Sunday, April 29, 2007

Family Guy disses the WNBA

Tonight's episode of Family Guy, which I usually find funny in its treatment of the government and conservativism, did something very unfunny. They dissed the WNBA hardcore, commenting on low scoring (it was 16-9 at the start of the 2nd half with the two high scoring superstars contributing 4 points apiece). Far more egregious though was the statement from the commentators which went something like "is such stardom worth being so ugly."
Pat Griffin, writing about the Imus incident on the It Takes a Team Blog, wondered if the comment was not overtly racist but just sexist (and homophobic--an aspect most have ignored) would it have created such as uproar.
Probably not. The sexist treatment of the WNBA on an animated cartoon may not generate any news at all.
But if you saw the episode and were also offended get in touch with Twentieth Century Fox which produces the show. I cannot find contact info right now but when I do I will post it.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Trans(forming) sport

It has been an amazing week for a feminist blogger writing on gender and sports. And this story just ends it all on a great note. Yesterday in his column LA Times sports columnist Mike Penner came out--as a transsexual woman. Penner told readers that after he returns from his vacation he will be returning as the person he always knew he was: a woman named Christine Daniels.
Penner reports that he has gradually told friends and co-workers, including his editor, all of whom were supportive.
It was a very brave and heartfelt column--one that Penner (I am referring to Penner as a male as he himself did in the column indicating that when he comes back he will be Christine) didn't have to write. You can read the relief Penner must feel being out and the excitement at starting this journey.
And what's very exciting is that now there is another woman sportswriter at a major paper!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The WUSAII is bad news?

This column came out about around the time that Rene Portland was resigning so I was a little preoccupied. But I filed it away because it deserves comment.
The writer suggests--actually he insists--that the revival of professional women's soccer in this country will fail and damage the "sport as a whole." In other words, it will hurt the men; all because women actually want a chance to play professional soccer. Column author, Jaime Trecker, doesn't ever use the word selfish, but he's thinking it.
I don't know why--given the large numbers of kids in this country who play soccer--the sport remains on the fringes of popularity here in the United States. Maybe we have a complex about actually enjoying a sport that everyone else in the world adores. Maybe liking a sport that the Brits, the French, the Spanish, the Germans, the Argentinians, etc. like would make us seem a little "sissy." After all we are the nation who invented football (with help from Britain's rugby of course)--the epitome of American masculinity. Why is it that the most popular spectator sport in this country is the one that so few people actually play during their lifetimes?
But considering Americans don't seem to be huge fans of soccer, we sure have a lot of it. Trecker himself notes that there are four professional soccer leagues in the country already. Four! But WUSAII is going to be the tipping point? Please.
I do think there is reason for concern, though. But it is concern for women's sports as a whole, about which Trecker does not seem that concerned. He is right--the WNBA has low attendance, and the WUSA, overall, had low attendance. Women's sports are not the draw that men's sports are. Another failed attempt at women's professional soccer would be a blow to women's sports in general. It would be that much more difficult to get investors to support future endeavors.
What Trecker and other critics who cite lack of fan interest in women's sports fail to consider is that men's sports have had centuries to build their popularity to its near fanatical state. The WNBA has been around a decade. WUSA lasted a few years. Maybe we should give women's professional sports a little more time to build an audience.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Another player/coach incident

Remember the other day when I briefly mentioned the inclusion of information, cited in the Times article, that male coach/female student-athlete relationships are much more prevalent than same-sex ones?
Well the breaking news out of Boston College seems to corroborate that statement. BC women's ice hockey coach Tom Mutch resigned yesterday to "pursu[e] other career interests." That is almost the exact same wording used when Pokey Chatman resigned, no?
And like the Chatman resignation it seemed highly improbably. Mutch just finished his most successful season at BC bringing them to the Frozen Four last month after being named Hockey East Coach of the Year. He had two hot freshman that were getting national team experience and it looked like the BC women, a fairly new team, were on the verge of becoming a hockey powerhouse, similar to their male counterparts. Something was amiss.
And then the news broke that the resignation was amidst allegations of improper conduct, of a sexual nature with a player--a current player. (The Boston Herald, being a somewhat more sensational paper, has named the player but I am going to refrain from doing so here.)
What the exact nature of the relationship was has not been revealed. The primary evidence seems to be text messages of a sexual nature the player sent to Mutch from her cell phone that she had not deleted when she let a friend borrow her phone. There has been no word on return messages but it seems improbable that this was a one-way conversation. Any coach who received unwanted sexual messages from a player would have stopped the situation before multiple messages were sent. In other words, he had to have created a situation in which that behavior was allowed--if not encouraged.
I am not sure if it is fair to say that Mutch has a history of getting involved with players but his wife, Laurie, was an athlete he coached as an assistant coach for the US National Team at the Nagano Olympics.*
What I am waiting to see is how this situation is discussed in the public arena. It will be difficult to compare it to the Chatman situation--not because of the sexuality issue--but because women's hockey has nowhere near the status of women's basketball. So far it seems that the news has not made it beyond New England-based news outlets.
But I think what media coverage it does get will be worth exploring for signs of heterosexual bias. No article yet has made the Mutch-Chatman connection to cite a problem with the abuse of power in a coach/student-athlete relationship.
And of course the aftermath will be the most interesting. Will BC, who has temporarily given assistant coach, and former Olympian, Katie King the reins, appoint a female head coach to ward off fears from potential recruits about predatory heterosexual males? Will this hurt recruiting for teams like UNH, Providence, Boston University, Vermont, Dartmouth, Princeton, or Cornell who all have male head coaches (there are a lot of male head coaches in women's ice hockey)? Will parents start asking coaches if they have ever had relationships with players or what their policy is on coach-player relationship?
What do you think?

* When I was doing my thesis research on gender and coaching in women's ice hockey I actually heard several stories of players becoming involved with and even marrying their former coaches. It is something I have wanted to look further into for a while now and this story may have just moved it a little higher on my research agenda. So if anyone knows any good sources about older men/younger women relationships that emerge out of a situation where 1) women are engaged in a non-traditional (i.e. more masculine) activity; and/or 2) men are (or were once) strong authority figures in the lives of younger women please pass it along.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

DF (no kids) looking for coaching job--no lesbian tendencies

LSU announced a couple of weeks ago now that they had found a new head coach for the women's basketball team. They hired Van Chancellor, a former WNBA, Olympic, and intercollegiate coach. I did not blog about it then because all I had to say about it was this:
I am certainly not surprised LSU went with a male coach.* I am pleased that at least it is a coach who has substantial experience coaching women's basketball but I think LSU could have made a strong statement by hiring a woman and I worry about the repercussions the Chatman incident will have on other hiring decisions.
But I had nothing else of substance to say about the decision. The New York Times, however, has delved a little deeper. The article examines the decline of female head coaches and cites the big names in the sport sociology/sport management field who all, not surprisingly, agree that the fear of predatory lesbians is a huge factor in the lack of women head coaches in intercollegiate athletics. This is still despite the fact that there are far more incidents of abuse and misconduct by male coaches.
But the big problem--before an athlete even gets to a school--is recruiting, according the article. Negative recruiting, where coaches not so subtly let recruits know where, allegedly, the lesbians coach and play, is rampant. And athletes' families are also asking those questions about who is and who isn't and what the "policy" on homosexuals is.
UMinnesota professor Mary Jo Kane reported on a conversation she had with a female coach who said the best personal situation for a female coach is to be divorced (to affirm heterosexuality) and without kids (to be free to travel extensively).
The author also interviewed UConn head coach Geno Auriemma who said he doesn't think the Chatman situation will impede women coaches and points to people like Gail Goestenkors who just left Duke for Texas and Joanne McCallie who left Michigan State for Duke.
Not great examples if one considers that Goestenkors is divorced and McCallie is married with young children.

* Interestingly, Carla Berry, the assistant coach who alerted administrators to Chatman's misconduct, has resigned and it looks like will not be returning to coaching. Not sure who Chancellor will choose to replace her. An all-male coaching staff would certainly send the signal that LSU is trying to wash its hands of any remaining lesbian stigma, but might also come across as overkill.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Will Stringer take Nike's offer?

Am I the only person (well me and Carrie, anyway) who had a problem with Nike's "thank you, ignorance" ad that came out last week? (There was a print version in April 15's NYT in addition to the various websites it was posted on.)
The impetus for the ad, according to this source, was a self-questioning Nike wondering whether it was doing enough to promote women's sports. Apparently they are according to the Advertising Women of New York who will present Nike with an award called "10 Years of Getting It" this week. Unless "it" means lots of money from women buying their stuff (and in the interest of full disclosure, yes I do own Nike apparel), I am not sure what it is that Nike gets about women's sports. The article cites one of the most well-known campaigns: "if you let me play." That campaign, about which much critical scholarship has been done, does, I suppose, show that Nike gets that women's sports are always subordinate to men's and that women and girls have to ask permission to play.
[A good critique of "Nike empowerment" and how it is sold to women comes from Cheryl Cole and Amy Hribar in an article titled "Celebrity Feminism: Nike Style Post-Fordism, Transcendence, and Consumer Power" from a 1995 issue of Sociology of Sport Journal. If you want a copy email me at ]
But the interesting thing about Nike's latest campaign is how it may (ab)use the Imus-Rutgers situation. There is talk of a Nike-sponsored speaking tour featuring Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer. Nike already sponsors the team but the speaking tour seems wrong to me somehow. I think Stringer on a speaking tour is a great idea and might help alleviate concerns that now that Imus is off the air (for how long remains to be seen, of course) the discussion about sexism and racism will die down. But Nike sponsoring such an event will read like what it is: exploitation. Nike will again come across as some magnanimous corporation and all its behind the scenes shenanigans (like using factories that pay its workers less than a dollar a day) will be buried.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Billies

I forgot to blog about this year's Billies held a couple of weeks ago in Beverly Hills. In addition to BJK herself, good pal Elton John showed up to entertain, Sharon Stone, Geena Davis, and various assorted sports celebs were on hand.
I always thought it was unusual that there's this big awards event whose name is meant to invoke other big-time awards events but they only give out about four awards. The Billies celebrate positive media coverage and representations of girls' and women's sports. For example, this year the MTV series MADE won a Billie in the Breakthrough and Innovation category. This doesn't exactly thrill me because it seems to laud the whole series rather than the few episodes in which girls are "made" into athletes. Some of the episodes are hideous examples of conformist (to heteronormative femininity) behaviors. (See, for example, any of the ones were the outsider girl want to be made into prom queen or homecoming queen or the popular girl or a cheerleader.)
I think the Billies should expand their scope and give awards to athletes and activists and organizations who have made strides in promoting girls' and women's sports through various means throughout the world. (Damnit! That's what I should have said to BJK in the Cleveland airport!)
An important note about this year's Billies: like BJK's World Team Tennis, they went green. The end of the article at the Women's Sports Foundation website (money generated from the event goes to WSF programs) noted this:
Special thanks to the Giant Steps Foundation for helping make this year's The Billies a completely green event. Programs were printed on post-consumer recycled paper, energy was wind-powered, and fair trade coffee and an all-organic menu were served.
Unfortunately none of the media coverage of the event (outside of WSF's own press release) mentions the greening of the awards.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Maybe you should have paid attention before the bigot made you

There has been a troubling component to the post-Imus discourse that centers on all the publicity women's basketball--and some even say, all women's sports--is now garnering. The phrase "they couldn't have paid for this publicity" has been liberally thrown about. The subtitle of this column by Bill Gloede is "Why Imus' flagrant foul may actually help women's sports." Every sentiment of this sort has the requisite, "of course, what he said was wrong" provision but then launches into the lack of publicity women's sports receive.
Gloede cites the difference in ratings between the women's championship game and the men's. Of course the men's game gets broadcast on CBS--a basic cable channel; while the women's game is on ESPN--a channel available to people who spend around $50/month on cable.
I have seen columnists rather unapologetically admit they didn't even know about the unusual road the Rutgers team took to the championship game.
And I am feeling all the more icky about this line of reasoning since receiving an email from Nike. Subject line: A Different Kind of Thank You. Nike is now capitalizing--without even naming him--on Imus's bigotry. (They call it "ignorance"--I say it was far more deliberate).
Here is the text of the email:
Thank you, ignorance.
Thank you for starting the conversation.
Thank you for making an entire nation listen to the Rutgers team's story. And for making us wonder what other great stories we've missed.
Thank you for reminding us to think before we speak.
Thank you for showing us how strong and poised 18- and 20-year-old women can be.
Thank you for reminding a sports nation that another basketball tournament goes on in March.
Thank you for showing us that sport includes more than the time spent on the court.
Thank you for unintentionally moving women's sport forward.
And thank you for making all of us realize that we still have a long way to go.
Next season starts 11.16.07

[And if you go to the website you too can spread the "empowerment" by sending this as an email to a friend.]
Here's the thing: yes, women's sports receive less publicity, (positive) media attention, television coverage, etc. But everyone knows they exist. Everyone know there's a women's tournament in March. We know women play professional tennis. We know women play golf. We know there's a US National Softball Team. People choose not to pay attention.
Don Imus--unwittingly I imagine--made people pay attention. But it's not going to change the deeply entrenched ideologies around gender and race and sexuality that produced the comments in the first place and are largely responsible for the continuing inattention to women's sports.
Additionally, the publicity this event garnered is fading fast. And despite the amazing decorum with which the women on the Rutgers team handled this situation (again something that did not surprise those of us who pay just a little bit of attention to women's basketball), I don't think it is necessarily going to generate greater ratings at next year's tournament.
I do think and hope more people will be in the stands at Rutgers' games. But I think their incredible run to the championship would have made that happen regardless. I think Rutgers and women's sports generally probably could have done without the "publicity" Don Imus generated.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The greening of sport

Something I have been hearing more about lately: environmentally friendly sport. It makes sense--huge stadiums--to build and to operate--must contribute a great deal of waste and utilize tremendous amounts of energy. Sports not played in stadiums also leave an environmental footprint: golf courses have been cited for being not so ecologically sound.
In some sports, like surfing, athletes themselves are environmental activists because of their close relationship to the environment in which they play/compete/train.
The two pieces of news I have heard recently deal with making facilities more environmentally friendly. Billie Jean King, at the luncheon in Cleveland over a week ago said that one of her latest projects was taking World Team Tennis--which she founded in the 1970s--green, starting this summer. A March press release talks about the efforts which will focus on two teams and also the WTT champsionship.
Also contributing to the greening of sport is Wartburg College in Iowa which will be powering its brand new sports complex (for use by the college and town communities) using a wind turbine.
Sounds like some pretty good stuff is happening.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Nancy Lieberman and that icky feeling

I went to the Title IX conference put on by Harvard's Gender and Law Journal yesterday afternoon. It was okay. There were two panels: one on Title IX's application to sexual harassment and assault law and the second on athletics. I did not know all that much about the former so it was a good panel for me.
But overall I thought that despite the prestige and experience of all the speakers, the conference organizers could have put together a more diverse group to speak about different aspects of the law or their experience with it.
And of course I found the presence of former basketball player, coach and current ESPN analyst Nancy Lieberman a little problematic. She was last to speak and her role was to rev up the crowd to take action. I get it; she was there for star power. But what she preaches isn't exactly the rhetoric I would like to see around Title IX; and she is not the person I really like to hear preaching it.
First, she feels the need to mention her 12-year old son right at the start--and then repeatedly throughout. Yes, Nancy, we get it. You're a hetero now. That Martina moment is just a distant memory.
And then she tells all of us who are buying Prada and Coach bags to put our money into season tickets for women's basketball. Except when she asked those in the crowd to raise their hands if they owned such a bag few did. Know your audience, Nancy. We're academics. We don't have that kind of money. And most of us already support women's athletics.
Her point: that we need to prove (to men) that we are interested in sports (by buying tickets and not Prada) before we can get taken seriously. This comes dangerously close in my mind to the excuse that Title IX backlashers give: that women are not as interested in sports and so we shouldn't give them opportunities, especially at the expense of male athletes. Also, in this vein was the, "we need to stop blaming the men and do something" argument. But Lieberman also likes to blame football for the out of whack budgets and opportunities. This is true--but are not men involved in football and shouldn't we be blaming them--and then going after them--for impeding not only women's athletics but men's "minor" sports?
I was also troubled by the neoliberal discourse that came about in the Q&A--not started by Lieberman but by an attendee--but which Lieberman quickly took up. The reasoning that athletics will teach women--as it has taught men--how to succeed in corporate America, and that is why Title IX should not be touched is disturbing. I am not sure we really want to be teaching women--or anyone--that the current structure and functioning of corporate America is one we want to perpetuate. I would think participation in athletics should ultimately teach you how to not become a mindless corporate automaton, perpetuating America's imperialist agenda.
I don't want to end on a Debbie Downer note so I will say that Coach Roderick Jackson gave, as usual, a great talk. Jocelyn Samuels from the National Women's Law Center did an inspiring job explaining where we are at and what we need to do in terms of Title IX and the legislative threats against it. And Dr. Ellen Staurowsky of Ithaca College deftly deconstructed the rhetoric around the JMU cuts to show what was really happening at the university and how it has nothing to do with Title IX.

Friday, April 13, 2007

What ever shall I blog about now?

What is this strange new feeling I am having? I think it must be success. Don Imus will no longer be doing his radio show. CBS and WFAN have fired him just a day after MSNBC decided to stop simulcasting the program on television.
ABC News calls it a "stunning fall"; and I have to admit I am feeling a little stunned. I am sure there were a lot of intersecting factors at play in this situation that resulted in the firing of Imus but I guess I had become so cynical as to believe that a lot of people would protest--and rightly so--and there would be some form of punishment. When the two-week suspension was announced I figured that that was it. When MSNBC made their announcement I figured that was the best we would do and hoped the Imus show would die a slow death with people refusing to go on the show, ratings dropping, etc.
But this is better. I think. I do wonder about the backlash. The this-was-PC-gone-amuck backlash.
This column and all the issues of racism, homophobia, and sexism in sport will, I am sure give me plenty to blog about in the future. Rebecca Hagelin writes that Title IX is a form of "reverse discrimination" that "dictates strict quotas." Hagelin is very concerned about the "average white boy" and the discrimination he faces.
The day we can legitimately start talking about Title IX and reverse discrimination will come after the day that, as Dr. Christine Grant has said, male athletes happily agree to train, compete, travel, do PR, etc. under the same conditions that their female counterparts do. That day is still a long way off.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Now say thank you

MSNBC has decided, during its ongoing review process and in consultation with its employees (probably the ones that can predict how much ad revenue they would lose) to stop simulcasting Don Imus's radio show.
Pressure is still on the radio station WFAN and CBS to stop the show altogether. So write to MSNBC and say thank and write to WFAN and tell them to follow MSNBC's wise decision to disassociate themselves from this man.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

He's almost gone...maybe

Imus has been doing the apology tour. I have to say it's far more extensive than any other celebrity-says-something-bad apology binge. And his remarks about the Rutgers basketball team have earned him a two-week suspension. But there is speculation that when one is required to apologize repeatedly and for 13 minutes at a time, one is not long for the public airwaves.
So please keep (or start) writing letters. Create enough noise to show MSNBC and others that the privilege of speaking on the airwaves is not one that Don Imus deserves. As always the power is with those who hold the purse strings. If advertisers begin to pull their support of the show MSNBC may be forced to drop Imus. I have only found three of the show's sponsors: The New York Stock Exchange. Simon and Schuster, and Random House. The only contact information I could find for S&S is this link to a customer service form. At Random House you can try emailing
[Ebuz noted the email for WFAN--the radio station that actually produces Imus's show: ]
C. Vivian Stringer and the Rutgers team are scheduled to speak on the issue this afternoon.
Also of note is that the "ho" conversation was actually started by Imus's producer, Bernard McGuirk, who said "that's some rough girls from Rutgers. Man, they got tattoos...some hardcore hos." Sure, Imus took it to the next level but I think McGuirk should be fired too.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Gay lacrosse coach: It's a good thing

This feature on Kyle Hawkins, a lacrosse coach at University of Missouri, who recently came out makes it seem like things are getting better in college athletics--even for gay men. Although there is plenty of sadness and struggle in the story about Hawkins who started coaching the club team at Missouri several years ago, the story presents Hawkins's coming out as a success and an event that has changed the lives of some of those involved.
I am glad for Hawkins and his team and pleased that the University of Missouri did not waiver in their support of Hawkins. I am glad that the referee who called him a faggot and equated gay men with child molesters got suspended for a year. And I am glad this story was done by the AP and picked up outside of Missouri.
I am a little concerned with some of the things Hawkins said about gay players--three actually who have decided to go to Mizzou to play for Hawkins--being short-sighted in choosing the program because the coach is gay. Hawkins stresses if they think they are getting special treatment then they are wrong.
I think they probably just want to be treated decently and other programs cannot offer that kind of atmosphere for out players. I think it shows amazing insight for teenagers--to know that sports are important but that being free from abuse and ridicule is more important. Clearly the presence of an openly gay coach is a comment on the team environment that hopefully extends to the university community. And I think a smart, gay kid sees that and pursues it.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Stupid Google

Usually I appreciate it when Google--clearly smarter than myself--corrects my searches because I have a typo or spelled a name wrong, etc. Usually I am quite thankful, "Yes, Google, I did indeed mean to search for Sheryl Swoopes and not Cheryl Swoopes. Thank you." (I actually know how to spell Swoopes's name I just needed a quick example.)
But the other day when I was actively seeking out information about the WNBA draft which happened earlier this week (because one must actively seek it out; it is hard to just come upon it), I got a little ticked off at Google.
I searched "WNBA draft 2007." And I got: "did you mean NBA draft 2007?"
No, I certainly did not. I was surprised that it thinks the W is a mistake given that the WNBA has been around for a decade and that the draft was mere days ago and that there were plenty of hits for my intended search. Not to mention that fact that the W is nowhere near the N on the keyboard.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Take Imus off the air

I beseech anyone who listens to Don Imus--and I know most regular readers of this blog do not but....--to stop immediately. Better yet for any of us: email, phone, write, picket to the powers-that-be why Don Imus is an affront to the human race.
Because it is beyond conservative political discourse and can in no way be construed as funny to call the women "nappy-headed hos" and then, in the next breath, compare them to men (consistent discourse has never been the conservative's strength). This is what Imus did a few days ago when he brought up the women's championship between Rutgers and Tennessee. It was the women on the Rutgers team to which Imus directed his misogynist, racist, homophobic remarks.
I know these sentiments exist and I know Rutgers with its predominantly African-American team has been the target of racist remarks. I actually saw them play against a predominantly white team in a very white state. The old white man next to me wondered how we were supposed to tell them apart--you know, because all black people look alike.
But I did not think a prominent radio personality would be so blatantly, so disgustingly discriminatory.
Of course he has "apologized." This m.o. is getting old. Someone famous does or says something racist, homophobic, sexist, then a few days later--when people are calling for resignations and other punitive measures--said famous person apologizes. Then everyone moves on--and nothing changes.
The above link is to MSBNC's story of the apology. MSNBC does not produce the show but it simulcasts, on their television station, the radio show. Imus always says his views are not those of MSNBC's and MSNBC has condemned the remarks. It's ringing a little hollow if you ask me--especially among the universal condemnation by a variety of parties (the NCAA, Rutgers, The National Association of Black Journalists). Show me some action.
And if you are interested in taking some action there are several options:
1. Email MSNBC and ask them to stop airing the show.
2. Get in touch with the National Radio Hall of Fame and tell them that the inclusion of a racist, misogynist homophobe in their halls is offensive and inappropriate and not in keeping with the educational mission of their institutions.
The Museum of Broadcast Communications
400 North State Street, Suite 240
Chicago, IL 60610
phone: 312-245-8200
fax: 312-245-8207
or email
3. You can email the show directly at

Friday, April 06, 2007

"Black marks" and "isolated incidents"?

Now that the intercollegiate basketball season is over much of the discussion about Pokey Chatman has died down. No more recaps at the start of every game. Or graphics which list the timeline of the "Pokey Chatman incident." When LSU announces its new coach of course these things will be hauled out again but that's to be expected and we will likely have the whole summer and much of the fall to "forget." Phrases like "moving forward" and "looking ahead" will be bandied about at the start of next season and then it will suddenly "all be behind us."
Because this is being treated as a singular event. Well actually, Pokey Chatman and Rene Portland are being spoken of in the same breath: two incidents, but both, if you believe what you read, anomalies.
A recent Hartford Courant article frames the two stories as one comment on homosexuality. And though the writer acknowledges the difference between the two situations, comments from others clearly show that somehow these events are intricately linked.
The links I see? Homophobia is still rampant in intercollegiate sport despite the emergence of a younger, more accepting generation; and people are still trying to pretend it does not exist.
Anne Donovan, coach of the national team and the Seattle Storm, calls the "gay issue" a "black mark" on the women's game which proponents of the game will have to continue to battle. ESPN commentator Doris Burke suggests that it is an excuse for some male fans not to watch but that real fans know the LSU and Penn State situations are "isolated incidents."
The level of denial is frightening and discouraging. Neither was an isolated incident. Coaches--both male and female--have been engaging in inappropriate relationships with athletes for a long time. The dynamics and contexts are certainly different when we are talking about heterosexual relationship versus a same-sex (male or female) but they both happen and most are never revealed.
And while most coaches these days are smarter than Portland--they don't go announcing their no-lesbian policy to the press--too many still engage in more subtle homophobic practices in recruiting and dealing with players.
And none of it is going to stop just because some people close their eyes and plug their ears and start to hum. Because lesbians play sports. And they coach sports. And Sheryl Swoopes is not the only lesbian in the WBNA. And I am not the only person who knows this. Even the people who don't want to hear it know. All those men who don't watch women's basketball--they are not going to start when the "gay issue" dies down. They will just find another reason not to watch.
People in and around women's basketball need to change the discourse. They need to accept and celebrate their gay athletes--not tolerate them or offer, like the WNBA did when Swoopes came out, a statement that sexuality and a player's personal life does not matter. Clearly it does or we would not have people like Rene Portland and the other people just like her who just haven't been caught.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Brennan redeems herself

Christine Brennan takes on a not-too-popular issue in her USA Today column: naming practices for women's teams. And Brennan comes down on the right side of this argument somewhat making up--in my mind at least--for her closing remarks at the Billie Jean King luncheon last week.
As I mentioned the other day, I rooted for Rutgers for a myriad of reasons, one of which was that Tennessee persists in calling itself the Lady Vols. Brennan's article actually points out that when coach C. Vivian Stringer took over at Rutgers she took the "lady" away from the Scarlet Knights. She told Brennan:
"...with all due respect, I just believe that basketball is basketball and you don't need to make a distinction. ... I think that it's time to just drop the 'lady' thing. Let's play basketball."
My level of respect is significantly less than Stringer's. I think it's just wrong. I think teams that persist in this "tradition" are a little self-hating and lack the courage to stand up and say it is time for women's athletics to be treated equally. Brennan highlights more reasons why the practice is degrading.
But I also got to see a good presentation at the conference last week on naming practices in the south done by a University of Memphis sociology professor. Stringer herself noted that this seems to be a southern thing and the research corroborates this--though, of course, we can all think of notable exceptions: the Lady Lions for instance or the Minutewomen of University of Massachusetts. (What is a minutewoman anyway?)
The UM professor looked at a variety of factors and found that teams with Lady in the title or some other form of gender distinction can also have other issues such as a negative climate in the athletic department or fewer opportunities for female student-athletes.
But, as Tennessee coach Pat Summitt told Brennan, the names are probably not going away anytime soon. She herself, and she believes her athletes as well, like the adjective Lady, and of course there is the renown of the "brand" Lady Vols. To her credit, Brennan chides Summitt's statements noting the huge impact that someone with her status could have on ending the practice.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Keep the lawyers on speed dial

The Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) lawsuit that has been going on since 1998 is finally over. The Supreme Court denied MHSAA's latest appeal thus ending the case.
For those unfamiliar with the Michigan saga, Communities for Equity, a group formed by Michigan parents, sued the athletic association because of a variety of civil rights violations which resulted in girls' athletics continually being discriminated against.
The biggest battle--as the media reported it--was over seasons. Six girls' sports were being played in the "wrong" season (i.e. not in accordance with collegiate seasons). This made college recruitment more difficult. MHSAA argues that this was done because of facility and coaching issues. MHSAA probably would not have had such legal troubles if they had disadvantaged students in an equitable manner; after all, not every high school student-athlete is going to be recruited. But if this really was not such a big deal, as MHSAA contended, then they would have moved more boys' sports out of season.
What has been problematic about the case is the attention given to the seasons issue. This was not the only issue in the initial lawsuit--as I found out this past weekend when I heard the lawyer for Communities for Equity, Kristen Galles, speak in Cleveland. CfE was successful in getting MHSAA to add two more girls' sports to their list of sanctioned sports and address other Title IX concerns.
Now that every claim has been settled, MHSAA executive director Jack Roberts said they are ready to move forward. Next year all sports will be in the correct season. But Roberts clearly is not happy about this. All along he has argued that Title IX should not be applied to MHSAA because it does not receive federal funds (but all its member schools do!).
And Roberts is doubtful that this will really work and worries about the strain on facilities--especially during the winter when boys' and girls' basketball (which often field three teams: varsity, jv, and freshmen) are in season. Roberts thinks that girls will get "the short end of the stick;" getting bad practice and game times.
Um...clearly the concept of equity is still a little hazy in Michigan. Title IX specifically prohibits doling out non-ideal practice and game times in an inequitable manner. This whole, long case was meant to bring about a more equitable situation in Michigan high schools. Attitudes like these (and there is quite a strong opposition to these changes--read some of the comments following the stories) make me think the legal challenges are not over.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Final game--TONIGHT!

Rutgers versus Tennessee tonight. This NBC Sports article shares the history behind this games which pits two of the winningest coaches against one another. The sentimental favorite has to be Rutgers headed by C. Vivian Stringer but those going for more of a sure thing will be rooting for Pat Summitt of Tennessee.
I am a Rutgers fans myself. I find it difficult to root for any team that persists in calling itself the Lady ___. What's worse is that they have it written all over their uniforms.
Regardless of who you are rooting for, it is bound to be a great game.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Not that we need legitimation from men...

...but some of the sentiments expressed in this Cleveland paper are nice. Men who are excited about women's basketball; who can appreciate the game and not sexualize the players are welcome fans.
I don't know enough about the men's versus the women's game to know if the sentiment expressed below is correct but it is a nice counter point to all the excuses we hear about how the women's game just isn't fast enough or exciting enough:
"Any guy who refuses to watch women's basketball just doesn't know what he's missing," Mitchell said. "Women compete harder, and they're more unified as a team. It's not just about dollar signs and contracts. They still have love for the game. They still have heart."

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The rise of women's basketball

This article from a Dayton, OH newspaper does a good job chronicling the growth in women's basketball and contains a good story about Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt driving the team van.

Who saw and briefly spoke with Billie Jean King at a restaurant in the Cleveland airport today?

Yep, it's me (and my travelling companions who actually got her attention by saying thank you for her great talk at the conference on Friday).
BJK was eating a burger and fries and commenting on the dunk contest being aired on ESPN--in case anyone wondered what one of the most famous female athletes of all time does when she's waiting for her plane.