the crowd in such a manner that everyone--including the receiving team--can hear? No--they are going to follow the covert, behind-the-clipboard signals made by their coach. I should note here that it is a female head c0ach. Perhaps the fan thought he could do a much better job.
Why couldn't he have just cheered when things went well or groaned when points were lost like the rest of us? Why the need to dictate (but not really) play? Is this a way for men to exert control (whether real or illusional) over women's sports since it is pretty clear they can't get rid of them? I don't want to be a separatist but if this is the way some men (yes only some--not all) are going to support women's athletics then maybe they shouldn't be there at all.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Request for info

Apologies for the extended absence--it's been a crazy week.
And I don't really have any particular issue to comment upon at the moment, so I thought I would ask a question.
I am taking a class in cultural studies and I have to write a paper in about a week or so about subcultures. I have to find a subculture and analyze it--any version of a subculture that I see. I of course want to manipulate the assignment, as I have been doing all semester, to be ale to talk about sports. But are there subcultures in sports? This is what I need help in locating. I don't mean people who are very subtly or not-so-subtly pushed out of mainstream sports but groups who choose to be different from mainstream sport--on purpose. They define themselves in opposition and develop their own rules, ways of being, etc. A friend of mine suggested rugby--at least the way Americans play it. But I know very little about rugby.
Please comment if you have any ideas.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

How to Motivate

Last week I caught a few minutes of the new season of The Biggest Loser. The format, at least to start (those reality shows always like to throw in a twist at some point) is the men versus the women. So we saw clips of the first day workout and each team doing their thing. The men's team has a female trainer; the women a male trainer. The female trainer was "motivating" her charges by saying "You can do better than that--this isn't the girls' team." When I was in high school the football team's practice field was, unfortunately, next to our tennis courts. I constatnly heard remarks like this--and far worse actually. It's so depressing, after so much progress in women's sports, to still be referred to as the lesser and to hear it used as a fear tactic: you better run faster, lift more, jump higher, throw farther because if you don't--you might as well be a girl.
And, in this case, it came from a female trainer which made me cringe even more. Because, yes, yes I do expect women athletes to be a little more enlightened (though I do see how many are inculcated into the hegemonic male model of sports in Western culture.)
She was also jumping on their backs and having them carry her while they ran. I don't know if that's a gender thing (well everything is a gender thing of course--I just don't know how to read this one quite yet) but it was weird.
Wouldn't it be great if somehow we could somehow use Title IX to sue the coaches/trainers who use such tactics? And then we could put the money back into women's sports. That would be wonderful. Can someone start working on that?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The French Open organizers have finally decided to award equal prize money to men and women. No word (that I have found) on the impetus for the change. Seems like quite a delayed reaction, especially in a country that is so concerned with the perception of equality that it forbids that differences be displayed in public schools (i.e. the recent law that no religious symbolism--crosses, star of david, head scarves--be worn by students). Also surprising that tournaments were not under much public/social pressure to equalize the prize money years ago. In the 70s Billie Jean King organized boycotts against tournaments that awarded grossly inequitable prize money and then she went off and formed her own tour. Seems like when the prize money got closer to equitable people were satisfied and the issue was dropped. Everyone forgets such strides made in the 70s and has relegated it to "history." Jennifer Capriati, when asked a few years ago, didn't even know what Title IX was. I can't imagine someone on the women's tour taking the lead and organizing her fellow players in any kind of protest.
So now Wimbledon is the only tournament that continues to award more prize money to men. Will they be pressured to change now that they remain the sole holdout?

Sunday, September 18, 2005

ESPN Faux Pas

This will be a quick (but, as always, poignant) rant.
I missed the WNBA playoff game today because I was reading about the various versions of equality that feminists have espoused, including, for all you Iowa law folks, Pat Cain's thoughts on the matter. And I admit I have not been following the finals too closely. (I had to google to find out why Sun star Lindsay Whalen was not playing.) But still I wanted to know the result so during the boring Emmy speeches and in between reading my students' papers on the social construction of gender I flipped over to both ESPN and ESPN2 to check out the tickers. One of the tickers was entirely devoted to football (not just game scores, QB stats, running back stats, etc.). The other didn't have the WNBA even listed as a category. I don't think it is too much to ask to have the score from a game that took place this afternoon as part of the ticker.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

New Nike Ad Campaign

So my friend J. showed me some of the new Nike ads aimed at women which are now appearing in magazines including Jane. In my somewhat hybridized academic speak I said "Holy, problematic!" J. nodded in agreement.
Here is link where you can see three of the ads of the 6-ad print campaign which the Nike peeps are calling a continuation of the "If you let me play campaign" from the late 90s. (Also a problematic campaign. If you let me play. Please, sir, please let me play sport. I promise if I do I won't get pregnant or do drugs and become a burden to your welfare state.) The problem with this campaign, as with some of the other Nike campaigns, is that we want to like them. And I always get so close to just giving in and saying "sure, these are great. Go women's sports!" This time was no exception.
I like the copy for the most part. I can relate to loving my knees with scars and my broader then my hips shoulders (though the shoulder ad has the women building her upper body through swimming and yoga--neither a sport that really threatens the gender order); and kudos to Nike for showing women of color. Oh but wait--we don't really see women--we see body parts. This is a typical move in advertising. A woman's body becomes compartmentalized. We don't see faces--just knees, and shoulders, and a butt (in separate ads). It's the old concept of highlighting problem areas (from dry skin to flabby abs) except in this ad they aren't telling you to fight against the pieces-of-my-body-on-display tactics (though they want you to think that)--they are just telling you to screw the world and embrace your problem areas.
Some have compared the campaign to Dove's real women ads. No way! You actually see women with their whole bodies living and working and playing there. Here you see parts. And I would argue that they are highly sexualized--perhaps even fetishized--parts. Nike says they realized in their "If you let me play" campaign that they hadn't really talked about women's bodies. I say they haven't done it here either.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Infantilizing Women

So E. comes home from hockey practice the other day and tells me about a plan to make the women's team that plays in Cedar Rapids a little more visible. The idea is to let the women's team scrimmage between periods at the Rough Riders game. Teams do scrimmage between periods--but the teams are comprised of little kids. It serves as entertainment, brings the parents of the kids to the game, and gives the kids the chance to spend a little time in the limelight in front of a big crowd. But it's a different story when you put grown women in this same situation. Because it is a space/time that has already been established as a "lesser" (which is fine when you are talking about developing junior players) moment by devoting it to children, putting women there creates a very different situation. It becomes more like a sideshow atmosphere. And it equates the women with the children.
It seems like a no-win situation. Even if the women play well, they are still playing into the idea that women's hockey is a novelty. And if they do not perform well then their game is compared to the men's game and perhaps even--because it is showcased when the kids' scrimmages usually are--to junior hockey.
I think it's a bad tactic. I think even if they decide to go through with it E will abstain. There are other means to bring attention to women's hockey that do not involve playing second fiddle to the men's game.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Big Media Mistake

I was very excited for a great weekend of sports (and simultaneously nervous because I have a lot of reading, correcting and writing to get done this weekend and I was worried about the distraction). It's the final weekend of the US Open, the WNBA playoffs are on and I was really excited to watch the Solheim Cup which I have never seen. I tried to win tickets to it to no avail but I thought watching it on TV won't be too bad. Except that it's not on TV--ok it's on the Golf Channel which I don't get. Can you imagine if the Ryder Cup was relegated to the Golf Channel? I think the Solheim Cup is the perfect event to show on network (or at least ESPN) TV. It's a different format; it's a team competition versus the usual individual-oriented tournaments that dominate the golf calendar.
So while the LPGA website has done a great job documenting the tournament, with tons of photos and scores, it's not the same as television coverage. I clearly don't understand how these things work. I would much rather watch the Solheim Cup than say last week's Wendy's Championship. It's especially disappointing given that all year long, the commentators talk about the Solheim Cup, the standings, who needs to perform well at a tournament to be considered, etc. You actually want to see if the players who were on the cusp actually perform well this weekend. It's such a tease!

Friday, September 09, 2005

Too nice to win?

I love Kim Clijsters. I am not afraid to proclaim it. When she was away last year with injuries, the game just wasn't the same. I love her intensity. I love her splits (though I gasp every time she does one, afraid she will pull or strain something). And I love her spirit. She is undoubtedly the nicest player on the tour. Since coming back from injury she has frequently discussed how much more she enjoys the sport and appreciates the opportunity to play.
But questions have been asked (by those pesky sports reporters who never to cease to amaze me with the idiotic questions they ask) if Clijsters is too nice to win a major. She has reached 4 finals and lost them all. So she was asked that question again today (or in an interview that was aired today) and she pointed out that niceness is clearly not a factor in winning Grand Slams because just look at Roger Federer--the nicest guy on the tour who is rolling through most players, all the while smiling and shaking hands and being a generally nice person.
It was a good answer. But the better one (and feel free to use this one, Kim) is that something is very wrong in sports when the idea that you have to be not nice (mean even? conniving?) to win. Has "competitive" become a synonym for mean? If so, then we need to seriously reevaluate the values that are allegedly being learned through sports. This is of particular interest to my own work on the "empowerment" that girls get from playing sports. Sports programs for youth frequently tout this along with skills such as teamwork, friendship, sportsmanship as valuable life skills children gain from sports. But apparently this is only rhetoric if we, as a society, not only believe that you have be a little not nice, but support the athletes who are.
Kim Clijsters is without a Grand Slam title not because she is too nice. Maybe she gets nervous in finals--like many athletes regardless of where they fall on the nice scale. I, personally, will be crushed if she does not win this US Open. But if she never wins a grand slam, I still think she should be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. She is one of the best ambassadors of tennis (and sports in general I would argue) and that should count not just "for something" but for a lot. If we really believe (and I certainly do) that sports do teach its participants (of all ages) valuable life skills and work ethics then we cannot and should not so easily separate the person from the performance.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Back to normal (patriarchal) scheduling

Tonight has been an amazing night of tennis at the US Open. Maria Sharapova was pushed to three sets by fellow Russian, Nadia Petrova and I am in the midst of watching a very close, intense three-setter between Kim Clijsters and Venus Williams. Let me reiterate--it's an amazing night of tennis. Not an amazing night of women's tennis. It's just good (ok--there have been a lot of unforced errors throughout the night--but it's still been really interesting) tennis.
I say this because two women's night matches are uncommon at the Open. And the commenators did not fail to point this out. They noted that tomorrow night the scheduling goes back to "normal" with a woman's match followed by the men. I do not understand, given the incredible surge in popularity of women's tennis, why the US Open continues to believe that it has to schedule a men's match after a women's match in order to draw a crowd. The stadium is packed tonight. And it will be packed tomorrow night too because of the Agassi-Blake match. But that is what the scheduling people should take into consideration: the magnitude of the match and its players--not their gender. What is surprising is that the US Open (or more likely, CBS) has shown it realizes the draw toward the women's game because it schedules the women's final during primetime on a Saturday. Yet it can't get over this women as an opener for the men mentality.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Where for art thou, Nike?

I thought Roddick not re-negotiating his clothing contract with Reebok and going over to Lacoste was weird earlier this year but after watching a week of the US Open and realizing that many players have changed their clothing contracts this year, I am left asking: where is Nike?
First I saw that Agassi was wearing Adidas. I can't imagine that Nike would have dropped him so I assume that Adidas gave him a good deal. And Steffi still wears Adidas so maybe it was just easier--especially if they plan on doing more ads together.
Then I heard that American Robbi Ginepri, who is having a comeback summer, was dropped by Nike earlier this year because os his poor performances of late. He went to Under Armour which is now making tennis clothes--or at things that one can play tennis in. Anyway--now that he is playing well (he beat former top ten player Tommy Haas, also formerly of Nike who is now wearing an Asics shirt with what looks like a bar code on it--trying to save time getting through security, Tommy?) at a tournament that Americans actually watch I bet Nike is having some regrets over that.
And then I saw some of Leyton Hewitt's match the other day and noticed he is no longer wearing Nike either. He is with Yonex--Yonex!! What is up with that?
And finally, former Nike player, Mary Pierce--who is having a great summer, is still without a clothing contract. Wake up, people! A top 15 player who is often a sentimental favorite, should have a clothing contract. She is playing in outfits typically found on the Sunday morning old lady doubles players at country clubs. The woman plays for France, if Lacoste is going to give Andy a deal, they should sponsor Mary too.

Friday, September 02, 2005

A weighty issue

OK the title is cheesy but the issue is serious. For the second time this week I have heard a male commentator at the US Open mention that the official weight stats of the female players need to be updated. What they really are saying is that they need to be corrected because clearly, the suggestion is, the women are lying about their weight. I don't remember the context of the first mention. (And I want to note here that I have only heard this mentioned twice but I have not been watching nearly as much of the Open as I would like given this nagging thing called graduate studies.) But tonight was especially poignant. Venus Williams was playing Daniela Hantuchova. Serena was in the stands having already won today and the camera was frequently panning to her. Male commentator, out of nowhere, says that Serena's weight stat needs to be "updated." Serena's weight is listed at 135--OK, it's not correct. But there has been an obsession with it this Open that has been couched in a discourse about her "health" and "fitness." Both, the commentators say, have improved since Wimbledon. So basically Serena has lost weight since Wimbledon but still is not in ideal "form"--another popular term in this health/fitness lexicon.
What is fascinating about this story is that right before male commentator insisted that Serena's true weight be listed (for all to see and comment on) he and co-commentator Tracy Austin had been engaged in a dialogue about Hantuchova's eating disorder of a few years back. Apparently they did not see anything wrong with praising Hantuchova's determination in dealing with her "personal problems" and then turning around and telling the world that Serena is nowhere near the 135 lbs. she claims to be.
Austin, to her credit, did point out that while women lie about their weight, the men on tour lie about their height--over-exaggerating the actual figure. Hmmm...maybe we need to explore this phenomenon of men adding inches to their body parts a little more and lay off women and their weight.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Early observations on the US Open

My favorite Grand Slam of the year began this week. Well it's kind of my favorite by default as the US Open is the only one I have been able to attend thus far (though tentative Wimbledon plans are in the works).
Anyway here's what I think so far...
1. Andy Roddick has not won a Grand Slam since dumping sweet, cute girlfriend Mandy Moore. Granted, the Mandy/Andy thing made me nauseous but she was a good, calming influence. I think Roddick's ego has gotten the better of him. And I think it's perfectly delicious that the ad campaign he did for American Express about him losing his MoJo (because MoJo finds his AmEx and goes out partying) is airing this week during the tournament.
2. Attention everyone: Scoville Jenkins, age almosot 19, who lost to Roddick in last year's first round, and who is now fighting hard but still down two sets to love against Nadal, has become a man. Yes, apparently winning more than 4 games in the main draw of the open is some kind of male right of passage. So when Monica Seles and Martina Hingis were winning Grand Slam titles at the ages of 16 and 17 were they going through the same rite of passage? I guess by the Jenkins scale they would probably entering old age since they had won mere matches years earlier. Let's tone down the "he's a man" rhetoric, Johnny Mac--after all, this isn't an Army recruiting commercial.
3. In a classic chicken/egg situation, I wonder whether Serena Williams started taking tennis less seriously and the media reported on it or if the media felt she was taking it less seriously and then she actually did lose interest. Her demeanor thus far has been apathetic, and her interviews self-deprecating in the usual way which implies that she is so much better than everyone else. I do sympathize with her having to deal with a media that fixates on her broken diamond (yes, real) earrings that fall on the court and the combined worth of her all the jewelry she wears on a given night. Then again--who wears $40,000 worth of diamonds while playing tennis??

Monday, August 29, 2005

Not a word was spoken

I tuned in to both the National Pro Fastpitch championship games between the ChicagoBandits and the Akron Racers AND the All-Star game that followed eager to hear the commentators' takes on the release of the IOC vote which ousted softball from the 2012 Olympic Games. All throughout the Little League World Championships and, prior to that, the coverage of the World Cup, commentators spoke about the importance of fighting to reinstate the game, the numbers of the girls who would be without a dream if it got taken away, and the fervor of the fan response to the vote. I mean one vote!! And the rumor of confusion over what delegates were voting for and that the abstention was Jim Easton, chairman of Easton sports, the baseball/softball equipment supplier who abstained because of conflict of interest. (Turns out he recused himself prior to voting--he was not the delegate whgo abstained.) What fodder for the commentators.
And yet not a word was spoken. How can this be? I asked myself (because unlike the commentators who had a national audience--I had no one to talk to about this yesterday). Then I wondered whether this game was taped. And that in itself pissed me off. A league championship that is not shown live--are you kidding me? Well it turns out it was not live. It was on delay. But both games did take place on Sunday. So it was not as bad as I thought--except now there is no logical reason why the issue did not come up. There were plenty of opportunities, especially with commentator Cat Osterman talking about all the national team players and upcoming camps.
I thought softball would be yelling this news as loud and as often as they could. What is up with the weird silence?

Saturday, August 27, 2005

LPGA commercial sponsors

Being able to blog about commercials that are aried during women's sports events combines my most favorite subjects for analysis: women's sports and pop culture.
So two commercials struck me while I was watching today's coverage of the Wendy's Championship for Children. One was for the home security system ADP (which also sponsors rookie Paula Creamer) and the other for DSW, which is a big sponsor of women's golf and several, at least, of its players.
The ADP commercial has a faux reenactment of a very suburban-looking woman (who is providing the voice-over) waking up in the middle of the night to her ADP alarm going off. Everything is fine, of course, because she has ADP and we see her huddling her children close to her, assuring them everything is going to be fine. What is conspicuously missing is the man, as in her husband, not the ADP guy who answers the phone. We don't know why there is no man: is she a divorcee, widow, wife of frequently traveling businessman, lesbian? OK--she's probably not a lesbian, like the LPGA needs that suggestion even slightly made by any of their sponsors. Whatever the issue, she is alone. And, the message is there, if you are a woman alone, you need this system. Sure they are spot on with the demographic: either middle-class women or middle-class men who have middle-class women in their lives who may be at home at night alone. But it send sucha countermessage to the actual event which showcases strong women competing, succeeding at once was solely a man's game.
The second commercial for DSW I have seen versions of before. This campaign's premise treats shoe shopping like hunting. And not humans hunting with guns but animals hunting their prey, often in competition with other animals. So basically we see women looking at shoes in a DSW store while the voiceover, meant to sound like the running commentary on Animal Planet or the Discovery Channel, constructs a narrative that could easily be on an animal show. Why is it that women are only allowed to be "wild" when they are shoe shopping? Oh yeah, because otherwise we wouldn't be able to tame them and they would go "wild" and try to do things like play golf--with men! Hmmm...maybe these DSW commercials aren't as effective as I thought.

Tennis umps fight back

Though my primary interest in gender and sports lies with athletes and often the organizing bodies to which they are beholden, I also pay some attention to the gendered aspects of sports leadership/administration, including the cause of sports officials (referees, umpires, etc.) an issue I have highlighted in previous blog entries .
In part, my interest is in the overall lack of interest this issue receives, so often overshadowed by the equity issues among athletes that predominate the discussion. But even the casual observer (OK maybe you have to have a general awareness of gender equity issues at-large) can see that men officiate men's games/matches/events and most often do so in women's events too. I don't remember seeing one female umpire at the Little League Softball World Series. This practice is also very engrained in professional tennis. While women do serve as linespeople in both men's and women's matches, they are rarely in the chair as the match umpire and if they are, thay are officiating women's matches only. (Though I did hear, but did not witness, that Wimbledon had begin to let women officiate early round men's matches.) Well the umpires in tennis have had enough and filed a discrimination suit.
But what is most interesting is that suit is actually citing racial discrimination as the primary grievance. Both umpires are black, one a man, one a woman. As much as I wish a lawsuit was not necessary, this one reminds us of the importance of coalition building even in sports. Where there are issues of gender equity, issues of racial equity/discrimination are oftne not far behind , and vice versa. I am eager to see what comes of this lawsuit. One of the two has already being fired, allegedly for bringing complaints about the US Tennis Association to light. The other fears she will be terminated soon as well. Given the emerging publicity about the case and the pending US Open, such a move would probably be unwise, but it also hasn't been the best policy to practice such blatant discrimination.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Overt Sexualization of Female Athletes

I have tried to distance myself from the debate over the sexualization of female athletes primarily because I am just not sure where I stand on it. Historically, the fear of sexualization of female athletes, especially young females athletes, has been used to limit women's sporting opportunities. The argument that men would leer and lust after girls in skirts playing basketball (when they wore skirts to do so) didn't seem to me a very good reason to keep girls from playing--I think paternalistic is the right word here. Allowing girls to play might actually demonstrate that they are more than sex objects; or at least make the leering men forget that for 40 minutes or so.
But while opportunities have increased (because of legislation mostly) the leering men seem to still be around. So the strategy that showing the world that women are athletes has not successfully mitigated their status as sex objects. Part of my ambiguity over the debate though stems from the fact that many of these athletes enter "willingly" into some of these photo shoots (i.e. Brandi Chastain, Anna Kournikova). While I believe societal pressure to prove femininity often coerces these women into posing in the first place, I also believe that they are not completely without agency. They do make choices (for whatever reason) and I hesitate to outright condemn them.
But now I wonder if the agency some of these athletes exert is giving carte blanche to today's version of the leering men: namely those who post on the internet. Looking for some info on Misty May and Kerri Walsh the other day I found an appalling blog. It's devoted to May and Walsh but not in a very celebratory way. Close-ups of wedgies and lewd captions about May and Walsh rolling around in the sand together dominate the site. And to add insult, there are hundreds of comments that support this guy's view that May and Walsh's primary role is to provide fantasies for men rather than to actually play volleyball.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

A rose by any other name---stinks!

As I mentioned below, I caught some of the women's AVP final at Manahattan Beach this weekend where Kerri Walsh and Misty May won something like their 7th title of the year. Congrats are in order of course. But I just wouldn't be my analytical/critical self if I didn't find something about gender/cultural norms that arose to blog about.
There seems to be some confusion about what Misty's name is. She did get married and is apparently going by May Treanor. The commentators called her Misty May and the graphics lacked consistency showing her as May Treanor as well as just May.
I could go on and on (and on) about women changing their names when they marry and the huge problems with that practice but that's not really what this blog about. So instead I will just focus on the huge problems I have when famous female athletes change their names. Sure there's the cultural reasons all marrying women face but because these athletes have already established themselves in the public it makes it even more egregious. May is internationally known, respected, admired, etc. Famous female celebs rarely change their names after marriage. Courtney Cox added Arquette when she married but then subtracted it again. And sure Britney says she is Britney Spears Federline now but is that name that is really going to headline her next tour or record? No--because you don't mess with a good thing--which in this case is name recognition.
In sports, it's slightly different. Making it clear that a female athlete is married by adding the husband's name constitutes the "apologetic behavior" that so many female athletes engage in (no pun intended). May's case seems a little different though given her chosen sport. Beach volleyball seems to strike the required cultural balance between appropriate femininity and aggressive play. How unfeminine can you be playing in barely-there bikinis? There also doesn't seem to be the lesbian stigma that surrounds other sports. So there appears to be less reason for May to show the world that she now belongs to a man. Of course she could just be like so many other women and just think it's the right thing to do, tradition and all that. I don't know which is more disappointing.
Well this next incident is--for me anyway. Though it happened last year, it's relevant to this discussion. When Mia Hamm played her last game for the US National Team, she came out in the second half wearing a jersey that said Garciaparra on the back, having switched out of her Hamm jersey. I nearly gagged. "Look at me! Look at me! I am married. I am not one of those lesbians that play soccer. I am straight and I scored me a baseball player." She was even announced as Mia Garciaparra. Granted it was not a permanent switch. Her sponsors would have killed her had she done that. She said it was to honor Nomar and his family and their support. sweet. Yet odd given that she was (and remains) so private about her relationship with him. But she makes this very public proclamation. Of course in Nomar's next game he went out with Hamm on the back of his jersey and the sportscasters announced him as Nomar Hamm in a public gesture of his love and gratitude for Mia.
Yeah, right.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Some thoughts on prize money

I caught some of the beach volleyball finals at Manhattan Beach this weekend. I saw the amount of money that women's winners May and Walsh won (around $28,000 which they have to split) but didn't watch the men's award ceremony. So I went looking around to see if beach volleyball has the same sometimes problem that professional tennis has: unequal prize money in some tournaments. It was a difficult search (which blows my theory that google can solve any problem) but I finally found an article specific to the Manhattan Beach tournament which stated that the founder believed in equality between men and women. Good news of course. But I am still not sure that it is a universal standard.
Anyway this got me thinking about the reasoning behind differential prize money. In tennis the argument has been that 1) men play longer (3 out of 5 sets vs. 2 of 3 for women) and 2) that more people want to watch men. The problem with the first reason is that only in the grand slams do men play 3 of 5. And secondly if those who want to hold onto the belief that females are physically unable to play 3 of 5 then they should also not be penalizing women--because after all, it's women's fault, right??
But the second reason is more interesting to me. In recent years women's tennis has increased dramatically in popularity. If prize money was based on popularity women might be paid more. Of course I am not really a proponent of this plan because leaving "equality" up to society-at-large is never a good idea, but it's interesting to think about what some paradigm shifts in our thinking about women and prize money might entail.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

PS to Talking about Female Bodies

As a brief addendum to my observations about the lack of discussion about larger softball players I add this tidbit:
While glancing up briefly to the Little League World Series (baseball, not softball) as it was playing in the background, I noticed an interesting discrepancy in the personal "stats" displayed on the screen. When a player is up at bat, on the screen appears the player's name, age, height, some personal fact or interest (favorite team, actor, movie, etc.) and weight. Weight was missing from the stats shown during the L.L. Softball World Series. Why is this? Are we worried about scarring girls by displaying their weight on national television? If so, why doesn't that same concern apply to boys? In a warped form of "equality," we see incidences of eating disorders rising among boys and men. Of course the issues can differ. Though larger boys might feel embarassed by possible excess weight (or the percpetion of excess), it seems more likely that smaller boys, not wanting to be seen as the "weakling," would want to add weight. And at this age (middle school) most boys are just hitting puberty and growth spurts so it's likely that many are smaller, relatively speaking. And adding weight might entail not just eating more, but supplementing with questionable products or even steroids. In the end, I think that America just does not really need to know what 12-year olds of any gender weigh.

Friday, August 19, 2005

The Danger of Cheerleaders

[with thanks to amateur for finding this article for me]
While this particular event/incident is a little outdated, having occurred at the summer games in Athens last year, I think the issue is still relevant. And since I am still on my bring-softball-back soapbox, I will relate the issue of cheerleaders to softball. You just wait and see...
So last year at the Olypics the FIVB, the international governing body of volleyball, hired a team of cheerleaders (actually they were referred to as a dance team) to perform at the men's and women's beach volleyball matches. And of course this caused controversy--and rightly so I may add.
I am not going to enter into a debate on whether cheerleading is a sport or not--not yet anyway. But I am going to argue some of the points presented in the article which claims that the women were there to keep the crowd entertained between points. Umm...I am not an avid volleyball watcher but I think the time between points is pretty short. And they game itself is very exciting. It's not golf or baseball with lots of down time. (Please don't take this to mean I think cheerleaders should show up doing high kicks on the Green Monster or pyramids on the 8th fairway--they should not.)
The argument also goes that the cheerleaders--oh I'm sorry--dance team--bring in a crowd. Now, it was a year ago but I don't think beach volleyball had a lot of trouble finding fans. (If cheerleaders are supposed to bring in a crowd why weren't they at women's soccer or the tennis venues which were woefully empty?) One British spectator brought his sons and, upon seeing and videotaping the cheerleaders, said they would definitely be back.
Those are not the type of fans I would want at an event. And here I bring it all back to softball as promised. Softball has no cheerleaders, and hopefully no plans for cheerleaders. The fans are the cheerleaders--in the truest sense of the word. And they are good. They might not be able to do basket tosses or awesome cupies but they make signs, they paints their faces and they yell great cheers. And they fight for their sport. I would bet that at least 75 percent of the audience at the Little League Softball World Series last night wrote or is planning to write letters to the IOC to argue for the reinstatement of softball. If beach volleyball was on the chopping block, do you think the English guy who shows up for the cheerleaders would be leading the campaign to keep it? No, because there are women who look like cheerleaders everywhere. The Brit just has to turn on his computer to see women dancing around nearly nude on a beach. In the end it's not a big enough incentive to keep fans coming back.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Lessons from Little League Softball

As I write I am watching the championship game of the Little League Softball World Series (special thanks to houseguest Kevin for hooking up the wireless at our house to enable this multi-tasking). So here are some of the things I have learned so far.
1. There might not be crying in baseball but there is some crying in softball. The starting pitcher for the CT team got a little weepy when she was pulled in the second inning. But the point is that crying can be a good thing. The pitcher went to first base and has played well since. In such a high pressure game maybe a few tears are a good release. A few years ago at the French Open American Ashley Harkelroad had a commanding lead in the final set and let it slip until the set was even. A dejected Harkelroad, during the changeover, had a good cry in her towel and then came back to win the match.
2. That as much as I hate the hyperbole about little girls' dreams being dashed by the removal of softball from the Olympic games, this series has shown that the players and the supporters are really passionate about their sport and do intend to put up a fight to get softball reinstated. The best sign I have seen so far: "The Olympics without softball is like Wheaties without milk." So please help the cause by going to the international softball federation's web page and sending a letter to the IOC (you can compose your own or use a sample letter the federation provides).
3. That if softball does get reinstated it will be entirely due to fan and player support. The cause is not getting any help from media outlets like ESPN which doesn't even run the professional fast-pitch league's scores on their ticker.
4. Perhaps the argument that softball truly is an international sport and thus deserves to be in the Olympics would be better made if in the Little League World Series all the international teams weren't pitted against one another almost guaranteeing an all US final.
5. The diversity of interests among the girls is fascinating and refreshing. (Though the lack of racial and class diversity, at least in the final two teams is disappointing.) In an era when we are hearing about the push towards specialization for young athletes, it is good to see girls who play softball and like other activities like ballet, soccer, acting, and watching Boy Meets World.
6. Maybe sports really do have the possibility to help girls escape the cultural norms--or at least postpone their susceptibility to them. After being disappointed by the very coiffed and made-up women in the college world series this year it's nice to see the Little Leaguers not caring that their hair is falling out of ponytails and braids.
7. While I think the male coaches (who are all fathers of players) have done a pretty good job keeping things positive and fun (though Ken Slowik, the CT coach, is a little too harsh as he tries to rally his team), I wish more women would start coaching at the youth level so that by the time girls get to high school and college a female coach is not a surprise and girls realize that women can do an equally good job coaching.
8. I realize now that the "like a girl" may never die. One of the coaches was reported to say that when his team takes the field they have guts and grit and do not play like little girls. Well they are technically little girls so what exactly are they playing like? How many years do girls and women have to play sports before we start believing that there is no such things as "playing like a girl"?
So those are my observations and now the game is over so many congratulations to both teams for a great game and to the winners from McLean, Virginia.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Not talking about female bodies

It's not a stretch to say that we (society/media) have a somewhat unhealthy obsession with female athletes' bodies. I feel I don't even have to give the myriad of examples here (though I will upon request). So as I have been watching softball this spring and summer I have been fascinated by the lack of discussion about the larger women who are the big hitters on a team. They have a body shape that in any other context would be deemed overweight but use their size to their advantage in hitting and frequently play first base. When they get on base after a hit they are immediately replaced by pinch runners. In watching the Little League Softball World Series I see the trend exists even at the youth level.
I guess what I am wondering is why, in our thin&fit-obsessed society is this phenomenon not discussed. And what is the effect on these girls/women? I imagine there must be some kind of double consciousness. On the field these girls are often the heroes of the game or at the very least equal contributors. Are they being empowered by their experience? Maybe these girls are the part of the solution to dismantling the hegemonic ideal of the fit, athletic woman. But that might be a little hopeful. I don't know for sure, but I suspect that many of these girls leave the softball field and face the same ridicule and other cultural pressures that non-athletic overweight women do.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Must be uniform

Well I came back from vacation just in time to catch the final rounds of the Little League Softball World Championships. But I apparently missed some controversy. During tonight's game pitting the Asia-Pacific team against the East team (from Orange, CT) commentators mentioned and cameras panned to East team's centerfielder, Taylor Sullo, who had been suspended for a game. But no one would say why. After much searching (starting with the tournament's own web page which is useless--do I really have to go on a tangent about the need for quality communications/media in women's/girls' sports?) I found my answer:
East champion Orange will be without center fielder Taylor Sullo, who must
sit out a game after being ejected Sunday in a 2-1 victory over Cedar Mill
because she rolled up her shorts at the waist after her team had been warned not
to violate the uniform rule.

I probably should not be the one to question this ruling given that my sport of choice, tennis, still has rules about "uniforms"--namely the wearing of whites at posh country clubs. But it's also the sport that saw Serena Williams playing in a black catsuit at a Grand Slam tournament. So I don't think I am a hypocrite when I say "How ridiculous!" to the one-game suspension and wonder aloud whether this has anything to do with controlling the female athlete's body. Sure, an argument can be made that perhaps the rule is meant to prevent to the sexualization of young female athletes. But if these girls continue in the sport they will have to be sexualized--heterosexualized a la Jennie Finch or Cat Osterman with their short shorts (compared to their teammates'). This rule just appears to be delaying the inevitable all in the name of some form of propriety I would assume. But a form no one seems to want to talk about. The commentators and the press have been remarkably silent about the cause of the suspension.
Luckily Taylor's team pulled out a victory and she will be able to play in the championships on Thursday. And lucky for me I got home just in time to blog about it!

Friday, August 05, 2005

Morgan Pressel vs. Michelle Wie

OK--I'm not really going to the compare the two players in any substantial way as I know little about the mechanics of golf and only slightly more about their lives. But I know that Pressel, also an amateur, does not get nearly the amount of attention that Wie gets yet it seems Pressel has been more consistent. Pressel, of course, is not out there trying to break down the gender barriers that exist in professional (and amateur) golf. [SMALL TANGENT: Though I question if that is what Michelle Wie is really trying to do. I don't think she is attempting to make the game more accessible for other women players. I believe she is trying to make herself a more outstanding player. This is not unlike other athletes and I try to suppress the essentialist inclinations that sometimes creep in that suggest that Wie, and other female athletes, should be helping their sport and their fellow women players. I get especially angry when people like Frank Deford suggest that Wie is hurting women's golf by playing with men. It's all about Wie and has nothing to do with the male-controlled media that covers more men's events than women's or the years of male tradition--that still exists in various forms--at country clubs and other venues of the sport.]
But back to Pressel...She has been playing in the Women's US Open since she was 13 and was runner-up this year, finishing ahead of Wie who made a run at the title but faltered on the last day. And having watched her at the Open and now seen and heard from her as she plays the US Women's Amateur this week, she just seems like a very pleasant young woman. She shows some genuine emotion on the course. She is very complimentary of her fellow players and gives due credit to their play and abilities. She admits they played well rather than she played badly.
I am not suggesting Michelle Wie is a solipsistic, narcissistic player who is just no fun. But despite playing with men and women of all ages all over the world, she just doesn't seem to have the level of maturity (she is two years younger than Pressel though) and self-awareness that Pressel has.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Some International News

Since I just recently complained (using a newly released study) about the lack of coverage of women's sports in the United States I thought I would share some news from around the world. I am not suggesting that other countries pay more attention to their women's sports--these articles certainly do not sugest any type of trend. But given that so many of us--myself included--forget in these non-Olympic yeas that there are millions of women worldwide playing sports at some level, I thought I would create this sort of transnational reminder.
This first story is about the women's national Pakistani tennis championships. While Western news images of women in veils in hot, arid climates flood our senses, it's good to see the Pakistani Daily News promoting women's sports and offering a counter image.
China View has a brief story on the Chinese women's volleyball team defeating Jordan in the regional World Championships match. Again, we think of Jordan, we think of the Middle East, we think of war and religious conflict. Yet life and volleyball still go on. (Though the volleyball for Jordan has come to an end as they lost to China.)
And lastly, a South African news outlet reports on the upcoming netball tournament to take place in one of the poorer provinces of the country in an attempt to bring some economic prosperity to the region. I don't know all the ins and outs of netball, though I have been reading quite a bit of history about it recently. I do know that it was a game created for women and remains popular in Britain and its former colonies, but seems to never have garnered much international interest. (Though that might be very ethnocentric of me. I should say it has not gained any popularity in the United States despite being invented here.) But interestingly the last lines of this article state that men are growing more interested in the sport and a number of men's teams have entered the tournament. Hmmm...I wonder if this is similar to softball in the US: a distinctly female version of a male game created but that men are becoming quite interested in playing. Anyone want to undertake some kind of comparative history?

Chasing Skirts: Why do women tennis players wear them?

First apologies for the sporadic posts of late (and a pre-apology as it continues to be a pattern, or rather non-pattern); I am on vacation. Woo-hoo!
And so having just played tennis for the first time in 2+ months I was somewhat inspired by this very old Slate column about women's tennis skirts. First of all, I am still somewhat skeptical that talking about skirts is the real issue behind the gender inequality in sport. But I do find it fascinating. And I have heard some interesting research on the history of women's uniforms.
That having been said, I feel the need to talk about my theories and observations on the tennis skirt.
I like them. I won't apologize for it. While I did occasionally don shorts during matches, most of the time I wore skirts. Because I really do think they comfortable, despite the Slate columnist's (Eliza Truitt) claims to the contrary. With skirts there is no tugging between your thighs for the bunched up fabric that sometimes accumulates or rides up (even Serena was tugging at her catsuit a few years ago).
Does it make women players sexier? I don't know. With the length of shorts these days, it doesn't really matter. Truitt's note that some women are wearing them is interesting. Anna K., she mentions, wore them a few years ago but Truitt believes it's because she no longer needs to prove her sexiness. Have you seen the shorts she wears? They are shorter than most skirts and the sit well below the belly button. Shorts do not equal less sexy in tennis.
And 4 years later (the column was from 2001) more women are wearing shorts. Nike makes versions and players such as Anastasia Myskina and Daniela Hantuchova wear them regularly. Jill Craybas, who beat Serena at Wimbledon this year, wore shorts made by Under Armour. I am wearing some Nike tennis shorts right now myself. I don't feel more or less sexy in them versus any one of the skirts I own.
In the end, I like having choices. And I think players like having choices. Openly gay Amelie Mauresmo could wear shorts, but she chooses not to. And I do believe it is a choice--for her. She already bucks many gender and sexuality norms--shorts wouldn't make it any worse. Martina, on the other hand, realized she was wearing skirts and dresses because of the tradition, decided she would be more comfortable in shorts.
I agree with Truitt that patriarchal tradition has basically dictated what women tennis players wear. But shunning skirts altogether is a perverted version of radical feminism that just doesn't make sense. It's certainly not the battle I would choose to fight. So I say "Let them wear skirts!" (or shorts or catsuits, or full-length white body suits.)

Thursday, July 28, 2005

You cannot be serious!!...Ma'am.

The NY Times ran an article yesterday about the trials of minor league baseball umpires which was intriguing though not especially captivating to a non-fan like myself. What caught my eye though was the one line (in parentheses even) sharing the fact that there is one woman in the AAs working as an umpire. And then no more was mentioned. This is the real story, I thought. Not only does she have to deal with the regular crap all baseball umpires take, but she is working in a hyper-masculine environment. So as I do with all things intriguing, I googled her. She has been working as a baseball umpire--the only one (though not the first) since at least 2000 according to this article. As expected, she deals with doubts about her ability from coaches, players and even other umpires and she also has the burden, because she is the only woman, of having to do extra interviews in addition to her other duties.
Of course if the old boys' club actually let in a few more women, such things wouldn't be as big a deal. But sentiments like this one still show that women face extra pressure officiating men's games:
"If you didn't see that ponytail, you'd never know she was a woman out there," said Pete Filson, a former major-leaguer who servers as pitching coach for the Great Falls Dodgers. "She knows the strike zone and she's consistent. Plus you can see that she's into it, she likes the job. That's important."
What Filson is suggesting is that most women wouldn't know the strike zone and would tend to be inconsistent (perhaps due to their constantly fluctuating hormones, Pete?). But knowing the strike zone is not an innate characteristic and it certainly is not gendered.
Yet women as referees/umpires are rare in sports, even in women's sports. As woman athletes get increasing opportunities to play, female referees and umpires remain a very small minority. And when they are present, they are subjected to higher levels of scrutiny. A few years ago during the women's hockey World Championships there were several controversial calls that went against team USA during the gold medal game. Defenseperson Angela Ruggiero suggested that though she wants to see more women as referees, she thinks they need to be more competent, implying of course that the allegedly bad calls (OK a few were really bad) were because some of the refs were women and that men would not have made them. I have seen a lot of hockey in my life, and I know bad calls are gender-neutral. Male referees are not infallible.
But progress is being made. Though there are no women refs at men's hockey games there are more of them officiating women's games at the collegiate level and, to a lesser extent, at the international level.
The tennis world, a bastion of tradition (including patriarchy) is making strides in the officiating arena. This year at Wimbledon women were in the chair for some men's early-round matches. Though it was a fairly under-the-radar move (I can't even find a link to the story anymore) it's a discernible sign of progress. We'll see if the US Open next month follows suit. Because, really, now that John McEnroe has left the game, it's pretty safe for all umpires, male or female.