Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Ending the use of Native American Mascots

Got this from a colleague the other day. It includes a petition that encourages Congress to take action to ending the abhorent practice of using Native American symbols as mascots for sports teams.
American Indians are NOT Mascots
Target: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi & Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
Sponsored by: Tim Giago and Kimberley Lyman
To most American Indians it is absolutely abhorrent for a professional football team to use the color of their skin as their team mascot. As a matter of fact, we oftentimes refer to the mascot of the Washington professional football team as the R word because to us it is as hideous as the N word is to African Americans. The use of an Indian name in and of itself for mascots is not offensive, but it is what the fans (short for fanatic) do with it that is reprehensible. When they paint their faces, stick turkey feathers in their hair, and do those awful Hollywood chants, it then starts to become insulting and racist to Native Americans. Imagine if you will a team with a mascot called the Zulus. Would African Americans be offended if the white fans painted their faces black, put Afro wigs on their heads, and waved spears in the air while chanting their perception of African war songs? Why name teams for the color of a people's skin - "Redskins?" Why not a mascot for the Blackskins, Brownskins or Yellow Skins? At one Washington Redskin football game the fans painted a pig red, put feathers on its head, and ran it around the football field. What if they had painted it black, put an Afro wig on its head, and then chased it around the football field. Would the African American fans consider this an honor? If the sports fans want to honor Native Americans, honor our treaties. You do not honor us by making us mascots for America's fun and games. In fact, just the opposite is true. If the fans of these teams choose to honor these symbols for their sports teams, so be it. But when they take real life American Indians and turn them into cartoon caricatures and then mimic them by painting their faces, donning feathers, and doing the tomahawk chop, they cross that thin line called racism.
Click below to sign the petition.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

News that isn't newsworthy

I was having a pleasant lunch yesterday afternoon (ok, the chicken panini was only so-so but the place was dry and warm unlike everyplace else I went) when I opened the sports page and found this headline in my local paper (but on an AP story): Danica fails to win consecutive titles.

Instant irateness and subsequent tirade ensued to which my eating companion defensively said "don't yell at me--I get it!".

First of all, the use of Patrick's first name in the headline is in keeping with the media's practice (not universal but still quite prevalent) of referring to female athletes by first name only which has the effect of inferiorizing them. Male athletes (with some notable exceptions such as Shaq) are referenced using their last names. [This practice exists in other areas as well. You don't know how many papers I used to get when I taught literature classes that mentioned Jane (as in Austen) or Sylvia (as in Plath).]

But of course the most annoying part of the headline and story was the fact that Patrick's non-first place finish this week was news. I was pleased, I suppose (because I don't care all that much about racing and have some issues with Patrick) that she finally won a race. The hype was a little bit much--I mean how many late-night talk shows do you have to go on when you win a race? So, in a sense I guess Patrick contributed to the fact that the news was her non-win this week. But it's sad because we would never, ever see a headline that read "(Last week's winner) fails to win consecutive titles." The story mentioned Patrick only briefly before launching into the real news which was the story of who really won and the details of the race.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Here's a hammer for you

Christina Hoff Sommers can just bite me. That's actually what I wanted to title this post but I decided instead to play off her own editorial's title: The Gender Equity Hammer Comes Out.

First of all, it seems that Sommers can't quite see that big ole patriarchal sledge hammer swinging around all that she does.

Not necessarily surprising. I mean we all have things we choose not see when they might threaten our pleasant little privileged existence even as the hammer smashes others into the ground. Plus all teh conservative mens love her: the piece is published at

But, really, Christina? Title IX is a hammer? Sommers's editorial focuses on how Title IX is going to be applied in its full force to science programs. But, of course, she feels the need to mention, probably as a cautionary tale (not that her audience really needs convincing), how Title IX has done "serious harm" to men's sports. Why? Because in order to achieve proportionality athletic directors have to cut men's sports because there are so few women interested in playing sports. The ADs just can't get the women to come play for them and so men lose their opportunities.

It's all just so damn frustrating. There are plenty of women who want to play intercollegiate sports. I know plenty of interested women who were denied opportunities at the schools of their choices or just generally because schools still have not made a commitment to gender equity.

Men's sports teams get cut because athletic departments cannot afford them. And when I say men's sports teams I mean men's minor sports that are not revenue-generating. Schools are not cutting football teams which would easily bring them into compliance and likely make those pesky athletic budgets a little easier to manage. Men's sports have been damaged by other men--and by women like Christina Hoff Sommers who will continue to perpetuate the belief that this is a battle of the sexes. It isn't. It's the same old pissing contest for male supremacy. They don't even need the women; we're just pawns. It's all about who is the biggest, strongest, and most virile.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Does Yahoo! know what women want?

At the end of March (I'm a little bit behind--the news is old, the commentary still relevant), Yahoo! announced that it was launching a women's site called Shine. (Thankfully it doesn't seem to have the requisite ! after it.) Geared towards women 25-54, the site represents a shift for Yahoo that has, until now, organized sites around topics like entertainment or sport. Shine will be constructed around a demographic and will feature nine topics: Fashion & Beauty, Food, Healthy Living, Work & Money, Love and Relationships, Parenting, At Home, Entertainment & Culture, and Astrology.
Note the lack of a Sports category. It is, in my opinion, a huge oversight by Yahoo. The Olympics are right around the corner. Women comprise the majority of Olympic viewers. So the excuse "women aren't interested in sport" just doesn't work anymore. More and more women are entering the ranks of sport fandom (have you seen all the pink paraphernalia put out my professional teams??--a topic for another day).
Shine is an excellent example of how the media isn't always responding to consumer demands (is there really a huge demand for astrological information??) but rather shaping our desires.
I still desire some information about sports. Guess I'll have to look elsewhere for it.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Inactivity epidemic?

Epidemic is probably a little too dramatic but a new study from the Tucker Center at the University of Minnesota has found that there has been a decrease in the last ten years in the physical activity levels of girls.
Not good news. (But an excellent example to file away for future pedagogical purposes to illustrate the problem with the modern notion of progress as well as the limits of Title IX and the current models of sport in this country.)
The results mention the impediments that still exist for girls including race and class issues as well gender stereotypes that discourage participation or certain types of participation.
I think all of these things are culprits and I also see the move toward more organized youth sports programs and specialization at a young age as major issues that need to be addressed now.
Several years ago I was involved in project that funded, aided, and researched sport and physical activity programs for low-income and minority girls in Boston. There was a mix of traditional sport programs like soccer, tennis, and gymnastics but there were also programs that introduced girls to a number of activities including things like dance, aerobics, and jump rope. They offered a more holistic approach to physical activity and one that often included information on making healthier life choices. I don't think I appreciated these programs as much as I should have at that time. I didn't find them inferior to the programs that were teaching values and providing opportunities through sports. But I didn't see their intrinsic value in providing ways in which girls can sustain physical activity outside of an organized program. Because funding doesn't always last; facilities--especially in low-income areas--disappear. And I did not value, as much as I should have at the time, the alternatives they provided and the very large need for such alternatives in a society in which sports programs are more and more dominated by a competitive, performance-oriented ethic and thus limit access because of social, cultural, and economic factors.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Women's hoops wrap-up

OK, so the NCAA championship game was two weeks ago. I really meant to finish this post that week. It just didn't happen. So here it is. Hopefully still somewhat valuable and/or interesting.
It's a good thing the food was good at my championship party Tuesday night because the game was just so-so. This does not mean there is no parity in the women's game or that the tournament as a whole was boring.
The coverage before, during, and after was littered with "they're not quite there yet" sentiments or, conversely, "they're there and now they have to deal with all the evils of success" type comments.
This article from the Tampa Tribune falls into the latter category. Signs that women's basketball as made it? The "feud" between Pat Summitt and Geno Auriemma, recruiting violations, cheating scandals, exorbitant coaches' salaries. What a lovely view to take of the sport. How about sellout crowds? How about high graduation rates? How about community service teams do?
It's also problematic that the mere idea that women would commit infractions such as cheating, stealing, getting high and drinking sends people into a tizzy. What if women's basketball becomes like men's basketball the question goes. How about dealing with all the problems in men's basketball by dealing with the system that has helped create and/or perpetuate them. The idea that women's basketball is at some kind of crossroads rings kind of false to me. I think women's sports advocates from the 1970s would say that women's intercollegiate sports generally were at a crossroads during that decade and into the 80s and we definitely followed the path that had been forged by men's sports. Do we really believe that women's basketball will be able to step back from the intense recruiting, the compromising of educational values, and the other such "pitfalls" at this point? Reform needs to occur more globally and address issues in women's and men's sports so that neither become a lost cause.
Here's a Debbie Downer of an editorial from a student columnist in Illinois who notes that even though both the men's and women's tournament was top-heavy this year, she still watched primarily men's games and that the men will always be a "step ahead" of the women's game. Well that's because they got a hundred years or so of a head start. And because men still get more: more money, more publicity, more media coverage, more recruiting dollars. There is no even playing field. The writer notes that she failed to flip the channel to a women's game at all this tournament. It would be nice if she didn't have to. If channels like CBS covered both the men's and women's games.
This editorialist thinks the women's tournament grew too fast expanding to 64 teams in only 12 years. Perhaps; I don't really have a strong opinion on this except to say that it's too late now. Cutting back the number of teams would be a huge symbolic defeat for the game. And frankly I think women's basketball is up to the challenge of making itself more competitive in all the rounds. As for his argument about poor attendance. Well I blame the media for that. Cover the game--throughout the season. Give it the same hype you give the men's game, and people will show up in the early rounds.
And just to show that people will show up in record numbers and generate lots of money, the Nashville Business Journal reports that the SEC tournament had record-setting attendance and put $8.5 million into the local economy. This is a 70 percent increase in the economic impact in just four years (when the region last hosted the SEC tourney).
And now to Candace Parker, who was, predicted, drafted by the Sparks right after winning her second NCAA championship. I'm not going to comment on the whole playing in pain, while injured thing because I have some pretty strong opinions on how these things get covered and discussed. There has been a lot of coverage of Parker this season. I think there is a general fear of the impact of her absence in the collegiate game will be next year and a general belief that she will never get as much attention as she did during her three years at Tennessee. But this columnist out of Seattle had many good things to say about Parker, including this:
If Candace Parker were a man, she'd be the most hyped professional basketball player ever. Bigger than anyone in this summer's star-deficient NBA draft class.
But even he cannot predict her level of success--as in ability to generate interest and revenue for the WNBA--when she goes pro. Maybe all these questions will be a good enough reason for people to actually tune in to the WNBA this season. I am also hoping the Olympic Games will generate some fan interest as well.

And finally, not exactly a story related to this year's championships, but a look back is this ESPN feature on one of the original women's basketball dynasties: the Mighty Macs of Immaculata College who were a powerhouse. The article is quite lengthy and thorough. If you don't feel like reading it you can always wait for the movie. Seriously, there is supposedly a movie in the works about the Might Macs though I haven't heard anything about it lately. Stayed tuned--especially if you are as curious as I am about who will be play the young Rene Portland.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Dear UW baseball fans: Build a bridge...

...and get over it. The cutting of baseball that is. The University of Wisconsin cut the sport in 1991--17 years ago.

Yet every spring I come across all these young men pining for baseball. Not to play it--they want to watch it. They want to watch college baseball. Unfortunately, not that many people wanted to watch it when UW did have a team. But this guy, despite knowing the lack of popularity of the sport, longs for spring days in the stadium.

And this guy, who I think has written this same editorial before, blames Title IX of course. Though he does that tricky "I believe in gender equity and supporting women's sports but they aren't that exciting yet" thing so he doesn't come off as a complete chauvinist. Title IX came along and baseball got cut--for fairly good reasons--it wasn't that popular, trying to play baseball in Wisconsin is difficult given the lengthy winters, and they had a gender equity problem.

The writer thinks that "it seems like as long as any given athletic department makes significant strides to expand its women’s sports programs, it is in compliance with Title IX." And he is right. That is prong 2. But what constitutes "significant strides" is up to interpretation. In 1991 when UW cut baseball my guess, though I don't know the school's history, is that they added a women's sport which constituted "making a stride" toward equity at that time. Because it is unlikely that in 1991 they had achieved substantial proportionality. The thing with making strides is that 1) you have to keep doing it--you can't add a sport in 1991 and call it equity. And 2) if you make enough strides, eventually you hit prong 1 or 3.

At least he doesn't think all us Title IX advocates are crazy feminists:

The funny thing is, Title IX advocates frown upon the deletion of men’s sports to compensate for attention given to women’s. In no part of the amendment does it require athletic departments to eliminate men’s sports programs, if you read the three-prong test. So my question is: Why can’t UW have a baseball team? The UW football roster is at 120. Take away just 30 of those players--which still leaves you all your scholarship athletes (at 80) and you can field a baseball team--probably for cheaper too than keeping those extra players (and yes, I do see them as "extra") on the football roster.

Another issue that came up, not in the the editorial just in thinking about the issue, was where the women's opportunities are; how they are distributed. Many schools, to compensate for or balance out the number of opportunities provided by football, institute women's crew. UW has both men's and women's crew, which makes it all the more difficult to achieve equitable opportunities. But women's crew is huge at 173 participants. I love women's crew. Women's crew teams have a reputation for being politically active (in part because they get the short end of the athletic stick often) and it offers a great opportunity for women to get involved in a sport that 1) you don't often have access to in your youth, and 2) that you can continue participating in well after college. But 173 people on a crew team seems excessive. Not because I think those women don't want to be involved or aren't serious about their sport, but because it looks like the athletic department is engaging in roster inflation. What is the quality of the experience for these women? Do they pack up 173 women every time they travel to a regatta? Can a normal-sized coaching staff really give adequate attention to all participants?

I am glad that women's crew has grown because of Title IX, but at what cost? In addition to seemingly enlarged rosters, there are the ubiquitous issues of facilities (University of Iowa just broke ground on a boathouse promised to women's crew over 5 years ago) and proper funding. I am sure we are not done dealing with those.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Billies raise over $1million

The Billies, the annual awards event hosted the Women's Sports Foundation (and sponsored, in part, by ESPN), took place a few nights ago in LA. The awards recognize outstanding media coverage of women's sports in a variety of genres. This year's ceremony also recognized the 35th anniversary of the Billie Jean King's win over Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes.
And the winners were:
Under Armour for their Boom Boom Tap campaign in the Breakthrough and Innovation category.
The movie Chak! de India in the film category. [Is it time for me to complain again about how I have yet to see this movie?!?]
Kathrine Switzer won in the journalism category for her account of "crashing" the Boston Marathon in 1967, before women were allowed to enter. Her book is called Marathon Woman.
And Lesley Visser won the outstanding journalist award.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

It's official--you can't discriminate in Kansas

In response to an incident that occurred a few months ago at a high school basketball game in Kansas, the Kansas State High School Activities Association has added language to its application for member schools which prevents discrimination against an official based on sex, nationality, race, or religion. (Note the very obvious absence of sexuality and gender expression. Grrr...) The addition of the anti-discrimination language was motivated by an incident this past February in which a female referee was told by one of the participating schools, St. Mary's Academy, that they would not allow her to officiate the game because a woman in charge of young boys went against their religious beliefs.
St. Mary's has not commented on the change in the application which would effectively deny them any form of membership in the KSHSAA meaning they would not be able to compete against member schools--assuming they would continue to refuse female referees--which they seem intent on doing. The academy's rector has, in communication with the association, said that such a denial would itself be discrimination.
How entities that initiate discrimination can so easily and without any sense of their own hypocrisy, turn around and say "but you're discriminating against us now" when actions are taken to be fair and equitable and, you know, comply with the law, just boggles my mind.

Monday, April 14, 2008

USA beats Canada--twice!

The Women's Hockey World Championships concluded this past Saturday in Harbin, China. Needless to say media coverage of the event was not that forthcoming but I knew the championships would be winding up this weekend so I went searching for some information (which is almost all via the Canadian press).
And guess what? The US won! That hasn't happened in quite a while and only once since women's hockey has had an international championship. So yeah!
Also of note was the fact that my favorite collegiate team, the UNH Wildcats, was well-represented in China. Forward Sam Faber and defensewoman Kacey Bellamy both played for team USA. And the Marty twins lead Team Switzerland to the bronze medal (which they unfortunately lost to a strong Finnish team).
The championship win was a big deal for team USA which has found it difficult historically to notch a win over Canada in the world championships. Thus year they had to do it twice. Last Thursday the US had to beat Canada to avoid being sent to the bronze medal game. They did. And then they built on that momentum Saturday in what sounded like a very exciting 4-3 win.
The most interesting part of the championship though was the coaching. I am pretty sure this is the first time Team USA has been coached by a woman, Jackie Barto out of Ohio State. I was a little miffed when USA Hockey chose the Wisconsin head coach as the national team coach last year. This was after years of Ben Smith (who is still listed as a "national team advisor") resigned and even suggested the team be coached by a woman. So I am pleased that Barto had such immediate success.
But equally as interesting is that Team Canada was coached by a man, Peter Smith (former assistant coach) for the first time perhaps ever in the program's history (I didn't verify this information so don't go off saying "But ken said..."). Canada had made a commitment to putting a woman at the helm. They might want to reconsider...

Saturday, April 12, 2008

All about curling

I'm a little late on this as the Women's World Curling Championships occurred a few weeks ago but given the lack of attention the sport receives I felt I should still post about it and the news it generated.
This article, out of Canada where the championships were held in March, discusses the division of the women's and men's championships and the positive effects that have come from holding the events separately--or rather the lack of negative effects. This is the fourth year the women have held their own championships and they are hopeful that the event will continue building and that they won't, as one curler predicted, have to curl naked to get attention.*
The Chinese women made quite an impression in Canada. Getting special attention was the Chinese skip Bingyu (Betty) Wang. Their success at the worlds is especially impressive given that the entire Chinese team began training in an ice hockey rink because there was no curling ice in the entire country until just a few years ago.
Part of the Chinese women's success, and the success of other national teams, is due to a Canadian influence. Canadian curling coaches have been travelling worldwide to bring the sport to other nations. This has some worried about the increase in competition and the threat to the Canadians' dominance. But most see it as what it is: a good way to grow the sport.
In the end Canada maintained its dominance defeating China.

*Well maybe not curl naked but some female curlers have gotten naked to promote their sport in a calendar.

Friday, April 11, 2008

I won't say things are getting "better"...

...because that 1) might not be true, 2) seems to be a little too optimistic for a cynic like me, and 3) goes against my extreme suspicion of progress narratives.

But no sooner was I discussing in my sport sociology class the dearth of coverage of (dis)abled athletes than I came across three stories about (dis)abled athletes.*

The first was in last month's TENNIS which contained a pretty lengthy feature of Canadian quad wheelchair player Sarah Hunter. [The link is actually not to the article which only exists in hard copy in the April issue.] I thought it was a fairly well-done article. It doesn't depict her as some kind of amazing hero or pity her for her injury. It mentioned her female partner and their child to whom Hunter gave birth two years ago without presenting either of these things as somehow unusual for a person in a wheelchair.

Then I saw two articles about women's national team wheelchair basketball. There's this one on, Sports Illustrated is covering wheelchair basketball--about the US team. It's short and focuses on how members of the national team were at the women's Final Four this past weekend giving others the opportunity to test their basketball skills from a wheelchair. It was certainly a promotional effort but one of the national team participants noted that more coverage of the sport is needed.

And there was this article about the women's national wheelchair basketball team in Canada. It talks about the Canadian team which is the current world champion; how competition for making the team has increased in recent years; and how level of disability is taken into consideration. It also illustrates the national pride involved in competing--something my students seem to think is exclusive to the able-bodied. Someone actually said that the Paralympics didn't involve any nationalism because the athletes don't really think about how they're competing for their country. Oh well, I can't turn them all in just one semester.

* The discussion continued today when they pondered a suggestion that the Paralympics and the Olympics be held simultaneously rather than the Paralympics following the Olympics. Most agreed that it would increase the coverage. And some, and this was one of those "oh, I'm getting through to them" moments, said that they would worry though the coverage would be condescending or stereotypical. I mentioned that at least if there was coverage we could start critiquing the discourse but right now we have nothing. There were head nods. It was a good morning.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

What is parity?

It seems I have gone through March Madness without blogging about it. And it's not as if there haven't been plenty of opinions bandied about about "the women's game" and parity and excitement and promotion/publicity.
So on this--the morning of the final--I'll try to address some of these things.
In an entry from almost two weeks ago, this guy says that the "NCAA tournament soundly defeats parity." That there are "no surprises" in the women's game. That it's easy to bet on the women's tournament because it is so predictable. Ridiculous for two notable reasons. One, the controversy over seeding was pretty intense this year with Stanford not so subtly hinting that they deserved a #1 seed. And despite the lack of major upsets there were many games that I tuned in for--and others I know did as well--because the outcome was nowhere near a sure thing. Sure, it would have been highly unlikely that any team not seeded in the top 4 would go to Tampa. But, and here's my second point which I am a little hesitant to make because I do not like comparing the men's and the women's game, the men's final four was very predictably comprised of all four #1 seeds. No one seems to be crying about the lack of parity in the men's game.
I think it's pretty impressive that the women's game is where it's at--drawing crowds in person and on television, being discussed in editorials, developing rivalries (though I have to say this contention that the Summitt-Auriemma tiff is a sign that the women's game has made it doesn't seem like the most productive and helpful form of publicity). Remember, the men have built the popularity of their game over the course of a century. And while women's basketball has been around just as long--in varying versions--the limitations on the play and the coverage of the play and support of the game have only emerged in the recent years. Some cite 1972 when Title IX was passed as the beginning; some use 1978 when Title IX was supposed to be enforced. I put the date some time in the 1990s when schools started taking compliance a little more seriously after years and years of no pressure to do so.
The other issue that seems to be prominent this year is publicity. Christine Brennan has suggested that the Final Fours be combined in one site. And it seems others are on board. I have a healthy skepticism of the "separate isn't equal in women's sports" argument many are proffering. Jeff Jacobs at the Hartford Courant makes some compelling arguments and culls together those of others (including analyst Doris Burke, Auriemma, Donna Shalala, and network execs) about how this has worked in other venues (like professional tennis which has considered adding more co-ed tournaments outside the majors because they appeal to fans) and why it would work for intercollegiate basketball.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Mendoza new WSF prez

Jessica Mendoza, national softball team player, has been elected the new president of the Women's Sports Foundation. What I know of Mendoza, I like. She is part of a group of athletes protesting China's policy on Darfur and, in general, seems to be in the know politically. I had a problem with past president gymnast Dominique Dawes because of her belief that it's ok for female athletes to pose in a sexual manner. For some reason I don't see Mendoza taking that stance. I hope she brings a lot of awareness about the connection between politics and sports to the forefront.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

All about hockey: The things I missed

I knew I had seen the word "boycott" attached to the women's hockey world championships which are currently taking place in China. You know why I love Canada? Because they get it. Because the athletes and administrators (ok--not all of them are as aware I would hope but...)there are not insisting that sports and politics don't mix; that athletes should not be political; that going to China to participate in an international is entirely unproblematic.
Because while"the International Ice Hockey Federation sees no reason not to go ahead with the first women's world hockey championship in Asia."
and notes:
"The situation does not affect the women's championship," an IIHF spokesman said.
Some in Canada do see the issues. Team veteran Hayley Wickenheiser said
Of course no one really considered a boycott saying things like it's important that Asia host an international hockey event for the first time, and because it's a team sport it's harder for hockey players to dissent, etc.
Oh well, at least most recognize that sports are political and athletes are not exempt from thinking about humans rights issues.
And in other news that I really didn't miss because it just happened, Wickenheiser has been named one of Sports Illustrated's top 25 toughest athletes. She is one of only two women to make the list. I think it's a pretty big deal that a female hockey player made the list over a host of other female athletes who get much more publicity and whose sports receive more attention.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

All things hockey

I have gotten notice of quite a few articles about women's hockey lately so I thought I would do a round-up.
The other day I linked to this article about Canadian hockey moms: mothers who play hockey, most who have taken it up later in life after watching and supporting their children for years and years. And though it is nice and possibly inspiring, unfortunately* it spent about three paragraphs on the mothers before launching into a lengthy discussion of the overall decline in Canadian boys who play hockey. It did end by noting the huge rise in the numbers of girls playing though and the hope that the increase would bring a little more respect to the women's game.
And according to a Toronto paper, the women's game is gaining respect. Most of the article focuses on the national team and veteran member Hayley Wickenheiser who comments not just on the (lack of) depth in women's ice hockey but also on the denial of women's ski jumping in the 2010 Olympic games and the cutting of softball from the summer games. [Wickenheiser actually played softball for Canada in the Sydney games; something I did not know.] She also addresses the idea of a boycott of the summer games--it's up to the individual athlete she believes.
Of course, the best women's hockey players in the world are currently in China for the world championships but there has been no mention of a boycott in anything I have read.
This editorialist thinks that women's hockey would grow even more if the no body checking rule was nixed. I have such mixed feelings about the body checking rule. I don't like the rationale that is behind it--women are smaller, women are more prone to injury, women shouldn't be that aggressive. But I'm not all the way on board with the reasoning behind lifting it: the men do it; so the women should do. Why can't women make a game their own? Of course, when men have been making the rules that govern your sport it might be quite tempting to say "stop treating us like kids and let us play" without thinking about what version of the game you want to play. I also think the author's contention that there is minimal body contact in the women's game is way off base. Has he ever watched a women's hockey game? There is a lot of legal contact and his contention that any contact has the potential to be called a penalty is just wrong. Yes, there are refs that call things more tightly but that happens in the men's game as well. What you can "get away with" is always changing depending on the officials, trends in the game (one year every other I heard was something about "contact to the head" clearly something officials were trying to crack down on) and the level of play. There is a lot of contact in the intercollegiate game and even more at the international level. In the end, I don't want women's hockey to have to allow checking because it will make the game more popular. It's not a bad or deficient game now. What we have to change is how people see it and sports in general.
Because do we really think if women are allowed to body check all of a sudden next year the world championships will actually be televised? I won't have to go searching all over the internet for results and maybe a little bit of commentary?

*I also worry a little that the happy, pleasant moms-who-play hockey story erases issues of class and sexuality that are so much a part of ice hockey. Hockey is expensive and it can be time-consuming. Women who want to play have to have the economic resources to pay for the equipment, ice time, etc. and they have to have enough support from their families to spend the time away from the home and their work. And second the focus on mothers allows us not to have to talk about lesbians who play. Because the (false, of course) assumption is that all mothers are straight women. This is somewhat reinforced by this feature on Canadian national team member Becky Kellar who is a mother of two. At least she mentions all the support she gets in balancing motherhood, international hockey, and her work trying to grow a professional league in Canada.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Big settlements make me smile

There are so many cliched sentiments to describe the $7.4 million judgment levied against the Michigan High School Athletic Association for attorney fees incurred during the 12-year fight to keep discrimination alive and well in Michigan high schools.
The ones that came to my mind immediately: reaping what you sow; karma's a bitch. [Further cliches are welcome in the comments section.]
More on the details of the case can be found at the Title IX blog, but the Reader's Digest version goes like this: Michigan scheduled more girls' sports in non-traditional seasons (like basketball in fall for example) than boys' which had a disproportionately discriminatory effect on the girls. There were actually a host of other gender discrimination issues brought up in the 12-year case but the scheduling issue got the most attention and created the most vitriol.
MHSSA lost. They lost more than once and continued to appeal the decisions ordering them to put sports in their traditional seasons. In 2007 when the Supreme Court refused to hear their last appeal.
MHSSA had the opportunity to settle the case. In this settlement they would not have been responsible for any legal fees incurred by the plaintiffs. But they said they had the money to keep fighting and they themselves spent over $10 million on this case. And now they are on the hook for the $7.4 million worth of fees (and the $1,000/day interest) most of which will go to attorney Kristen Galles from Virginia who was the lead attorney on this case and runs a one-woman public interest law firm.
If I was Kristen Galles I would be doing the schadenfreude dance right now. I've only met her once and my impression is that she's a bit more mature than that. But I am certain she has a pretty big grin on her face.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Mother, may I?

Not too long ago I asked where the moms were in a post about a dads and daughters event in California aimed at getting girls interested in sports.
I found them. They seem to be getting a lot of press these days; all these moms who get pregnant, give birth, and continue their careers in sports. A few years ago it seemed like everyone on the US Women's National Soccer Team was getting pregnant and coming back to the game. Now the discussions are all about tennis player Lindsay Davenport who retired, had a baby, and came back to the tour and has had great success in her endeavor. And of course there's Brenda Frese who gave birth to twin boys six weeks ago and is back pacing the sidelines at the NCAA tournament. (Well she was back. UMD lost to Stanford last night--another big blow to my bracket. *sigh*)
I didn't really mind at first all the pictures of Davenport and son Jagger, or of a pregnant Frese in her office chair on the sidelines, all the interviews with both about motherhood and sports. But it's gotten a little out of control and I am still trying to figure out exactly what irks me about all the rhetoric around these two stories in particular.
Part of it is the heteronormativity (Pat Griffin does an excellent job deconstructing this aspect of the rhetoric around Frese) and reification of gender roles. We see the husbands of these women in the stands but don't hear a lot about what they do to contribute. I hear more about Davenport's mother who comes to a lot of tournaments, and her nanny. Frese's newborns, of course, didn't make the trips to the tournament but her husband did. So we see all these segments about Frese and motherhood (and there are a lot of them) but I haven't heard who's at home actually taking care of these babies. So we see Frese changing diapers and bouncing and coddling babies and are meant to think that balancing career--even a high-profiles, high-stress career like coaching DI basketball--with motherhood is easy and even a joy, except for the emotional distress that comes when she has to leave her babies behind. And she must express enough of this to be seen as a "good" mother; one who does not care too much about her career.
I am also a little disturbed by the segments that ESPN has been airing that show the players holding and feeding and cuddling the babies. On its face, it's cute and depicts the team as a family (made all the more so by the fact that the female coach is now a real mother). But it also attempts to portray all these young women--many of whom are black, and don't think that doesn't matter--as inherently nurturing. And so like their coach who is tough and fierce on the court, they all are portrayed as having a softer side. Yes, a feminine side. Add babies, stir, and *poof* femininity amidst all the (masculine) aggression and competition that sport allegedly engenders.
There's also this lovely opener in an article about Davenport that not-to-subtly implies that once a woman has a child, she is tied to it for life--it owns her:
Thank you, Jagger, for letting us borrow your mom for the most intriguing match of the first three rounds at the Sony Ericsson Open.
Thank you for sleeping through the night - usually - so your mother, Lindsay Davenport, can catch a few winks before facing No. 2 Ana Ivanovic today.

Meant to be cute but again the mother-child, no father in site, your career is always subject to the child's whims kind of sentiments. The rest of the article continues to employ the annoying trope.
Check out this article, though, for a story about mothers I actually like. More on this one later.