Friday, November 30, 2007

Boxer keeps fighting

Earlier in the week The Boston Globe had a feature on a local boxer, Wendy Sprowl, who was the first woman from Massachusetts to win an international boxing title. [The feature was in the Living Arts section which made me ask the somewhat rhetorical question: if Sprowl was a man would this story be on the Sports page?]
Sprowl is not fighting professionally anymore though she did indicate that she would return to the ring if the price was right. This speaks to an interesting aspect of her story. She started boxing after she got hurt on the job working construction and had near instant success from the moment of her first fight. She turned professional and one year later won a championship belt to much fanfare--but no money.
So now she does odds jobs, landscaping, trains others, and has a DVD out called "Sweatin Bullets" which is also a class she runs out of a Cohasset gym. The "Sweatin' Bullets" program seems to be pretty successful and I was quite impressed that Sprowl chose to produce it using people who took her class and represented a variety of sizes and levels of fitness instead of the models the production company offered.
It suggests a healthy philosophy of fitness though one Sprowl hasn't always adhered to. The reason she lost her first attempt a world championship was because she decided to drop down a weight category less than two weeks before the fight because her original opponent dropped out of the competition. She lost 14 pounds in ten days and was basically too weak to fight. Interesting how standards seem to differ depending on why and what form the sport/activity takes.
There seems to be a lot of double-sided mouth talking going on in our fitness-obsessed culture. There's the encouraging "you can do it no matter what level of fitness/activity you start at"; a philosophy programs and even gyms (a la Curves) are built around, but we haven't altered our idea of what the end result should be much at all. Beautiful is thin and toned no matter that someone who does not qualify as thin might have a high level of fitness and the super thin body may not be that fit at all.

[h/t to RP for finding me the story]

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Culture, class, race and fitness

The need for a fitter population is a concern frequently covered by the media. Yesterday I mentioned the WSFF report on the state of women's fitness in Great Britain. There was no mention, though, in the coverage I saw of the report, about disparities in fitness levels across racial and class lines. In the United States that concern is very real and many are trying to address it.
When I was in graduate school in Boston I worked on a project funded, in part, through the Women's Sports Foundation where organizations that offered programs aimed at increasing the participation of girls in sports and physical activity--especially girls of color and those from working and lower class backgrounds--received grants to continue (or begin in some cases) their work. In return, some eager researchers came in and observed the process and collected data.
Boston was a target city because statistics at the time showed boys in the city had twice as many participation opportunities as girls.
Yesterday, Billie Jean King and Kristine Lilly were in Boston to launch the latest WSF GoGirlGo! program. Though the program I worked on and this one are separate entities I imagine some of the same groups will be involved and the research (about successful models, girls' likes/dislikes, levels of activity, etc.) from the previous one will be of assistance to current project coordinators and participants.
But if you've aged out of GoGirlGo!, don't worry, there's an excellent model of getting fit and then helping others do so as well in 28-year old Jeanette Arroyo of New Jersey. As a teenager she weighed over 200 pounds. After successfully getting fit and losing over 100 pounds, Arroyo decided that she needed to help the Mexican-American community in which she lives. Mexican-American women are one and a half times more likely to be obese than the general population. Recognizing the need, Arroyo opened up her gym, Shape and Tone, that caters largely to Mexican immigrants. And though her following is small, they're loyal. The article addresses the cultural constraints placed on women's physical activity--something we often think about in "foreign" populations like Muslim women in Palestine--but fail to address within our own borders because of a belief in an egalitarian society.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

News from around the world

1. A new study in Britain by the Women's Sports and Fitness Foundation has found that more women need to get active--now! In the US we like to talk about "progress" and the numbers of women participating in sports and other physical activities; especially using 1972 (the passage of Title IX) as a reference point (even though women did engage in sport before then--sometimes we forget that). But there is no Title IX in Britain and now it seems that more and more women are not engaged in any physical activity. The study estimates that if the current trend on non-activity continues, there will be 1.25 million fewer women engaging in the recommended amount of exercise just one decade from now. One of the obstacles: image. Apparently being sporty is not sexy and though women want to be thin, they do not want to be athletic-looking. Having an athletic body (well a cetain type of athletic body) is not as much a problem in the US and certainly athletic is not equivalent to un-sexiness--as evidenced by the hundreds of visits I have received from people looking for pictures of naked female athletes. But both situations are problematic obviously. In the UK the plan is to develop a "national strategy" to raise participation. Sounds sufficiently vague enough to accomplish very little by the time the next report is released. Combating such ingrained stereotypes is going to require a large, coalition-type effort from multiple groups and interests. I hope that's what they have planned. [Here's more coverage of the report's release which includes the concerning statistic that only 20 percent of British women are engaging in the recommended 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 times/week and this level of activity is the same as it was twenty years ago.]

2. This is a very nice story out of Israel about a group of women who were encouraged and took up flag football several years ago. It addresses the desire for competition and physical activity and how these women negotiate their playing lives (including getting out of the home twice a week for games/practice) with often very religious and domestic lives. [As an American who plays flag football I found it very amusing to read the level of detail the writer provided to explain the rules of flag football, including what exactly those odd belts with two flags are for.]

3. In post-war Rwanda women and girls are finding more and more opportunities to participate in sports. All the sports federations in the country have male and female teams but there is still work to be done. Convincing people, including the women themselves, that women can (and should) be involved in sports can be a hard sell. In part, this is because there are so few female role models--not just in Rwanda but internationally. The article reports that it is common for schoolchildren to wear t-shirts with pictures of male superstar soccer players. But it does not seem like t-shirts of Mia Hamm or Marta are very popular. (Do they even exist? Hey, if they do, Christmas is coming and I would love a t-shirt with a big picture of Abby Wambach on it, Santa.)
What is particularly impressive about the Rwandan initiative is the training of female coaches. The commitment to increasing female participation has many benefits, some more universal such as health or countering gender hegemony. But in a post-war country such as Rwanda more sports means economic benefits (the creation of jobs on sports teams) and continuing resolution of group conflict.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Alex Trebek's double jeopardy

It's so rare I get home in time to watch Jeopardy these days but for some reason I was able to catch it several times last week. And in those few times I heard host Alex Trebek make two questionable comments about gender and sport.
The first came when he was interviewing one of the contestants (does anyone else hate these things as much as I do? I usually mute them). The contestant reported that he is both a high school swim coach for the girl's team and an ice hockey coach. Alex, apropos of nothing, said something like "and I assume the hockey team is boys." Why he would assume that is curious. Women play ice hockey--most people know that even if they don't watch or even support. And, hello, Alex Trebek is Canadian. Canada has the best national team in the world right now. Women's hockey has been around in Canada just as long as men have been playing the sport.
So I thought it was a little bit of poetic justice when, later in the week, the defending champion was a woman who had played college hockey. He didn't ask her whether women played hockey. But he did make another remark when the Final Jeopardy category appeared. It was "professional sports team names." He read it aloud and then said (again not a direct quote) "this is a very male category." Right, because all men have a wealth of knowledge about sports teams and women know nothing.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sports editor calls herself to task

A sports editor in Virginia examines the coverage her newspaper provides to girls' and women's sports. She notes that her paper is above the national average (it's at about 11 percent right now) in terms of coverage provided to female athletes but that 32 percent still isn't equal. And, of course, she asks why and tries to offer explanations like there are 5-6 male football players for one female volleyball player. But that one is a little weak given that newspapers cover contests not individual players.
It's good that a sports editor is self-reflective on this issue. Interesting that I have not seen the same type of analysis of the sports page by men who are at the helm of sports pages. And she doesn't really promise things will change, but rather asks readers to comment (you should, if you feel compelled, email her using the above link and give your opinion). And she generally relies on typical excuses: readers want to know about boys' sports, the department is understaffed, etc.
The most ironic comment that came out of this piece was from one of the editor's colleagues, a male sports editor at another local paper, who said:
"Sometimes covering women's sports comes down to manpower."
I'll just let you all interpret the many meanings in that one.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Reaction to the Jets

This article is an interesting take on the recent public uncovering of the "halftime show" at Jets games where men line the pedestrian ramps and sexually harass women below.
It puts the situation in the context of women's professional football which the author presents as a more pure version of football than "this hedonistic, misogynistic spectacle the NFL has been giving [us] lately."
And as much as I support women's professional football and believe it is one of the most undercovered women's sports in the country, I am always leery of the implication that some women's sports or female versions of sport can be an alternative to men's sports. This does two things (well probably more than that but two for today):
1. One, it presents men's sports (some not all) as beyond reform essentially letting all this bad behavior by fans, players, owners, coaches slip by because "boys will be boys" and suggesting they are a lost cause because of the excessive commercialism.
2. It limits women's sports. There is the suggestion that women's sports will always be "purer" because of the fact that women play them. This trades on essentialist notions of woman as gentler, less aggressive, less competitive. Let me just say right now that I have no desire to see women's sports conform or fall prey to the same evils some men's sports have. But I also see this "aren't women's sports better because they're pure" as a backhanded compliment that can, in reality, limit women's ways of being involved. For example, many women engage in apologetic behavior to counter criticism that they are too aggressive or competitive when playing or that sports will turn women into aggressive, competitive people which would apparently be a perversion of some kind of natural order.
So, in sum, that stuff going on at the Jets' stadium is beyond bad behavior; women's football is a good thing--you should support it; but I don't necessarily think the two are related in the way the writer suggests.
Oh--and this was not the only follow-up* on the NY Times article. Here are some links:
  • More arrests of the most egregious of fans are planned though the head of the facility said this likely wouldn't help all that much citing finger in the dam situation.
  • The president of the NJ state senate has been making some phone calls to people in the NFL, state police, and those in charge of stadium operations because he is unhappy with the lack of attention paid to Gate D fans.
  • Officials with the Jets have put the blame firmly on Giants Stadium security and are urging them to put an end to the "unruly halftime tradition."
  • Columnist Wallace Matthews critiques this passing of the buck by Jets management.
  • You can see what others think the Jets should do about the situation by viewing current poll results here. (refresh for most current results)

*Unfortunately many media outlets have been emboldened by this situation and seem to think using the term "boobs" in their coverage is acceptable--or at least not as egregious as the harassment itself, keeping them in the clear.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Since I wrote about football yesterday I don't feel the need to dwell on that particular Thanksgiving tradition.

So I'll just say "Happy Thanksgiving" to everyone. Here are my Thanksgiving wishes (I know wishes are for Christmas and Thanksgiving is for giving thanks but...) for you:

  • I hope you eat everything you want without guilt and with much enjoyment.

  • I hope you did not spend extra time at the gym this week working off what you have not yet eaten--a spin instructor once told us that as encouragement during class.

  • I hope you are not taking advice about eating a small salad or drinking ten glasses of water before the meal.

  • I hope if you're running in a turkey trot that you're doing it because it's fun and eating a good meal after an outdoor run makes food so much more enjoyable.

  • And I hope if you do go to the gym this weekend it's not because you're anxious about holiday pounds and that no trainer or instructor pushes you to work harder by invoking that pecan pie or second helping of garlic mashed potatoes. And if they do, you are always welcome in my spin class Sunday morning where I will not make any mention of Thanksgiving feasting or holiday calories.

  • Enjoy your food! Enjoy your workouts! Enjoy your holiday!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

What a lovely tradition

I read the NY Times article about the "tradition" of sexually harassing female fans at halftime during Jets games yesterday afternoon. And in that time of processing I have felt a myriad of things: general disgust, a certain level of despondency, and validation from peers and colleagues about how atrocious this practice is. But I think, in the end, one of the most disturbing things about this news of men who line up on the spiral ramps and harass women below encouraging them to flash their breasts (and security guards and police who do nothing about it!), is that it isn't news at all. It's been going on for a long time; years apparently.
Hard to believe that no one knew about it or thought to report on it before now. I mean, there are You Tube clips of this halftime event. Not much of a secret, I would say.
What happens now that the Times has brought it into a little brighter light remains to be seen. What has been done thus far is absolutely nothing--tacit acceptance is too innocuous a phrase to describe the attitude towards the chants, and whistles, and throwing of money (and then bottles if breasts do not make an appearance) by those who are supposed to be in some kind of position of authority.
Security guards just watch. Police won't come in unless an arrestable offense occurs. You know, because this is a free speech issue. (Until a reporter asks for comments and is hauled away and has his tape recorder taken.) And really, those public decency laws don't apply to women who want to bare their breasts. The one woman the writer saw comply with the men's desires was warned before she went on her merry way having done her public service and so very proud of her body (she and Amanda Beard should hang out). [Note the contradiction: women who show breasts in public for male enjoyment are barely slapped on the wrist but women who are revealing far less usually when they breastfeed in public are harassed in an entirely different way.]
No one from the Jets would comment but I don't think they'll be able to keep that position for long. Because ending this practice is as easy as owner Woody Johnson saying, "no more." And if he doesn't he's going to have to come up with something better than "free speech" to justify the continued practice of sexual harassment in his stadium.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Working conditions for female refs

Need a decent-paying part-time gig? Are you a former female athlete? Try refereeing.
This article from an old Baltimore Sun addresses the need for refs at the junior and high school level because of the growing number of girls playing youth sports. This piece focuses on the lack of refs in lacrosse and field hockey but the overall trend is a lack of female refs in all sports.
Because the pay might be good and it's a great way to stay involved in a sport you grew up around, but the work conditions are not always ideal. The article speaks to "the increasingly hostile environment for officials at games" and related the story of one new referee who quit after a season because of all the bad language directed her way.
And one has to think, and there seems to be some research to back this up, that female refs get more crap than their male counterparts. A good example was Celtics commentator Cedric Maxwell saying that NBA ref Violet Palmer should "get back in the kitchen and fix me some bacon and eggs" last February.
This past weekend I saw something I had never seen before in my entire fan career: three women refereeing an ice hockey game. The UNH/Wisconsin game in Durham on Saturday featured an all-female referee staff. Hockey fans can be pretty tough on refs--the student section at UNH games enjoys singing "three blind refs, three blind refs" when they skate out before the players at the start of every period. And there were a lot of penalties called Saturday night against UNH which made many in the crowd none too happy. Hard to tell if they were getting more derisive remarks than male referees might. I listened as best as possible (it was kind of noisy in there) for remarks that seemed gendered and/or sexist and couldn't find anything obvious. But I have to say, if I was a ref at that game I would have been glad for the plexiglass barriers. They're there to protect fans, of course, but I think they provide referees a certain amount of comfort as well.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Zirin on Imus

Dave Zirin has a column in the LA Times about the return of Imus to the airwaves next week. He doesn't really say anything new--but that's okay because at this point, it's more important to keep the discourse going which is harder in our 24/7 news culture. Plus he's a good writer; intelligent and just the right amount of snarky. (I've been using that word a lot lately--I must be feeling kind of snarky myself.)
Some highlights:
Imus' punishment in retrospect appears like a massage on the wrist: He received a $20-million settlement from CBS for cutting his contract short, he took a nine-month vacation, and now he's returning to commercial radio.
We are relentlessly sold the idea that our games -- our precious sports -- are a safe space from this kind of political abuse. Sports are a "field of dreams" where hard work always meets rewards. We treasure this idea. When the Rutgers basketball players defy the odds and make the NCAA finals -- and get called "nappy-headed hos" for their trouble -- it presses an all-too-raw nerve.
But I do have to take issue with one of Zirin's points. He says: Every woman who has played sports, and every man with a female athlete in the family, felt Imus' words in a way that cut deeply.
The implication there is that every man who knows personally--okay maybe not just knows--but loves and cares for a female athlete is on board with the whole gender equity thing. I don't disagree that these men probably did feel Imus's insult in ways others not associated with female athletes did. But there is plenty of evidence out there that shows that association does not necessarily engender consciousness-raising. In fact, David Whitley, the writer who complained about women's intercollegiate bowling, has an athletic daughter himself.
Think about it: most men know some women--many men know women intimately. Doesn't mean they're not sexist.
The people who believe what Imus said was acceptable are outlyers, certainly. But those who believe in true equality, the kind Title IX (which Zirin invokes) has been constructed to achieve, are not. And some of them even have daughters, wives, sisters, friends, girlfriends, mothers who have benefited from the law.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Good games, good hockey, good growth (?)

It was a sweet weekend for University of New Hampshire hockey. The women hosted #1 ranked (and two-time defending NCAA champions) Wisconsin. And they won 2-1 each afternoon. [<-- Refresh the page to see the latest stories.] I heard today's game on the internet and it sounded exciting and close. But I saw Saturday's game in person and it was indeed exciting, well-contested, excellent hockey.
Being there is great but hearing it broadcast also provides some insight. For example, Martine Garland, who was easily the today's MVP scoring UNH's two goals, was called a defenseman. I have bitched about this before, but I find it so interesting that others don't find it jarring to hear something along the lines of "She's a great a defenseman."
But not necessarily surprising. Last night Wisconsin earned what I like to call the "learn how to count" penalty when, in the course of a shift change, they wound up with 6 players on the ice. From the stands I heard fans yell--before the whistle blew and the penalty was called--"too many men, too many men." And they were not talking about the gender composition of the US Congress. But I was pleasantly surprised when the penalty was announced over the PA as "too many players on the ice."
I was also pleased to hear the announcers note the large crowd at the game today which resulted in an average of 1200 people at each game this weekend. This is a sizeable crowd for a women's hockey game--also noted by the announcers. They went on to say that things are starting to resemble the atmosphere at men's games--which are largely sold-out crowds in the 6,500-person arena--with exuberant fans (I was very exuberant, by the way, I jumped up and down like a kid after each UNH goal), the presence of the pep band, standard UNH hockey cheers, and fun intermission activities. But there are a "few more steps" that need to be taken one announcer said until women's hockey achieves the popularity of men's hockey. Don't mean to be a Debbie Downer here but, a few?--really? The announcer did not provide detailed instructions or even what the steps are, but it seems like one might be the need to erase sexism--not just in sport but in our culture first and foremost. There is so much stigma attached to women's ice hockey because of its history as a masculine sport. It does not offer sex appeal in the same way gymnastics or tennis does and thus is presumed to be masculinizing. It encourages women to be aggressive and physical--something not readily accepted in the population at large. The steps may indeed be few but they are long strides and they may be a long time coming.
When the #1 team comes to town to take on the #2 team, you know you're going to see good hockey, but so many people cannot get over the idea of women actually playing good hockey to go find out for themselves. That arena should have been packed. When asked by my first-time attendee friend whether we needed to get tickets ahead of time, I should have had to say "jeez maybe we should, because it might sell out." But I was able to walk to the ticket window--late mind you--and get tickets, no problem.
On a more positive and last note, I was very pleased to see so many people in the arena Saturday evening and experience such a good vibe being in the crowd.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Writer disses collegiate bowling

A columnist out of Tennessee has a snarky piece criticizing the position of women's bowling as an NCAA-sanctioned sport. Also annoying is that not so atypical "apologetic" pattern that male writers use when talking about women's sports: criticize, make a "but I really do support women's sports and equality and all that" statement, and criticize some more. It's like a reverse sandwich technique. And the author, David Whitley, certainly has the pattern down.

Whitley seems to have a problem that bowling now (actually since 2003) has the same status as football. Only in name, I would say. Does any intercollegiate sport really have the same "status" as football?
So he makes what he must see as the requisite bowling jokes as he goes off on his quest to find the NCAA Championship bowling trophy which is in defending champion Vanderbilt's athletic department. (Is it in the shape of nachos and beer, he gibes.)
And then, of course, he launches into the "collateral damage" done by Title IX--all the men's sports that have been cut due to proportionality is his main observation. This, we know, is not true. The number of men's sports have increased as have participants. Women still only comprise 43 percent of intercollegiate athletes despite being over 50 percent of those attending college. And that sport Whitley now thinks women's bowling is equal to--football--that's the reason (along with big-time basketball programs) for all those cuts to men's "minor" sports.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

That's so gay?

When people ask, "Why hasn't a male (currently playing) professional athlete come out yet?" I just roll my eyes and either assume one, the asker is a journalist posing a rhetorical question that s/he feels makes him/her look sensitive to gay issues or, two, the asker is extremely naive and perhaps also living in a closet--just a different type of one.

And when I hear about (thanks to JB for the alert) comments like those made the other day by Lakers coach Phil Jackson, I shake my head resignedly and say "See? This is why. Now stop asking this ridiculous question and let's start doing something about it."

After the Lakers beat the Spurs, in part because of great outside shooting (they made 13 3-pointers), Jackson was asked about the 39 points and responded:

"We call this a 'Brokeback Mountain' game, because there's so much penetration and kickouts."

GLAD issued a statement that included this "Phil Jackson's been coaching long enough that he should be able to talk about the Lakers' performance without resorting to cheap gay jokes."

Maybe he's been coaching too long.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

New coach

It didn't take long for the three-person hiring committee to find a new head coach for the US women's national soccer team. Former Swedish superstar (her picture was on a Swedish stamp!) Pia Sundhage got the job yesterday (well it was announced yesterday). Her contract runs through the Olympics next summer. The explanation was that it's the only major tournament until the next World Cup in 2011 but I think it's pretty apparent that US Soccer wants to see what the first non-American coach and only the second woman can do with the team that seems to have a lot of talent but had a lackluster (for them) World Cup earlier this fall.

Despite the talented team members, Sundhage has a fairly tough job ahead of her. There are only nine months until the Olympics and in that time she has to make what looked like a fairly reticent team in the World Cup into the aggressive, offensive-minded team it seems they should be given the depth of talent.

But Sundhage has the experience and I think she will have the support of the current team members. After all Sundhage coached team captain Kristine Lilly when she was with the Boston Breakers of the WUSA. One has to think that this was a factor in the decision to give Sundhage the job. Lilly has a good relationship with her and Lilly's status as captain, a well-respected captain, means that the transition may be less awkward or tension-filled.

The first test for Sundhage and the team comes at the start of the new year. The Four Nations tournament is being held in China (lots of soccer action in China in a short amount of time!) in January.

Oh yeah, it looks like Sundhage is planning on keeping goalie Hope Solo on the team. No word on Briana Scurry but I would be surprised if she got released from the team before the Olympics.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Did you find what you were looking for?

1. There must have been a rerun of The Family Guy episode in which Peter disses the WNBA relying on sexist and homophobic stereotypes. There have been a lot of hits looking for "WNBA Family Guy." If it is really as harmless as some of the commenters on the original post suggested, I don't think people would be looking for blog commentary on it.

2. There have also been a lot of searches about the Tonka "boys are built differently" ad campaign. I actually have not seen the ads of late because the little television I get to watch these days does not seem to be aimed a toy truck-buying market. But I hope every parent that sees those commercials is outraged. It seems that a feminist forum on a My Space page has linked here as evidence that others are perturbed by the blatant essentialism in Tonka's ad campaign.

3. Have I missed a big story about women's wrestling or race and gender in wrestling? There are a lot of searches for women's wrestling or black women in wrestling lately. If there's some news I have not reported on please someone let me know (in comments or by email
4. College basketball season has begun. That means searches on "[coach's name] lesbian." As far as I know Joanne McCallie who is in her first season at Duke after a successful stint at Michigan State, is not a practicing homosexual. She is married and has a couple of children.
5. Funny/curious search of the week (month?): "martina hingis and stepanek and sex life." I think Hingis now has bigger things to worry about than her former sex life with ex-fiance Radek Stepanek--and hopefully whoever searched for this does too.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Is there softball in Russia?

Because if that's where we are sending female coaches who have transgressed coach/student-athlete boundaries, a la Pokey Chatman, ( see this USA Today article sent by JB for more info on that situation), then there may be another exile.
Gina Ramacci, an assistant softball coach down at Florida Gulf Coast University, has been fired for improper relations with a student-athlete. Ramacci is a new coach hired last spring who will remain on administrative leave until December when her current contract runs out.
What exactly happened is a little vague. There were allegations that came from the parent of softball player (not the one alleged to have had a relationship with Ramacci) of a sexual relationship which both coach and player have denied. But the university contends that whether a sexual relationship actually occurred is irrelevant to Ramacci's firing because the relationship was "inappropriate."
What exactly inappropriate is, of course, they will not say. This is not surprising given the university in question. FGCU has been in the spotlight for many months now because of allegations of gender inequity in the athletic department and a general hostile atmosphere for female coaches. (See my post here about FGCU's Title IX issues and the Title IX Blog which has extensive coverage of the situation.)
Also, that the allegations came from a parent raises some questions. It appears that Ramacci, who is described as having a "partner," came to FGCU as a fairly out coach. Given the fear of many parents of female athletes that their daughters will be turned into lesbians by gay coaches and the stereotype that softball is populated by lesbians, it seems possible that a parent could be seeing things that are not there or simply and nefariously is out to eliminate any lesbians who are associated with the team.
No word yet on whether Ramacci, who has hired a lawyer, will challenge the investigation's findings. I hope she does. FGCU is in a fairly vulnerable position these days with all the negative press and their secretive internal investigations. If Ramacci, a young coach, goes away quietly then she likely is going away for good. Another anecdote to add to the empirical evidence that is painting a very ugly picture of why female coaches do not stay in the profession.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Indian sportswomen "second class"

The Hindustan Times has a good article about the utter lack of support for women's sports and female athletes in India. In describing the conditions--lack of quality equipment, poor facilities, no media coverage, and pitiful compensation--I began to think about what state women's sports in the US would be in were it not for Title IX. While Title IX applies only to athletic opportunities within educational institutions and not national teams like those referenced in the article, we all know that colleges and universities provide a training and recruiting ground for national teams in many cases.
Of course sometimes the differences are not so exaggerated. Women's sports in the US get very little media coverage and when they are the coverage is often problematic due the sexualiation, infantilization, and general lack of respect for female athletes.
And the issue of compensation is also a good one. We all know that athletes on women's professional team sports earn far less than their male counterparts. The article discusses the amount of money the national, championship-winning field hockey teams--both men's and women's--earned. You can probably guess who earned significantly less.
But this happens at the national team level in the US as well. I heard a very interesting story from sportswriter Dave Zirin in Pittsburgh last week.
In 1996 the US women's national soccer team protested the disparity in their compensation as compared to the men's national team and threatened not to play the Olympics. USA Soccer attempted to call their bluff and brought in a B team of scabs. But it became apparent that this team was not going to cut it in Atlanta and would look bad that the host country in the first year of women's soccer as an Olympic event had sent a second-rate team. So they brought back the A team but kept a few of the line-crossers around to keep everyone in line, I suppose. One of those was Brandi Chastain. Slight digression from the topic but interesting piece of trivia.
Anyway, the article out of India gives me some hope that things will change there. It is a clear call for Indian sports administrators to pay more attention to women's sports and in a sense shames them by noting that other countries like new Zealand and Australia are providing more equitable treatment. Nothing like a little guilt and playing on a competitive nature to get things changed.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

What's up in women's hoops

Mechelle Voepel runs down who's who and what's what in college hoops this season, coaching changes mostly. So if you were in a coma last season and just awoke check out her column--smart and witty as usual--to find out who's out and who's in and who went overseas.
The latter refers to former LSU head coach Pokey Chatman who resigned right before her team went into the NCAA tournament due to allegations of improper conduct with a former player. Chatman settled her complaint with LSU for $160,000 which precludes her from further legal action. The settlement though does not seem to contain a gag order but that does not mean anyone is talking. Chatman isn't saying anything about the incident in question including denying it.
So she has been exiled to Russia where she will be coaching. Given the allegations, an overseas job was probably the only thing she could get right now. But will she be back? I want to say yes, but something in me says no--oh yeah, it's that rational, cynical side of me. Chatman was accused of, and has not denied, having a sexual relationship with a player. What school is going to let her coach again? It's already extremely difficult for women who are suspected of being gay to get coaching jobs and most of them are in the closet. Chatman has been outed and then she was ousted (or maybe she was ousted and then outed--hard to figure out the order). This is not to say that what she did was in any way acceptable. But she will pay more dearly for it than male coaches who seem to be able to rebound from allegations of sexual misconduct much more easily.
When I fight off my internal cynic I think that perhaps, just maybe, Chatman could get a job in the WNBA. I mean if Nancy Lieberman can do it, Chatman can. And Chatman, I am sure, would not be so careless as to sleep with a current player ever again (as Lieberman is alleged to have done--and when I use the word allegedly, I don't really mean it). I wonder if the new Atlanta franchise has a coach yet...
Still things won't be the same this season not being able to watch Chatman's dynamic coaching style. I doubt Van Chancellor, despite his successes, will be as entertaining or engender as much excitement.
Voepel's column also reports some good news on diversity in basketball coaching: three women of color have new positions as head coaches this year. Coquese Washington at Penn State, Tia Jackson at University of Washington, and Jolette Law at Illinois.
And Voepel has a nice little dig for former PSU coach Rene Portland who sold much of her Penn State gear at a yard sale before she hightailed it out of PA this past summer. Wonder if any of it ended up on Ebay. It's all tainted goods anyway.

[h/t to JB for sending me the column.]

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Female cyclists need a Billie Jean King

The more I learn about women's sports, the more I realize just how remarkable Billie Jean King was--not just for her time--but for our time.

An Australian paper reports on the disparate prize money for male and female cyclists. And like the female tennis players of the 70s, female cyclists are making a tenth of their male counterparts. And the article does not contain any sort of rationale besides some vague reference to, perhaps, an old boys network that does not want to see women biking professionally.

And despite the fact that she believes female cyclists put in the same time and effort as male cyclists, an Australian cyclist Lorian Graham said:

"That's just the way it is. I'm more interested in getting out there and promoting what women can do."

Not exactly the sentiment of someone looking to change the system.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Nice tribute, but...

A local Utah paper has a nice feature on a man, Grant Cottam, who has supported girls' sports since the 1960s. Back then he attended a high school basketball game with his wife who had pressured him to go with her. While he went reluctantly, he was impressed immediately and became a lifelong fan of not only basketball but volleyball, track, and soccer. He travels to find good games and follow strong teams--though does not have a favorite.
I am pleased there is such a devoted supporter in Utah, but is this really newsworthy? I was actually more interested in how his wife became a fan herself in a pre-Title IX era. Or what exactly it was that Cottam saw in the girls' game that he found so compelling. Why is it so interesting that a now 80-year old man is a fan of girls' sports?
The writer didn't do a good enough job framing the story to convince me that this man was remarkable in any way besides the fact that she chose to write about his fandom. But a man's following of girls' sports should not be presented as remarkable and, by extension, unusual. It only serves to reify the position of girls' sports as second-best.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Bringing back the racism

No, this post is not about Don Imus. It's about the University of Illinois bringing back Chief Illiniwek. You may recall that UI abandoned the mascot last winter after pressure from the NCAA.
There had been a ban, put in place by the school, eliminating the use of the Chief (who was never a real chief by the way; whose dress and "dance" does not reflect anything the Illini ever wore or did) at school events. But this year Chancellor Richard Herman lifted the ban on using Illiniwek's likeness just in time for homecoming festivities because he felt it limited the free expression of students. And so various Illiniweks showed up at the homecoming parade. There were no protesters.
It's nothing less than sickening. Sportswriter Dave Zirin devotes his column this week over at Edge of Sports to the issue. He spoke about it briefly last week in Pittsburgh where he gave a keynote address at the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport conference. I found him very engaging. He mentioned he is currently getting a lot of mail from irate UI students.
How concerned was UI with protecting free speech when Charlene Teters--who started protesting Illiniwek back in the 80s all by herself--was threatened with death for her actions; the ultimate silencing technique? [You can learn more about Teters's campaign and Native American mascots by watching In Whose Honor.]

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Imus is back

We all knew it was coming. The plans for Imus to go back on the radio have been in the works for a while. Rumors about negotiations with WABC, we knew, we more likely truer than not.
And so it will be that Don Imus will return to the airwaves on December 3. Coach Stringer says she knew Imus would work again but she's still angry at the comments, though she reiterates that she has forgiven him. She also seems to think this experience has humbled him and that he will emerge a changed man when he shows up for work in a month.
Does she really believe that or is it just what she says to the press? I hope the latter because I really think Stringer is smarter than that. Imus had his already slightly sketchy reputation tarnished a little more. He did not have his consciousness raised.
And speaking of the Imus situation. It has been a hot topic here in Pittsburgh where the annual North American Society for the Sociology of Sport conference is being held. [The conference is also the reason for my lack of posts the past few days.] I heard a paper yesterday about how the controversy was constructed by the media. It was very good. The authors looked at 99 articles from major newspapers. There were many interesting findings including the framing of the controversy as an issue of racism with less acknowledgment of the sexism (and the authors didn't even talk about the homophobia in there as well which was slightly disappointing). This was evident in the people quoted in the articles. Less than 5 of the articles spoke to leaders in the feminist community versus far more that quoted black leaders, primarily Al Sharpton and, less often, Jesse Jackson.
In light of the this, and my own work on intersectional discrimination in sport, I was pleased to see the article about Stringer's reaction to Imus's return refer to the comments as both sexist and racist. Now if only people would talk about the homophobia inherent in them as well.