Friday, January 29, 2010

Uh-oh, the Sol go under

Last year when everyone was like "Oh the WPS is starting during troubled economic times" and "oh, the WUSA failed even after the success of the World Cup" and "oh women's professional sports don't draw enough fans to be self-sustaining", I--the perpetual Debbie Downer--remained hopeful and criticized all the naysayers. But I have to say that the news of the Sol's demise is hitting me pretty hard. I mean how can number one (or two depending how you view last season) team in the WPS fold? It's like the Yankees folding. (Well, you know, kind of--maybe.)
This is the team with Marta. This is the team with US National Team member Shannon Boxx. And it's L.A. Warm, California, soccer--right? What was happening out there in L.A.?
It's worrisome, even with the addition of two new teams this season.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Who's talking about Tebow?

So much for my one religion post a month. I guess I just can't will culture to limit my exposure to such things.
So who is talking about Tim Tebow--besides this reluctant blogger? Well every guy on Sports Center and Mike and Mike in the Morning (I sit through a lot of crap to get tennis highlights). Tim's currently in Mobile, Alabama for the Senior Bowl which is a parade of intercollegiate football players for professional franchises. And Tebow is all anyone is talking about down there according to the ESPN on-the-scene reporter. One of the Mikes was actually astute enough to ask whether the whole Superbowl ad controversy is being talked about by anyone who matters--i.e. anyone who might potentially draft Tebow. And no, apparently it is not on the radar screens of any powers that be. Not surprising, even though one of the Mikes contends that pro teams don't like controversy. Perhaps, but they have plenty of experience dealing with it! And this is probably a welcome controversy given there's nothing illegal about it.
So that leaves media outlets like WaPo and now The New Yorker to discuss Tebow's Focus on the Family 30-second spot. Writer Amy Davidson's opening line is pretty priceless: "Is Tim Tebow becoming the Trig Palin of the sports world?" The whole column is good and you can get the whole story of Tebow's problematic gestational experience.
If you want to talk about Tebow's professional career it seems "experts" think that he is maybe the 5th or 6th best quarterback in Mobile and that he shouldn't be picked before the third round of the draft. [Wow--that sounded like I know and pay attention to big-time college football.]

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sports Illustrated champions women's ski jumping

It's a little late, of course and one has to wonder where all the sympathy from the mainstream, American-based media was when these women were in the midst of their battle with the IOC and, by default, VANOC. The righteous indignation is nice but just two weeks before the start of the games, it's a little less righteous and indignatious.
But the SI column does do a good job noting the male-dominated make up of the IOC, the lip service Rogge has played to gender equity, how softball was cut on his watch and continually and problematically compared to baseball, and the admittance of other sports ahead of women's ski jumping.
It also makes a good point about the limited growth of a sport that is not in the Olympics (one of the reasons behind the decision was that there was not enough depth) and, I would argue, not an intercollegiate sport. With very limited funding for a national team that is not an Olympic sport, many women have or will quit jumping.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The sport and Christianity post

The title implies that there might be only be one--ever--on this blog. That would be nice. But alas it's probably more accurate to call this the January sport and Christianity post. And that's only because the Superbowl doesn't happen until February.
Because the sports world--or at least the sports world I live in which is a slightly different reality from say the ESPN sports world others inhabit--is abuzz with the Tim Tebow Superbowl ad brought to you by my favoritest group evah: Focus on the Family. Of course the ad is being paid for by a few generous and seemingly anonymous individuals and not coming out FOF's general budget.
But now several women's groups are asking CBS, which has a policy against airing "contentious advocacy ads" which was why they rejected an ad from the United Church of Christ that welcomed all types of people to their congregations--including gays, lesbians, and other queer-type people.
But CBS does not seem to be concerned about the pro-life ad which features Tebow and his mother who did not abort him when she got ill during her fifth pregnancy.
Focus on the Family is playing all coy and naive though saying they don't know what the furor is all about; they're ad is just about the importance of family.

For more on Christianity in professional sport check out this column by the author of Onward Christian Athletes: Turning Ballparks into Pulpits and Players into Preachers. The book was released last fall and discusses organized Christianity in professional basketball, football, and baseball. All men's sports, though. No women.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Please check out

Pat Griffin (of It Takes a Team) and Helen Carroll's (from the National Center for Lesbian Rights) editorial in Inside Higher Ed. They provide and throughtful and informative piece on transgender athletes focusing on high school and collegiate student-athletes.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

On the eve of the Olympics let's remember...

...the female ski jumpers who will not be there, of course, because the IOC's decision to keep ski jumping the only male-only winter sport kept being upheld by varying governing and judicial bodies.

I was thinking yesterday when skiing in Vermont about watching my first (and only admittedly) ski jumping competition in Brattleboro last winter. So I was pleased to come across this article out of Rutland, VT about a local female jumper (who was actually at the competition last year). It chronicle's the 16-year old's history in the sport. She was US junior Olympian and, of course, hoping for the inclusion of her sport in the games in Vancouver. But unlike jumpers like Lindsay Van, Vermont native Tara Geraghty-Moats is likely young enough to compete in four years at the next Olympics on Sochi. (This is assuming of course that the IOC has had enough of the negative press and actually includes the sport in 2014.)

Geraghty-Moats actually won't be in Brattleboro next month because she tore her ACL in the summer during a training jump.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Confused followed by disturbed

Sean at Sportsbabel was kind enough to send along this article entitled "Basketball league for white Americans targets Augusta."
But the title confused me. A white basketball team was going to protest Augusta National which still won't allow women as members and has a lovely history of racism? How would that work?
So naive. But it so clearly illustrates my thought process!
Anyway, no what is happening is that a whites-only basketball league is trying to establish a team in Augusta. The city, not the golf course.
I guess, given my initial interpretation of the headline, it wasn't too out of the realm of possibility for me that there would be such an organization. And it isn't. Basketball has always been rife with racial tensions. There have always been the subtle reactions to the prevalence of Black people who play the game professionally and in college. Have I recounted here before the story of sitting at a UIowa women's game against Rutgers when the older white man next to me talked about how he couldn't differentiate between the Rutgers players on the court? Because they were all black. Well now I have. (This was pre-Imus, by the way.)
Such incidents may be subtle but they are nonetheless damaging because they reify a belief in Black inferiority and generally relegate Black basketball players to roles as entertainers and money-makers for, primarily, white people.
This league, however, is an overt manifestation of the ongoing racism in basketball. This new league will only allow white, American-born players who have two white parents. These "minority" (as they call themselves) whites are going to take back basketball. Play a non-street-ball style game, they say.
Says the league founder about why there should be a whites-only league: "Would you want to go the a game and worry about a player flipping you off or attacking you in the stands or grabbing their crotch?"
First, one of most infamous crotch-grabbers, in my mind anyway, is former professional tennis player Jimmy Connors. He would adjust his package after every point, similar to the way Nadal pulls his shorts out of his crack. I think the crotch thing is more a guy thing and not so raced.
And second, I don't condone the illegal behavior of anyone, athlete or not. But I think that much of the violence is due to the long-standing racism in athletics and in American society generally. Players--some of them--may make a lot of money, but they know it's temporary and they have to, on some level, know that they are being used to make someone else even more money. It is just exemplifies a lack of respect of athletes, particularly Black athletes, and their diverse backgrounds.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

So glad to live in a post-gender society*

Of course! Of course, Patrick McEnroe and Mary Jo Fernandez and every other Australian Open/ESPN commentator. Gender had nothing to do with Serena Williams's biggest-fine-in-tennis-ever as she claimed in a recent interview at the Australian Open. I mean, really. We're still talking about gender? No--we're all equal now that Wimbledon finally ponied up equal prize money.
Oh, and P.S. just in case you were thinking it, race had nothing to do with it either. Because we are soooo lucky to live in a post-race society too. 'Cause, you know, we elected a Black man to be president. [Can you even imagine what would have happened if Serena had mentioned race in that interview? Pam Shriver's head might have exploded. Remind me to tweet Serena and ask her to talk about race!]
All these gender is not a factor comments are ringing pretty hollow to me, a Massachusetts resident, this morning. 'Cause another potentially powerful woman in Congress who dared to call out a man's political record had nothing to do with gender, either.

* Beware of the dripping irony. It burns if it gets into an open wound.

Monday, January 18, 2010

What I did this weekend

I went to a hockey game! My first collegiate women's game of the season. Yea! My team lost. Boo! Also irksome was that it was the "Stick it to cancer" event which meant that everything was pink. Pink shirts and shorts and pj bottoms for sale. Pink programs--which I refused to even pick up. Thankfully my father snagged me a normal one. And pink tape on the players' sticks and socks. Oh, and pink scarves on the female coaches. The male head coach--no pink. What was interesting was that all of the verbal announcements in the pre-game ceremony, etc. only talked about cancer--not breast cancer. So either we're afraid of saying the word breast at a hockey game or this is a general fight cancer event which means the whole pink thing is even more bizarre.

And speaking of pink, when I saw this year's ball persons uniforms at the Australian Open I bet (only myself which isn't as fun) that it would take Pam Shriver less than one hour to comment on the color. And I won! (Again against myself--so only mildly satisfying.) Yes, Shriver commented that she was surprised by the pink shirts by Lacoste--which match perfectly the big Evian coolers on the courts--in such a masculine culture as Australia. Her expert fieldwork revealed that the one male ball kid she spoke with about the color kind of made a face. Note that there does not seem to be a lack of male ball kids and that if it was such a masculine culture how did the color even get through in the first place were issues left unaddressed. Aesthetically I think it looks kind of cool against the blue of the courts and the backdrops. But I would think it would be distracting.

So obviously I also started watching the Australian Open this weekend. And I have to say as much as I like Maria Sharapova, I am not going to miss that dress for the next two weeks.

Also on television this weekend: the US men's figure skating national championships. I like Johnny Weir so I watched. He placed third and is headed to Vancouver next month. Also read Jere Longman's quite amusing NYT column about the very uninteresting scene in US women's figure skating.

And there was also the Tennessee-Vandy match-up last night. I turned it on in the first half when Tennessee was up about 20 points and so changed the channel back to figure skating. But then I tuned back in toward the end of the half when Vandy had really turned it on. They stayed close in the second but couldn't pull out the win, which was disappointing. I was all about the underdog yesterday.

And tonight is UConn and Duke!

What will next weekend bring??

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Not a pretty girl*

And thank goodness for that because then I might have been recruited as a hostess. You're thinking sex work, right? Nope. Well, maybe, kind of.
According to this article from a December issue of Inside Higher Ed, the sketchy practice of pretty girls hosting a university's football (and basketball too I believe though this article focuses on football) recruits continues.
In 2004 the NCAA cracked down on hostessing, instituting specific rules, etc. But it seems that mostly that has meant that there is a lot more winking and nodding and turning of heads, like that being done by University of Tennessee's head football coach after two hostesses went to a high school football game to cheer on two recruits.
Sounds innocuous but not so much. I have heard countless stories about what happens between recruits and hostesses. Let's not forget that the lawsuit brought against University of Colorado by former female students stemmed from sexual violence that occurred at a recruiting party. These women weren't even official hostesses.
Because, yes, there are official hostesses. They are part of a student organization funded usually by university admissions offices. And they are most often comprised of women even though most claim to be co-ed. Though they are not officially there to cater to athletics' recruits--that's pretty much what they do. And even though they are not officially there to flirt and be objectified, that's pretty much what they do--and more according to both anecdotal and scholarly evidence.
And not surprising most of these hostess organizations and/or the most intense hostessing occurs in the south, according to the article. But formally or informally, using pretty women to get recruits is happening everywhere. Sometimes the athletic department uses some of their own, sometimes they outsource.
It's a disgusting practice regardless of the level of institutionalization and some, based on the comments I read that accompany the article, do indeed blame the institution. Some, of course, blame the women. Typical. Because they are of the age of consent and because they volunteer for the job, it's all on them, say some.
If you're volunteering to be a hostess, you are indeed participating in your own oppression. If you sleep or hook up with one of those recruits--consensually--you are still participating in your own oppression. But there is clearly a greater motivation for doing so and my guess is that one of those reasons is an attempt to gain some power, some social capital. A lot of these women are participating in a pretty effed up system. Do I think they need some consciousness-raising? Yep. Do I hold them accountable for helping perpetuate the system? Yes, I do. Do I feel any sympathy for the pain they are likely to encounter because they have put so much stock in their looks? Not a lot. But I do not think they deserve to be raped or sexually assaulted. And I don't think the university should be teaching them that this is the way to show school spirit. Whatever happened to in loco parentis?

* So I stole this title from Ani Difranco. I think the first verse should be the anti-hostess anthem.
I am not a pretty girl
that is not what I do
I ain't no damsel in distress
and I don't need to be rescued
so put me down punk
maybe you'd prefer a maiden fair
isn't there a kitten stuck up a tree somewhere?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Color me not surprised

Woo-hoo, look at me, up on the breaking news that Mark McGwire has admitted to taking steroids. Shocker. Seriously.

But even in admitting his deep regret and wishing he had never ever taken steroids, the heartfeltness of it all remains suspect--to me, anyway.
First of all is the naivete or the feigned naivete or the deliberate denial of the role and intent of his steroid use. He was injured so he wanted to take something to get better--he wasn't after strength!! So, yeah, definitely a substance (or substances) so suspect that it's illegal--that's what I would turn to to fix my injuries. And of course strength alone does not make a good hitter, McGwire still contends--it's all about the hand-eye coordination. Well, sure. But my guess is that everyone hitting in the major leagues has above average hand-eye coordination. What set him apart was STRENGTH. If he really believed that strength was not a huge factor in his successful hitting career he wouldn't be so understanding about returning the home run record to Roger Maris. (Well there's still that whole Barry Bonds situation to contend with. What's happening with that anyway? And with the investigation of Roger Clemens? Why do all these players get called out in public, make vehement denials and/or shady defenses which make news for about a week and then disappear? Marion Jones probably wishes she had been part of that investigation instead!)
And then there is the "everyone was doing it" defense where he mentions all the gyms where steroids were ubiquitous and use of them not exactly on covert. What did your parents ask you (rhetorically) when you were younger? Something about jumping off the bridge if everyone else was doing it...Not that I have ever been a big fan of that particular sentiment but it seems fitting here when talking about sport, a notoriously neoliberal institution where individuality and work ethic is prized--even in team sports.
He says not that he wishes he had never taken steroids; had never been part of the steroid era. But, since I am all about the cliches and other hackneyed lines today, hindsight is 20/20. And when he was celebrating breaking that home run record, there was no regret. And what if there had never been a congressional investigation and general crackdown on performance-enhancing drugs? Would there still be regret?
I just read Chris Evert's editorial in the latest issue of Tennis about Andre Agassi's admission of drug use (not performance enhancers which has quelled some of the debate) and she makes a good point: athletes are not held to the same standards as others. They get away with more. And consequently, they mature at a different (slower rate) if at all and with a entirely different sense of privilege. And this sense of privilege has to be a factor in the decision to take performance enhancers in the first place. He can claim the desire to be healthy (by taking something unhealthy) all he wants, but Mark McGwire clearly believed he deserved this. And maybe--even if he had never been exposed--he would still be regretful. Maybe we should look at (well look at further anyway) what it is about professional (or even collegiate these days) sport that seems to stymy development.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Wrestling really is taking off

Usually I post about another college or university adding women's wrestling to their roster of varsity sports. Sometimes it is to increase the number of opportunities for women to participate in sport; sometimes it is an attempt to "save" men's wrestling.
But this time, it's just to get women involved in the sport and sport more generally. And it's not at a college or university. It's not even in the United States.
Apparently wrestling clubs for women are taking off in Iraq. One guy, a former champion wrestler and national coach, came in and started a club for women a year ago and despite some community resistance, women came out to wrestle and more clubs around the country have popped up.
And they like it. They really like it.
Plans include travelling to tournaments in nearby countries like Syria and Turkey and the women in the founding club have their sites set on the Olympics.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Leaky hegemony versus conformity

Wow--I just don't know what to do with this story (kindly sent to me by Sean at Sportsbabel).
Australian track and field star Jana Rawlinson, who specializes in the hurdles, recently had her breast implants removed. Not because she didn't like the way they looked: "I absolutely loved having big boobs" she said. No, it was because she didn't want to "short-change Australia" in the 2012 Olympics. She wanted to be the fittest she could be and I guess that meant ditching the implants.
Curious, curious, curious. Why would she add them in the first place? [OK; just found this article about when the news of the implants was publicly revealed.] Olympic-level track athletes usually start running pretty early in their lives. Likely earlier than the decision to have implants would be made. Actually, we can infer that Rawlinson was indeed already an athlete when she chose to have breast augmentation because the reason behind the implants, she says, was that she didn't like the way her body looked: "When I looked in the mirror, I just saw muscled arms, broad shoulders, and big, strong legs."
And while she recognized that such a physique was an asset to well her athletic career, it apparently bothered her enough to get implants. But now the implants, apparently, are bothering her performance (or her perception of her performance) enough to get them removed.
So now she's back to that body that challenges the hegemonic feminine form, but it's not the body she really wants, clearly.
"There are a couple of girls--who I won't name*--in world athletics who are Olympic champions, but they look like men and I don't want to be like that."
So she got breast implants not to look like a man? So does that cast more or less suspicion on her "true gender." We are talking about track and field which as we know has spent a lot of time casting around for false females. Maybe Rawlinson was worried that her too athletic figure would call attention to her gender. Maybe if Caster Semenya had gotten breast implants would that have stopped this whole thing before it started! [Please note the tongue-in-cheekiness of this last paragraph--just in case you're new here at After Atalanta and unfamiliar with how the sarcasm drips.]

* Yeah, Jana, we all know who you are talking about...