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??