Saturday, January 28, 2006

I Agree with Brad Gilbert!

It might be a sign of the apocalypse but it is indeed true. I agree with Brad Gilbert that Justine Henin-Hardenne should have played until the end of the final of the Australian Open. Henin-Hardenne retired in the second set, after losing the first to first-time slam winner Amelie Mauresmo, with an upset stomach. Yes, an upset stomach. No, she did not throw up on the court, take a bathroom break, or turn a funny shade of yellow/green.
First, before I tear into Henin-Hardenne, I think Mauresmo should be given major kudos. Most of the press will be about Henin-Hardenne and the way she ended the match and I hope Mauresmo's accomplishment is not completely overshadowed by this. My 2006 predictions from December picked this year for Mauresmo to finally rid herself of that ugly moniker "Best Woman to Never Win a Slam." Maybe this bodes well for the other part of my prediction about Mauresmo! Here's hoping.
So should Mauresmo (even though she says she never reads the press about herself) or Mauresmo fans happen to come across this blog I just want to reiterate that nothing makes this win less impressive. The fact that three women retired against her just proves that she was fit enough physically and mentally to make it through the grueling conditions in Australia this year.
So back to Henin-Hardenne. Bud Collins asked Mauresmo in the post-match conference is the retirement was unprofessional. It was an unfair question and Bud should know better. (I could go on and on about the stupid questions journalists ask players in these conferences but I will save that for another time.) Mauresmo said she would not comment and create controversy (props) but added that she would have died out there today.
Let me just say that I am not a proponent of the "no pain, no gain" philosophy that has been perverted to an often troubling masochistic tendency, but Henin-Hardenne should have played through this ailment. She was at no risk of doing more damage by continuing to play. And given Pete Sampras's own struggle with stomach problems in the past, even if she had thrown up on court, it would have been a sign of her dedication--win or lose.
But even though I agree with Gilbert, and of course the numerous others who will chime in during the coming days, I worry about what this does for women's sport. Yes, it reflects badly on Henin-Hardenne who has had her character questioned in the past but those who already have doubts about women's dedication to and ability to compete at the highest level of sport will have a field day with this incident. Henin-Hardenne's cavalier attitude about the whole thing is of little help.
Refusing to end this on a sour note, though--I thought the women's draw at the Open was incredible this year. There was no clear-cut favorite between the unknowns (how will the Williams sisters play?) and the injured (Clijsters, Sharapova) and Mauresmo played herself into this tournament gaining confidence and honing her game throughout. And she deserved to win.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

From the "No, dur" Department

Study results were released today that report on the prevalence of white male leadership in 119 NCAA Div-1A institutions. The report cites small improvements in the numbers of minority men (seemingly define as black, Asian, Latino, or American Indian in this study) and women (defined as white women). But the percentages are abysmal and hardly worth reporting at all if there wasn't some need to assuage white guilt. While my limited observations suggest there is some progress in hiring minority coaches, the upper levels of administration are still an almost informidible old (white) boys' club.
What I found interesting about the article were comments from the study's coordinator, a man, and the NCAA's VP for diversity inclusion, a woman:
Lapchick said the NCAA should implement rules like the NFL and Major League Baseball that require teams to interview a minority candidate for each coaching vacancy.
"The goal is to open the process to get the best people in the room and hire the best people," Lapchick said. "We feel like once that process is opened up, more African-Americans are going to be hired as presidents, more are going to be hired as athletic directors."
However, Westerhaus said a similar approach wouldn't necessarily work in the NCAA.
"I am confident that the same solutions don't always work for the same problems," she said. "But I will say that the NCAA leadership must become more vigilant and more aggressive in addressing this problem."

I think Westerhaus's comments are crucial. There is--at least theoretically--a difference between collegiate and professional athletics. Also, Lapchick's one-size fits all model of minority recruitment is based on an entirely male organizational structure. White and minority women would not necessarily benefit from such a model assuming the model could even be implemented when we have to consider issues of gender and sexuality (intercollegiate athletics' proverbial elephant in the room).

More Ticker Talk

Waiting for the good matches (i.e. Mauresmo/Schnyder and Hingis/Clijsters) to come on tonight, I decided to watch the Big Ten men's b-ball match-up between Iowa and Indiana. As I was not very invested in the outcome, I paid more attention to--yes--the ticker scores. One of the categories was BIG TEN. It was there of course because this was a Big Ten match-up and is not a usual category--ok that's fine. It showed stats of basketball teams and players in the conference--men's teams/players specifically. I am willing to concede that again this was because ESPN was airing a men's game. But do they do the same during women's games? Sure ESPN will put up the scores of women's games (though there seem to be considerably fewer scores than traverse across the screen when the men's category is up) and even show the current rankings on a fairly consistent basis. But do they show stats? Or do they post pertinent news from the women's game as they do for other sports? Maybe they do and I just haven't seen it yet. Here's hoping.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Ticker Time

Because I have been watching ESPN2 a little more consistently in the past week due to the network's coverage of the Australian Open, I have had the chance to get a closer look at the network's practices--including the ticker tape that runs scores on the bottom of the screen almost continuously. Now I have, of course, seen the running scores before, but I have been noticing the extensive coverage of college men's basketball. First, it always seems as if there are far more posted scores for men's basketball than women's basketball. And second there are colleges I have never heard of whose scores are being listed. Clearly these are smaller programs yet they get ticker time. What is the ESPN2 (and presumably ESPN the first) rationale for this? We get scores of men's teams that have little chance of making news come March yet we never get scores from other collegiate sports like hockey--men's or women's. I thought last year's NHL strike would generate more excitement for college hockey outside the northeast and upper midwest regions in which it is popular but if the ESPN2 ticker tape is any indicator, this has not happened. But is the ticker tape an indicator? The other day I saw bowling results--bowling! According to cultural critic, Robert Putnam, bowling is over--ok he was speaking more metaphorically than literally. But bowling still gets ticker time.
I would be interested to know how women's collegiate basketball got ticker time. Did it become more popular and ESPN was forced to add it to the cycle or did they add it to the cycle and interest grew because of the visibility? And how this history might help figure out how to get more comprehensive (as comprehensive as the ticker tape scores can be I guess) coverage of women's sports on the ticker tape.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Women's tennis fashion--Australian Open 2006

So has anyone else looked twice at some of the outfits female tennis players at this year's Australian Open (currently underway) are sporting? Nike's dress for women with little to no breasts is particularly curious. I have seen both Maria Sharapova and Karolina Sprem wearing it--in different colors. I thought it was cute at first but then the more I thought about it, the more it seemed quite infantilizing. I see that the high empire waist baby doll style is coming back this season but the combination of the style and the color choice (pinky/purplely and light blueish) make them look like baby doll pajamas. In their alleged cuteness they simultaneously suggest a naive sexuality that is apparently sexy--especially when very long, tanned, toned (and of course hairless) legs emerge from underneath these outfits. Of course Nike's line is available to the public and I wonder how many women will be buying up these dresses for their weekly doubles matches the club--and of course how silly most of them will look in them. On another fashion note, it appears high fashion has come to the courts in Melbourne. Another "Russian beauty" not nearly as famous as Sharapova, is wearing Stella McCartney on the court. I guess Nike, Reebok, Adidas, etc. are just not couture enough for Maria Kirilenko. It could be a whole different corporate game if the players opt for designers rather than big-name companies. Of course if the big-name companies are smart they will just hire some of these designers (i.e. Tommy Hilfiger for Reebok or Donna Karan for Adidas). Maybe the tennis court will be the new catwalk.

PS Well a little research prior to this post would have gone a long way. Kirilenko is signed with Adidas which has a relationship with McCartney who has already designed several lines of sport performance design for other sports including swimming. Check out the 2006 spring/summer line--some of it is really cute though the pictures don't provide a whole lot of close-up details. I don't know where one buys it though. Now I wonder which designer and which sportswear company is next...

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Weekend recap

What a great weekend for a variety of sport happenings.
I didn't get to watch too much of the US Figure Skating Championships but I have been following the news. My musing about the potential irony of a Sarah-Hughes supported Michelle Kwan petition for a spot on the Olympic team came to fruition. Provided that Kwan can prove she is healthy and has the right stuff she gets to go to Italy and Emily Hughes is relegated to an alternate position despite her third place finish at nationals. I can see both sides of the argument and don't really have a strong feeling one way or another as my interest in figure skating has waned of late. What actually got me a little more excited as not this Kwan controversy but the American men's competition, which was quite competitive this year. Weir turned in a flawless but not very exciting (despite the costume) performance. But I was very impressed with third place finisher Matt Savoie whose performance was beautiful. Defying gender stereotypes, Savoie had considerable more artistry in his program than the majority of the women I have seen of late. And he just seems like a really good guy. He has been with the same coach who taught him to skate when he was ten. He never left home to find a better training facilty outside his native Illinois. And in the fall he is going to Cornell Law School--an institution near and dear to me. Sure he has little to no chance at medalling in Italy next month but his program Friday was excellent and he deserves a spo on the team.
I think there were some pretty important football games this weekend but all I know is that the Patriots--the only team I care even a smidge about--lost so I am no longer obliged to pay attention. And it was clear that basketball season is in full swing as I channel surfed the other night and found at least half a dozen basketball games from which to choose--but chose none.
But the Australian Open started today (which is really tomorrow in Australia) and I was very excited to see that ESPN2 is covering it at somewhat normal hours. I used have to stay up until the wee hours of the morning to watch in years past and with classes starting this week that was not going to be the best schedule. Thankfully the coverage is much better and the excitement started early this year. Venus Williams was just upset in three sets by an 18-year old Bulgarian who is ranked 94. Fascinating match.
On the sidelines the commentators actually spoke of the recent two-year ban of another Bulgarian, Sesil Karatantcheva, which was somewhat of a surprise to me. They failed to say anything profound though I did feel my early comments on this issue were validated by Mary Carillo who also noted that the pregnancy "excuse" for the presence of elevated levels of a banned substance was equally problematic. I would like to hear the commentators say more on doping in tennis but that is unlikely. Boris Becker came out years ago and said this was a problem and no one batted an eye. I think at least there is some blinking going on now.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Things Heating Up on the Ice

Having finally begun to see the light at the end of the academic tunnel I have been stuck in for months now, I am paying more attention to actual sports (rather than theories of sport which have dominated my academic path thus path). The shivers I feel now are not a result of nervous exhaustion but of excitement for the upcoming Olympics. And luckily I have emerged just as things are getting interesting--particularly in the world of American figure skating which is currently in the process of determining who will go to the Olympics.
Of course there is the Michelle Kwan controversy which is practically old news by now. Though it does not negate my anxiety over how it will unfold. Of course the most startling irony would be if Kwan is chosen over Emily Hughes whose older sister and reigning gold medalist Sarah, said on the Today Show yesterday that Kwan deserves a spot on the team because of all she has contributed to the sport. I am not judging--just noting.
But getting less press (I think anyway) is the curious creature known as Johnny Weir, who leads the American men at Nationals after the short program. Apparently Johnny is fond of metaphor and lately they have centered on skating producing drug-like feelings. This makes for a disgruntled US Figure Skating federation, those director, David Raith, wants a word with Johnny whom he describes as "flamboyant." Yeah, not so subtle gay reference there, David. Maybe you should concern yourself with people who may actually be doing drugs. Like skating doesn't have enough problems that they need to worry about Weir who is, I predict, America's best hope for a medal.
On a tangential note: if Weir is gay (no one seems to know though he did give an interview to a gay publication but he seems like the type of guy that would do that just to confuse people--which is certainly his right) then Raith's (who does not have a history with figure skating) use of flamboyant only serves to reify stereotypes about gay men. Perhaps US Figure Skating should send their director to sensitivity training. But also Weir might be an indicator of a younger gay generation that is not afraid to challenge people's conceptions of homosexuality by actually existing outside of the closet during the prime of their careers. (Here's hoping anyway.)
And if he's not gay, he is still adding some spice to the sport--especially on the men's side. Weir may become men's figure skating's Dennis Rodman, or Andre Agassi (the early years). I personally have a little more interest in the sport now because of him. Hope the "man" isn't able to silence him.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A Not So Insightful Observation

I am so glad the Olympics are right around the corner because I need to write about something other than tennis.* But given my current state of bogged-downedness in a myriad of projects the only thing I have had time to read of late (besides academics) is the aforementioned back issues of Tennis.
And I noticed the other night while skimming the year in review issue that the magazine seems--or at least this issue seemed--to be a little slanted towards all things male. This was particularly suprising to me because 1) I am usually hypervigilant about media bias in sports coverage and I have been reading Tennis for years without noticing anything and 2) because last year on the men's tour was BOR-ING.
The year in highlights had 4 "gray" boxes, one for each Grand Slam. Only one featured a woman, Venus Williams at Wimbledon. I was surprised the US Open box did not feature Kim Clijsters (who got mentioned elsewhere though) in her first Grand Slam win. I am not advocating for strict parity here, rather just trying to interogate the criteria used for who gets to go in the box. More interesting though was the player of the year feature. Rather than choosing a man and a woman as in the past, the powers that be opted for only one (apparently this is going to be the norm in the future). Federer's spectacular year earned him the prize--and I would say rightly so. But the move is curious. Are we saying that we can now judge men's and women's athletic performances, at least in tennis, by the same criteria? And if so, what are the advantages and disadvantages to this? Does the former way of picking players of the year adhere to a separate but equal philosophy of sport? Or does it protect the often separate interests and priorities of the two tours? (Assuming--maybe wrongly--that there are disparate interests and priorities.)
I don't have the answers but I am interested to see what happens next year and keep my eye on future issues of Tennis.

*The Australian Open begins next week so I will most likely have more to say about tennis before the Olympics get here. I will do my best to diversify though.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Tennis prepares for doping

Seems that since my last (long ago) post, I have been reading more and more about tennis players and doping. Part of this may be that I am catching up on my tennis news through back issues of Tennis that my dad saved for me (thanks, Dad!) and let me take over Christmas. Years in reviews and predictions for next year all mention doping at some point--who will get caught perhaps, how the tours will deal with it, some speculation that it is already rampant but very hush hush (how anything can be hush hush in our media and celebrity crazed Western society though is cause for speculation in itself). So it's definitely on the tennis radar.
So much so that people are starting to make money off it already. A British-based company is selling sport drinks, bars, gels and the like to tennis players promising them the products will not be tainted with banned substances. They have taken super duper precautions to promise customers (banned) substance-free supplements including individual packaging which is encoded in such a way that the product within can be traced back to the original batch from whence it came in case of a positive test.
The whole thing seems weird to me, but of course I have no expertise in doping. Part of the weirdness is that the client list is top secret. Apparently many of the top players on the ATP are customers. Why is knowing this a problem? I don't think it implies that previous to their use of said company's products they were downing tainted supplements all the time. And if the point of this company is to make the lives of players positive test worry-free then why wouldn't you let on who is savvy enough to use your product?
And what's this got to do with gender? Well using this lens through which to examine the situation I find it very interesting that the little piece I read on this in the Nov/Dec issue of Tennis mentions only the ATP players. Granted this was published before the revelation that Sesil Karatantcheva turned in a positive test (maybe). But still it seems problematic that only male players and doping are being used in the same breath. Sure it was ATP trainers allegedly responsible (inadvertently of course) for supplying some players, including Greg Rusedski, tainted supplements, but this situation is just as likely to occur on the WTA tour. Track and field has accepted that women too want to be competitive and will go to the same destructive lengths as men to do so. Tennis, so mired in and married to historical constructions of masculinity and femininity needs to realize this as well. Perhaps the Karatantcheva incident will open some eyes.
And finally, one more prediction, or rather wish for the coming year: that this "but I didn't know what I was taking--someone just gave it to me" excuse will fade away like all falsely constructed facades. It's a sophomoric excuse and tennis needs to see beyond it and deal with this predicted doping onslaught.