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.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Body Pump Anxiety

This summer I switched my workout regimen because I was hitting a plateau. I increased my daily cardio work, took out most of the lifting I had done and added yoga three times a week. And while I love yoga and do feel it requires amazing strength and flexibility and balance, I missed lifting. So I tried Body Pump, a group exercise class my gym offersbut I had never been interested in. [Actually it just changed its name to Group Power because of some wranglings in the upper levels of the corporation that puts out this pre-choreographed class. The fact that I am taking some corporate-produced, manufactured exercise program does make me feel a bit like a fitness automaton, but it is not the primary cause of my anxiety (after all I did once own Tae Bo tapes).]
I had avoided this class for a long time because I chose to lift in the actual gym. I had always done it this way but additionally I felt that I was making a statement. That area of the gym is dominated by men (though there are women who use it on a regular basis) and my presence there, I felt, in some way disrupted the idea that men had control of the space (many of the women I do see in the weights area are being tutored by men--sometimes one guy has a whole group following) while also countering the hegemonic notion that only men want to build muscle. Group power works all the muscle groups but does so using high reps and low weights--the mantra of middle-class suburban women who fear the dreaded "bulky" muscled look.
But I actually like Group Power. It's a one-hour class. It's a nice way to cross-train. I do sweat and get a workout. The music is annoying but I press on.
But I feel guilty. Am I falling victim to the cultural mandate for lean and toned? What about my small activist stance in being a presence around the weight room? There are men who do Group Power--of all ages actually--but it is a class dominated by 30-something moms and sorority women. It presents itself as "equal opportunity" but I continue to wonder if it really is and if I should continue to take it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Women's Sports on TV

So things have been slow in the world of women's sports of late. We've hit a middle of the summer type of doldrum. (Though I realize exciting events are on the horizon in many women's sports.)
So I went searching for something to blog about this morning and I found a very interesting study just released and co-authored by Michael Messner, one of the leading sports scholars who does work on gender and sports. The study looked at the amount of coverage women's sports gets on television news and shows that it has actually declined over the years. The year 2004 saw the same amount of news coverage as 15 years ago!
First of all--why was this study released about a week ago and I, a fairly vigilant seeker of news on women's sports, had to do a google search to find it? And while the story was reported on two separate sources, neither of them were major news outlets. Seems even news about the news of women's sports can't get any press. Which is interesting given the amount of coverage the White House flip-flop scandal got a couple of weeks ago. MSNBC had a streaming news clip complete with photos of the flip-flops. But is this really coverage of women's sports? This event actually fits with the findings of the study which shows that even though the amount of trivialization of women in sports has declined it still exists. The way the flip-flop incident was covered is a perfect example of this.
And second--while I believe the findings of the study I still cannot fathom how so little progress has been made. ESPN and ESPN2 cover more women's sports now, certainly. Yet their own Sportscenter refuses to talk about them. And the events and athletes that do get covered seem to show up often (relative to the amount of coverage of course). For example, Michelle Wie is often the token female athlete discussed on a show like Cold Pizza. The study showed women's tennis contributes to over 40 percent of the television news coverage. While I love tennis and am glad it is getting its share of tv time, I wonder what it will take for networks to present a more well-rounded sports segment.
About a month ago I had a weekend where I organized my activities around the women's sports being broadcast: there was the Women's College World Series, some LPGA, some WNBA, and I think some tennis too. I remember thinking about how far women's sports had come that a fan of them could spend much of the weekend just watching women's sports. But this study shows that we still have so far to go when, if you don't have the luxury of devoting hours to your television to see the orginal broadcast, you miss it entirely because major networks and cable stations like FoxSports and ESPN will not even show you the highlights.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Trophy Girls

I have found an answer to one of my earlier posts about the Tour de France and the lack of female representation. The girls it seems cannot be participants in the Tour de France because they are too busy being trophy girls.
Every time an award is presented, whether it be to the stage winner or, as happened today when Lance Armstrong won his seventh tour, to the overall winner, two women are there to offer kisses, trophies, and flowers. I had noticed them before, I think. But today I really noticed them. This is the weirdest form of "cheerleader" I have ever seen. I can find no good reason to have these women there. And yet this seems to be a popular and coveted gig in France. Models try out for the chance to kiss each cheek of a sweaty cyclist at the end of the day as they help him into the ceremonial yellow jersey (because apparently he can ride hundreds of miles but can't get a shirt on without female assistance). These women are more egregious than the silly evening gown-clas statuesque women the Academy of Motion Pictures use each year to tell the famous people where to stand.
All they are there to do is fawn and look pretty. Trophy girl indeed! And what is even stranger is that their outfits coordinate with the award given. Today, the final day of the race, there were many awards handed out, all of which had a corresponding jersey and the trophy girls had matching outfits! Here is a yellow jersey/overall winner trophy girl--properly positioned in the background as all tropy girls should be (they even stand on the lower level of the podium when handing out the goods). And here is the polka dot look that goes to the winner of the final stage. And I don't know why these girls aren't in green to match the third place finisher but they still look positively Stepford. And here are some more for your viewing pleasure: best young cyclist; and someone I don't know.
So which will go first the trophy girls or the all-male contest? In my mind, they are inextricably linked because they reflect the position theTour, and the sports world in general that fails to question these things, have on women's roles in athletics.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Republicans really do hate flip-floppers

So I have finally discovered some consistency in the Republican platform--they will not tolerate alleged flip-floppers. First it was John Kerry and now the women of the NCAA DIV I championship Northwestern lacrosse team. Apparently this is old news but I only just read about it and found it oddly fascinating.
Some of the women wore flip-flops for their brief photo-op with President Bush at the White House earlier this month. And it made national news. Polls have been started, TODAY show appearances made, flip-flops auctioned off on E-bay for charity--and yet the question still persists--was this inappropriate attire?
Part of me wants to say, "who cares?" But I think this knee-jerk response allows us to overlook the question of why some are calling the appropriateness of women athletes' footwear into question here. Is there a certain way female athletes are supposed to look? (That's a rhetorical question, of course.) Perhaps some see the flip-flops as not quite feminine enough. The fact that the media jumped all over the flip-flops suggests that what these women wear is more important than what they have actually accomplished: an NCAA Div I championship.
Also interesting is the fact that the women in question play lacrosse--play women's lacrosse--which is a much different game than the men's version. Women play with much less padding and no helmets. This is supposed to prevent the women's game from becoming as aggressive as the men's which has been likened to football with sticks. It is essentially a feminized version of the sport. [A former student of mine who grew up playing lacrosse with boys refused to make the switch in college and consequently had to give up the game because she was not allowed to play on the men's team.]
But obviously the flip-flops just didn't make the feminine footwear list. These women have likely toed the femininity line throughout their athletic lives because of their chosen sport and then they get called out for flip-flops. I am doubtful this footwear will become the new sign of non-conformity in women's sports, but if perchance, they do then I say "Long live the flip-flop!"

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Observations on Co-ed Rec Softball, Part I

So I've been playing rec league softball this summer. I play on a co-ed team which has a myriad of gender-based rules (batting order, % male/female fielders, ball size!) which I am going to refrain from analyzing in depth here. (A sports scholar has done an excellent piece of ethnographic research on co-ed softball though. It's printed in the anthology Athletic Intruders and I highly recommend the essay and the book.)
I have not quite decided how I feel about co-ed softball. And since the last time I played all-girls softball was when I was actually still a girl, I really have no basis for comparison. But I do have some brief observations based on this evening's game--which sadly we lost. [But on the bright side I had the lone RBI and there were some amazing catches in the outfield. Whoop-whoop!]
Observation 1: during our team's at-bat, one of our players hit a fairly decent fly ball out to right-centerish where a female player was standing--she barely had to move. Then along comes the centerfielder, a man, who just ran right in front of it and snagged it. He actually almost missed it because they were so close and there was a near collision. If you don't want to let the women play, then play in the men's league where there are no women. It was totally unnecessary in any situation--but they were leading by at least 10 runs at this point.
Observation 2: One of their female players had a Hooters shirt on. Why do girls do this? There are some words you just can't reclaim and hooters is one of them. I can't imagine that she was wearing the shirt to support the great food the establishment serves. I think we need to start a campaign (which includes writing to the ASA and telling them to drop Hooters as a corporate sponsor): Just say no to Hooters!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

So Over Lleyton Hewitt

When Lleyton Hewitt came on the tennis scene about 8 years ago now, I rooted for him. He had a different style of play (relatively speaking--he certainly falls into the category of power hitter). He got the crowd into it and heck--he was from Australia. When Patrick Rafter left the game we needed another charismatic Aussie to take his place. And of course he was dating Belgian player Kim Clijsters who is just the epitome of professionalism.
But post-break-up Hewitt's behavior has just irked me. Now that he's engaged to and about to become the father of the baby of an Australian soap star, his life seems to have a lot of drama. His "Come-ons" have gotten louder and come at more inappropriate times. His dodging of the press is well-known (though having heard and read some of the inane questions from post-match press conferences I can't really blame him all that much for this). So I had casually written him off. But after his latest episode I am taking out my red correcting pen and furiously crossing him out.
During last week's David Cup contest where Hewitt was playing Argentina's Guillermo Coria, an angered Hewitt called the umpire a "poof"--Australian slang for gay. Initially he denied it--but Hewitt seems to forget that these matches are taped for television and the footage makes it clear. He finally apologized but only after he had been caught in his lie. This is eerily reminiscent of the incident during the James Blake match at the US Open several years ago when Hewitt, again angered, accused one of the linesmen of making calls in Blake's favor because he too was black. Hewitt denied and Blake graciously let him off the hook.
That should have been my getting off the Hewitt bandwagon point but I kept thinking, "if Kim likes him he must have some redeeming qualities." But no. It's now a pattern and one that only gets a slap on the wrist. Hewitt will be fined for his behavior but for a man that makes millions in endorsements along with prize money, it won't even make a dent. (On a side note--what does the International Tennis Federation do with the fine money it collects?)
Coria is not off the hook either. Though he didn't use any racist or homophobic slang during the match he did grab his crotch several times, according to Hewitt, in a sophmoric gesture of--whatever it is that men hope to convey by crotch-grabbing. What is it with men and their phalluses? Can you imagine someone like Serena Williams or Lindsay Davenport being angry at a call and grabbing her breasts and shaking them at an opponent or official? Why do we have such different standards or rather levels of public acceptance for professional athletes' behavior based on their gender?

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Softball PS and Correction

Well--who knew the US softball team could lose a championship game? It has happened. Team Japan beat them last night 3-1 behind some pretty good pitching. Made me glad I didn't make, what I thought would be, the not-so-bold prediction that the US would crush Japan just as they had once already in this tournament. But as I mentioned previously, this non-USA win might go a long way in proving to the IOC that other countries can be competitive in the Olympics.
On an "oops" note, in my previous post I confused this new World Cup of Softball tournament with the already-established World Championships. The World Cup was apparently created to give the top 5 teams from the previous year's Olympics the chance for international competition before the next World Championships, which will not be held until--oh wait I couldn't find that information despite my diligent internet research. Perhaps this is part of the problem with the game internationally--even the international governing association of softball, the ISF, has no information on the world champsionships on its webpage.
On an "are you kidding me?" note, I did find some disturbing information on the Amateur Softball Association's webpage about the national championships held in September in Oklahoma City--they are sponsored by Hooters. Yea, Hooters the restaurant known for its well-endowed (and I don't mean trust funds) waitresses. And it is not a subtle sponsorship deal. It's called the ASA Hooters Championship Series. There is Hooter's softball merchandise available on the website. What kind of legitimate sporting organization gets Hooters to be their corporate sponsor? Especially a sport whose primary participants are women. (Though the tournament is for women and men.) Talk about strange bedfellows! Maybe this whole IOC cutting is just a healthy batch of karma for the ASA. Something to think about.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Softball reacts

It has been interesting to watch the coverage of the women's inaugural World Cup of Softball taking place in Oklahoma City right now. Or rather, it has been interesting to hear how people are reacting to the news the softball is out of 2012 London Summer Olympics. Some of the commentators agreed with me that there was some political wranglings behind the IOC's doors that lead to scrapping softball, but no one seems to have any good answers. The commentators actually thought there was a possibility to bring the sport back in 2012 rather than campaigning for reinstatement in 2016. This seems unlikely to me but I suppose they need to keep hope alive.
But the rallyers are not doing a good job of convincing the IOC to keep it based on the commentary during games. The camera pans to a group of young girls in the stands wearing their uniforms and cheering and holding signs and commentator/player Michelle Smith says "This is why we need to keep softball in the Olympics. We need to keep these girls' dreams alive." I don't think this is going to pull at the heartstrings of the IOC.
What could be more convincing is the fact that 1) there is a world cup of softball now in place. That means more opportunities for countries to play internationally and gain experience. And 2) that the US squad is not displaying its usual dominance. They lost their first game to Canada and had a close game with little offensive power with Australia. This chink in the armor seems more likely to show the IOC that other countries are working hard to catch up with the US program and could pose significant threats in the future. The somewhat ethnocentric US commentators though failed to acknowledge that an end to the US dynasty might be a good thing for softball on an international level and might actually help the dreams of little girls everywhere and not just American girls.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

What's Happening to Youth Sports?

Youth sports have been turning nasty for some time now. Probably one of the most horrific cases of violence in youth sports occurred in my home state of Massachusetts when a youth hockey ref/parent was killed by another parent. Until now though it seems like most of the incidents have involved confrontations among parents, coaches, and officials. This new case left me stunned however. A T-ball coach (also the parent of 2 girls on the team) allegedly paid another child to injure a mentally disabled player so the coach would not have to play him the requisite three innings. The news accounts have people referring to the coach as "very competitive" and "wanting to win at all costs." Well I hope this one costs him a lot. But I am a little doubtful. While Coach Downs has been charged, the league penalty (if they discover any wrong-doing--which they have not yet) is barring him from coaching next year. How about barring him for life? How about barring him from games even as a spectator? How did this guy get into coaching in the first place?
This is T-ball! It's not even Little League yet--not that such behavior should be acceptable at any level. But T-ball is supposed to be a little more equal opportunity in this era of ever-increasingly competitive youth sports (for examples just watch an episode of Bravo's reality show, Sports Kids Moms and Dads).
I try to avoid making essentialist claims based on gender, but I have yet to hear of any female coach engaging in such egregious behavior, and certainly not at the youth level. This winning-at-all-costs mentality is becoming increasingly problematic. Anecdotal evidence I gained while working on a project for the Women's Sports Foundation suggests that this mentality is seen much more frequently in boys' youth sports. I worry though about a catch-22 in girls' sports. With increasing opportunities, with there be increasingly bad behavior stemming from intense competition to "make it"? Hopefully incidents like the above will result in harsh punishments both legally and in the court of public opinion.

Friday, July 15, 2005

World Team Tennis and "Equality"

I caught some of the World Team Tennis contest between the Boston Lobsters and the New York Sportimes yesterday while I was at the gym. I have never seen a WTT match in person but it looks like fun. (Though Bright Arena at Harvard where the matches were held was a good deal less than full despite headliners like Martina Navratilova and Martina Hingis.) And I was impressed when WTT founder, Billie Jean King, and long-time player Navratilova both commented about the equality of the format: men's and women's matches count the same (because WTT score is based on number of games, not matches, won). Everyone is equally important. They both noted their belief that sports can influence society and so having a format that promotes equality is good for all. Just warms the cockles of sports and cultural studies scholars' hearts everywhere (or at least my own).
But wait--what is this? In the mixed doubles matches when the game gets tied at deuce (WTT does plays no-ad tennis which means next point wins) instead of the receiving team choosing who gets the ball (as they do in single-sex doubles matches) it goes man-to-man or woman-to-woman depending on who the server is. Now this is the way it works in USTA and all the recreational tennis I have ever played. But I think it's a lousy rule. Tennis, like most sports, relies on strategy just as much as strength. If the male server has a weaker serve on the ad court and the opposing team female plays the ad court and has been successful in returning then why not let her take it?
I think equality it often misconstrued which is why most discussion around Title IX now focuses on equity and not equality. Equality looks different depending on where you're standing; equity is more nuanced. But semantics (though important) aside, it seems like equality/equity means the right to choose. I think the man-to-man/woman-to-woman rule in mixed doubles precludes choice; and I think choice is a key element in equality/equity in sports. WTT has been innovative in so many ways and I hope it continues to regain its popularity but I also think they can reevaluate their policies of 30 years ago to create a format that is 21st-century radical and not 1970s radical.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Ponytail Posse

(with thanks for Ebuz for inspiring this off-the-blog research).
The Ponytail Posse is the official fan club of the US Women's National Soccer Team. I truly am a fan and a supporter of women's soccer, but I cringe when I hear the term Ponytail Posse. I know the women on the team are strong and confident and leaders but ponytail posse sounds a little childish to me, and thus a little demeaning for the sport. But I had never really sought out the origins or the rationale behind the name. So yesterday I went to the club's website and looked at what the mission statement says about the ponytail:
Yeah, yeah, so the whole ponytail thing...well, it's meant to convey the
combination of femininity and athleticism that is inherent in putting your hair
up in a ponytail.

Oh, no, no, no. This is so problematic. Why do you have to continue to convey femininity (or at least pay lip service to it) if you are a female athlete? And what does this alleged femininity look like? Soccer is one of those sports (like softball) which is accused of harboring closeted lesbians. The Ponytail Posse seems to be another marketing tool trying to show the world just how heterosexual and "feminine" soccer players can be. And of course it continues to contribute to the false binary of masculine and feminine--descriptors which, in reality, describe no one. (For all you educators/leaders of children out there, I know a great exercise for helping students see how masculine and feminine don't correspond to actual men and women. Let me know if you want more info.)
Also, I worry about the players, ponytailed or not, that don't fit this prescribed definition of femininity. Abby Wambach is on the site sporting a Posse t-shirt (which so makes me want to order one--damn these principles!) her hair not quite long enough to be in a ponytail. Wambach is interesting because rumors abound that, despite her amazing skills, she was overlooked, during recruiting, by soccer powerhouse UNC because of her perceived homosexuality. The Ponytail Posse seems to give people like Wambach--whether gay or not (and I am certainly not outing anyone here)-- "outsider-within" status. This is a term used by Patricia Hills Collins and other feminist and postcolonial/third world theorists to explain when a minority is let in but never really accepted. Now granted Wambach doesn't seem to be suffering too much. But she is often described as aggressive and noted for her contact play which, in women's sports, is code for, at best, not feminine, and often implies lesbianism.
I don't believe the straight players on the women's soccer team have any problems with gay players. Maybe this is naive, but I believe them when they say they are a group of really close friends. So perhaps it is now the straight players' responsibility to examine the rhetoric they put out there about their sport and how it creates outsiders-within both on their own team, but, perhaps more importantly, in the larger world of women's sports. If they can win gold medals and World Cup titles then I am sure this will no problem for them!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Seeking web page parity

Casually surfing around some of my favorite internet sites this morning, I headed to USA Hockey's site just to check in and see if anything interesting was going on this summer in development camps, etc. USA Hockey's home page seems to provide a range of stories about all aspects of USA Hockey from juniors to collegiate, inline leagues and I was very impressed that there was a home page story about sled hockey and the tryouts for the 2006 Paralympic Games in Turino which will take place immediately following the Olympics.
I also noticed a story on Hobey Baker winner Marty Sertich being nominated for an ESPY for Best Male College Athlete and a link directly to his category (versus having to vote in all categories) so one could, presumably, vote for him. I scrolled down some more looking for a similar story about Harvard forward Nicole Corriero who is nominated for Best Female College Athlete. Not there. I was somewhat miffed. So I clicked on the link for just girls'/women's hockey news expecting to find it there. Nope. In fact there is only one story on that page right now. The story is about the growth of women's hockey. This is a growth which, in my opinion, USA Hockey has no right to take credit for. Women's hockey has grown because cultural attitudes about girls/women in aggressive, contact sports has changed and because girls themselves have insisted on opportunities to play and forced people to take notice.
In fact, USA Hockey has let down women's hockey. Following the gold medal win in the first year women's hockey was allowed into the Olympics in 1998, USA Hockey sat on its hands and did nothing to promote the sport. Administrators should have followed the lead of USA Soccer after the women won their World Cup (and following successful Olympic berths) and promoted the hell out of women's hockey. (Granted the WUSA collapsed but it built a loyal following and I have hopes it will come back with better management.) But it didn't. It's still a fairly obscure sport at the higher levels of competition despite the growing numbers of players at the youth level. The fact that USA Hockey can't even provide equal web page attention to girls'/women's hockey does not give me much hope for building a larger fan base. I worry that with the IOC all cut-happy, women's ice hockey may be the next to go.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Ou sont les filles?

My French is very rusty but the title is, in my mind anyway, supposed to translate into "where are the women?"--actually I think filles is girls--you get the point.
The Tour de France is underway as most people know and the annual event brings to mind (along with the nudging of Ebuz's mom) the issue of where are the female cyclists. Not knowing the exact answer (besides the obvious: not in the race) only recalling that I had heard/read somewhere about a female version of the race, I went googling for some more information.
Luckily someone had the same question. So I was right about there being a race for women. It's shorter but still in France. The answer otherwise is pretty exasperating. The responder gives the history--started by a man to find the greatest cyclist (read: male cyclist) blah blah blah. Most sports did begin as exclusively male--doesn't mean they have to or did stay that way. But the responder suggests that even if all of us folks who believe in--gasp!--equality-- are not convinced, some nameless professor says that women, physiologically, cannot complete such a grueling event. But not to worry because their version is tough too.
Umm...yeah...that excuse has been around for a while now and it's getting old. Colette Dowling wrote a whole book on it called The Frailty Myth. More and more research now shows that women's alleged physical inferiority is really a product of cultural conditioning. And, speaking specifically to the Tour de France, research shows women have greater stamina in long-distance events. Women's marathon times have been going down by greater factors than men's and the current holder of the world record in the ultra marathon (100 miles) is a woman. So there really is no good reason to keep women out of the contest any more--not that this believer in equality ever thought there was.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Winning at all costs recently posted an article about the hiring of a softball coach who's contract was not renewed by University of Florida due to "lack of team progress" but more likely it was for discriminating against one of her gay athletes and pushing her Christian agenda on her players and staff. Karen Johns was the coach (with a winning record) at Florida when one of her athletes sued for discrimination. I had heard about the case but had not hear any more about Johns since that time. The entire department was receiving diversity training under the tutelage of Dr. Pat Griffin who worked personally with Johns.
Well the administration and athletics department at University of Virginia apparently does not have a problem with Johns's history. Lesser allegations than this can crucify people's careers but when it comes to discriminating against lesbian athletes many heads seem to turn the other way. It becomes increasingly difficult to be an advocate for the hiring of more female coaches (female head coaches make up less than half of all head coaches of women's team compared to the 1972 when they comprised about 98 percent of the field) when people like Johns are re-hired and people like Penn State basketball coach Rene Portland continue to get the support of big athletics departments despite their problems with lesbian players. Situations such as these create an even greater atmosphere of unchecked homophobia and continues to keep players and coaches and administrators closeted. While I believe that there would be amazing strength in numbers if more coaches were more visibly out, I know there is extreme fear that if one stands up, she might be standing alone. The departments--and the colleges--that say they are committed to creating diverse, safe environments need to start walking the walk and not making special exceptions for people like Johns and Portland and others like them.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Olympic Downsizing

The IOC has voted to cut softball and baseball from the 2012 Olympics. I heard the news this morning when I was barely awake and now that I am fully cognizant and have read the news, I am still in shock.
This is a huge, huge blow for softball. A professional softball league is only just getting on its feet and I worry that this news may irreparably harm its chances of succeeding. The WUSA couldn't even survive in this country and the US always is a contender in the Olympics.
The reasons given for the cutting of softball are ridiculous though. It was implied that USA softball is just too dominant having won all three of the gold medals since its Olympic debut in 1996. Granted the games could be more interesting if there was greater competition but the strength of the US team has only made other teams more motivated. (Look at what happened to women's tennis when Venus and Serena were dominating--everyone else raised their level of training and play.) But change, especially in women's sports, is slow given the lack of resources organizations provide. And besides--doesn't everyone love a good streak? I don't see anyone suggesting that Lance Armstrong be banned from the Tour de France because he has won it too many times.
The argument that there is not enough international interest may be true. Not having scoped out the softball scene in other countries I can't say for sure. But I do know that some other countries, like Italy and Greece welcome American players with Italian/Greek heritage to their national teams. For example Iowa pitcher Lisa Birocci has considered going to Italy to play for them. This seems like a good way to spread internationally the wealth of talent we see in the college game in the States.
One of the most absurd reasons given for the cutting of softball was its connection to baseball, allegedly cut because of the steroid problem in the US (and the lack of professional players--hello? what has happened to the original spirit of the games which were played with amateurs!!). Anyway softball bigwig Dan Porter said: "We tried to keep our distance. But I think there's still too many people think we're part of baseball. We're absolutely not. We're a separate sport." While I believe that to be true, I would ask Dan Porter to listen to some of the commentary that occurs during softball games. Commentators continually compare softball players to various baseball players in terms of style and ability. When favorite athlete is flashed alongside a player's stats, it is often a baseball player. I think softball needs to reevaluate, but I still maintain that the steroid connection is far-fetched.
Methinks there is something that IOC is not telling us about their decisions. But since we will likely never know the real story I guess we'll just have to campaign hard (which includes giving your support to the fledgling Fastpitch League) to have it reinstated in 2016.

Thursday, July 07, 2005


So when I was in the same major sports store where previously blogged about swim paddles were being sold, I saw a stand of t-shirts made for girls who participate in various sports (tennis, volleyball, soccer, softball, and a few others I think). The shirts played off the old disparaging remark: you throw like a girl. These shirts though are trying to reclaim the "like a girl" part by using slogans such as "kick the ball the past you--just like a girl" "ace you/spike it/ hit it out of the park...just like a girl"--you get the idea.
In terms of design and attitude they were very bold. And I myself was tempted but being the good postmodernist that I am, I decided to question my initial response and the t-shirts purpose.
Can we or should we reclaim the "like a girl" phrase when it comes to athletics (or anything for that matter)? Are we just reifying the binary of girl/boy man/woman? And probably most importantly are t-shirts like this really attempting to highlight the accomplishments of female athletes or encouraging them to stay "like a girl"--i.e. feminine, and sticking to competing on their own fields with their own kind--not challenging boys?
Thoughts, anyone??

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


I voted at yesterday for this year's ESPY nominees. What was interesting this year was the categories. The basic ones are still there: Best Male and Best Female Athlete, best team, etc. What I did notice was that there seemed to be some downsizing. Last year you got to vote for best male soccer player and best female soccer player. This year it's just best soccer player. Same with golf.
I can somewhat understand the soccer consolidation--non-World Cup year, no more WUSA, the Olympic Games have largely left the collective memory. But I still think collapsing the category is a bad idea. I don't really want to get into the debate about men versus women in competition, because I don't think it's applicable here. What I think is that there are a lot of good female soccer players out there and in a year when some of the founders of contemporary women's soccer retired (Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Brandi Chastain, Joy Fawcett) it's a great time to pay tribute to them and possibly introduce the next generation: Abby Wambach, Heather O'Reilly, Lori Chalupny, and Cat Reddick. The collapse of the WUSA was a huge setback for women's sports and soccer in the USA and I think the move by the ESPY powers that be to consolidate only contributes to the downsizing of soccer rather than the promotion of it. In such a sports-crazed country as this, you cannot convince me that there just isn't enough collective energy to support a sport that is so hugely popular in other areas of the world.
And as for golf--what were they thinking? Women's golf has taken off in recent years, relatively speaking of course. Just because Annika dominates, does not mean that the rest of the women's field is negligible. Last week's US Open showed that with a group of young amateurs taking turns at the top of the leaderboard. Plus there is the strong contingent of Korean golfers putting and driving their way to the top (similar to the "Russian invasion" in women's tennis). This was a bad move for the ESPY organizers who have always had a best female golfer category.

And as a sort of PS: many congrats to Harvard hockey player Nicole Corriero for being nominated best female collegiate athlete. Having met the very pleasant and intelligent Corriero and watched her successfully compete often in the shadows of her more famous Olympic veteran teammates (Angela Ruggiero and Julie Chu), I can say she truly deserves this award. And in a year when hockey was not on anyone's mind, kudos to the ESPYs for remembering it.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The gendering of swimming paddles

Swimming paddles are plastic discs of various shapes and sizes that swimmers and water aerobicizers put on their hands when training. They create greater resistance and so build upper body strength while helping swimmers with their stroke.
Casually browsing in a major sports store yesterday I came across swim paddles made by TYR. They were all different colors that corresponded to their respective size (XS-XL). I had never seen swim paddles sized and so I flipped over the package to find out how the sizes were measured. The size chart was very interesting. XS paddles are meant for beginner swimmers. S are meant for intermediate swimmers. OK--this makes sense. Then things started gettting interesting. The descriptions for who shoud be using each size became more intricate, listing various levels of swimming such as high school. junior nationals, senior nationals, collegiate, etc. But they also became gendered. For example a female collegiate swimmer should use size M but a male collegiate swimmer should use L. The sizing seemed fairly arbitrary in that it failed to take into consideration the possibility that female swimmers can be stronger than male swimmers, always placing women of a comparable level one size below men. Seems that the Frailty Myth is still alive and well, certainly in marketing.
And what was most interesting was that XL should only be used by "strong male swimmers" and water aerobicizers. I don't know who these strong male swimmers are--they are not the triathletes or collegiate or senior national swimmers because they are using smaller sizes. So the only people who should be using XL TYR swim paddles are these unusually strong men and the largely female population of older people with bad joints (this is the demographic targeted for this form of group exercise) who do water aerobics. I left the store with a very weird feeling along with an odd picture in my head of a friendly grandma type in her bathing suit standing alongside a very buff, tan, tall man in speedos both sporting XL TYR paddles, smiling and flexing.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Softball players--the marrying kind?

I tuned in briefly last night to watch a taped game between the US national softball team and team Australia. I probably watched only 2-3 innings total but in that time I found out about half of the team's marriage/dating status. Every time a married or dating USA player came up to bat, we were informed of their heterosexuality in various ways: anniversaries, famous male partners (one who plays for the White Sox), fabulous weddings, etc.
We all know the stereotypes surrounding softball players, but most of us also know that straight women make excellent softball players too. But USA softball and the media that cover it seem very concerned that softball become just as heteronormative as the rest of the world and they are doing so by highlighting the love lives of their stars, most notably pitcher Jennie Finch. Are they trying to give softball an image overhaul like the LPGA did a while back when they had some their prominent golfers pose in bathing suits on a golf course? Trying to lose some kind of perceived homosexual stigma only further marginalizes gay athletes.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

To Grunt or Not to Grunt?

Well the Wimbledon women's (I refuse to use the language of the All-England Club and say ladies) final has just ended with a spectacular match between Lindsay Davenport and Venus Willams. Congrats to both for an excellent final.
But overall the women's side of the tournament was a relatively staid affair with only a few upsets and almost no controversy...except for the grunting.
Grunting in tennis has been around a long time in some form or other. It became headline news when Monica Seles entered the scene as hers was a fairly consistent (in volume and articulation) but different from others we had heard.
This year tournament referee Alan Mills made it news again claiming that it amounts to gamesmanship and cheating. And he points out that only the women are doing it. Hmmm...can this be true? and, if so, why? Certainly there is the argument that the grunts serve as a timing device for players--certainly the case of Seles's grunt. But some players, champion Venus Williams, for example, vary their grunts depending on the situation. She was relatively quiet today compared to her semi-final against the woman who has been taking most of the heat for this grunting thing, Maria Sharapova. Sharapova has been recorded at 100 decibels but the length and volume of hers also vary.
So I am not sure what to make of this revival in grunting theory--I certainly will be monitoring the grunting habits of players of both genders. But as for charges of gamesmanship...I think they are baseless--especially given that we still live in a society that prefers its women--and certainly its female athletes--more on the quiet side.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Where's Amelie?

Before I begin complaining, I want to give due credit to the ESPN powers-that-be who have finally begun to understand the nuances of covering a tennis tournament. The network has gotten much better at showing a range of matches.
But all is not wonderful...I woke this morning, ran down to turn on the TV hoping to catch the last few games of the Davenport/Mauresmo match which was rain-delayed in the 3rd set yesterday. No such luck. It was over--no coverage. I saw none of that match which, at least by looking at the scores (two tie-breaks and a 6-4 third set to Davenport) was one of the better of the tournament. Instead I had the opportunity to see tennis's current beauty queen (albeit one with talent this time) Maria Sharapova lose to Venus Williams--not once, not twice--but three times between ESPN2's coverage and NBC's. A little coordination might have helped.
A whole fortnight and I did not see any of Mauresmo's matches. A woman who made it to the semi-finals without dropping a set and nothing. She is a foreigner, and French to boot (though I thought we had gotten over that whole francophobe thing) but she was playing all- American girl Lindsay Davenport who, at 29, is not going to be able to contest for a Grand Slam title much longer.
Now, Mauresmo is an openly-gay player, the only one (besides Martina) in a tennis world filled with closet cases and homophobes. I am not making accusations, but I can't help but wonder how much Mauresmo's alleged "masculine" style of play and demeanor has something to do with her lack of air time.

About Atalanta

Atalanta was a huntress, wrestler, runner, and warrior whose main claim to fame, according to Ovid anyway, is her race for marriage--literally. A single Atalanta agreed she would marry whomever could beat her in a foot race. But if she won--which she did numerous times--she was allowed to kill the defeated. She was finally beat by Melanion when he, seeking the help of the goddess of love, Aphrodite, tricked Atalanta by throwing three gold apples in her path as she ran, distracting her and allowing him to finish ahead of her. This story does not help dispell the dumb jock stereotype that abounds in athletics, but sometimes we have to look at the big picture which is that Atalanta was thought to have rivalled men in her athletic ability. Controversy abounds over the role of Atalanta's athleticism. Was she tamed by Melanion when forced to marry? Did her athletic prowess take away from her ability to attract men? Or did her strong athleticism actually contribute to her sexual appeal?
What is so telling about the myth of Atalanta is that most of these issues, centuries upon centuries later still abound in the "real world" for most female athletes.
Of course we could always choose to support the Marlo Thomas version of the tale where Atalanta and her suitor finish in a tie and decide to "just be friends" before they take off on their respective journeys to discover new lands (but hopefully not colonize them though the story never gets that far!)
[much of the information about Atalanta I found in Allan Guttmann's Women's Sports: A History]