Friday, October 30, 2009

New commish for LPGA

[Apologies for the lack of consistent posting of late. I have serious blogger's block brought on by a myriad of other things I need to be doing. I expect to be back into the swing of things in a little over a week.]

So remember how, a while back, Carolyn Bivens was ousted from her position as LPGA commissioner? And remember how there was significant speculation about who her replacement would be?
Yeah, they didn't choose any of those people. The LPGA announced this week that Michael Whan will be the new commissioner. And he will be all about "grow[ing] the global brand."
No word on what that will entail or the methods he will use to do so.
I have to say--and this has nothing to do with Whan specifically--that I am a little wary of how the LPGA plans to increase its popularity. The nearly uncontested view that it is ok for the women in the tour to sell their sport using their (hetero)sexuality is a little worrisome. The article in the recent ESPN Body Issue, accompanied by three tour players draped naked across a golf cart, that really found no problem with these players using [hetero]sexuality to their [alleged] advantage was irksome.
I don't know enough about Whan or his ideas for selling the LPGA as a global brand to make any predictions about what will see in the coming year. But I look forward to commenting on it!

Monday, October 26, 2009

The president's sporty White House

President Obama got some flack last year for only doing a men's bracket during the NCAA tournament. (Ok mostly it was just me giving him a hard time.)
This time he is getting grief for an all-male congressional basketball game. I heard about this but didn't pay much attention to it. The man already disappointed me with the bracket thing and the talking out of two sides of his mouth as he extolled the presence of female athletes on ESPN. So am I surprised that the game was all guys? Nope. 'Cause I am pretty sure that there were not that many women jumping to get into that game. Even if they are basketball players, it's pretty much a no-win situation for them. What if they are better than all the other congresspeople? What if they are worse? What if they tear an ACL during the game? It's all very fraught.
But I thought this NYT article about the boys' club in the White House, much of which revolves around sports, was pretty interesting.
The White House allegedly has a 50/50 split in terms of male and female employees and some of those women are annoyed by all the sports stuff, but one of them admitted to not really liking sports and acknowledged that this could be alienating. In fighting for access to golf courses and equity in things like tee times, many women have claimed that such inequitable practices place them at a disadvantage in the business world. Many women have taken up golf solely for the business contacts and advantages. But it looks like women in the White House are not about to embrace sports just because the president likes them. They certainly should not have to, but it does seem that the president's best buds are the guys he plays sports with. And there is some concern that although there are certainly women in positions of power in his administration, it is the guys that he pays most attention to--on and off the basketball court.
And speaking of golf, the NYT reports that he has played over 20 times since being in office. There is no record of him ever playing with a woman, though he was scheduled to play with domestic policy advisor Melody Barnes not too long ago. That's a lot of pressure for Barnes. No wonder the women in the White House have stayed away from Obama's sport outings.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Movie recommendation: Go see Whip It!

Sorry for the absence these past two weeks. Little bit of travel and some pending deadlines have made me a little scattered.
But the weekend is nearly here and if you are looking for something indoorsy to do (temps here dropped 30 degrees in one day--*sigh*--with rain the forecast) go see Whip It!
I went a few weekends ago and really enjoyed it. Pretty light, puts you in a good mood, which I was quite in need of, and it's about roller derby. Like I said, not too deep but very woman-centered. Touches lightly on issues of class and age. Though it does not really interrogate the aggression required of and afforded to female skaters, it's obviously a big part of the movie. Acting was so-so. (I really hope Ellen Page can get out of her Juno-esque stereotype some day--yes, yes, I know there was Smart People.)
I have heard next-to-nothing about the movie since it was released, but prior to the wide release there were a lot of articles about women's roller derby. Here are some of the few I saw:
An AP story that talks primarily about midwestern teams. It brings up the "feminine" side of roller derby with the make-up (it's titled "Rouge and Tumble"--who uses rouge these days?), etc. I am becoming more and more interested in roller derby as a site of alleged empowerment, gender queering, etc. And the make-up thing is really interesting. Is it a feminine apologetic? Is it part of a costume? Is it women in female drag?
This one gives a little history of the sport and explains how today's version is different from the more spectacle-like version in the 70s (i.e. no more staged fights).

Not being a skater, I don't really know how well the movie conforms to the reality of today's skaters. But I do know the sport is looking to raise its profile, so hopefully the movie will contribute to that effort.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Human rights and the Olympics

If you have not gotten over Chicago's early-round loss on the Olympic site voting, well, in the words of Nike (who will certainly be a presence in Brazil) just do it. I, personally, was glad the US did not get another games so early on. And that South America (as in the whole continent!) has never had a hosting opportunity seemed wrong.
I have to admit, though, that I was a little concerned about potential human rights issues, primarily the ousting of poor people from their homes to make way for various Olympic venues. But it's not as if every country has and has had in the past it's issues with human rights. This is why Human Rights Watch has asked the IOC to find a way to monitor the potential abuses of host nations. These issues arose, of course, in Beijing. They are anticipated on Sochi and, well, as I said--no country is acting angelic these days. (Perhaps ever, but that's a discussion for another time.)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The cheerleading debate continues

I am a little bit tired of talking about cheerleading but I have acquired a critical mass of stories (i.e. three) about cheerleading so it seemed to indicate that a blog post was in order.
USA Today ran a point/counterpoint editorial on the merits of cheerleading. Or rather whether cheerleading is a sport. Karen Durkin of the Women's Sports Foundation said no--it's an activity and furthermore, it is being used irresponsibly to get schools out of complying with Title IX. She does not rule out the possibility that competitive cheer could be a sport, but that it frequently is not truly treated as a sport despite a school's designation of it as such.
On the other side was a Presswire reporter stating his thoughts about why cheerleading and dance should be recognized as a sport and count towards Title IX compliance and also receive the benefits of other sports. His version of the story centers around the fact that cheerleading is athletic, that they have tryouts and practice a lot. He derides some feminists, including Nancy Hogshead-Makar, for coming out against cheerleading as a sport. (Note also the Hogshead-Makar is not against cheerleading as a sport but rather the ways schools have called it a sport without actually treating it as such.) Actually he thinks we're trashing it. And cheers the feminists who have "come around" on the issue. Because counting cheerleading, he says, helps men and women. Men won't get their teams cut, he says, because a school can't find female athletes. (Now where did we put those women??) And cheerleaders will get recognition. First of all, cheerleading is not going to save men's sports--just like it doesn't save a team from losing when cheerleaders do back flips to entice the crowds. And of course it hurts women like the University of Maryland women's ice hockey players who were not elevated to varsity status when cheerleading was deemed an intercollegiate sport.
The writer also makes the mistake of comparing number of teams between the genders. Yes, the average number of men's teams per institution is smaller because there is one team in particular that carries a very large (unnecessarily so) roster. And Title IX does not measure equity in participation by number of teams--but by number of opportunities (i.e., roster spots).
A little fact I learned from this "debate." The NAIA as already designated cheerleading an emerging sport.
And deciding to just avoid this whole debate was University of Connecticut who, this year, abolished cheerleading in favor of spirit squads. Wait, I thought that's what cheerleaders were? Yep, going back to the roots of the activity, UConn is bringing together groups of students who are fans of the game and the team and are interested in sharing their enthusiasm and inspiring it in others.
But a Hartford Courant writer is none too happy about this saying that UConn is sending cheerleaders back to the days of ponytails and pom poms. So, I guess she means, well, yesterday. Oh no wait, it's Saturday which means it's college game day everywhere across the country so I guess she means today.
She states that cheerleading started moving away from the sidelines in the 80s as the activity got more rigorous and incorporated gymnastics moves. Except it never moved away completely from the sidelines because it's cheerleading and what do you cheer for when you are not on the sidelines? It's a tree in the woods situation. If you are leading a cheer for your school, and you are delivering that cheer at a venue (i.e. a cheerleading competition) at which there are no teams from your school competing in an athletic contest--who is being lead by and benefiting from that cheer?

Monday, October 12, 2009

ESPN The Body Issue: What I have seen and heard

OK so I have tried several times this past weekend to buy the Body Issue so I can take a (good, more on that in a sec) look at it myself. But I cannot find it. Has my progressive town refused to carry it? More likely that I just haven't been to a big enough bookstore yet. Hopefully in the next few days during one of my layovers I can find it at an airport newsstand.

I have seen it though. My gym subscribes to the magazine and the issue was in the magazine rack Friday. I quickly scooped it up and took it into the stretching area with me. Alas, I don't wear my glasses in the gym and saw while I could see the pictures just fine, I could not read much of the text without getting a little dizzy. The text, I think, is important for understanding context. Or at least for understanding what ESPN thinks the context is.

Here's what I think so far:

I think that Fat Louie at Women's Sport Blog is brilliantly concise in her assessment of the six covers.
Also check out One Sport Voice for Nicole's assessment of Serena on the cover and she has a link to an ESPN clip about the making of the issue--very interesting.

I think the presence of a disabled woman on one of the covers and inside the magazine is good. I think a disabled man would have been good too though. I would have been interested to see how ESPN framed the intersections of masculinity and femininity and disability.

I don't think there was that much body diversity in it. The one somewhat non-normative, in terms of body size, woman is an African-American shot putter. She is wearing a black bra top and black boy short type things. In other words--she has more clothes on than most of the other female athletes/models. So a larger woman may be in the magazine but the presence of clothing (even if it was her "choice"--and I don't know if it was) suggests that her body just is not worthy of being seen naked or that someone thinks that no one wants to see that naked body.

People do apparently want to see Lolo Jones's naked body. This editorial out of Des Moines (Jones is an Iowa native) looks at the particulars of her participation and the concept of the magazine generally. Basically, the author concludes that Jones took a risk posing naked. But what I took issue with was his statement that people who find the photos erotic are perverse and "twisted" because the photos were not meant to be erotic. Um, yes they were. Some of them are beautiful; some of these athletes have beautiful bodies and bodies are erotic. I don't understand why people are so scared of the erotic. I found them erotic. That does not mean that I found them entirely problem-free. They are not. But that erotic and artistic is some kind of distinct binary is wrong. Art has always had erotic elements. (You should see the postcard on my fridge--a reproduction of Gustave Courbet's "L'origine du monde.")

The erotic element of the magazine actually got it pulled off the magazine rack at the gym. When I could not find it Saturday morning I figured someone had swiped it. Then Sunday morning the guys behind the desk (one gay, one straight) were looking at it and said another guy had taken it away because it was not appropriate for the gym. (This same guy also takes away Essence because he does not think the gym should cater to one specific population.)

Anyway it was back on the rack this morning, I saw.

Those are my somewhat disorganized thoughts thus far. There may be more--if I can ever get my own copy!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The IAAF must be really smart...

...'cause they are going to figure out what sex is in ONE YEAR!
Yep, since the Castor Semenya "situation" (which they handled poorly though I haven't heard any kind of admittance of regret--unfortunately), I guess the governing body of track and field has decided they need some better criteria for determining sex. So a committee has been formed and they are charged with determining the parameters of sex. Did I mention they are going to do it in one year?
Someone give these people a book by Thomas Laqueur, please. (But not Solitary Sex--I don't think they will need that one for this particular project.)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Hello, Pot? This is the Kettle...'re black.
The pot in the title is Jacques Rogge who, along with other IOC members, are engaging in "quiet diplomacy" with three countries who the IOC does not feel is doing a suitable job supporting Olympic female athletes. Part of the quiet is the refusal to name the countries in question but it is not that difficult to figure out given that the IOC names the barriers as religious, cultural, and political. Two apparently are working with the IOC but the third, most likely Saudi Arabia which has never sent a female athlete to the Olympics, is refusing to engage. This country will face Olympic sanctions if there is no progress in the near future.
Anyway the hypocrisy I see, of course, is Rogge standing up for gender equity for some women, and then denying other women the opportunity to participate a la female ski jumpers. Makes it seem like he is reifying the whole backwards Muslim stereotype that is so prevalent in the western world. He is definitely supporting the hypocritical, patriarchal male stereotype.
And speaking of the ski jumpers: their appeal is coming in November. Unfortunately for the American jumpers, money is tight and some jumpers will be limiting their competitive travel this season because the US Ski Federation dropped their funding of the team. But their plight is getting more exposure with a new documentary narrated by soccer player Brandi Chastain.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The current climate for LBGT athletes

I attended a panel the other night of LGBT student-athletes and other athletic department personnel.

Here's what I came away with: things are not good but people think they are getting better.

And I guess they are if you look at from a certain point of view. And before I go any further let me say that my point of view is not one of current intercollegiate athlete. But the fact that people can come out without getting beat up these days is not really progress in my opinion. (Also note that people do indeed still get beat up for being gay.)
The two female student-athletes on the panel (there were no out male athletes--a point well-noted and discussed and certainly indicative of the climate in athletics) talked about how their coming out was, basically, no big deal in terms of acceptance by their athletic peers. This was not especially surprising to me. But, after listening to them talk more, I realized it also was not completely true. Both of them talked about altering their behavior--especially in the locker room--so as not to make others uncomfortable. They took showers separately from other team mates, avoided eye contact in that space so no one would get "the wrong idea."
I always find it kind of strange that gay people talk about making concessions to heteros so they don't feel uncomfortable in a space that is so much more dangerous for gay athletes than for straight ones. That's not really acceptance if the people who say they are fine with it think you are going to jump them or convert them just by the mere presence of flesh.
I was also appalled when someone in the audience, also a student-athlete, recounted the story of a straight ally stood up to a team member who was spouting pretty hateful anti-homophobic comments. Not because of the story or the presence of homophobia but by this:
Said ally "ripped [homophobic team mate] a new one" according to the story teller. And many people in the room laughed at this comment.
I couldn't believe it. The "new one", of course, is an asshole. And the way a new asshole gets ripped is through forceful acts of sodomy. I don't find that funny in any context, let alone a panel about LGBT athletes.
I was also disappointed that people kept using the term "lifestyle choices" as some kind of euphemism for being gay. A lifestyle choice is paper or plastic, country or city--not gay or straight.
Here's the progress: that such a program can be put on at a DI school and people show up to be on the panel (unless they are a gay male athlete) and to listen to the panelists.
But there are too many things that no one seems able to talk about. It's as if it's enough that gay athletes are (sometimes) not openly ostracized or physically accosted but that asking for freedom of movement around a locker room or people who understand that saying the word gay around gay people is not offensive is too much and maybe not even worth fighting for.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Pink stuff

I got through one day of October--one day!--before feeling compelled to blog about all this pink stuff. (But haven't actually had time until today which means I had to stew through all this NFL goes pink and Tom Brady's pink cleats, etc, etc.)
I have done the whole pink complaint thing before and thought I would just let it go this October. But, as we know, breast cancer awareness is a year-round campaign ('cause there might be an unaware person out there who is transformed by that pink spatula at Target) so sport teams--especially collegiate teams with trot out pink laces, shirts, arm bands, etc. during their respective seasons. And I have done that post before (perhaps more than once). And I have talked about the issues with breast cancer charities before.
I was worried about being pro-breast cancer or anti-woman or something, but I read an article in the Boston Globe Magazine Sunday (here's a television segment that goes along with the article) about pink backlash from people with or recovering from the disease. A lot of them are just so over pink. But as one person notes "It's hard to challenge [the pink ribbon/awareness campaigns] without looking like a big meanie or a leftish wacko fringe."
So this post is about how loaded pink is. Last month Nicole at One Sport Voice wrote about pink hockey gloves as punishment. Punishment for boys. Female hockey players sometimes seek out these same gloves.
Laura Pappano wrote about the NFL campaign and other incidents of pinkness in sport.
Men wearing pink for breast cancer is ok. Otherwise it's a little suspect. And in sports it is especially suspect. A few years ago Radek Stepanek got a lot of ridicule for a pink shirt he wore (it also had a cutout in the back). His opponent Leyton Hewitt said after he beat Stepanek that there was no way he was going to lose to a guy wearing pink.
And this year at the French Open, Rafael Nadal wore a pink shirt that apparently caused an uproar. I read about the all the controversy the shirt engendered in the latest Tennis magazine. [I didn't hear about it when I was there during the first week of the tournament. That probably says a lot about "reality" and media.]
Some critics even said that the pink could have contributed to his (first) early exit from the tournament. Yes, it must have been the pink shirt and not the bad knees or anything like that. Nadal, to his credit, shrugged it off and said pink was a popular color in Spain.
Which raises another interesting point: things are completely different in Europe. And not just the fact that pink for men is ok. The Globe article notes that all this marketing of breast cancer--or of any disease ("cause marketing" it is called) is non-existent in Europe. I suspect it has something to do with socialized medicine. After all some of the biggest supporters of breast cancer awareness campaigns are the pharmaceutical companies.
I am sure there will be plenty to come this month--and it will come in pink. Be aware of what you are buying, where the proceeds go, how much goes where, and think about writing a check to a charity that you yourself have investigated and believe in rather than collecting yogurt lids. And think about what it means that pink has come to represent a disease that affects (for the most part) women and the metonymic relationship between women and their breasts.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Award for the person most participating in her own oppression this week...

...goes to Barnard College senior Lisa Lewis for her lovely anti-Title IX diatribe.
I was going to let this editorial slide because I have a few ethical qualms about calling out college students (who are not actually taking my classes anyway and even then I try to be didactic and tactful about it as it is a place of learning). But Lewis used the term femi-nazis and thus all bets are off.
The problem started when I thought Lewis and I were on the same page. Since the passing of NCAA president Myles Brand, I have been more than a little concerned about who his replacement will be. So is Lewis. But for very different reasons.
Lewis believes the next leader of the NCAA needs to be in touch with the world we live in-- a world in which women now exceed men in college admissions and so she comes to this conclusion:
Legislation of the 20th century, like Title IX, needs to be reevaluated in the light of the world we live in.
I don't what they are teaching young women at Barnard these days, but the reevaluating of Title IX she wants is its abolishment basically because of its allegedly unfair quota system which has resulted in her friend not being allowed to walk on (or attempt to walk on) to the men's basketball team at Columbia. And the world we live in certainly is not one of gender equity in sport or any other realm for that matter.
She states that Columbia is not in compliance with prong one though she believes the NCAA has mandated proportionality as the only compliance option for participation. But the NCAA has not said it will only support proportionality. It found fault with and came out publicly against the Bush administration's "correction" to prong three that would simply allow schools to email interest surveys to the entire student body and count a non-response as a mark of satisfaction with the current state of athletic affairs.
Lewis writes that she thought an institution like Columbia would be immune to the whole silly concern over numbers of men and women playing sports. I had thought that Barnard women would be immune to conservative, Bush-era, anti-Title IX rhetoric. Guess we all assumed too much.

Monday, October 05, 2009

The week in gay

I saw a very cute, very French movie last night, The Closet. If you want to know the plot, you can google it, I am sure. The point is that one homophobic guy serves as his company's rugby coach. But he is on notice not to engage in anymore gay slurs because of newly out colleague. He gets the no-no when he calls his team sissies, then complains that sissy is not a gay slur--it's just rugby talk. I am not going to beat to this to death--like I said, it was a cute, light movie--but I find that a lot of the problem with homophobia in sport is the language that is perpetuated by coaches and players alike--and that is never called out. I am not saying anything new, of course. But there are other ways to say it and other perspectives and some of those are available this week!
SUNY Binghamton kicks off its own gay pride week today and I think its notable that It Takes a Team director Pat Griffin is giving the keynote address.
Tomorrow night (Tuesday) Griffin is moderating a panel of gay intercollegiate athletes at UMass. Also at UMass is an ongoing exhibit (Fearless) of photographs of young gay athletes done by Jeff Sheng. (And my friend Morgan is in it! She's the rugby player.)
And on Thursday in the UMass student union is a screening of Training Rules, the documentary about the reign of former Penn State b-ball coach Rene Portland.
I realize this is all a little western Massachusetts-centric but if you know of other events happening this week, send them my way and I would love to post them!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Are my interests prurient?

I have to say that the more I read about ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue the more I am looking forward to its release next week. And I am not the only one.
I think many are intrigued by whether and how this naked stars/serious message thing is going to work. Sure, many will be pick it up to see just how naked Serena Williams is going to be, or because they have pregnancy fetishes and want to see Jessica Mendoza's 8-month pregnant body.
But I want to know if it's really going to work--the serious with naked that is. Not that nudes cannot be serious--I have spent enough time in famous museums with my hand on my chin pondering sculptures and portraits of the naked form. But can we take it seriously in the context of ESPN The Magazine? After all this project is not a new one. Annie Leibovitz has photographed naked and nearly naked athletes as well--with far less media coverage I am pretty sure.
And as I mentioned previously, the co-ed aspect of the project does not make me any less queasy. But I was really pleased to read that there will be male and female hockey players included. (And especially curious which ones they got!) But then subsequently queasy.
But the serious message got a big blow when it was revealed that Tiger Woods turned down the magazine's invitation for him to shed his clothes (but use some strategically placed golf equipment as others apparently did for their respective sports). I mean the most serious athlete out there was not going to buy nude as serious. The editors have vowed to get him for next year's issue. I'll believe it when I see it (unless I choose not to see it).