Wednesday, May 31, 2006

French Open Observations I: National scissor kicks?

For those of us in the western hemisphere, the French Open--oops, I mean Roland Garros, I'm such a silly American!--is really the first Grand Slam of the year. It is next to impossible to follow the Australian given ESPN's insistence on covering it live which means very late nights for me and I am just not as young as I used to be. I can't pull all-nighters for tennis anymore.
Of course I am not quite an early bird either which is what one has to be if you want to see all 10 hours of daily coverage of RG. In my part of the country coverage starts at 4am. The only reasons I am up at 4am is either to go to the bathroom because I drank a whole Nalgene right before bed or to fight off the bats that keep finding their way into my house. But I digress before I even begin...
So it's only day 4 (there was a Sunday start for the first time ever in Grand Slam history which irritated some people) but some interesting things have happened and of course there are many possibilities for future interesting things.
As I write Venus Williams has just pulled out the first set in a tiebreaker after being down 2 breaks against Finn Emma Laine (whose first athletic desire was to be a hockey goalie--you go girl!). Williams is Mary Jo Fernandez's darkhorse pick and of course "America's best hope" which I have heard about 2 dozen times already in a mere 4 days.
This leads me to an observation I made this morning while watching the matches as I ellipticalled (new word). [Because while I don't organize my sleep schedule around tennis, I do organize my gym visits to coincide with the key matches.] New this year on the scoreboard graphic shown in the top lef corner of the screeen is the player's nationality. I have commented on the odd relationship with national origin that tennis has in the past (I am too lazy to find the link right now). And I guess I still find it curious that in an event that has nothing inherently to do with nationality, that this aspect of a player's identity is being broadcast pretty overtly. I don't find it particularly problematic--at least I haven't find a problem with it--yet. I just think it's curious. And of course nationality does matter to the crowd. Mauresmo being French of course helps her (well in the past it has hindered her as she buckled under pressure--it's ok Amelie--I still love you!). And certain nationalities seem to be more accepted by the French crowd, but in the grand (slam) scheme of things it seems to matter little except to provide material upon which commentators make odd remarks.
Case in point: Mary Carillo, who I usually enjoy, made several comments today during Mauresmo's win over--oh crap, one of those Russians--oh yeah Vera Dushevina*, about sometimes her being a little too French for Mary because she adds certain flair-like elements to her game at times like scissor kicks on her backhands.
I think it's hot. Mary thinks it's somehow innately French. Of course I didn't see Gasquet doing any scissor kicks of drop volleys off of lobs in his stunning loss to David Nalbandian (who is seeded 3--where did that come from? talk about under the radar).
Venus is up a break in the second for all of you clinging voraciously to "America's best hope."
Next time: the interesting things you find out just by reading the women's doubles draw.

*OK I couldn't just let this one go. Carillo was pondering why Dushevina changed the spelling of her name. Last year she went by Douchevina and so Carillo is calling this her "stage name." Seriously, Mary--you don't know why she might have changed the spelling of her name?! Hopefully one of her producers pointed it out to her during the break.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Major transgression

I was thinking this morning that I hadn't followed up on my "trangressions" in sport entry where I talk about some of the missteps that occur in the wide world of sport. I suppose most of the things I write about could fall under this category in one way or another but one just came up and hit me hard across the face. I am/was watching game 3 of Tennessee/Michigan. It was a 1-0 game in Tennessee's favor when ESPN cut away to Barry Bonds's at bat. Okay--this had already happened once and I was not upset. Sure I get it--history in the making, breaking a record blah blah blah. So he actually did it this time. Okay, fine. What has proceeded has been ridiculous. Three guys in suits decided to talk about it without really saying anything profound and some of them chose to excuse Bonds's alleged (but really we all know the score) drug use. Lovely. And then ESPN decided to show this mini-retrospective of his career. Are you fuckin' kidding me? Sport Center is a hlaf hour away--do it then. Those of us who had been tuned in actually want to see the end of the game which--I forgot to mention--was in the 6th inning. Back to the three shallow suits who assure us softball fans that they will return to the game where they left it. No such luck. They returned to the shot of Tennessee celebrating and the score solidly positioned on the screen: 1-0 Tennessee, Final. Then they went back and showed not where they left off, but the last halg inning.
I hate ESPN. If you do too please send them well-articulated hate mail by clicking this link:

City Slam over softball?

LSU pulled out a win in the second game of the 3-game series against U of Arizona last night. It was an amazing game that Arizona almost pulled out in the last inning when LSU pitcher, who I initially dubbed Puma (because I think she bears a striking resemblance to Paris Hilton and Uma Thurman) started to get a little to animated on the mound. Given Turner's (that's her real name) Filipino heritage and the problematic aspects of exoticization and the elliding of women of color to animals I retract my earlier nickname and have re-dubbed her Paruma. I actually won't have much need to call her anything anymore because LSU lost in the final game three last night. Not that I can really comment on that loss because ESPN2 that had been covering the game opted not to show it, relegating it instead to ESPNU and opting to stick with the scheduled programming that included several episodes of City Slam. I don't really know what City Slam is but I gathered from watching--as I hoped and prayed that the powers that be at ESPN would change their minds and show the game--that it is an amateur dunking/hotshot contest on a playground somewhere warm (there were palm trees). So amateur dunking contest, not live, over a live game three--a deciding game three, a game three that determines who goes to the world series. Can you imagine ESPN opting for regular taped programming over a deciding game in any other sport? Yeah, that's what I thought.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

They did what?!

I know I am a day late on this but it really needs to be discussed in part because of the response that has been levied against bloggers daring to question the actions of the women's lacrosse team at Duke. So the brief recap is that some of the players chose to write the numbers of the 3 men's team players who have been implicated in the alleged rape incident. Others chose to wear the men's logo on their sweatbands/headbands (why do the teams have different logos?). So all this was in support of their fallen brothers.
So, many commentators on this perverse form of activism have noted that these women just continue to reify their own oppression. Yes, of course. The naysayers invoke the justice system and innocence and wouldn't-you-support-the-innocent? rhetoric. But that's not the issue. It's all about these women choosing to support the bad behavior (whether a rape occurred or not) of these male athletes. In the end they may be found innocent of rape but they are still overprivileged assholes who think it's ok to hire a stripper in the first place.
This leads to some additional thoughts on these female athletes. First, they refused to answer questions specifically about their support gear deferring to their coach, who is also a woman. (And the frustration just keeps on going.) If you're going to take stand then truly stand up for these alleged beliefs you have and speak openly about why you are doing what you are doing. The comments suggest that these women are sick of the attention being focused on their institution and specifically the athletic program. Well if this was really true then the best action to take probably wouldn't be to write the names of alleged rapists on your gear.
What seems to be underlying the frustration with all the attention is that it has called these players on their racial and class privilege. And for the women's lacrosse team--on which there are no African-Americans--preserving these privileges by ignoring male privilege is a no-brainer. Privileged white women want to maintain the class and racial order that exists in this country because their gender oppression is not felt as severely as other women without the same access to the benefits of being white and upper class.
Of course there is no final word on this situation--even when the case is over I doubt there will be any kind of closure--but I think for now that Duke's loss in the championship game speaks volumes. Schadenfreude, anyone?

Monday, May 22, 2006

What's her name again?

During the commercial breaks of ESPN2's coverage of the LPGA tournament yesterday were promos for the upcoming season of the WNBA. (How many acronyms can you fit in one sentence?) The promo showed the stars of course including some of the newcomers. I didn't really pay too much attention to the actual people because I was appalled by the presentation--not the visual--the verbal. The women were all in their uniforms and some actually appeared to be playing basketball though there was a lot of posing; but again, in uniform and not in any kind of overt sexual way. But alas the voiceover which was simply a list of names was problematic. Only first names were given. "Sue, Diana, Swin..." This is a noted problem in women's sports. Commentators frequently refer to women by their first names whereas men are almost always (with some notable exceptions of course) by their last. The problem of course transcends sport too. In academia there are debates over whether female professors should insist on being called Dr. _____ rather than their first names which many opt for in an attempt to break down the hierarchical structure of the academy and create a more open learning environment.
But back to the promo. It seems like a little thing, I know. But I caught it immediately. I didn't even have to think for longer than 5 seconds about whether this mode of address for these athletes was ok. Because it's not. I cannot fathom an NBA promo where male athletes are addressed by their first names only. The promo signals the fear the WNBA (and NBA by extension as the owner of the league) have over the perceptions of women's basketball. There appears to be a need to make women's basketball a little more palatable--i.e. a little less aggressive and threatening. Maybe it was Sheryl Swoopes's recent coming out or Candace Wiggins's "dunks" in the NCAA tournament this year, I don't know. But I do know that first names only lessens the athletic impact these women have. Diana and Sue and Monique can be read as just the "girls next door"--like you wouldn't even know that they are superb athletes.
[Interesting note: I was looking for a downloadable version of the promo to link to and went to google to find it. I typed in "ESPN WNBA promo" and Google replied: did you mean ESPN NBA promo"? Um, no, I did not.]

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Weenie is on the offensive

After failed negotiations to settle the discrimination suit brought against her by a former Penn State player, basketball coach Rene (rhymes with weenie in case you forgot) Portland has allegedly gone on the offensive to fight these outrageous claims against her. Where I do I even begin with this?
OK how about here. Portland comments that she is taking this offensive stance after months of remaining silent because she feels she must counter the "agendas" of complainant Jennifer Harris and the National Center for Lesbian Rights that represents Harris. Invoking "agenda" of course rings of conservative cries of the gay agenda apparently infiltrating our schools, our homes (through such crazy shows as Will and Grace--conservatives must be breathing a sigh of relief that it finally lef the air, eh?), and our minds. Mwah, hah, hah, hah. (That's my evil gay agenda laugh.) Yes, the gay agenda is so manipulative and frightening. Damn Harris and the NCLR for asking for things like equality and anti-discrimination rules (and adherence to those rules where they already exist on paper like at Penn State.)
Next, her comment about the lies being propagated against her rings a little false--to put it mildly--given that Penn State has already fined her $10,000 for violating the school's nondiscrimination policy. Oh yeah and she has stated PUBLICLY that she does not allow lesbians on her team. She notes that this is first time in 26 years that a complaint has been made against her. Not a stunning defense (offense?) given the hyper-homophobic atmosphere in collegiate athletics.
And finally let's consider this "on the offensive" metaphor Portland has chosen to employ. Portland has been on the offense her entire career. A statement about not allowing lesbians on her team and using it as a recruiting tool is an offensive move. It's hard to see Portland as some maligned straight female. Sure, at this moment, she has been placed on the defensive--literally--but it's a result of her own offense that has gone unchecked for years.

Where's the tennis?

This post doesn't have an explicitly gendered aspect, I am just pissed that there have been a myriad of tennis tournaments occurring in Europe that have not been shown on American television. And apparently I have missed some good matches including a 5-set showdown between Federer and Nadal that Nadal eked out. Apparently the chink Federer's armor is Nadal. And it seems Henin-Hardenne, a perennial clay court favorite has not been having the warm-up to the French Open that she would like. On the other hand Nadia Petrova seems to finally be realizing the potential people have been seen in her for years now.
I did check the listings and found that there is some tennis on in the wee hours--around 2:30AM my time. I do not think I will be pulling an all-nighter for that. In addition to my general annoyance that there has been no tennis on, is my concern that coverage of the French Open will again be dismal. The American-centric coverage that means watching a Williams sister match three times in the event of a rain delay rather than a 5-set thriller between a South American and a lucky loser Spaniard is just depressing. The American aversion to all things foreign (except oil and fashion) is readily apparent in the television coverage of the French. Guess I'll just have to wait and see what this year's tournament brings.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Still thinking about pink

At brunch last weekend with friends AM and CF we started talking about pink hockey sticks--our friend had just bought one for her niece--and other hockey gear that has been appearing around the NHL. I actually saw pink gloves at a hockey tournament in March but at that point I thought they were being marketed toward women. Apparently not.
But then I started to get confused because I found this story about pink gear in honor of Mother's Day and to raise awareness for breast cancer. But I found it when I was looking for more information after reading about the pink bats in baseball. These are special bats for a one-day only performance at MLB games on Mother's Day to bring awareness to breast cancer.
So pink bats in baseball and pink sticks in hockey (and pink gloves, and pink stick tape, too). But AM said nothing about these pink sticks being associated with a cause. Apparently there are pink sticks being produced that are just good sticks. And this seems to be true. I found some pics of the Mission Pink Rebel composite stick that gives no indication of being gendered. Same goes for Easton's limited release of gloves in Bubble Gum. The description notes that this "is no girlie glove." Hard to tell if that means women can use it too or if it's just playing to insecure men.
The Rebel stick and the Easton gloves are a different story from the sticks and bats being produced for "special" events. They are used all of the time. The new bats and sticks are one-time deals.
Let me just say that I am not inherently opposed to men using pink sports equipment--in fact I think it's probably better than lines of pink sports equipment explicitly targeted at female athletes (a la pink Legos for girls). The pink hockey sticks, from what I can tell thus far, are pretty good things. (Of course a google search for "pink hockey sticks" brings up mostly sites for field hockey equipment. And in the US field hockey is an almost exclusively female sport.) But the coverage around the respectivee NHL and MLB events is ridiculous.

Derek Jeter plans to show off his feminine side.
No, really.

Yes, god forbid there is anything feminine about a baseball player. Probably especially important for Jeter about whom rumors of homosexuality tend to swirl. Of course Jeter does (or did) star in those American Express commercials where he is sporting a very metrosexual look--but safely surrounded by "attractive" women.

And this from a story about the tribute to "hockey moms" in the NHL:

It will definitely be unique to see "a tough and rough player using a pink stick," Janson (TPS guy) said.
"Pink is not usually synonymous with hockey," said Gary Ireland, a supervisor at the southwestern Ontario plant where the 75 workers have been busy painting the sticks.

Well apparently not if players are using the Mission Rebel. Also the "tribute" to hockey moms is a little troubling given that some "hockey moms" are actual hockey players these days. The pink being brought into sports that apparently have no connection to pink--I think one could make a good cultural studies argument about male sport being constructed in opposition to pink (i.e. the feminine) and that is why these events exist as a sort of release valve for all the overt masculinity--just further marginalizes women from "male" sport. It reinforced hegemonic gender roles--women as mothers, drivers, always serving the needs of others; men as warriors, heroes, successes who honor--when they feel like it--the women who helped get them there. Are pink bats and pink sticks really an honor?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Uniform (?) Standards

I don't really spend a lot of time thinking about the gendered aspects of athletes' uniforms usually because I, as a skirt-wearing tennis player, embody some of the contradictions I find these uniform standards pose. But I am putting that aside for a moment because of the very egregious differences I noted this past weekend during the NCAA volleyball championships.
I should note that I am not an avid v-ball fan but enjoy it when I can find it. The TV Guide channel said College Volleyball Championships and I turned to ESPN2 and found men. I had assumed it would be women for some reason but as we all know Volleyball or Soccer or Golf in the tv listings equals the men's version. One of my many pet peeves. But moving on...
More than the fact that I saw men playing volleyball was the shock that came when I saw what they were wearing: baggy shorts and shirts. Now I had seen men's beach volleyball before and they wear swim trunks of varying degress of bagginess. But that was beach volleyball where women wear bikinis that don't even cover their whole asses. (That's another story though.)
What I am familiar with on the collegiate volleyball scene though is the women's uniforms. I saw a presentation on the increasing skimpiness of them last year at a conference. And it's regulated skimpiness too. The shorts are getting shorter, the tops tighter (though some retain some semblance of proper tradition with collars).
That the uniforms sexualize these athletes is not especially surprising--but I had thought they had some functional purpose--like female gymnasts' leotards. But after seeing what the men were wearing last weekend, I am certain this is not the case. I don't know enough about volleyball to know if the style is alleged to serve some necessary athletic function but if so the presence of men in baggy shorts and oversized (wick-away) tees would seem to negate any argument of the kind.