Friday, February 29, 2008

More things about men's hockey I don't understand

Wow. I mean, seriously, I am nearly speechless after seeing this ad campaign, a poster series, for the University of Kentucky men's ice hockey team.

Most of us are aware that images of sexy female athletes are used to sell women's sports. Now it seems sexy women generally are being used to sell men's sports.

UK hockey (I didn't know they played hockey in Kentucky--which may be the reason why they need such a blatant ad campaign) has featured either a UK alum or Kentucky-bred woman on the posters that list the team's schedule every year since 1998 when they started with Ashley Judd. [I am so dejected that Judd would do something like this. How about helping your alma mater by giving money instead of looking seductive on a poster advertising hockey games, Ashley?] The women wear only hockey jerseys and are posed provacatively.

Why can't the male hockey players do their own dirty work and pose without pants on their posters?

In case you want to tell the University of Kentucky what you think of their tactics you can send some email:
Ian Ward, General Manager
Mitch Barnhart, Athletic Director,

Thursday, February 28, 2008

I can't even begin to understand...

...why NHL games have these "ice girls."

Check out this photo. [I wanted so badly to post it but since there is a fairly obvious "just don't even think about reproducing this image" message, I opted not to. I mean if this is what they do to compliant women, imagine what they would do to a rule breaker like me.]

What do they do? Why are they girls (as in women--I know why they are referred to as girls) and not boys/men? Why are they dressed up in weird outfits? Does the crowd really appreciate them? If they weren't there would fans stop going to NHL games?

It seems so acritical to say it's just "patriarchy." I am constantly reminding my students that patriarchy is not a good answer to the questions we ask about women's oppression; that we must analyze a situation.

But this one just is beyond me.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Questioning the progress narrative

Columnist Marcia Smith, who writes for the OC Register, may get this week's Debbie Downer award for her piece on the regression of women's sports. She bemoans the lack of attention (unless it's bad a la Marion Jones) female athletes are getting, the relative obscurity they are competing in--including American Paula Creamer, second on the LPGA money list, the lack of women's professional teams, and their overall "niche status."

It may not be very positive, but Smith is not entirely wrong. I have spent much of February reading about the hundreds of celebrations of women and girls in sports. Last year there was considerable coverage of the 35th anniversary of Title IX. Celebrating is good. Some of the events geared towards getting girls active and interested early are great. But Smith is right when she references the glass ceiling in women's sports. That Candace Parker, who in in her last season at Tennessee, will get less press, less television coverage when she goes pro next year is astonishing and sad.

That the WUSA could not, despite the enormous attention women's soccer received post World Cup victory, remain viable is depressing. And that most of us soccer fans are holding our breath and crossing our fingers and plan on travelling however far we need to to support the new league shows just how precarious women's sports are.

A problem Smith does not touch on centers on just what we want women's sports to look like and what purpose(s) they should serve. Why do we hold events on National Girls and Women in Sports Day whose aim is to get girls involved? Frequently cited reasons are health and self-confidence. And the latter is tied to statistics (which are open to interpretation in my mind) about lower rates of teen pregnancy and susceptibility to abuse and other negatives. So what we seem to be getting at is that we want to remedy the effects of patriarchy. Because we believe, or really want to believe, that sports challenge the system that has so deftly constructed and reified gender roles. But all this bottom-up work does not seem to be making it all the way to the top. Because it's okay--great even, for girls to be active. We want girls to be playing sports--for now. But do we really want them to succeed, as women, at the very highest ranks? The lack of opportunities for elite female athletes post college seems to suggest that no, this is still a male domain and if women participate in it they will become masculine. And this isn't just a fear of lesbianism--it's a fear of power and who has it and who--in this allegedly zero-sum game of life--is going to keep it.

Smith asks a few "where is the next (fill in name of famous female athlete)?" questions including "where is the next Mia Hamm?" The next Mia Hamm is Abby Wambach. She's a prolific scorer. She's intense. She's tough. But she's big and unapologetically aggressive and her sexuality is constantly being questioned by fans. And so she's not Mia Hamm who earned numerous endorsements for being a model female athlete; who benefited from her open heterosexuality; who retired for all the right reasons: to start a family with a superstar baseball player; who let it be known by wearing his name on her jersey in her last game that sports had not made her deviate from the norm. It's all related. The better you are, the more threatening you are. Candace Parker can be a great college player but too much attention on her as a professional, or on any of the other WNBA superstars is dangerous. What if people actually start to like the WNBA--maybe even as much as the NBA. You mean we're going to have to start paying them similarly? Covering them equally? Let them have an influence?

Well now I'm just depressed. Someone send me some good news about women's sports so I can get out of this funk.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Ski jumping update

The articles about the fight by female ski jumpers and their allies to get the IOC to include their event in the 2010 Vancouver games may not be coming as fast and furious as a few weeks ago but that does not mean the fight is over.

This week in the Canadian legislature there will be some political wranglings (that's my very imprecise term because I don't quite understand what they are actually planning on doing) to try to pressure the IOC to change its mind.

And in case anyone in Canada does not know about the campaign, the organizers have bought space on two billboards in the Vancouver area that say "Let Women Ski Jump 2010" and include this phrase from the Olympic charter: Implementing the principle of equality of men and women. One of the billboards is located just across the street from the Vancouver Olympic Committee's headquarters.

And there was a rally this past Sunday in Vancouver at which both American and Canadian jumpers and supporters spoke to try to rally the public to their cause.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Since I'm on the topic...

of female athletes posing in a sexual manner I thought I would comment on this article that came out about a month ago in an Australian paper. It's about female golfers selling themselves and their sport by selling sex. And it focuses on one of the original purveyors of sexy golf: Jan Stephenson who is arguably more well-known for a picture of her naked in a tub of golf balls than for her actual golfing abilities--even though she won three majors and is considered one of the best Australian golfers alongside Karrie Webb.

Here is what Stephenson has to say about sex and sports more than twenty years later:

"You still have to market with sex appeal. It's not just women's golf. All sports are marketed with sex appeal. Until women support women's sport, for sport - and it's still 70% watched by men - men are visual. It's true!"

Yikes! She doesn't really mean "all sports are marketed with sex appeal." She means all women's sports. And then we get the lovely, Nancy Lieberman-esque blame the women for not supporting women's sports argument. And then we get some essentialism for good measure: men are visual. What the hell does that mean? Men are visual? Oh, you mean that even though the majority of the world's population can see and respond to visual stimuli that men only respond to sexualized images.

And of course there is the inherent heterosexism in this statement. Stephenson is probably not too keen on acknowledging that there may be some "visual" women out there as well. It's not news that many lesbians like golf. She wants women to support women's sport. Some of us are already here--and we're queer. And there is so little marketing directed at us.

And finally there's the actual evidence that sexualizing female athletes does not promote any kind of acceptance of or win over committed fans to women's sports.

Friday, February 22, 2008

I've been avoiding it

Talking about the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, that is. It came out over a week ago but I just don't know what to say about it--that hasn't been said before about it anyway. A colleague of mine emailed to say she looked it over and that her dissertation research on the issue--she looked at every single one!--just gets reinforced every year she picks up another edition.

And sure, they've started to put actual female athletes in the issues (but we all know how I feel about female athletes a la Amanda Beard and Amy Atkins posing) but that doesn't make it any more palatable.

This year was Danica Patrick's turn. She is actually the only athlete in the swimsuit issue this time around. (Thankfully the cadre of professional football cheerleaders who posed for the issue were not termed athletes and I can avoid getting into the discussion.)

So JB, who tipped me off to Patrick's appearance, asked if Patrick was an athlete or a model. The quick and dirty answer is: she's both. Like Maria Sharapova, like Anna Kournikova, like Amanda Bear, like the Williams sisters and all the other female athletes who pose for SI or other publications. I am not sure what Patrick's history with modeling is. Given that she is a race car driver with many sponsors my guess is that this was not her first photo shoot. [And I just confirmed that. She posed for FHM in 2003.] And even though this one may have found her wearing far less clothing than other promotions she has done (and this is a promotion--just of a different sort) it is not as if she hasn't been asked to be sexy about it. SI just makes it more explicit. Or maybe not--anyone see that Honda commercial she did where she tried to sexify her way out of a speeding ticket??

The questions that are raised for me are: do all female athletes have to be models or exhibit model-like behavior to get any attention? And what kind of harm does this do to their careers and reputations? That MTV's Celebrity Deathmatch recently featured Patrick fighting Anna Kournikova shows just how seriously the general public (does not) take her athletic endeavors.

This opinion piece in the University of Buffalo's student newspaper does not mention Patrick specifically but the author makes good points about the issue in general (except for her point that we, as a society, laud Tyra Banks more than Margaret Thatcher--it's a toss-up for me).
Here's an excerpt:
Who needs real women when the commoditized version is so readily available? The implication is clear: to come of age, 50% of the population learns to dehumanize the other 50% in culturally acceptable terms. I say dehumanize, because that interaction was not with a woman. It was with a product masquerading as one. This is a product that "defines" beauty and womanness in a marketable way, a product that girls are supposed to aspire to.
All athletes these days are products but female athletes are subject to that marketing in ways male athletes are not because the pressure for an athlete to exemplify "beauty and womanness" is that much greater. And the little girls the author mentions see this so in addition to having to meet the unrealistic expectations for beauty set by the regular swimsuit models, they see that if they want to be athletes, they also have to be models or at least modelesque.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

God help me...

...for bringing up this issue again but the controversy engendered by the "rules" at St. Mary's Academy in Kansas (sorry for the initial mistake placing this event in Missouri--the taglines all cited Missouri) just keeps growing. My students brought it up in class last night and they thought it was pretty ridiculous (even the one who was raised and went to a conservative Catholic high school herself) that St. Mary's would not let a woman referee a boys' game.
But the news of the discrimination--the illegal kind, not the discrimination that is a matter of taste or preference--has gone overseas. This article is actually helpful in providing more information about what happened in 2004 when St. Mary's refused to play a high school team whose roster included a young woman.
It also shares that the game in which Michelle Campbell was not allowed to ref due only to her gender was completed with a school administrator serving as the ref. Not sure what the Kansas State High School Activities Association is going to do with that. The school administrator would have to be (and perhaps he is) sanctioned by the association in order for the game to count one would think.
Campbell's fellows referees refused to work the game with many of them vowing not to work any St. Mary's games in the future, which was a good decision. Yet no one on the Wichita team seemed to have a problem with going forward.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

If you can't cruise at them gym...

...where can you?
A Californian man had his trial gym membership revoked when he wore a t-shirt that read "I need a man or a date" and printed his phone number on it.
It's bold but I've heard a lot of stories about all sorts of queer behavior in the gym and frankly this seems tame. I mean he isn't coming on to anybody--he's waiting for someone to come to him. Most of us are performing something in the gym--masculinity, femininity, butchness, femmeness--because we know we're being watched (and we know that because we're doing some of the watching). David Kano was just being a little more obvious than most and that is what upsets people.
Of course, he did join a gym called the California Family Fitness Center. Not that I am excusing the gym's actions but any place that has the word Family in it might not be the best place to pick up dates if you're a gay man looking for another single gay man. [The Family Fitness Center didn't seem to be too family oriented when it kicked out a woman who was breastfeeding her baby a few years ago. They had to apologize for that one though because California Law prohibits discrimination against breastfeeding women. Whether it protects gay men looking for dates remains to be seen.]
And it is more than problematic that the California Family Fitness, Inc. co-president said this: "We wouldn't let someone wear a shirt saying 'I'm looking for a man,' or for a woman, or, for that matter, for a child. It has nothing to do with Mr. Cano as an individual -- it has to do with making it a fun, safe family atmosphere. We have kids there all day."
Yes, it's subtle but he is indeed equating homosexuality with pedophilia.
There are plenty of t-shirts that men wear around the gym that sexualize and degrade women. Can you imagine if we kicked them out of the gym? Or even suggested that maybe these t-shirts were connected to the prevalence of violence against women in our culture?
Cano is considering his legal options, which is good. I find it amazing that gym owners think they can pull this stuff these days. Do you know how many gay people work out??
I'm going to have to wear my "Go Gay" t-shirt when I work out tomorrow in a show of solidarity. Here's hoping I don't get kicked out!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Where's the pride?

Well now I am really confused. In my last post I noted that Cal-Berkeley's Feb 16th game against Arizona was also a GLBT Pride Day event. Women's Hoops Blog did note the event though I suspect someone tipped them off to it because it was posted a little late (Sunday) and didn't say anything new such as how the event actually went off.

I went to the Cal Bears website looking for a mention of it and found only, in a pre-game press release, an announcement that Saturday's game was a Kids' Day event where children get in for a reduced admission price and can participate in pre-game activities. Not that they shouldn't or couldn't have a Kids' Day and Pride Day run concurrently but I would think there would be some objection to it that Cal may just not want to deal with.

No word of the event in Cal's own post-game coverage (they won 66-45 by the way).

And I found nothing in any of the game recaps including the article in The Daily Californian.

One could argue that recaps and game coverage are focused on the game: leading scores, rebounders, come-from-behind wins, etc. But when a team does a Think Pink event, there is frequently mention of of it before and after the game.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Think in rainbows

A few days ago I said I would address the Think Pink thing--again. That was kind of a lie. Not just because the post was supposed to be up two days ago (I got caught up in breaking news) but because I am not going to go on another tirade about all these breast cancer events and how they are tied to women's sports and all that.
Nope, I am going to talk about another event in women's basketball that shows some teams aren't just thinking pink--they're thinking in rainbows.
Today at UC-Berkeley the women's basketball team takes on the University of Arizona and today's game is not a Think Pink event--it's GLBT Pride Day. Pat Griffin over at her blog, It Takes a Team!, writes about the event, its significance and her belief that this is first of its kind in intercollegiate athletics.
Unfortunately I cannot seem to find any press about it and the link Griffin provides to the media poster at the Cal site isn't working for me. But I am eager to read the coverage of the game to see if the event gets a mention in the press or even in blogs like Women's Hoops Blogs which is always covering Think Pink events.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Catholics don't want women in charge of anything

The title is a little general and I am sure does not apply to all Catholic institutions everywhere but I think this story* about a Catholic academy's refusal to let a woman referee a boys' basketball game speaks volumes; mostly about the strong connection--one we often refuse to see unless it smacks us in the face--between religion and sport.
Well this one was of the smacking variety. The school, St. Mary's Academy in Kansas City, MO (apparently it's okay to name your school after a woman so long as no actual, living women are able to exert too much power within it) would not speak to reporters about why they would not let referee Michelle Campbell work the game but according to other referees a woman in a position of authority over boys was against the academy's beliefs. [The story notes that this is not your run-of-the-mill Catholic school; they adhere to older (read more discriminatory and reactionary) versions of Catholicism and are run by the Society of St. Pius X whose former leader was excommunicated by Pope John Paul II. I think you get the picture.]
One of the amazing things about this story--after you get over the whole they aren't letting women--the people that frequently raise and teach boys--have positions of authority over boys is that Campbell's fellow referees refused to call the game when they heard what was happening. Others who were not there that night have said they will not ref games at the school under such circumstances. The Kansas State High School Activities Association is looking into the situation but a representative said that if this is a written policy then the school will not be allowed to compete against member institutions in the future.
The idea of sanctions do not seem to phase St. Mary's though. In 2004 they forfeited a football game because they did not want to play against a team that had a girl on its roster.

*I received word of this story twice yesterday: once on the women's studies listserv I subscribe to and again from the sport sociology listserv. It makes me happy when so many people see the potential teaching moments in sport and especially a story about sport, gender, and religion. The feminists didn't write it off to that evil patriarchal sport system and the sport sociologists see it as a key example of a gender discrimination that deserves analysis.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Olympics, politics and sport

I started this post a few weeks ago and just hadn't finished it. But Justine Henin's recent comments about politics and sport got me back to it.

This article was focused on her complaint lodged with the WTA over Yuri Sharapov's cutting of the throat gesture during Henin's match against Maria Sharapova. Interesting story in itself though it seems nothing will come of it--officially that is. Though I have to imagine that Larry Scott WTA CEO will be having a chat with Sharapov about his courtside behavior.

But the second half is about Henin's recent comments that Olympics athletes should not involve themselves with the debate over human rights issues in China. "Politics and sport must remain separate" she said. She said she will be focusing on defending her gold medal and other Olympians should be equally focused on the "job" at hand which is being an athlete.

What kind of blinders are athletes wearing that allows them not to see how thoroughly entwined sport and politics are? Why does Henin think she is exempt from considering these issues because she's an athlete? The Olympics have always been about politics--always--all the way back to their inception. I get the feeling Henin probably doesn't bother to read about the arrests of political dissidents that I write about below. Interesting that Henin was recenly nominated for the Laureus Sportswoman of the Year Award. According to this story, "Laureus is a universal movement that celebrates the power of sport to bring people together as a force for good." She doesn't seem to care much for doing good--just for winning titles and medals.

The Chinese government is trying to crack down on political dissidents before the Olympic Games commence this summer. There have been thousands of arrests of citizens who are attempting to bring attention to the human rights violations occurring in the country. Most recently, an activist, Hu Jia, using the internet as the primary means of communication (in part because he was been placed under house arrest at various points in his life) was arrested and his wife and infant daughter remain under house arrest. He is likely to be charged with "inciting subversion of state power."

If the Chinese government's intent was to quiet all the dissent then arresting thousands knowing that the international media would pick up on it probably was not the best idea. I'm not sure what kind of "choice" they thought they had, but putting an infant under house arrest isn't a great move and then charging her father with inciting state subversion and not allowing him counsel as he is held in "private" just as you're trying to show how open you are, how westernized you've become, how deserving you are of hosting these games was not the greatest move. The international community is putting pressure on China to release Hu.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

I'm sorry, who?

There have been a barrage of Think Pink events coming across my email (more on that tomorrow) so I have not been paying all that much attention. So that's why I kind of overlooked the press release I received about the 11th annual celebration of Women's Sports Day at St. Johns University.* That is until I saw who was the keynote speaker: Lisa Leslie-Lockwood.
Wait, who is this Leslie-Lockwood? I honestly thought there was someone out there--not the WNBA star--who was named Lisa Leslie-Lockwood. Because I know who Lisa Leslie is. I hope most people do.
But in case you don't, the press release provides this description:
Lisa Leslie-Lockwood, a WNBA all-star known for championing women's issues, will mark Women in Sports Day at St. John's with a presentation on the importance of early screening and detection.
Obviously one of those women's issues is not the importance of challenging historic constructions and present-day manifestations of women as the property of men.
Why women in general change their names when they get married baffles me. Why famous women do it astounds me. Sure, I get why athletes do it--it's like carrying a big sign that says--even to those not paying much attention--I am not a lesbian. (Of course these days lesbians seem to be into the hyphenated name thing too--except it's usually a two way exchange.)
I don't how much reassurance I get from the fact that Leslie-Lockwood's Wikipedia entry is still just Lisa Leslie. She's still listed on the Sparks web page as Lisa Leslie but her jersey says Leslie-Lockwood.

* So this is the second event (Syracuse's Think Pink was the other) I have seen that is combining a women's sports day celebration with a breast cancer awareness event. I am finding this more and more troublesome.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Rusty Hardin's big mouth

I may have been one of the few to criticize Rusty Hardin, Roger Clemens's lawyer, for his remarks likening the allegations against the pitcher to the Duke lacrosse situation. But I am not the only one who finds the things that come out of his mouth inappropriate. Apparently Hardin has not made friends with some of the legislators doing the inquiry into the Mitchell Report because of public statements he made suggesting that if the lead investigator--the same guy who looked into the BALCO scandal--messed with Clemens he would be asking for trouble. Rep. Henry Waxman said that Hardin should be careful as he would not want to be accused of intimidating a federal officer trying to do his job.
All the evidence may not be in regarding the extent of steroids in baseball, but there's a whole lot of testosterone flying around right now.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Freaked out--or not

It's been about one year since cheerleaders in New York state have been required to attend both girls' and boys' sporting events. And it seems that people--at least the ones in and around Utica, NY--are getting used to it; they may even like it.
According to senior cheerleader Rebecca Kuehnle, "At first, we were all freaked out by it because we were cheering for our own sex, It’s kind of nice to cheer for a winning team, no offense to the boys. It’s fun.”
Plus, now that the cheerleaders are not attending away games and getting home super late they have time for their homework. I wonder if any of those assignments are about questioning gender roles in our heteronormative society...
Given the initial reaction of Kuehnle's and other cheerleaders and the evidence I see in my own women's studies classes, I don't think such things are being taught in high schools. I recommend a curriculum change so we can avoid future freak-outs.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Not so ruined

This morning, NPR's Morning Edition was reporting on the doping in baseball/Mitchell report brouhaha currently starring Roger Clemens and his former athletic trainer, Brian McNamee, and, of course, their respective lawyers. McNamee has produced needles and gauze that he says he used when injecting Clemens with steroids and HGH. He kept them in a Fed Ex box for three years. Ewwww. I thought it would be easy to discredit such evidence. Much easier, than say tennis players and cyclists who cry about sample tampering and improper testing methods during official drug testing. I mean this guy kept needles and bloody gauze in a cardboard box for three years. But apparently I am wrong because NPR called up a law professor at Stanford, presumably one who is an expert in the rules of evidence, and he said a judge would admit it.
And this leads now to a battle of reputations as evidenced by Clemens's defamation suit against McNamee where the needles and gauze could come to the defense of McNamee.
But Rusty Hardin, who is representing Clemens, has warned all those anti-Rogerites out there to beware of jumping to damaging conclusions about his client. Because this is another Duke lacrosse situation, he said.
Oh no, he didn't!
But, yes, he certainly did.
Because, of course, there are similarities. They just aren't the ones that Hardin sees. But we do have the rich, white male athlete thing going on. And the rich, white males are using all their class, race, and gender privilege to discredit their accusers. The Duke case is complicated by too many factors to even (re)open this discussion. But their reputations were hardly ruined, and it's not as if, no matter what did or did not happen at that party, they were as pure as the driven snow, anyway. Does anyone not associated with Duke even remember any of the names of the three who were initially charged?
And Clemens does not seem in danger of losing much either. Remember that he hasn't even been charged with anything.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Why I'm a little leery about NGWSD

Today is National Girls and Women in Sports Day. There are thousands of events going around the country today and in the coming days and weeks as part of the celebration.
Organizations like the American Association of University Women and the Women's Sports Foundation, college teams, and local community groups sponsor various activities and speakers or offer admission to games. Before I get critical, I want to say that a lot of these are great events exposing girls to higher levels of competition as well as the different types of sports available. Often events include interaction with older female athletes creating a role model/mentoring relationship.
But some of the rhetoric around this day is a little troubling. For example, in Syracuse, NY this weekend the Orange are turning pink. Yep, the women's basketball team to celebrate NGWSD along with engaging in a breast cancer awareness campaign will be wearing pink t-shirts during warm-up and pink shoelaces throughout the game. We all know how I feel about women's sports' involvement in these breast cancer campaigns but I find it exasperating that SU finds no problem in Thinking Pink for NGWSD.
And lest you think that pink is some neutral color these days because men don pink polo shirts occasionally note that Syracuse University itself, once upon a time, had pink and blue as its school colors. They moved to orange when they realized pink was too feminine. I don't see them rushing back to the traditions of the days of yore because pink is so acceptable now. And I don't see any of the SU men's teams wearing pink this weekend to support either event.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Players behaving badly: The enabling effect

The University of Colorado recently settled the Title IX lawsuit brought against it by two women who were sexually assaulted at a football recruiting party. The women believed the university had enough knowledge of the situation that they should have done something about it. In other words, powers-that-be knew there was sex and alcohol and general bad behavior and they, at the very least, chose to look the other way and may have even encouraged these parties to some degree.
This story was big news for years. It seemed sexual harassment and assault became part of the culture at the institution. Former Rams football player Katie Hnida spoke and wrote about her own such experiences and though she never filed her own lawsuit, she did provide testimony as to the climate at CU and how her situation was ignored by higher ups.
Turns out that CU was not the only institution where athletes were getting in trouble and the people in charge were letting it go. According to a recent article in the Seattle Times, the success of the University of Washington football team in 2000-2001 might have been made possible, in part, by administrators and even members of the law enforcement and legal communities who chose to impose light or no penalties on players who were under investigation for such crimes as assault with a deadly weapon, robbery, domestic violence, rape, leaving the scene of an accident.
And some of these players had been convicted, arrested, or wanted on outstanding warrants. And in one of the most egregious examples of aiding and abetting an athlete's bad behavior, a judge sentenced a UW football player to 30 days in jail but noted that the time could be served after football season. And this isn't even a case of the old boys' network: the judge is a woman.
An interesting, though not especially surprising, connection between the CU and UW situations: head coach Rick Neuheisel. Despite the problems at CU which included 51 NCAA violations, UW snapped him up. He was fired from there--for taking part in a March Madness pool, not for any of the above. He went low profile for a bit--you know hiding out in the NFL. (Pokey Chatman has to go to Russia but Rick Neuheisel gets a high-paying NFL gig.) And now he's back. In December, UCLA, his alma mater, named him their new head coach.
It's just kind of stunning how little people seem to care that those in charge of student-athletes seem to care so little for their charges. It's those numbers in the parentheses after a coach's name that erase all consideration of morals, justice, safety, and overall fair play.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Let's talk about fat

We don't talk about fat a whole lot in sport, certainly in comparison to other topics. There are discussions about the connection--both real and imagined--between the obesity epidemic and sport/physical activity. It's an interesting silence, or near silence, given our belief that athletes are not fat despite the fact, for example, that over half of the players in the NFL qualify as obese--some of those morbidly so.
The issue of weight, though, is becoming much discussed in society in general--again mostly in the context of an obesity epidemic and the negative health consequences of being overweight. Scholars are engaged in fatness studies these days. And it seems appropriate that sport studies is engaging with the issue of weight and fat as well. Last year there was an interesting discussion in women's college basketball about players' weights which started to transcend that particualr sport as we talked about the issue of female athletes being weighed by coaches, disordered eating (not a new topic in women's sports), and the publication of players' weights in media guides, programs, etc. More and more teams have players who weigh more than 200 pounds. Courtney Paris of Oklahoma is one of them and she was featured in a NYT article last year about weight and the female athlete. No one is calling Paris out of shape and thinking of her as any less of an athlete because she is bigger.
The social norms surrounding fat certainly influence our views of athletes but it also seems like athletes--and the coaches that recruit them--are sending messages about what is fat, what is fit, and what makes a good athlete (I couldn't think of another appropriate f-word to complete the alliterative series).
The forthcoming (spring) issue of Sociology of Sport Journal takes up some of these issues in their special issue called Social Constructions of Fat. All of the articles look interesting. They address issues of fatness and morality, the pathologizing of fat, fatness in elite athletes, fat phobia, and special categories for fatness in sport. This last issue is addressed by Dr. Laura Chase, who has researched and written about the Clydesdale category in road races. I heard some of her work on this topic at NASSS a couple of years ago and I expect it will be a good piece, especially given that she won the Article Award for a previous SSJ piece this past year.

Friday, February 01, 2008

The separate but equal debate

Laura Pappano and Eileen McDonough, authors of the recently released Playing with the Boys: Why Separate is Not Equal in Sports,* have an editorial in the Christian Science Monitor this week. They are good writers and they make compelling arguments.

But they also make generalizations followed by asterik-like comments that we have to take a little more seriously than they seem to. For example, they go through all the arguments and possibilities for co-ed sporting experiences. And they are right. Professional golf could have co-ed tournaments. It would be good sport and good entertainment to watch the top female and male players go against one another in a pairs competition. (Of course you might actually have to start paying the women similarly which is probably a larger impediment to that prospect than women's alleged physical inferiority.) And it's true that not every man can outperform every woman--no matter the skill in question. But their asterik--that it is likely that the top male athletes in a particular competitive sport will outperform the top female athletes--deserves more consideration. Because when we're talking about a popular sport like basketball that fact has a stymying effect on other sports that could engage in co-ed or other alternative practices. Pappano and McDonough cite the historical constructions of womanhood that have lead to the myth of women's physical inferiority. They are not so easy to overcome--whether you are a man or a woman, athlete or not.

Their attention to skill and ability also becomes problematic because society has not stopped constructing women as physically inferior. They argue that skill should determine your placement. The girls who are skilled enough should be allowed to play with the boys and girls who want to can play with other girls. The choice rhetoric fails to acknowledge that girls choosing to play with other girls will not be seen as a choice but a necessarity because they just aren't good enough to play with the boys. Our default has not changed. Girls plays with boys. Not the other other way around.

I am not particularly pleased with the separate but equal status either. I do think there are many sporting practices that could easily be integrated but are not because of lingering beliefs about women's abilities (but not men's, of course). We need to start questioning why there are gendered rules in co-ed softball, or even in recreational mixed doubles tennis. But still recognize that even atempts to change sports and games on a recreational level will be met with resistance--by men and women. And I think that it's pretty obvious that it is the women who lose out (in opportunities, in excessive and sometimes violent levels of resistance, in enjoyment) when attempts to change deeply gendered paradigms are made. Doesn't mean we shouldn't be trying; that there shouldn't be dialogue about this issue. But it just isn't as easy as integrating the youth soccer league. I wish it was.

*I still haven't finished that book--okay I have't even made it through the first chapter. But someday I will finish it and comment on it.