Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Sweetheart Clinic?

Want a young girl you know to learn more about sports from collegiate coaches and athletes? Well you can send her to Marshall University in West Virginia for their annual sports clinic. It all seems good--the girls learn a variety of skills and there are athletes from all the women's teams present to teach and mentor.
Too bad it's called a Sweetheart Clinic. Let's just reinforce the idea that girls playing sports is so non-normative that we have to compensate for this behavior by calling it something really girly.
Oh--and the participants get a pink sweetheart T-shirt to take home with them at the end of the day!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Women's basketball: Don't forget they're still ladies

UNC and Maryland. The rematch of last year's championship game. Soldout crowd on the Terps home turf. UNC ended up getting their revenge, winning 81-74. In a game many see as exemplifying just how far women's basketball has come, a few moments remind us just how different the "rules" are in women athletics.
Some say the game was marked by bad officiating. [Here I should own up to the fact that although I appreciate women's basketball and follow it occasionally, I know very little about the actual game and so cannot really discern the efficacy of the refereeing.] UMD coach Brenda Frese certainly thought so. She was assessed a technical during the first half when she came four feet or so onto the court to scream at the refs.
The commentators (I forget who it was doing the game coverage) noted that the refs were letting Frese know that that kind of behavior was not acceptable in women's basketball. That sideline decorum in the women's game is a must. Would they say that about a male coach? I have seen Geno Auriemma get pretty heated. But let's also consider the sideline decorum in men's basketball where the likes of Bobby Knight (note that the IndianaU president at the time of one of the Knight controversies is current NCAA president Miles Brand) are allowed to coach.
But it was really the written commentary of Mike Wise regarding the faulty officiating that stunned me. Thinking he was supporting UMD's cause against the refs he writes:
[Kristi] Toliver was safer walking across campus at 4 a.m. than she was grabbing a rebound and trying to dribble upcourt before intermission.
That's how bad the officiating was apparently. Worse than the violence of rape and physical assault. It's an offensive analogy and perpetuates the rape culture we live in. And it lets us all know that you may be 5'7", one of the best guards in the country, and a member of a championship team but you are still rapeable. (And I am a little disappointed that Women's Hoops Blog from which I got the link to Wise's column, didn't comment on his offensive and violent analogy.) All women athletes are still rapeable because they are still women. The message I hear is "we let you play but it does not offer you the ultimate entitlement: being free to occupy any space at any time."

Monday, January 29, 2007

More on coaching salaries

Frank Deford, who I go hot and cold on (he's on NPR Morning Edition once a week), published this editorial at Sports Illustrated online on the recent increase in attention to coaching salaries.
The gist of it: stop pretending revenue-generating collegiate sports such as men's basketball and football have anything at all to do with education. Like professional sports, Deford argues, these are for entertainment value and the market should determine coaching salaries.
I have a healthy amount of skepticism about being able to reform any patriarchal, capitalist system from within and this applies to intercollegiate athletics as well. But Deford's "solution" about separating them out of athletic departments and creating a "department of entertainment" is not the kind of radical system overhaul that I can really get behind. It is a facetious one I realize, but one that just allows Deford to say "stop whining about these salaries" without proffering any kind of solution.
Because if you really "divorce" these particular collegiate sports from actual education then they shouldn't exist at all. No more men's college basketball and football--at least at the Div 1 level. I am actually more behind this solution than Deford's. So many more student-athletes in non-revenue generating sports would benefit from this arrangement.
Because if it's really entertainment and you pay the coaches in relation to their entertainment value, then the athletes can't be students and you have to start paying them too.
Ohio State receiver Anthony Gonzalez touched on this issue earlier this month when he said college athletes are being exploited and should be paid for their work. He is not entirely wrong when one looks at the current state of collegiate football. But instead of making changes that make collegiate sports less collegiate-like maybe we should try to rein it back in.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The expansion and recognition of women's cricket

This weekend women in Bangladesh will compete for the first time in a nationally-sponsored cricket tournament.
I know nothing about cricket but I know this is good news because cricket is huge in Asia. A friend reported that people take days off of work during cricket tournaments and spend all day watching matches. Nationalism also reaches high levels during these times which can lead to violence, but I still say it's good news for women cricketers worldwide that another country has decided to sponsor a national team. (The team will be chosen from participants in this weekend's tournament.)
Another friend of mine from Sri Lanka told me recently that women's cricket gets very little support. The emergence of another team in the international arena will hopefully garner support for teams that currently exist and raise the profile of the sport.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

...and it couldn't come fast enough

A serious discussion on coaches' salaries that is.
As I mentioned yesterday, the NCAA is looking into ways to control the exponential increases in coaches' salaries that account for a large chunk of athletic department budgets; salaries that cannot be sustained, usually, under current athletic department configurations and thus lead to cuts of both women's and men's teams. Cuts, that Dr. Christine Grant noted, have nothing to do with Title IX but rather poor financial management.
This point could not be clearer when looking at the case of Rutgers University. Rutgers has opted to cut 6 athletic teams this year. It is also giving "hefty raises" to its football coaches (plural because football has many coaches). Rutgers president Richard McCormick is not accepting his raise this year--a year where the New Jersey state university is trying to deal with an $80 million budget shortfall.
The athletic director defends the raises noting Rutgers football had a successful year, (comparatively, I would add) making it to a bowl game (don't even get me started on the proliferation of bowl games and what counts as a successful season needed to reach one). He believes the football program will become self-supporting in one year. This sentiment is actually not echoed by many experts who say that a football program has to prove its ability to be successful over time before it will see any financial gains.
But really, how much the football team brings in should not matter because we are talking about an institution of higher education--a non-profit. It's not supposed to place greater value on the departments or programs that bring in more money. Emphasis should be on opportunities and creating a well-rounded student. The money that football brings in with its success should be used to create or enhance the opportunities an institution offers--not just enhance the pockets of the coaches.

Friday, January 26, 2007

A move toward sanity

The NCAA is looking into getting an antitrust exemption for college sports. This would allow the association to place caps on coaches' salaries but not limit the money they receive from boosters and athletic wear companies. Apparently this action is one the NCAA has considered for a while now but a meeting (Chronicle of Higher Education--subscription only) of the Knight Commission earlier this week that addressed the issue of coaches' salaries--largely spurred by the recent announcement of Alabama football coach Nick Saban's $32 million contract!!--set the action in motion again.
Other happenings at the meeting: discussions about gender equity. Dr. Christine Grant, professor emeritus at University of Iowa and former Director of Women's Athletics spoke, about how the budgets of football and men's basketball have tripled and quadrupled, respectively, in the past two decades. Part of the increase is due to rising coaches' salaries.
Also on the agenda, recruiting practices, including the use of technology such as text messaging, to recruit athletes. Also a concern: recruiting websites that keep stats about athletes in what was termed a "dehumanizing" manner, but also are not accountable to any one if there are discrepancies reported.
Now that the issues are raised, we shall have to see what becomes of them.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Please teach Dick Enberg...

...some of the history of African Americans and especially black athletes in the United States. Because maybe if he knew the history that included the equation of black athleticism with African Americans' "animal-like" natures, allegedly honed in the jungles of Africa, he would not have used the words "primal" and "thoroughbred" (as in the horse) when talking about Serena Williams during her win over Nicole Vaidisova.
He meant to be complimentary and certainly not offensive, but his comments reflect a level of ignorance that continues to perpetuate the various myths that still exist about the black athlete.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Women's basketball and cheerleading: A historical perspective

The NY Times article about cheerleaders in New York being required to cheer for both girls' and boys' basketball games has generated a lot of letters and editorials (more than just the one I referenced yesterday). So I thought I would put this letter into the mix.

From the Letters section of Ms. magazine, May 1978:

Last night I attended a high school basketball game. I felt a sense of pride watching the young women on the court displaying their abilities as athletes and finally sharing some of the "glory" that goes along with interschool competition.
Suddenly, in the third quarter and with our team only four points behind, one of our top players ran from the court. "Where's she going?" I cried. A student turned around and explained that she had to change into her cheerleader's uniform for the upcoming boys' game
As I left the gym, I was stopped by several students in the stands. "You're not leaving before the boys' game?" they asked in wonder. I was too angry and disappointed to reply. I felt that we had lost much more than a basketball game.

Lisa Brienzo
Kake, Alaska

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Cheerleader voices her opinion

In an editorial in response to the recent ruling in New York state that requires cheerleaders at both girls' and boys' sports, this cheerleader states her resentment that the adults are telling her and other cheerleaders what to do.
She does acknowledge that, having seen a girls' basketball game, she agrees that girls' teams should get support too. But she still does not want the powers-that-be telling her where, when and for whom to cheer.
It seems a fairly typical teenage response to authority. But additionally I think the writer fails to see what her role really entails. Why I have always had a problem truly considering cheerleading a sport--despite the obvious athleticism involved--is because its purpose is to support another activity. Cheerleaders are basically service workers of a sort--without pay of course. They support athletes.
This aspect of their activity, I think, is part of the cheerleaders' discontent over the ruling; it highlights their service role. Usually we think of cheerleaders as popular, pretty, talented. There exists the myth that cheerleading not only is a choice--but it's an attractive one at that. But when administrators start telling cheerleaders they must cheer for other girls, some of the illusion goes away. The activity becomes more job-like and the agency--indeed the privilege--involved in being a cheerleader begins to dissipate.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Feminism, Backlash, and Sport

Feminist scholar and activist Dr. Gail Dines has been receiving some vicious hate mail after her appearance on CNN's Paula Zahn Show. She recounts and analyzes the past few days in an article at Common Dreams.
Dines, a sociologist, was asked to comment on the Duke lacrosse case and the media coverage of it (her area of research is racism and sexism in the media). Her five-minute segment has generated many emails from disgruntled men attacking her and her views and defending the members of the lacrosse team, presenting them as the victims of the black female "stripper."
At the end of fall semester, a female student at University of New Hampshire (my alma mater) wrote a letter to the editor of the university's student paper, The New Hampshire, that a poster on safe sex, displayed in her dorm, was offensive.* It featured a male pitcher and a female catcher with the tag line: "whether you're a pitcher or a catcher, always wear a glove."
The student made this comment about the ad:
“To consider, the act of sex as a subject/object encounter, as this advertisement does, where a woman’s role is to ‘catch’ a man’s ‘pitches’ is degrading, disgusting, and completely beyond the type of behavior I expect from an institution of higher learning.”
For this the student received rape threats and other threats of violence that numbered in the hundreds. It was disgusting.
And the problem is that other incidents like these seem to not be as uncommon as we might like to believe.
But what I found curious about the UNH incident at the time and now about Dines's situation is that no one who has commented on them mentioned the role of sport in these controversies.
Dr. Dines's situation is ongoing so I do not know what further comments/analyses will entail. The role of sport is certainly more obvious. But it is present in the UNH case as well. Many of those who attacked the letter writer's opinions cited her ignorance of sport (saying things as banal as "well, dur, the pitcher pitches and the catcher catches").
Neither woman explicitly attacked sport, but both critiques challenge white male privilege, challenge the naturalness of male domination, and challenge American society's acceptance of male superiority. And in both situations sport is the means through which domination is reified. Sport is crucial in constructing hegemonic masculinity. When a feminist analysis--however indirect--questions the role of sport in constructing male privilege, a backlash such as that experienced by the UNH student and Dr. Gail Dines explodes. And it isn't the analysis that is challenged--it is the feminist herself. Domination must be preserved and so the feminist receives death and rape threats--threats that convey the message "I am a man and am bigger and stronger than you and I can rape you any which I want and I can even kill you if I so desire."
This is unfortunate but not necessarily surprising given the (seemingly) innate role of dominance in hegemonic sport. It has become more difficult to openly criticize a liberal position on equality and equal access in sport--epitomized by Title IX and a "separate but equal" philosophy. But anything that resembles a questioning of male physical dominance is a no-no.
Feminist sport scholar Nancy Theberge aptly referred to sport as a "male preserve" and as more women gain access to sport and to the strength (both mental and physical) it can engender, the need for men (and their allies) to preserve sport and the dominance it provides them becomes more and more urgent. The backlash against both these feminists unfortunately illustrates just how much fear and urgency exists.

*All the links to the original letter are gone. But you can find more information and commentary about the incident at I Blame the Patriarchy, Feminist Law Profs, and Pandagon. Thank goodness for feminist blogs.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

I'm a radical Title IX watchdog...

...according to columnist Shelly Anderson who believes football should be exempt from Title IX and thus prevent the cutting of men's teams.
Unlike the advocates of free reign for football in the 1970s and 1980s who wanted their huge squads and huge budget to be taken out of the Title IX equation, Anderson has suggested some stipulations. She believes teams operating in the black that can show some of their revenue goes to supporting women's athletics should not have to be part of the equation that mandates equitable opportunities for female athletes.
Unfortunately that solution violates the very spirit of Title IX that Anderson herself lauds. Title IX is not supposed to be about money; it's about the opportunity to play sports. Exempting football, even in special cases, shows that some athletes and some programs are more important than others.
Second, even if Title IX was changed to follow Anderson's model, very few institutions would meet the standards. So few football programs actually operate in the black and financial record-keeping around football is so convoluted it would be difficult to show where the money that was revenue was really going. It's quite difficult for a program to make money when team coaches' salaries are over a million dollars.

Friday, January 19, 2007


Yes, that's the childish reaction I had to this "review"* by Larry Pratt of National Review editor Kate O'Beirne's new book on how feminism is ruining the country. In part because it contained this passage on sports:
"The feminist attack has led schools to do away with entire sports teams because they were all male. The teams might have remained if standards could have been lowered for say, the wrestling team. But with not enough women interested in the team – either on a segregated or integrated basis, and if the offending teams violated the school’s overall politically correct gender ratios – the teams were abolished."
Pratt seems to be referring to Title IX here but in a very abstract and, of course, incorrect way.
Where to begin? Where to begin?
First, "the feminist attack" is problematic in part because most of the complaints filed citing discrimination in athletics come from individuals who probably do not consider themselves feminists--and certainly not the radical feminists O'Beirne demonizes. And the cutting of teams is done by institutions who actually think it might be a good idea to comply with a federal statute.
Second, the idea of lowering standards to allow for co-ed teams is just offensive. But Pratt's belief that women wouldn't fill the spots is wrong. Women are interested in sports like wrestling and football where their only option would be to compete on men's teams because there are no women's teams at the high school and collegiate levels. But women are not really welcomed in these sports. "Interest" is heavily influenced by the society we live in and when you are abused verbally and physically and sexually for wanting to play football or wrestle, your "interest" might go down a bit.
Of course if you live in Texas and are a girl wanting to wrestle. You're out of luck once you turn 14. No co-ed wrestling past that age.
I can't imagine O'Beirne's book is worth reading but I hope she did a little better than Pratt and at least got her facts about Title IX right.

* I use the term review with some hesitation given that most of it was just Pratt using the space to soapbox his own rants.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Tennis tidbits

The only reason I know Aranxta Sanchez-Vicario is getting inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame this year is because I read feminist blogs. In fact I knew about her induction long before I found out Pete Sampras was getting inducted, too.

Problem is that most are reporting Sampras's honor first and Sanchez-Vicario's as an afterthought--if at all.

During coverage of the Australian Open last night, Sampras gave a live interview which was boring, drawn-out and filled with inane questions like the oft-repeated: who would win Wimbledon if you and Federer were playing in the final, both at your prime? [Sampras is not the most articulate man, either. Lot of stock responses; lot of repetition.]

Oh, yeah, by the way--Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario is being inducted in the recent player category too, we hear after the interview ends.

At least Cliffie and Patrick gave mention to her honor. On the ESPN ticker last night under tennis: "Pete Sampras to be inducted into Hall of Fame."

That's it.

My other Australian Open annoyance: Cliff Drysdale. It's clear he is supposed to be the guy who does the fluffier commentary which is interspersed with the allegedly expert observations of people like McEnroe and Pam Shriver and Mary Jo Fernandez. But really, something a little more provoking than "tennis is just so different from every other sport. Take golf for example. Very different."

Indeed, Cliff, indeed.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

JMU keeps pleading its case

You have to hand it to the students at James Madison University--they certainly are not the apathetic bunch of young adults most college students are characterized as. Well, at least when it comes to sports.
Since the announcement this fall that JMU would be cutting ten sports team from its roster. JMU carried the most varsity teams of any division I institution and could no longer support them all financially.
Unfortunately Title IX has been the scapegoat for what administrators' continued ignorance of the problem and their fiscal irresponsibility. Men's team bore the brunt of the cuts but women's teams have been eliminated as well. JMU students rallied against Title IX earlier this year and have continued to fight against and publicize the cuts.
Their latest battle was in front of the university's Board of Visitors who were not swayed the by students' pleas. Not surprising given that the board was responsible for making the cuts in the first place. It was unlikely they would turn around and say "Oh, you're right. We were wrong. I am sure we can find several hundred thousand dollars in the budget and save all these sports. What were we thinking?"
But the students, at least according to this editorial, were none too happy with the treatment they received from the BOV whom the editorialist called out of touch.
But in the process of explaining how the BOV was out of touch the editorialist proved he/she was not especially in touch with the facts about Title IX which s/he said was "designed to create opportunity--[but] destroys just as many opportunities as it creates."
First, there is no language in the legislation that calls for the elimination of men's teams. Title IX proponents in fact encourage schools to try to achieve compliance through measures other than cutting teams. But the economic realities of many institutions who have ignored compliance issues for years forces cuts.
Second, Title IX calls for the creation of opportunities for the underrepresented sex--in this case women. When Title IX is referred to as anti-men (which it is not explicitly in the article but has been deemed so in some of the coverage of the JMU cuts) the naysayers fail to understand the historical devaluation of women's sports and recognize the privilege of being able to play sports.
The article refers to the cuts as "the Title IX decision" which again is misleading because the decision was economic, the proportionality of the cuts was influenced by Title IX--but the cuts themselves would have occurred regardless.
And lastly the editorial reports on the strategy chosen by student leader Amy Chapman who tried to save the sports by encouraging the BOV to be the first school "to reject the constrictions set forth by Title IX." So basically she, a female athlete, who probably would not have the opportunity to play sports at all without Title IX, is encouraging school administrators to just ignore the law.
I do feel for the students whose sports have been cut, especially the underclass athletes who must decide whether to stay and not play or transfer, sit out a season, and try to finish their collegiate athletic careers at another institution. But blaming Title IX is misguided. And I blame the university for not stepping up and admitting that they are to blame--not the law.

Monday, January 15, 2007

To cheer or not to cheer (for girls)

This is what happens when I wait too long to post about an issue I thought no one would blog on: I get scooped. (The fact that the NY Times picked up the story probably was a factor too.)
But I am going to post anyway just to create more writing in the blogosphere about the Whitney Point cheerleaders who seem to feel a little icky about cheering for the girls' basketball team.
But as I said, others have picked up on the issue already. Check out Ann Bartow's post at Feminist Law Profs and Diane's at The Dees Diversion.
You can read about the trials of the Whitney Point cheerleaders here for the full story--or rather the NY Times version of the story.
I attribute some of the cheerleaders' dismay, over half of whom quit the squad rather than cheer for the girls' basketball team, to the high school culture in which they live and cheer. If they [and I am speaking only of female cheerleaders, the only type of cheerleader in Whitney Point apparently] want to keep cheering in college they're going to have to accept that at some point they will likely be cheering for women. Because at the collegiate level there are several squads.
Of course it should be noted that there does appear to be a hierarchy--at least at schools with big-time programs. The best cheerleaders cheer for football, with men's basketball coming next, and then women's basketball (followed by women's volleyball if there is a program). Even the dance squads at University of Iowa, where most of my cheering observations have been made, are hierarchized thusly.
Women cheering for other women has actually been a topic of study in sport sociology. Check out Laurel Davis's article "A Postmodern Paradox?: Cheerleaders at Women's Sporting Events" in the anthology Women, Sport and Culture, edited by Susan Birrell and Cheryl Cole. [Or you can find it in Arena Review where it was originally published in 1989, volume 10, issue 2.]
But I want to go back to Professor Bartow's closing thoughts on cheerleading and how it fares as a feminist issue and whether this controversy may serve as a measure of Title IX's effectiveness and the commitment to the legislation shown by feminists.
As a feminist scholar of sport with a particular interest in Title IX, cheerleading is something I would rather not talk about in the context of Title IX. I agree that a lack of cheerleaders at women's events sends a bad message about the status of women's sports. In the interest of altering that message I see how cheerleading can be construed as publicity under the auspices of Title IX.
But in general I feel that cheerleading is not really what the early proponents of Title IX (or even a current proponent like myself) had in mind when they were thinking about equitable publicity for men's and women's sports.
Wouldn't we rather these women be playing sports?
This question leads to the inevitable: is cheerleading a sport?--a question I have tried to dodge in the past. Yes, cheerleading, certainly at the collegiate level and in some high schools, involves a high level of athleticism. Yes, many cheerleaders compete against other cheerleaders in various competitions.
But the name itself suggests it is not truly a sport. The traditional role of the cheerleader is to pump up the crowd which in turn pumps up the team (theoretically). If cheerleading wants to enter the realm of sport it needs an overhaul. Its primary goal would be competition and not sideline cheering for other sports. Our whole paradigm of what cheerleading is would have to change.
I don't know if American society is ready for that. The Whitney Point cheerleaders certainly are not.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Othering women's sports

Christine Brennan duly noted the lack of respect women's sports get yesterday in her USA Today column. The particular slighting she wrote of was the perpetual use of "women's" as modifier to any sports coverage while lack of an adjective is read as male.
What brought on this column was the coverage of Florida's win in the BCS Bowl that prompted sports broadcasters to note that Florida was the first school to hold national title in both football and basketball at the same time. What should have been noted was that by basketball they really meant men's basketball.
I am glad Brennan pointed it out and got UMaryland basketball coach Brenda Frese to comment on the slight. Brennan was also able to plug the #1 Terrapins and note the success in terms of the title and of revenue (MD is selling out games this season).
But it's a pretty basic argument. You don't even have to know anything about sports to know that men and the things associated with them are always the norm and women are the Others. Doctors/women doctors. Judges/female judges. Soccer/women's soccer.
What would have been more thought-provoking was if Brennan had gotten into a discussion of why there are such strong reactions when "little things" like names and titles are called out as sexist. Why reactions such as "calling women's basketball women's basketball is just calling it what it is. Stop making such a big deal about it. There are bigger things to worry about."
In some of the reactions, too, is the implication that women should be happy for what they have and not be rocking the boat over such a trivial thing as the W that follows NCAA is the ESPN ticker to denote women's basketball whereas the ticker designates the men's game as NCAAB (for basketball). [I have a huge problem with the NCAAW designation because it also suggests that collegiate basketball is the only sport women play worthy of coverage. Logically, after NCAAW scores for ALL NCAA sports women play would follow.]
Brennan points out a major issue in the coverage and perception of women's sports but she just does not go far enough with it, preferring praise particular teams to show how they are worthy of respect rather than argue the respect should just be there--period.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

UNH finally back on national roster

When I went to Salt Lake City in 2002 my prime motivation was to see women's hockey, not just because I am a huge fan but because University of New Hampshire, my alma mater, had quite a few former players on the team. Well at least it did when I bought my tickets. By the time the games had rolled around most of the UNH contingent had been cut--all of the players who were my contemporaries had been axed. Later I heard that the whole cutting process was pretty contentious and actually led to a lot of team tension that could have possibly affected the team's overall performance.

Since that time, UNH players have been shut out of places on the national squad. And I had thought that trend was continuing when I heard at the UNH-Harvard game that Harvard coach Katey Stone, a UNH alum herself, and also coach of the U-22 Select team had cut quite a few UNHers from her squad in August. [The US squad ended up losing 2 out of 3 games to Canada in their series.]

But I recently discovered (a few months late because of lack of coverage) that Kacey Bellamy played on the senior team during the Four Nations Tournament in November. Bellamy is only a sophomore so if she continues to perform well she should be making repeat performances on the national team. I couldn't find too much about her performance other than an assist in one game and two hooking penalties in another.

[Also representing UNH is former player and current associate coach, Erin Whitten.]

Bellamy is also from my current neck of the woods so she feels like a local, which is probably why there was a vocal Bellamy fan club at the UNH-UConn game this past weekend. (UNH won 6-2. Should have been shut-out but crazy penalty calls by the refs in the last few minutes prevented that.)

Unfortunately the US still cannot seem to overcome the Canadians despite the presence of strong veterans, up and coming stars, and a new coach. Canada beat the US twice, including the gold medal game.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Who counts as an American tennis player?

I have been catching up on my TENNIS magazines this week and am on the "Special Report" issue from November/December about the demise of American tennis--an issue the tennis media likes to trot out every few years.
Running across the bottom of the special report section are factoids about the history of American tennis including these two juxtaposed on one page:
4: Times in the U.S. Open's 125-year history in which no American made the singles final
13: Times in Open history in which no U.S. woman made the final, including 2006
You see this language all the time in sports media. Basketball and women's basketball; soccer and men's soccer, etc. Usually coverage of tennis does not fall victim to the same habit of othering the women's game.
Also, in another article about the history of American tennis, author Stephen Tignor writes that "any list of the sport's legendary names begins and ends here." And then he proceeds to list all the names. Missing from the list: Martina Navratilova. Yes, she started playing on the tour in the 70s as a Czech citizen but her greatest years came after her defection. She always expressed loyalty to the U.S. including playing in the Fed Cup. Yet because she was not born here she does not appear as a prominent part of the history of American tennis?
According to TENNIS an American is 1) a man and 2) someone born in this country. That leaves out a whole lot of people and makes for a less rich history.