Saturday, February 27, 2010

It's never anything good when they're talking women's hockey

I complained yesterday about the crap I had to "deal" with in the form of the criticism levied against women's hockey by the powers-that-be, namely Monsier Rogge who wants the women to improve the depth of their game or else face elimination from the Olympics.

But it's not nearly as much crap as the members of the gold-winning Canadian women's team found themselves in the morning after. Because long after the crowd had dispersed the women went back on the ice with champagne and beer and cigars. There were, however, members of the press still in the arena. And thus there are now pictures. And the IOC is investigating. Given that they kicked Scotty Lago out of the games for behavior that occurred outside an Olympic venue, one would think things do not look good for the team. But it's also a tad more difficult to kick out a whole team, that happens to have a gold medal, and also is from the host country.
Not that they should be kicked be out. (Lago's ousting was a bit harsh as well and given the press he has gotten since, the IOC is not going to be looking so hot.)
So this has generated a lot of news-like chatter. More than all the "concern" over the lack of depth in the women's game even. Some ESPN blowhard seems to be deeply affronted.
But thankfully some are calling out the double standard that is slapping these women across the face. Even some people employed by ESPN (do you believe in miracles?) are noting that if this was the men's team this wouldn't be a big deal. Also that many men's teams have engaged in far more raucous behavior.
But that does not negate the you-knew-they-were-coming comments about lesbians, dykes, white trash as well as some pretty virulent anti-Canadian sentiments. What's up with that anyway? When did Canadians become the enemy?
And then there is the "who cares? It's women's hockey" comments found scattered around the internet. Of course these people cared enough to comment in the first place...

Friday, February 26, 2010

ken: Rogge must improve to stay

Apologies to NBC Sports for lifting their headline "Rogge: Women's hockey must improve to stay." But seriously. Last night's game was good. Yes, it's unfortunate that earlier games were lopsided. And I have to think that Melody Davis might be singing a different tune if she doesn't have a job because Rogge kicks women's hockey out of the games. But I am not blaming her for refusing to play down to save women's hockey. Because it is after all pretty counter intuitive.
But I don't think he can do that. It flies in the face of any gender equity commitment--no matter which side of Rogge's mouth it's coming out of.
And obviously I don't think he should do that. [I'm being deeply analytical this morning!]
In the same breath Rogge is encouraging the NHL commissioner, in the battle of the white men who control sports, to allow the pros to compete in 2014. Are we seeing part of the problem here? The men's tournament is comprised of teams that field professional hockey players. Players who GET PAID to develop their games ALL YEAR and not every four years.
As if it's not bad enough I had to watch the US lose last night,* I have to deal with this crap the morning after.

* OK I wasn't that sad--that Platinum martini helped, I think--and I kind of expected it.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

My letter to the NCAA

The the letter below is one I just sent to the NCAA who, if you have not heard, recently accepted banner ads from Focus on the Family. Thanks to the amazing work of Pat Griffin and other advocates who got the word of the offense out quickly, the NCAA has pulled the ads from the website.
But there have been plans for CBS (you remember--they're the station that aired the Super Bowl with the infamous FoF Tim Tebow ad) to air more FoF ads during March Madness. There is no word, according to Griffin's blog, about the status of these ads. So I emailed the marketing and publicity department at the NCAA and told them 1) good job taking down the ads (I didn't bother to mention the mistake they made in accepting them in the first place) and 2) please don't run them during the tournament next month.
You can do the same by emailing ( or calling (317-917-6762 )their public relations department.


I was quite pleased to just learn that the NCAA has decided to take down the banner ads from Focus on the Family that have been running on your web page.
I hope that you will continue to refuse ads from Focus on the Family, including during the televised coverage on CBS of the men's NCAA basketball tournament next month. Such ads are clearly in violation of the organization's own policies on advertising. Additionally ads from a well-known and unabashedly anti-gay organization harm the coaches, administrators, and student-athletes who identity as non-heterosexual. And it also harms the reputation of the NCAA. I find it hard to believe that Dr. Myles Brand would have ever let this happen under his leadership. Please honor his vision and his work and continue to uphold standards of justice and equity for all members of the NCAA.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Because cheerleaders make everything better

I don't know who the woman is who is doing all the commentary on curling (or at least on women's curling--I haven't watched much of the men's). But she's ridiculous. She's definitely a former player and sounds like a native English speaker but I am sensing some kind of accent. Up until this point (this point about 2 minutes ago) I thought she was knowledgeable, not especially helpful to those of us still in the dark about strategy (though I noticed last night at the bar as I was watching that there are others who know far less about the sport than I do), and a little bit condescending.
In other words, typical commentator. But about two minutes ago as she and her co-commentator were discussing the "controversy" over the loud Canadian crowds that have caused some opposing teams to flub up shots she said that curling (the sport) had to find a way to manage the crowd but still keep the excitement alive. Her suggestion: "cheerleaders in bikinis." She said it once, I blinked a few times. Thought, "typical." And then she said it again that she really thinks it's a good idea to bring cheerleaders into the curling venue. It seems that the crowd is pretty excited on its own. Put a woman (the implication with the bikinis is that said cheerleaders will be women) in a bikini and more people will come out? Curling is already a hard to ticket to get. And like many other winter sports, people really only get interested/excited about it every four years. I haven't heard anyone talking about putting cheerleaders on the side of the luge track.
It's just so utterly ridiculous, especially when you consider the efficacy of cheerleaders generally. Even with famous squads such as the Laker Girls or the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. How many people actually go to those games to see the cheerleaders? And how much do those cheerleaders really fire up the crowd? The sport itself is supposed to be exciting enough to carry crowd interest. And the way sports do so varies from sport to sport. Basketball and soccer have the potential to be exciting all the time. Baseball has tension at times that leads to excitement. Tennis is similar though there is more constant action. Curling is different and similar to golf in that many shots (some good, some bad) build to an unknown end (i.e. par or birdie; one point or two). But in all cases it's crowd knowledge of the sport that will create excitement level--not cheerleaders.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Sexuality confuses me

Not my own--most of the time anyway.
But all this neoliberal, neo-queer stuff is really confusing. Especially in the context of the Olympics.
So according to Pat Griffin, the person I go to for such information, there are only 4 out athletes at these Winter Olympics (all women), plus Johnny Weir who sometimes epitomizes these neoliberal, neo-queer discussions for me.
But four! That number is quite low. So we enter the "it's the 21st century and I don't need to be out; I am who I am" kind of discussion countered by the idea that that's just baloney (articulate, eh?) and queer people are making themselves more invisible in this age of increasing visibility and controversy over issues of sexuality. But this latter argument is hard to put on someone like Weir, who will not discuss his sexuality because it's "private" (though he has no problems with privacy when showing his ass on his Sundance Channel show) but is not at all subtle in his behaviors and comments that can be read as stereotypically gay male behavior--see aforementioned showing of his ass.
But let's move beyond Johnny Weir. Sarah Vaillancourt, a hockey player for Canada is the only out athlete on that team. I found this surprising when I found out more about her coach, Melody Davis. (I have a theory about the connection between the identity markers of coaches and their athletes in women's sports.) I headed to Hockey Canada's website to look up Melody Davis and found her coaching history (impressive; she appears to be one of very few women to coach elite level boys) and her picture. I was startled when I saw her picture. Davis is unapologetically butch. (Note that I am not saying her butchness means she is gay or identifies as gay.) She may be gay. She may be out. I have no idea. But she is not engaging in any kind of apologetic behavior for her non-conforming appearance. And this is surprising to me because she's a female coach of Canada's national pastime. (She also coached intercollegiate hockey at Cornell.) She's also been quite outspoken in her belief that good teams (i.e. Canada and the US) should not be backing off in lopsided games (of which there have been many). This debate clearly has a gendered component and she has taken the side that is marked as masculine (note that I find such marking problematic).
But it's also curious that a team with a visibly non-conforming coach does not have more non-conforming players. Maybe they do. Maybe they are just not out because of the aforementioned neo-queer I don't have to be out thing. But then why is one person out? Again, confusing.

So then I saw that US women's hockey team is all about Ellen Degeneres. They have an Ellen conquers the world flag that they are carrying around and the other day they appeared on on Ellen's show. None of these women are out. Maybe none of them are gay (but I doubt it) and just really really like Ellen. Erica Lawler called Ellen a babe during the segment. And indeed Ellen is a babe. So these women--who are not marking themselves as gay--are admiring in a somewhat sexualized way, an out lesbian. We could say this is progress in that women, straight and gay, feel comfortable expressing admiration for Ellen. But Ellen herself can be read as a neo-liberal gay.

And then I was watching the men's figure skating final (well what I could stay awake for--what is up with all this super late coverage???) and saw that the owner of the Cowboys was there along with Tony Dungy. Tony Dungy is the retired coach of the Colts and one of the few black coaches to break through into the upper echelons of the sport. He is very devoted to charitable work. And he is also known for his anti-gay stances based in his devotion to a version of christianity. I mean two football dudes watching men's figure skating. Even though there are no out gay male figure skaters 1) there is Johnny Weir (who actually seems quite devoted to a judeo-christian god if you read his tweets) and 2) everyone knows men's ice skating is a big gay closet which is why people like Evan Lysacek is so out as a hetero. Again, it seems too easy to call this progress, but my head is starting hurt with all the cognitive dissonance.
And by the way, there is a PRIDE house at the Olympics. It's a welcoming place for LGBT athletes, coaches, and families. So those four out athletes and their friends and families must be psyched to have the place to themselves, eh?

As you can see, my thoughts on these issues are kind of scattered--as evidenced by all the parentheses. Mostly this post was just an attempt to work through some of my confusion. I don't know if it helped!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"I would rather die than be called a woman"

That's the message I am getting after the start of the men's single luge competition was moved farther down the track in an attempt to temper the high speeds that seemed to result in the death of Georgian luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili,* during a training run last Friday.
This story is not breaking news of course, but I started to hear the grumbles about the start's move pretty much the day it started. Why? Well, one because it corroborates the party line that Kumaritashvili died because of luger error and not because of the course, which is on record as the fastest in the world. And one would think that given the pride those involved in the endeavor had over the speediness that they would have taken certain precautions. But I guess all that hubris gets in the way of covering steel beams with padding.
But the second and more relevant (to me) reason for the disgruntledness is because the new start is the women's singles start. I am sorry--it was where the women were slated to started. But since they moved the men's start, apparently they had to move the women's start--to the juniors start. Because we certainly cannot have the women competing from the same starting spot. Such a threat to these male athlete' masculinity and apparently to their personalities if you listen to American luger Tony Benshoof. His "driving" personality has been muted by the lower start and the slower speeds and the overall easier course, he says. Oh my god! He's becoming a girl!!
Because now the course, some allege, is "too easy." Apparently so easy a girl could do it. But they can't because, as I noted, their start has been moved down to where the children compete. (Note too that the conditions have been pretty lousy because of warm temps at Whistler.)
So this whole thing reminds me (without the tragic component, of course) of golf (the tees)--but on ice and more dangerous. I wonder if there's a "dicks out" equivalent in luge?

*I have it really strange that in most of the television coverage, Kumaritashvili's name is rarely mentioned. He is referred to as "the Georgian luger" or "the young Georgian luger." I have to believe that if this was a westerner who had died, the name would be used repeatedly. It was a very strange "silence."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Like I didn't see this criticism coming...

...from about an Olympic ice rink length away. I missed but definitely heard about Canada's 18-0 win over Slovakia. I saw the US's 12-1 win over China. I watched most of Canada's 10-1 win over Switzerland.
And then I saw all the critiques. (And there were indeed more than three.)
It is indeed worrisome given that the IOC nixed softball from the Olympic roster because of lack of international worthiness. (Though that seemed to become the official rationale there was all that curious wrangling that is alleged to have happened over whether baseball and softball were the same sport.)
And if I were an elite female ski jumper right now seeing these scores, I would be miffed that the IOC hadn't even considered my sport because of alleged international shallowness.
But the delve into Olympic hockey's history is important. The men's scores in the early years of the game--even worse. And the women's game needs to overcome even more: namely the sexism and intersecting homophobia in most countries that are men's hockey powerhouses.
China only has 200 registered female hockey players but they have that Cold War mentality that the former Soviet Union and the US had: we need medals and if we have to let women play sports that might call into question their femininity, then so be it. And they have a history of intense devotion to training elite athletes from childhood.
And it was kind of offensive when Jeff Passan suggested that the Americans with 6-0 foot Jinelle Zaugg-Siergiej were just pushing around the Chinese women, as represented by 5-2 Linuo Wang. It was probably most offensive to American teammate Erica Lawler who is only 5-0 and has made quite a showing at the games already.
The Canadian team is also under fire for running up the score against Slovakia. Well they are under fire for being unapologetic about it. Coach Melody Davidson (who is an unapologetically butch presence on the Canadian bench, which is a post for another time) has announced they will not let up against any team, much to the dismay of--well--everyone it seems. This, of course, brings up the debate about playing hard versus embarrassing the losing team by letting up. And then there is the whole gendered aspect of it.
But hang on, haters. The medal rounds will be better.

Monday, February 15, 2010

You're outraged now?

Initially when I read this column at the Huffington Post by Michele Morris about the story of the missing female ski jumpers in Vancouver, I had another one of those where have you been moments. It's a good column that outlines the whole contentious history of the women's exclusion from the Olympic games. It offers those late to the issue, a quick and thoughtful catch-up. But I was still annoyed at the media coverage this late in the game.
But then as I was watching jumping events this past weekend and heard nary a word about the lack of women, I kind of softened my stance. If they are not going to talk about it during the actual Olympics on the many stations of NBC maybe we do still need writers like Morris to be bringing up this issue.
Then today I got irked again as I read about people so outraged they are boycotting the Olympics because of it. Really? I have been pleased to see a lot of controversy and protesting of these games, but you're picking this issue--NOW--to boycott. Where was the outrage last year, four years ago? What were you doing when the IOC opted not to allow in the women but added ski cross?
Outside the Lines finally addressed the issue. They did a good job. They made Jacques Rogge appear the sexist old white dude that he is. And it was amusing when Lindsey Van compared the IOC to the Taliban. But again--where was this story last year? ESPN has influence and they didn't use it.
Though Van is not hopeful that women will ever be allowed to jump, I think it's a possibility if there is concerted outrage and not just this I just learned about this story and I'm hoppin' mad kind of stuff.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Player profile: Angela Ruggiero

I am sitting here watching the US women's hockey team cream China. It's 5-0 at the end of the first period and China has only had one shot on goal. Four-time Olympian Angela Ruggiero scored the first goal. It was a pretty offensive-looking move for a defenseperson (that's right, Cammi Granato--she's a woman!). She just skated right in and slipped it around the goalie down low.
Anyway here's a profile of Ruggiero from the NYTimes that highlights her charity work over the year. And thankfully leaves out her stint on that Donald Trump show.
Ruggiero was the intermission interview and I have to say she looked a lot like a softball player: lots of eye make-up. I mean mascara that you could see clumping. So she's wearing a helmet most of the time but she put on the eyeliner for the intermission interview?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Good thing she knows how to pose in a bathing suit

Because if Lindsey Vonn had a plan to gain Michael Phelps-like fame by winning many medals and becoming a highly decorated American skier, she might have to fall back on her modeling career.
I refrained from commenting on the little upsurge in controversy after my colleague dared to suggest that the pose of Vonn on a recent SI cover, the one with her ass in the air and perfectly coiffed hair and impeccable make-up superimposed on a mountain, was slightly problematic. Though I was tempted to comment on how ugly the response to something that was nothing new: people including Dr. LaVoi and myself and many others have been noting the problematic ways in which female athletes are depicted for a long, long time. Luckily she and others addressed the sexist, homophobic responses.
So now we can all move on and think about Vonn's latest SI appearance: the photos of her in the annual swimsuit issue. There's no question that these are indeed sexual pictures; there is no question of intent. And we can get into the tired debate of showing these proud athletic bodies and the sexualization and mandatory feminization of the female athlete.
Well you can. I think I'll refrain. Besides LA Times columnist Bill Plaschke did a good job discussing the interesting juxtaposition of Vonn's big news week: her swimsuit pics and her shin injury which could keep her out of all her events in Vancouver.
I particularly enjoyed the section in which Plaschke mentions the initial support of Vonn's photo shoot by her teammates and then the not-so-much moments that followed. Gold medalist Julia Mancuso didn't seem so pleased that Vonn--who has no Olympic medal yet--got the opportunity while Mancuso, who won gold in Turin, doesn't get much media attention. It makes it appear as though Mancuso is the ugly stepsister and/or possibly above all this sexualization stuff. But check out her website and you will see Mancuso posed in bikinis (and also action shots of her skiing and surfing) and find out that she plans to launch a line of lingerie called Kiss My Tiara.
So this may be a case of jealousy, but it's also an example of how there just doesn't seem to be that much room in the very limited space the media offers to female athletes. Can't have more than one star at a time!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

At least some women will be allowed to fly down an icy slope

The women ski jumpers may have lost their bid to gain entry into the Vancouver Olympics (as recounted in this article which I thought tried too hard to put a positive spin on the sexism) but the 2-women bobsled team from Australia is in! The Court of Arbitration of Sport ruled that the Australians were unfairly denied access as the best team from Oceania based on current bodsled federation rules for qualifying. That means 21 teams will be competing in Vancouver next week instead of the usual 20, which is good news for the Irish team which was the last to qualify.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

As you watch the Super Bowl...

...think about Saints player Scott Fujita whose open support of gay rights including an appearance at October's National Equality March. His advocacy has gone nearly unnoticed with the recent Tebow controversy.

Also do not forget that women play professional football--and not just in their underwear (a la the Lingerie League). Here's my friend, Bobbi--sorry, Dr. Knapp, who is a former player herself and wrote her dissertation on women's professional football. She reminds us that the early years of the NFL---you know, like, the first thirty--were not profitable for the league. In other words, stop the doomsday talk about women's professional sports!

Friday, February 05, 2010

Finally, a quality American export

Roller derby has hit Britain! The American, largely female-only sport has been exported to Britain and is growing exponentially.
Check out this piece in The Guardian about the emergence of the sport overseas.
This is very good news for overseers of British women's physical fitness (note the problematic nature of having such overseers however well meaning). Because British women are quite absent in sport and physical activity. Which makes the popularity of roller derby a little curious. Much of the rationale behind the lack of activity is the need to uphold standards of femininity which many women find incompatible with sport participation. But roller derby is one of the most aggressive (an historically male trait) sports out there. But the performance of the sport with the self-styled "kits" (I love British-speak!) that often include skirts and fishnets and makeup might temper the perceived masculinity many women see in sport. Who knows.
Also I found out an interesting tidbit: skaters in the US have to register their derby names and no one is allowed to take an already existing name. (Kind of like when you sign up for an email account!)
And, by the way, Whip It! the movie by Drew Barrymore about roller derby in Texas came out on DVD this past week and I highly recommend it.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

In case you didn't know...

...the Olympics are run by boys. Shocker.
But if you want some of the details check out Christine Brennan's column about the male-dominated USOC. All the National Governing Board (the groups that govern individual sports such as skating, skiing/snowboarding, luge, etc.) heads are men. The USOC briefly had a female president, but she got run out of town. And this is part of the reason why women are not found in these positions. All these men talk the politically correct game and the NGBs say they want to be diverse but, really, you think they want women in charge--of sports! Similar to the situations faced by female coaches and female administrators in intercollegiate sports (where there is also a dearth , though not nearly so bad, of women), women in Olympic sport administration deal not only with the pressures of their respective jobs but having to deal with the inherent sexism--sometimes overt, sometimes stealth--that honestly makes the job either impossible to succeed in or just not worth it.
Brennan asks why more past female Olympic athletes are not stepping into governance roles. But often these women have no administrative experience and thus any (male-dominated) search committee will fault them for that. And given the recent issues the USOC has had, I think we should be getting people with administrative experience. (No offense Bonnie Blair.) So what about the corporate world, she asks? (I would also add the non-profit world.) Well women who have succeeded in corporate America (or globally) certainly have dealt with sexism. But then we add the sports component and the proverbial ball game changes. Non-athlete women get questioned about their knowledge of sports in ways non-athlete men do not. Look at how many non-athlete men are sports journalists or television commentators. And how many women in similar positions do not have athletic pasts?
In other words, it doesn't appear that for a man to be a qualified USOC or NGB leader he has to be something special. But a woman has to be extraordinary.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

So over Tim Tebow

Not that I was ever into him but this Super Bowl Focus on the Family ad conversation is getting old. Well not so much old as typical. Same old arguments. Same old sides. And in the end the "right" which is all about the self-martyrdom will have the ear of the greater public and call all left-leaning folks radicals--if only because on Sunday people just want to sit down and watch the game.
So instead of getting embroiled (more so emotionally--I don't see myself as a major player in this debate) I am just going to post this link to Dave Zirin's column on the issue and remind people that having an ad during the Super Bowl is not a constitutional right; it's an economic privilege.

Monday, February 01, 2010

When muscles and skill don't equal power

Business Week came out with its list of the 100 most powerful athletes. Only eight women made the list (which was based on both on-field and off-field earnings). Only two (Serena and Venus Williams) made the top 50. If only off-field earnings were taken into consideration more women would have made the list--including Annika Sorenstam and Lisa Leslie.
But the lack of on-field opportunities in team sports was a major factor. Lack seems to be an understatement actually: women have .037 percent the number of spots on team rosters as men.
So when I hear that we don't need Title IX in college sports any more, I think about the professional realm which is not subject to gender equity regulations. And I wonder what things would look like in intercollegiate athletics without it. It would probably be better than .037 percent but how much?