Thursday, January 31, 2008

Basketball news

I don't write about basketball a whole lot and I certainly am not even attempting to be as comprehensive in my coverage as a blog like Women's Hoops Blog, but there were a few stories that have caught my attention of late.

1. Dave Zirin has a good column on the Rutgers women's basketball team post-Imus. They're having a great season, ranked 5 in the nation. [UPDATE: Latest poll puts them in 4th.] Didn't know that? That's exactly Zirin's point. Despite the rhetoric and the belief a mere few years ago that women's basketball was showing signs of taking off, there hasn't been the attendant media coverage. Various powers in the media always say to us women's sports fans that if there was more interest, they would cover it. There's plenty of interest in women's basketball and still far too little coverage.

2. A few weeks ago news broke that the Seattle Storm has some new owners. Four local women have bought the franchise (not a done deal, though--needs to go through an NBA and WNBA vote) and received a lot of positive press and community support for their endeavors--especially because the women have promised to keep the team in Seattle even if their NBA counterpart, the Sonics, move out of state. Word is that season ticket sales have already exceeded those of last season.

3. A local sportswriter, Steve Cameron out in California, recently covered a championship girls' high school basketball game. He reported on the game and then wrote this comment on his coverage and career in sports journalism. While Zirin has written that women's basketball still isn't getting much coverage, Cameron contends that the coverage he is now providing illustrates the biggest change he has witnessed in sports: girls can play ball--just like the boys. Oh how I hate this statement. Cameron is not unique in his sentiment that once upon a time girls' basketball was boring and sloppy and now it's great. No thanks to people like you Steve Cameron who fell into, and continue to believe that women's sports are only worthy of attention when they resemble men's sports.

He also fails to acknowledge a concept even my sport soc undergrads have down (or will have down by the end of class tomorrow morning) that it isn't just the sports world that has changed--society has changed too; society has changed sports and sports have changed society. Women's basketball has gotten better because more girls are "allowed" access to sports and society has seen that women can and have a desire to play and this has altered how we view women.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Just because it's there...

...doesn't mean you have to use it.

I'm talking about text messaging. As I wrote about not too long ago, the NCAA DI committee voted to uphold the ban on text messages to recruits. I thought it was a good move, but others think it shows the fuddy-duddy side of the NCAA. An editorial in The Baltimore Sun says the ban flies in the face in the way things are today. I agree if the writer means by that sentiment that we seem to have constant instant access to one another. Email, pagers, cell phones, Blackberrys--all these in addition to old-fashioned phones which still exist in homes and businesses. If you can't be reached instantaneously, people start to worry or grumble.

But that's not what he means. The writer means that texting is now a way of life--for the younger generation anyway--and that coaches should be allowed to use it. Concerns over cost (to the receiver as well), harassment, volume, times of day can all be worked out, the editorialist states, with a little regulation and some common sense. Unfortunately common sense does not seem to rule the recruiting process as anyone who knows just a little about it is aware of. And this leads to all the regulations on the process. So now we're going to add more regulations.

Even if I could get over my disbelief at coaches using text lingo, I still find it an unnecessary recruiting tool. There are currently no limits on emails coaches can send to recruits and we still have things like telephones--cell and those attached to walls--and, yes it's true, letters. All those modes of communication lend themselves to conversations not snippets of abbreviated sentiments. If you're a recruit making a major decision about your future, I would think you would want to be talking to a coach in full sentences. If you're a coach, you may want a student-athlete who can communicate with adults (as s/he will have to do with professors, other staff, even the media) with full thoughts and real words, not abbreviations.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Not the support we need

In a case of strange bedfellows, a Christian conservative editorialist has called the NCAA's decision to prevent member schools from eliminating or reducing a pregnant athlete's aid money a score for women's rights.

Yeah, I thought so too but not for the reasons Thomas Ranson states. He's excited because it means fewer abortions. Female athletes win because they don't have to murder their innocent children or risk death and permanent damage by having an abortion. They can avoid, he writes, those blood clots that can afflict young women who get abortions.

Not exactly the reasons I was thinking when I heard the news. I was more excited by the fact that coaches and athletic departments and unversities had to start actually following the law that prevents them from not penalizing pregnant women. A victory for women's rights generally but also a small step in curbing some of the insanity that exists in big-time (and more and more, little-time) college athletics and dispelling the notion that student-athletes are the property of their institutions.

I agree with Ranson that universities should not be making their student-athletes choose between giving birth and getting aid money. Completely different rationale of course--that's what helps me sleep at night.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Hitting our heads

I thought this article about the number of concussions female athletes are incurring might make me hit my head--against a wall in frustration. But it did a decent job acknowledging the cultural factors that may contribute to the seemingly larger numbers (the article presented only raw numbers not percentages per sport) of female high school athletes who report concussions. Of course part of the problem is the actual reporting. The study suggested that female athletes' concussions are reported more often because of cultural pressure on boys to just suck up injuries and get back into the game. Also part of the cultural explanation is that girls are seen as inherently more frail so when they incur injuries--like a head injury--they are more likely to be examined.
I did not like that the article stated that female athletes are more "prone" to concussions early on because it implies that they are physically weaker; that their bodies cannot handle hits and falls, etc. Reading on though we see that there are different explanations that include the fact that boys frequently start playing sports earlier and, generally, are encouraged to use their bodies in ways that girls are not so that when they start playing (at a later age) sports more seriously they haven't had the same opportunity to develop. These cultural constraints on the physical development of girls does not come until later in the article, though.
I was also a little disturbed by the statement that the rise in concussions in girls is due to more girls playing sports. It kind of has am anti-Title IX "careful what you ask for" tone to it. Of course as there are more participants the number of incidences of injury rise. This happens regardless of gender. And if it isn't happening in boys' sports you have to wonder why. Access to better equipment? Better trainers, doctors and other medical professionals?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Baby, it's cold outside

So that means it's a good time to get some exercise--outside. The NYT ran an article last week about cold weather exercise. It's not bad for you at all--assuming you have the right gear--they don't talk about that as much as they should, I thought. Because, in fact, fewer injuries occur during cold weather exercise than warm weather endeavors.
Taking the article to heart I headed out yesterday for some cross-country skiing. Okay, I was going to go before I even came across the article, but I felt a lot more confident knowing I was less likely to get injured. And it actually didn't feel that cold at all. Piece of advice though: if you go out, go back to the lodge to rest and go back out again, change your sports bra and shirt. 'Cause cold sweat makes you brrrr chilly those first 20 minutes or so until you have started re-sweating enough to compensate.
I am also going to go beyond the article's recommendations and suggest some winter exercise at night. I went snowshoeing on New Years Day at night on fresh snow and it was amazing. Invest in a headlamp and take some friends. There are cross-country/snowshoe places that actually have moonlight tours.
Still I see why some would be reluctant to exercise outside in the frigid temps. I am not really a fan of going out in weather less than 2o degrees and when I pull up to the gym at 6:30 in the morning when it's about 15 degrees on a good day and see the Running Club setting out with their gloves and hats and layers of hi-tech, wickaway shirts and tights I frequently--okay all the time--say to myself "they're crazy." And then I walk into the nice warm gym, pull off my sweats, and get to it. In other words, I think there's an appropriate time, place, and temperature for outdoor activity. I guess everyone just has to find her own.

Friday, January 25, 2008

B is for backlash

A few days I commented that young female athletes are frequently subject to sexual harassment to which they have little recourse and receive little sympathy.
The situation in Warrensburg, MO goes beyond even this lack of empathy. Six high school athletes there accused the basketball and softball coach (it's the same person) of sexually inappropriate conduct. According to the article there was a brief investigation this past fall during which no one bothered to talk to any of the accusers. The coach, who is also a local elementary school teacher, was allowed to continue coaching. The girls have filed a lawsuit against the coach and school district. Allegations against the coach include: inappropriate touching of female athletes during practices and weightlifting sessions; pressing his body against players repeatedly; putting his hands inside players' tops; forcing players to change into their team uniforms on the bus to an away game.
Since these are allegations that have yet to be proven I can't really speak to their merit except to say that I have read and find reliable the research on sexual abuse and harassment that says women rarely lie about these things. A lack of motive for ousting the coach also seems to weigh in favor of the accusers at this time.
Regardless, the harassment they, and their parents, have been subjected to since filing the lawsuit is ridiculous. The accusers have left the team, of course, but they have faced ridicule and threats. Someone even attempted to get fired the parent of one of the accusers.
People are quick to place in the category of victim the person being accused. And on occasion the accused have been victims--for example, the Salem witch trials. Of course these girls don't appear to be playing a prank and the accused isn't a woman the community isn't so keen on anyway. [Please excuse my somewhat reductionist retelling of the Salem witch trials--it's been a long time since high school US history.]
I don't have any data on this--if such data even exist--but it seems like when accusations of sexual misconduct occur in the context of athletics there is immediate and often violent backlash against the accusers on top of the usual discrediting that goes on when women raise the issue of sexual harassment and assault. Off the top of my head: Kobe Bryant's accuser; Katie Hnida, former kicker at University of Colorado; and sportswriter Lisa Olson.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Did you find what you were looking for?

1. Some, um, unusual I would say searches of late, such as "Wimbledon braless." What exactly does this mean? That Wimbledon is in need of support? That the searcher is wondering whether Wimbledon will enforce a bra policy alongside its predominantly white rule? Hard to say what the searcher was looking for, but I doubt any answers were found here. Another answer not to be found here and frankly I can't believe even the asking the question "why naive has two dots in it?" even brought someone here.

2. Ana Ivanovic is in the semis at the Australian Open and has a good shot at making it to the finals. [UPDATE: She made it by rallying from 0-6, 0-2 down against Daniela Hantuchova.] That means searches for her have picked up. Still getting the very odd "Ivanovic armpits" but also searches that seem to want a little more than just the armpit shot. Some searchers are getting lazy though. "Ivanovic body," for example is not going to get you very far. Yes, she has a body. Oh, you want naked pictures of that body? Not going to find them here--or anywhere.

3. On a serious note (or more serious, anyway), there have been some hits from those looking, it would seem, for information on Jaye Flood. Flood is the now-fired volleyball coach at Florida Gulf Coast University. In the past week Flood filed a suit against the university charging retaliation for her participation in a Title IX complaint. And earlier this week the university concluded its independent investigation of multiple claims including Flood's charge of retaliation (prior to filing the lawsuit Flood had filed an employment complaint with the university). Also under investigation were "student welfare issues" that initially were thought to stem from Flood grabbing the shirt of a player during a fall practice and lead to Flood being placed on administrative leave. According to the report though there was more than just tugging of shirts. It also cites an alleged inappropriate relationship with the team's student manager. Flood has said that the allegations are false and further evidence of the university's desire to hurt her professionally and personally. It's hard to believe that Flood would file a lawsuit knowing that (and since she did participate in the investigation she must have known what was about to come out) she would be accused of, essentially, sexually harassing a student and not thinking she could prove the allegations false.

Check out the Title IX Blog for more information. They have been following the case more closely and provide better detail on the investigation's findings.

4. And to whoever inquired as to "why do tennis players wear skirts" I can't really provide a good answer for you. There is, of course, the matter of history. Women started playing tennis at a time when skirts were the only option. They've obviously gotten a little shorter and little less cumbersome since the 1800s. So the easy answer is tradition. Patriarchal tradition that is. This means that my instant response to the question, the one I give from personal experience, becomes a little suspect.

I wear tennis skirts because they're comfortable. I wear shorts too, but I like my skirts because the fabric doesn't get bunched up between my legs and I like sticking balls under compression shorts rather than in pockets where they move around a little too much for my liking. Because of the association of skirts with women and femininity and because while women have taken to wearing pants yet men have not taken to wearing skirts, it is impossible for anything I say about how comfortable or conducive to play tennis skirts are to come off as anything other than a justification. Am I participating in my own oppression, playing into gender roles? Probably. Am I upset about this? A little bit. Come this Sunday when I play my match will I be wearing a tennis skirt? Yep. Options are limited in a patriarchy. Most of the shorts I have aren't gender-neutral either. As a wise woman once said to me "you have to be comfortable with a little discomfort." My discomfort is psychic--not sartorial.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

News from around the world

1. The United States Agency for International Development recently gave a fairly large grant ($95,000US) to the Ghana Society of Physically Disabled Sports. The money will go toward the creation of men's and women's wheelchair basketball teams that will compete internationally as well as a tournament that will assist in identifying athletes for these teams.

2. Cricket in the Olympics? Could be. Honestly, I am a little surprised it isn't there already given its international popularity (not in the US but there are certainly enough countries with viable national teams to create a strong field from the outset). Cricket has been recognized by the International Olympic Committee. But recognition is not any kind of guarantee of inclusion in future Olympic Games though the sport's governing, the International Cricket Council (ICC) body seems to want to work toward that goal. Part of convincing the IOC that cricket is Olympic-worthy will be strengthening the women's game. The ICC only recently joined forces with the International Women's Cricket Council but to date has not held a major international tournament.

3. Twenty influential Canadian women in sport have been recognized this week by the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity (CAAWS). Notable is all the women who have been involved in the promotion of ice hockey: former players Hayley Wickenheiser and Cassie Campbell; and administrators Polly Craik and Melody Davidson. Also making the list are a host of women who are involved in the planning and execution of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Check out this site for a complete list with pictures and bios.
[h/t to Sean over at Sports Babel for alerting me to the list.]

4. In Manitoba, a judge (or what I presume is judge; the title in the article refers to Joan McKelvey as a Court of Queen's Bench Justice; doesn't it seem like everything Canadian is just so much more interesting than in the US?) has ruled that girls have the right to play with boys on high school ice hockey teams. This decision was the result of the Manitoba High School Athletics Association's appeal of a 2006 decision by the Manitoba Human Rights Commission to allow girls to play with boys.

[h/t to Ebuz for sending me this link.]

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Little* annoying things

1. The University of Utah gymnastics team held a "pink out" during a recent meet where they encouraged attendees to wear pink to raise awareness about breast cancer. Those wearing pink got in for free but were asked to donate the usual price of a ticket ($4) to the representative of the American Cancer Society who was at the meet.

I've said before that I think such events are part of some weird form of activism (because just wearing pink isn't really doing anything at all especially when only $1 of that shirt you bought for $20 in Target is going to an organization you don't even know the name of let alone what their practices and politics might be) that plays on gender stereotypes. I find it problematic that when women's sports teams engage in such events it's seen as something they're supposed to do. The Utah coach said "since we're a women's sport, it seems like the right thing to do." When men's teams use pink equipment (like hockey sticks or baseball bats) to raise awareness the focus is on how these manly men are doing such a great thing for a women's cause by taking on this feminine color.

Also I am starting to question the whole "raising awareness" rhetoric. There are very few people in the United States who are "unaware" about breast cancer. What they lack awareness about is the overt capitalism, the hypocrisy, the racial disparities in occurrence and level of care, and the many other crimes and misdemeanors committed in the name of raising awareness of the disease. What many are unaware about is that breast cancer isn't even the number one killer of women--heart disease is. And yet you don't see nearly as many races to cure heart disease, or red hair straightening irons on Walmart's shelves, or yogurt lids that you send in that give about 2 cents to the American Heart Association.

But I am sure the Utah gymnastics team looked stunning in their specially designed breast cancer themed leotards.

2. Ann Bartow over at Feminist Law Profs has a quick post on a recent NYT article about the sexualization of teenage male water polo players. Pictures of various players have been posted on gay male pornography sites and are often found next to pictures of naked men. According to the article, "some of the boys were traumatized and sought counseling." I agree with Bartow that it's wrong when anyone's image is sexualized in a way they never intended and beyond their control. She encourages us to remember the case of high school pole vaulter Allison Stokke whose image was plastered all over the internet often alongside comments of a highly sexualized nature.

I thought of Stokke immediately when I heard about the pictures of the water polo players. I don't want to belittle their situation but my first thought was: things like this happen all the time to young female athletes. Stokke's situation made national headlines only after months of such harassment. Don't forget either how adults--bloggers, the press, photographers, editors at her local paper--all participated in the continuation of her sexualization or "pornification" as some have referred to it.

The story about young boys becoming sexual objects for gay men made headlines immediately. And the implication is that the trauma is greater for young male athletes when they are sexualized by other men than when young female athletes are sexualized by adult men.

3. The word wussy. I hate the word wussy. I cringe when someone says it and if the someone is a person with whom I have a good relationship who won't accuse me of being a 1) feminazi, 2) member of the thought police, or 3) an overly sensitive woman I usually point out the problems of the word. And I have been able to convince some to eliminate it from their vocabulary.

Wussy, you see, is not just a demeaning term but one that has its roots in the degradation of women. It is a combination of wimp and pussy.

And it is especially infuriating to me when wussy is used in a sporting context. For example, I used to take a spin class with an instructor who regularly "encouraged" us work harder by telling us not to be wussy or wusses.

And then the other day I heard a runner describe someone who initially appeared to be competing with her on an adjacent treadmill by increasing his pace to hers for a bit but then abruptly slowed down much to runner 1's chagrin because, runner 2 explained, he was doing a training workout in preparation for a marathon. Runner 1 noted that only in "[town where I currently reside] are the men so wussy." I am not so pleased that women are throwing around this word so carelessly and with so little thought as to how it only serves to further their own oppression. Men use the word all the time, too: stand on the sidelines of any football practice (from Pop Warner through the NFL) for a mere few minutes and I am sure you will see what I am talking about. It's wrong to hold women to a higher standard when it comes to discriminatory language and I am disgusted whenever anyone uses the word--regardless of gender. Everyone needs a little consciousness raising on the issue of derogatory language, I just am so much more disappointed when I hear it come from women--especially female athletes.

* I don't really mean little when I say little. Mostly I am referring to smaller incidents (versus larger controversies or ongoing stories) that actually can reveal a lot about sport and culture.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Naive media?

Andrea Burns, an Australian columnist, writes about the sexualization of female tennis players taking, as her starting point, the recent gushing over Venus Williams's backside by a TV commentator.

She seems a little surprised by all the drooling and ogling over the women, which makes me wonder: where has she been?

Has she been paying attention to women's sports--and not just tennis--at all, ever? This statement makes me think that no, she is only just noticing these things:
I thought the one place where women could be equal with each other - judged not merely on appearance, but on skill - was the sporting arena.

There are a couple of problems (OK, probably more) with making this sentiment a reality. One, men control the sporting arena. Even when, as Burns is doing, we look at how women compare to women, we can never get away from the fact that they are playing in a "man's world." This leads to point two: men control the discourse--inside and outside of the sporting arena. Women are judged on their appearance everywhere, including (and especially?) in the sports world.

Burns thinks she is making a good point when she discusses how Amelie Mauresmo, the 2006 Australian Open champion, had to stack up against the glamour girls of the sport. Except by calling Mauresmo "masculine, strong, and unbeatable" all she does is reify the binary she seems to be so upset exists in the first place.

Her comments on Mauresmo--again made in supposed support of the desexualization of female athletes--ring of heterosexism and reveal Burns's own adherence to hegemonic femininity.
She won the talent portion of the event, but lost the swimsuit contest.

I don't think it's any secret that I find Mauresmo very attractive both on and off court. I try to avoid overtly sexualizing her. But I think the fact that Burns, and others, cannot recognize her aesthetic appeal says a lot about our culture.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

What's happening in international competition

1. I am getting daily alerts--more than one a day actually--about the female ski jumpers and their fight to get their sport into the 2010 Olympics. There does not seem, however, to be much new news. But every time something little happens, the Canadian media, most often the Globe and Mail, report on it. But I thought this article was worthy of a brief note. Former jumper Eddie Edwards has said that he does not think the women are ready for Olympic-level competition. This is fairly ironic because Edwards is none other than Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards from England who qualified, via a loophole in the regulations, for the 1988 winter games where he gained instant notoriety despite being the worst jumper in the field.

Edwards does not think battling the IOC decision using a human rights argument is a good idea and that the women should just wait it out. Quite a disappointing statement from someone who himself was not qualified for competition; I would actually bet that most of the women who are seeking entry into the Olympics are far more qualified than Edwards was in 1988.

Though Edwards did make an interesting and somewhat progressive point when he said that he thinks, because the sport is about technique and speed and not power, that the women should compete alongside the men.

2. The US women's national soccer team is competing in the Four Nations Tournament this week and doing quite well under new coach Pia Sundhage. They beat both Canada (4-0) and Finland (4-1) and will take on China today for the title. The title battle will be interesting given that right before Sundhage was named the head coach of the US team she was an assistant coach for none other than China.

3. USA Today is reporting on the waning popularity of figure skating--from an American perspective anyway--what with Michelle Kwan, Sarah Hughes, and Sasha Cohen no longer skating competitively. It's a little bit sad though that the author cites the height of skating's popularity as the days of skating as soap opera marked most resoundingly by the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding situation. The implication--more obvious at times--is that what is happening in the women's field determines the level of interest. Again, a little bit sad that what people really want to see is drama. And also disturbing that all the interest provided by American Johnny Weir, from his choice of costumes to his off-ice remarks, doesn't engender as much popularity. I think Weir is fascinating. Of course I'm not watching any figure skating these days so I guess I can't really comment on how interesting it is anymore. Honestly, I am surprised it remains so popular in this country that likes its sports very masculine.

4. Hey--the first grand slam of the year is underway in Australia. Because it's the Australian Open I don't get to see a lot of it--the television coverage (split between ESPN2 and The Tennis Channel--I don't get the latter) is on at odd times of the day; time difference and all. And Diane over at Women Who Serve is doing an excellent job covering the women's events so I don't feel the need to comment extensively. But I have noticed some interesting things regarding the discourse around the women's field. Stories about both Venus and Serena Williams focus on their outfits before talking about their matches. And in this story about the women's field down under the author refers to the participants as "girls." I know the lingo is a little different in Australia and I don't want to unequivocally say, not knowing the culture, that it's offensive to call women girls but I think it's offensive to call women girls in the US, in Australia, or anywhere else.

Friday, January 18, 2008

NCAA annual meeting follow-up

Sounds like some interesting stuff happened last weekend in Nashville at the annual NCAA meeting.

The very controversial issue of male practice players in women's basketball was brought up by Division III administrators. They did vote to accept the proposal that would limit the use of male practice players to once a week during season but provides for unlimited use during the off-season. DI has not taken a vote on male practice players but I am guessing support for a proposal that would limit how DI coaches can coach is not going to be well-received, especially because every coach I have heard speak on the issue is balking at the idea of regulation.

In some very interesting news, the NCAA has decided to allow some Canadian universities join the organization. After previously receiving executive committee approval, the DII committee was the first* to vote to allow Canadian universities to become NCAA members. A ten-year pilot program will be started and we could see Canadian participation as early as next academic year. And though the vote was overwhelmingly in favor of extending membership to Canadian schools (some of which already belong to the NAIA) the sticking point may be with the Canadian governing body, Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS), which does not sound all that keen on extending dual membership to institutions that want to become NCAA members, too. It sounds complicated and highly political, as all things in athletic governance seem to be these days, but it could be interesting.

And lastly, Pat Griffin reports on her blog, It Takes a Team!, that there was very good dialogue about GLBT issues at the meeting. She notes the progress the organization and its participants have made over the years in simply being able to talk about homosexuality and gender identity in intercollegiate athletics. She sees that veil of silence lifting, exemplified by the full house at the panel she organized on inclusion of GLBT athletes and the emptying of all the material at the It Takes a Team resource table.

* DI has a moratorium on accepting new member schools until 2011.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Not nearly good enough

As I suspected would happen, UNC settled the sexual harassment and Title IX suit brought against Anson Dorrance, head coach of the women's soccer team, by former player Melissa Jennings.

The more I think about this situation, the more pissed off I get.

First, the settlement was paltry--especially in light of the huge Title IX verdicts and settlements we saw in 2007 (Fresno State and University of Colorado most notably). Most of the $385,000 will go towards lawyers' fees. It's not all about the money, I know. But I think the sum sends a message about how seriously sexual harassment is taken in our country--in other words, not very seriously. I hear this fact, I know the history, but this case makes it all the more obvious. I have been fortunate enough never to be sexually harassed but how I have been so lucky is a wonder given how ubiquitous the practice is; how many people, people I know, have been subject to sexual harassment. And, of course, like Anson Dorrance, the offender is rarely punished. Dorrance, at least, was reported; most offenders are not.

Second, the settlement saved UNC from further (if there even was any) tarnish on their reputation. What made a huge difference in the cases at Fresno State, especially that of former volleyball coach Lindy Vivas, was the testimony of what was happening--for years--in those often very insular athletic departments. Fresno State's case suffered when so many examples of sexist, misogynist, and otherwise offensive behavior were stated out loud for the public record. I wanted everyone to hear about how Dorrance kicked soccer balls in the asses of his players. I wanted everyone to hear about the questions he asked his athletes about their sex lives. I wanted people to see that what constitutes a good coach should not be a win-loss record.

But most of all, I wanted him to lose his job. He apologized for his behavior; an apology, despite what any settlement says, is an admittance of wrongdoing. How can it possibly be acceptable that a man who has fantasized aloud about his sexual fantasies for his players be allowed to continue to coach?

But he won't lose his job; in fact, he will receive no punishment from the university. In a press release the university unequivocally supported him and highlighted his contributions. Why? The man has won numerous NCAA titles and has produced a myriad of Olympians including the most famous soccer player in the world, Mia Hamm. (I am quite disappointed that so many of his former players have remained mum on this issue.)

I am still perplexed that Jennings settled for so little--not just money but justice in general. It's possible she thought his strong professional reputation would blind a jury. The university, in the press release, mentioned that former players were ready to testify on his behalf but that they didn't want to have to subject them to that. (Not so concerned, were they, with what Jennings went through or subjecting her to reliving the hostile environment Dorrance created?) Or maybe she was just tired and ready to move on after this decade-long fight. Both understandable reasons. But I thought the evidence and the precedent set by other recent cases were in her favor.

Now this is just another sexual harassment case settled with relatively little fanfare, that will just fade from the collective memory.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Noteworthy: Jones, Davenport, and gay athlete convergences

1. Marion Jones was sentenced last week to six months in prison. She did drugs, she lied about it, she admitted lying about it, and because of the lying (not the drug use) she is going to jail. Her story is similar to other athletes accused of doping--except that she confessed. How many in sports such as cycling and baseball are shaking their heads so hard these days you wonder if they're going to get whiplash? But Jones admitted her sins and is being made an example for others. The question that has been posed to me--actually it wasn't a question, it was more of a statement: If Marion Jones was a guy, she wouldn't be going to jail. In other words, Marion Jones is the Martha Stewart of athletics. A lying woman gets jail time, a man in a similar situation gets a slap on the wrist--or if you have the right connections, a hard slap and then a nice little pardon to ease the sting, a la Scooter Libby. But is Jones the Martha Stewart of track and field? Hard to say. They both did something wrong; they both got punished with jail time after requesting lighter sentences. Would a man's request have fallen on more favorable ears?

Obviously the situations are not entirely analagous. Most obviously we cannot simply overlook the issue of race that pervades this situation. A black woman, one in whom we (and by we I mean the society in which white people make and enforce the rules) put our trust and faith, "failed" us by lying and cheating. Sure many other sports heroes have lied and cheated, but we overlook those people because we need to believe in the myth of meritocracy that sports provides. But Jones is expendable. Convincing ourselves that she deserves what she has gotten is easy because we live in a racist society that tells us, in ways too numerous to even list, that black women* cheat and lie. She was the model black citizen for a while and maybe we even would have let her go on being so if she hadn't admitted her wrongdoing. But she did and now she's been dropped.

We shall have to wait to see how race and gender play into the cases of others implicated in the BALCO scandal. One thing we know, Jones is not headed to Camp Cupcake and I doubt there will be many t-shirts proclaiming her innocence or asking for her freedom.

On the other hand, there are some who see the sentence as hypocritical and unjust. See here, and here.

* I also don't think we can dismiss how her ignored pleas about being separated from her infant, whom she is still nursing, play into stereotypes about black motherhood. I am very skeptical that a judge would insist on jail time on a perjury charge for a white woman who was nursing. A white child needs its mother, we seem to see here, a black child may be better off without his.

2. Lindsay Davenport has moved to the top of the career prize money list--for women, of course. (See a previous post for more on disparities in prize money in both tennis and golf.) There are some male athletes who make in a few years what Davenport has earned over the course of her career (over $21 million).

3. Feel like you just got back from Chicago and/or Montreal and you couldn't possibly think right now about going to another big gay athletic festival? Too bad. The World Outgames is coming. Well not right away--they'll be in Coopenhagen in 2009. And by then you may have recovered from the Curve mixer or all the softball parties and be yearning for some gay athlete fun. The schism that created two separate versions of a "gay Olympics"--shhh...don't tell the USOC I used Olympics and gay in the same sentence--is too complicated to get into. So in 2006 there were two versions of the games. The Gay Games in Chicago and the Outgames in Montreal. Both groups plan on keeping their respective events going. The Outgames, wisely I think, had opted not to hold their event in the same year as the Gay Games, which will be in Germany in 2010. Hmmm...if I go to the Australian Open and the Outgames in 2009 and the Gay Games and the Vancouver Olympics in 2010 that means....that I will probably go broke, never finish writing my dissertation, and never get a real job. But I'll be having a gay ole time!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

How do we study diversity?

I received an email a little while ago announcing a new partnership between Texas A&M and the NCAA through the former's Laboratory for Diversity in Sport.
I am pleased the NCAA is doing more than speaking about its commitment to diversity (a la Myles Brand's state of the association speech the other day) by putting some dollars behind it. But I find the announcement (linked above) so very strange. Perhaps it is because I come from a humanities background and not the social sciences (despite my attempts to "pass"), but I just find it so odd that we're going to study diversity in a laboratory. What does that look like exactly?
Lab, to me, implies testing of subjects. In a kinesiology department (which the Laboratory for Diversity in Sport is associated with), I picture athletes on treadmills or other such human subject experiments based around performance. But when we are looking at how to increase diversity in intercollegiate athletics, how do you test for that?
I don't doubt that the researchers involved in this project know what they're doing, but I still wonder how we can take such complicated concepts like race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, and even diversity itself--all constructions, all inextricably intertwined, all variable depending on culture and historical moment--and test for them, or about them.
So I am eager to see what comes out of this partnership, the work that is generated and how it contributes to the laudable and quite necessary goal of increasing diversity in athletics.

Monday, January 14, 2008

What's happening at the NCAA?

The annual NCAA convention is taking place in Nashville right now.
Of note is the proposal in front of DIII schools right now to limit the use of male practice players in women's basketball. Donna Ledwin, commissioner of the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference, has this compelling editorial at Inside Higher Ed which explains the proposal and offers reasons as to why it is worth supporting, including how it fits in with the educational mission of Division III. The issue of limiting male practice players has been controversial since it was first mentioned last year some time but most of the discussion and coverage has focused on DI athletics where nearly everyone--including, and maybe even especially, female head coaches like Joanne McCallie of Duke--have balked at the idea of eliminating men from their teams. It will be interesting to see how the DIII administrators vote--assuming the discussion does not get tabled again.
DI coaches are still not allowed to text message recruits. A ban has been in effect for about five months and will continue on as a measure to override it failed by a large margin. Good call, I think. Though I find it amusing to imagine coaches trying to communicate with teenagers in a medium teenagers have constructed and perfected. What do they write? "Please, please come play for me. I'll be your BFF (best friend forever)." [Actually I am sure there is a text abbreviation for please now.]
Or maybe "Great game last night. Can you believe what that other coach was wearing? LOL. We REALLY want you on our team. TTFN."
And in news that isn't probably all that surprising to anyone except, apparently, NCAA administrators, DI football players spend more time on their sport, per week, than a normal full-time job. These student-athletes are averaging 44.8 hours/week on football, and that doesn't include time carved out for academics like mandatory study halls. University of Hartford president Walt Harrison who heads the NCAA's academic performance committee called it an "early warning sign." Not so early, I would say. It's common knowledge that all DI student-athletes spend an inordinate amount of time on their sports--even those not playing football. A 2006 study of NCAA athletes across sports and divisions found that time spent on their respective sports out of season can equal or exceed time spent during the season; that a majority of DIers believe they would have had higher GPAs if they did not play sports, and that most feel more like athletes rather than students.
And finally, in his annual state of the association address yesterday, NCAA president Myles Brand called for greater attention to the lack of racial minorities and women in positions of leadership in college athletics. EBuz over at the Title IX Blog comments on Brand's speech and suggests the NCAA adopt a version of the Rooney Rule that would address both the lack of women and minorities and put pressure on institutions to justify a lack of women and people of color in the candidate pool.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Light at the end of the ski jump?

The Canadian women (the papers keep referring to them as "teens" which I have mixed feelings about) who are leading the fight to convince the IOC to add women's ski jumping to the 2010 Vancouver Games have received the support of IOC member Beckie Scott, a nordic skier who won gold in Salt Lake City in 2002.
Scott calls the IOC's policy unjust in this day and age. And although many are considering her vocal support from within a positive, it remains to be seen just how much sway one person, an athlete member, has.
Some details about the negotiations have come out and they sound fascinating--especially from the perspective of a young athlete:
Zoya Lynch called the back-and-forth arguments between the IOC and the female ski jump lobby "scary" and intimidating. The 16-year-old Calgary high school student said, "We try to intimidate them by getting the government behind us and they try to intimidate us by suggesting it might jeopardize getting [ski jumping for women] into the 2014 Games."
But, as the article points out, the "IOC is a private organization and isn't accountable to governments or their policies." This is a little bit of an overstatement, I would think, given the politics involved in the Olympic bidding process. And I hope that this fight shows that the IOC is not some untouchable, immovable organization--that it has to play fair too.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Seen and heard

This is a smorgasbord post of little things from the past few days I have come across.
  • Venus Williams's Wimbledon win made the cover of TIME magazine's Best moments of 2007. Pretty impressive given that tennis doesn't get all that much attention in the US.
  • Former national champion Christopher Bowman died from an apparent drug overdose. Bowman "the Showman" was always a little bit of the wild child on the ice skating scene and had drug problems after his skating career ended. Last I had heard though he had straightened out a bit when he became a coach. Seems the former child star syndrome strikes athletes as well (though Bowman was also a child actor--he had a part in Little House on the Prairie.)
  • A commercial for the Big Ten Network--on a Massachusetts radio station. I live far outside Big Ten country now and was quite surprised to hear the network advertised out here. Of course the commercial was touting all the men's basketball you could ever want to watch. Interesting given that much of the promotion of the network has focused on the diversity of events shown--especially the number of women's sports that have been/will be featured. I guess they didn't think that would sell here. Though, from what I have read, the network isn't selling all that well anywhere.
  • I just love to read about sports bras and even though this article seems to be a big promotion for Champion I did learn an interesting (and slightly disturbing) fact: you're supposed to replace your sports bras after 100 wears. I think I need to go shopping.
  • I probably should have devoted a whole post to the latest episode of "Sports Commentators Behaving Badly: Racist Comments" but I found out about the Golf Channel's Kelly Tilghman lynching Tiger comments fairly late in the game. The Huffington Post has a brief entry on the incident. The interesting part is the comment section.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

New year, new gym controversy

Well this controversy is actually old(er). It began last year* in Rochester, Minnesota when a lesbian couple sued their athletic club (scroll down a bit to see the news blurb; slightly longer story here) because it would not give them the family rate on their membership. A judge dismissed their civil lawsuit which cited sexual orientation discrimination and the couple is now appealing, asking that the lawsuit be reinstated.
According to the club rules, no one can get the family membership unless they are legally married.
And here we see what seems to be the theme of the week: it's not us (health club, IOC) who are discriminating; it's just the rules.
Of course no lesbians, except those in Massachusetts, can get married. The health club doesn't seem to care.
This whole story is a bit surprising to me. Every health club I have belonged to has extended their family or couples rate to my partner and me--even when I lived in Iowa! And I always thought Minnesota was more liberal than Iowa (maybe that's just because I see so many women ice hockey players come from Minnesota and I associate liberalness with women's ice hockey).
The rate difference is usually not that large which is probably why, more than anything, clubs offer it to non-married couples. The cost-benefit analysis clearly reveals that offering a slight discount outweighs the negative ramifications of being deemed a business that discriminates.
This means the Rochester Athletic Club has a strong intent. It can change its own policy. It can make accommodations. It chooses not to. It chooses to hide behind their (not so neutral) "rules."

* Actually, according to this statement made by the couple after the judge dismissed their case in November, they began their fight in 2006.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

UPDATE: IOC issues statement

The IOC issued a statement to the media today about the forthcoming pressure the Canadian government has vowed it will put on the organization in an attempt to get women's ski jumping into the Olympics in 2010.
The statement says the decision has nothing to do with gender discrimination but is rather one based on "technical merit." Such a typical liberal response. See, no one on the IOC could possibly be sexist or practicing gender discrimination because the vote to exclude women from ski jumping is just one that was based on the "rigid criteria." It just reeks of the rhetoric used in other discrimination-remedying programs like affirmative action. If you just follow the rules, meet the criteria, then you can compete just like everyone else, is what is being said here. And of course there is the implication that if you want to bypass these rules and criteria, if you want a "special exception" then is what you received really worth having? Hasn't it lost some of its meaning? critics will charge.
No, not when the rules themselves are discriminatory, created by a system that is discriminatory, and upheld by those who have a vested interest in ensuring discrimination (under the guise of liberalism) continues.

Women (still) can't jump... an icy slope and shoot into the air and land on two thin (relatively speaking) sticks. Obviously ski jumping is not a sport I am especially eager to take up, but there are plenty of women who do ski jump already and want to be able to do it in the Olympics. The ski jumpers have been doing everything in their power to get their sport into the Olympics, but with few positive results.
Last September the jumpers filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission charging that federal monies (all the taxpayer dollars going towards the 2010 games) cannot be spent on facilities that discriminate--as the ski jumping ones would. A settlement on that complaint has been reached. (More on that in a bit.)
Former Salt Lake City mayor Deedee Corradini has urged Canada to put pressure on the IOC, which has said it will only consider adding the sport when it sees women's ski jumping as having universal interest. And the latest news out of Canada is that the federal government will indeed get involved and put pressure on the IOC to add women's ski jumping to the Vancouver schedule (I am so there if they do!). The government's involvement is part of the CHRC settlement, though this article does not provide many details of the settlement or how/why exactly a human rights complaint gets settled.
The human rights violations charge may provide some pressure, but given that the IOC was not too interested in human rights issues when it gave the summer games to China it may not be an especially effective tactic. The settlement seems to preclude the possibility of a full-fledged fight on the basis of equal rights. The CHRC could have found (I am speculating a little here given that I know nothing about human rights law in Canada except what I have read in the context of ski jumping) that using federal dollars to construct the ski jumping venue is discrimination and it halts that construction, thus potentially halting all ski jumping in 2010. But that does not seem to be the position they are putting the IOC in, though we won't know exactly what the negotiations next week in Vancouver will entail.
Given the IOC's rigid rules on adding sports, I doubt even the pressure of the host nation will sway them in this matter. Unless Canada is holding some kind of trump card and is prepared to play hard ball with the IOC, the (historically misogynist) organization is unlikely to be moved from their position. Also problematic is that Dick Pound, Canada's top Olympic official, is not really into the fight. He keeps citing the IOC rules about adding sports and notes that women's ski jumping is nowhere near meeting the criteria.
Point of fact: despite the IOC's insistence that the sport has not grown enough, statistics show that there are actually more female ski jumpers internationally than there are female athletes in already established winter Olympic sports.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Growing women's hockey internationally

Like girls' participation in wrestling, women's hockey is growing. And though young girls often start playing on co-ed teams--or boys' teams that a few girls join--the growth of the women's game has meant the growth of all-female teams; at least in the United States and Canada.
And that's the subject of this blog post on out of Canada that discusses the first ever women's under-18 world championships.
Unfortunately the author finds a way to spin the success of the US and Canadian programs by basically disparaging all the other teams that will come to the tournament this week in Calgary.
And while it's true that the US and Canada are way ahead of the other national teams participating in international competition (though we must remember that the US did place third in the Turino Olympics after losing to Sweden), the author fails to consider why this is. Hockey is basically Canada's national sport so it's no surprise that they--more often than not--find themselves at the top of the podium. I still find it curious that the US women's team has been so successful given 1) the sport's lack of popularity here and 2) the lack of support given to girls and women who want to play the historically masculine sport.
And yet we do have a successful program. Unfortunately other countries lag behind. And the blog post linked above only seems to take a condescending tone towards countries like Germany and Switzerland that will come to Calgary this week and likely fall victim to either (or both) the US or Canada.
But why are other countries' development programs so far behind? Is there a lack of support for girls' sports generally or ice hockey in particular? So many other European countries have thriving development programs for boys but the same attention has not been paid to girls' ice hockey.
So what it looks like--and what the blogger reinforces by failing to address the larger issues--is that women's ice hockey is a minor sport; that girls are not interested in playing; that it will never be as competitive as the men's game.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Don't touch me there!: The politics of co-ed wrestling

Since I get so many hits from people looking for information on female wrestlers and because this story is just rife with issues about gender and sexuality, I couldn't pass up commenting on it. This article in the Press-Telegram out of Long Beach, CA came out at the very end of last month and I actually read it while at my family's on Christmas Day. Some discussion ensued.

It's no secret that women and girls are are entering the sport in ever increasing numbers. And it's no secret that this has created much consternation. [Again, I recommend highly the documentary Girl Wrestler as a good example of the issues faced by young girls who want to participate in the sport.] But even with growing participants there is just not enough critical mass yet to have girls' teams (though some colleges are starting women's wrestling teams). So high school teams are going co-ed.
And given that wrestling matches are organized by weight categories, the concept of girls wrestling boys should not be all that disturbing. Our Christmas Day discussion included the concept of upper body strength. But if that were really the main concern, disparate muscle strength, then there would not be so many people (parents, boy wrestlers) ever so concerned about a boy losing to a girl.
No the main concern, the one that came out in my family's conversation and in the article, is the touching. There's the "skin to skin contact" and the various holds in places where boys and girls are not supposed to touch--allegedly. In any other situation a girl should be offended, one coach says, that a boy would grab her crotch. Well, I would think that boys grabbing other boys' crotches would also be cause for offense.
It's so very interesting that we live in such a homophobic society and yet no one seems to even pause at the idea of boys grabbing each other in their "private parts." Wrestling is one of the most homoerotic sports out there. But it's all okay because it's a sport and all the touching is in pursuit of a greater goal: winning (and thus proving manhood). It's legitimate male touching in an all-male world. And the presence of women and girls disrupts and calls attention to that.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Shriver and Navratilova earn kudos

A paper in New Zealand has named the top ten sports teams of all time in a recent article. Pam Shriver and Martina Navratilova earned the number 7 spot on the list. It's a short little blurb but it reminds us of how impressive they were: in 1984 they captured all four Grand Slams, which was part of their 109-match unbeaten streak.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

A history lesson

Outsports has a nice piece on Jenny Fulle, the first girl who was officially allowed to play Little League Baseball in 1974. It recounts the history of her case against LLB and the many obstacles she encountered on a local and national level.
When I was doing research last year on how Ms. magazine covered women's sports, I came across Fulle's story more than once. This, along with the help she received from the her local chapter of the National Organization of Women (NOW), is a good example of how mainstream or liberal feminism did see the importance of, and worked for, girls' access to sport and other physical activities--something that is not often discussed or even considered in historical accounts of this period.
And what's Fulle been up since fighting her way onto the diamond? Fighting her way to the top in another male-dominated business--movie production. She's an executive VP and executive producer for Sony Pictures Imageworks. And she's coaching her son's Little League team.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Past, present, and future, Part II

OK--here's part 2.

The Detroit Free Press lists the top ten villains in sports of 2007. Marion Jones makes the list for her doping offenses, as does Martina Hingis for her alleged cocaine use, denial, and subsequent retirement. And, of course, Don Imus is right up there with the all the dopers and steroid-user deniers. I was a little surprised to see Hingis listed as a villain for alleged cocaine use given all the actual, proven drug use of various professional athletes in basketball and football in the United States. Hingis just seems to have this aura that makes (some of) the media dislike her (i.e. the Black Widow label).
Fox Sports asks (and answers) its top ten questions in women's tennis in 2008. Question #7's answer, can Amelie Mauresmo hold up French tennis? is a likely no. And though, as a huge fan, it disappoints me to say this. I think writer Matt Cronin is right. But I take exception to his comment that she "burned out" in 2007. She had an appendectomy. You try playing tennis after that. Or maybe try four weeks after giving birth via Cesarean like Lindsay Davenport. Cronin also asks if Ana Ivanovic will be the next elite player. I think Jankovic with her determination and fitness level and what I see as a healthy attitude toward the game (despite playing too many events last year) is far more likely to be the next elite player--and she's already ranked ahead of Ivanovic. Ok, yes, she needs to work on her serve, but so do (have) a lot of other players who have made it further in the game. And then there's the unasked question, that actually everyone else seems to be asking, who will be the first player on the women's tour caught in gambling scandal?
Fox Sports also trotted out their top ten worst sport stories of 2007 which closely resembles the top villains story out of Detroit including Marion Jones's apology for doping, and Imus's racial slurs (not not so tearful apology).
A paper out of China named the top ten international sports stories of the year. Number 5 on the list was Germany's defense of their World Cup title in China in September. Number 6 was Marion Jones. *
USA Today's review of the year in sports calls 2007 the worst year for sports since 1919 (Black Sox scandal). The two requisite mentions: Imus and Marion Jones contribute to this, of course. But Christine Brennan also cites Michelle Wie's weird year of growing pains and the Hope Solo-Greg Ryan controversy at the World Cup. (This was the first mention of this incident in any top ten/year in review that I have seen. Interesting given that it garnered so many headlines in September.

So that's it. It's 2008; we're moving on. Bring on the doping, gambling, the investigative reports into said offenses--because what else are the sports writers going to talk about next year if not for sports' sins?

*I am starting to think maybe I should have actually blogged about this Marion Jones thing when it happened. Though it seems to be a pretty big gap in my coverage, I can't say that I was really that interested in the story. In general I haven't written about doping because there are plenty of blogs out there that do and frankly I am quite cynical about that whole thing. I did admire Marion Jones and think she did a lot for women's sports but I was not all that surprised by her confession.