Sunday, August 29, 2010

Who's the opening act?

Not too long ago, one of the Title IX bloggers (those women just rock, don't they?), wrote about the issue of double headers in intercollegiate sports. Not two games played back-to-back by the same team, but back-to-back games by a women's team and a men's team. This seems to happen most frequently in basketball. The home team hosts both the men's and women's teams from a particular institution in one night. The issue has been that often the women's games are played first making it seem like they are the opening act; the warm-up for the men's game.
Title IX is involved because the law requires equity in the scheduling of games and promotion both of which are at issue when scheduling men's games in primetime slots and relegating women to opening act status.
Some conferences have dealt with this already by switching the order of games either at some point during the season or every year.

What got me thinking about this was roller derby. Not an intercollegiate sport (wouldn't that be interesting, though?!) so it doesn't haven't to adhere to Title IX. It is also an historically women-only sport--or maybe women-dominated sport would be more appropriate.

Anyway (and I totally buried the lead here) I went to roller derby last night. This is my second time this summer and my third overall, which is odd since I am not in love with the sport, though I find it fascinating from a sociological perspective (plus it was the thing to do in town last night apparently). And since the sociocultural was foremost on my mind last night I was thinking about opening acts and sports.

Because in my neck of the woods there is both women's and men's roller derby. And both local teams were competing at the bouts I saw this summer. And the men always go first. In fact, knowing this, I opted to grab dinner and be late for the derby because I knew the men would be on first and I was more interested in seeing the women. I did see some of the men's bout and all of the women's. Not sure what the crowd thought. A lot of people left at intermission after seeing both one men's and one women's round so there wasn't seemingly a gender-based exodus or entrance as is feared will (or maybe does) happen when you put women on after men in a doubleheader set up. There were a lot of derby newbies in the crowd so maybe it was just a general fascination that kept people in their seats rather than who was competing.

There is, as I mentioned, the perception that roller derby is a women's sport and I think some newbies were surprised to see men playing. Men's participation does seem to take away some of the problematic voyeurism that has accompanied the sport.

Roller derby is ripe for analysis--and it does seem to be taken up as a hot new topic, so I think think there will be plenty more opportunities to discuss things like femininity, feminism, empowerment, sexuality, queerness, and more. This was just one not-quite-clear post about popularity, perception, and positioning.

And a good excuse to post some roller derby pics I took earlier in the summer.

PS My favorite roller derby name from last night: Bloodbath and Beyond. She was a most excellent jammer.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Another reason to dislike John McEnroe*

In case you needed another--I don't personally--but here's one for the holdouts**:
John McEnroe thinks that the women just are not capable of enduring the 10-month season so changes need to be made. Note that he also thinks the men's season needs to be shortened as well but he didn't apply the same incapability rationale.
"I think that it's asking too much of the women. They shouldn't be playing as many events as the men. . . . The women have it better in tennis than in any other sport, thanks to Billie Jean King [a founder of the Women's Tennis Association and pioneer for equal prize money for women]. But you shouldn't push them to play more than they're capable of."
This pedantic statement illustrates how either absolutely clueless or especially nefarious McEnroe is. To invoke BJK in a statement that says how inferior female tennis players are is just--well clueless or nefarious.
Mary Carillo, who will now have to refrain from slapping McEnroe upside the head as she sits next to him in the booth for the next two weeks, thinks it's not about the physical--it's the mental. She believes that champions in the past were tougher mentally.
I don't think it's so easy to pinpoint a reason. There isn't, actually, just one reason. (There never is, you know.) But I have to believe that a large part of it is the increase in physicality. Might make it more fun and exciting to watch but not so fun to play, I would imagine. It's tough on the body--even for us recreational players. But we're not hitting 85+ mph serves or blasting backhand after backhand in practice every day of the week. Plus there's the racket and string technology--and don't forget coaching philosophies combined with the predominant boom-boom style of today's game. It just might not be possible to play for as long as someone like Chris Evert did (note that she took mini-breaks). And maybe the desire isn't there either. I mean it seems exciting to travel the world and play tennis everywhere. But there are clear downsides. Why would you want to do it year after year after year?
I don't think it's wrong not to have that desire for 10 plus years. I don't think it's wrong to lose that desire and then get it back and make another go.

So all this is in light of the draw for next week's US Open which is missing star Serena Williams (foot surgery) and has more than a few top players with injuries or in various states of recovery from earlier summer injuries. Let's note though that defending men's champion, Juan Martin del Potro is out--and has been out for some time--recovering from wrist surgery. And that last year (2009) Nadal couldn't defend his Wimbledon title because of injury. I would be surprised if Nadal's career lasts as long as Federer has--desire or no. Former #1 Leyton Hewitt has had chronic hip problems. Andre Agassi--even with his few hiatuses--had some pretty bad injuries throughout his career.
I'm just a little bit tired of all this weak women stuff--weak knees, weak bodies, weak skulls, weak minds--as if it has nothing to do with training and learned behaviors.

* I was going to title this "You cannot be serious, John McEnroe!" but I thought it might be a little hackneyed and I don't like giving his bad-boy catch phrase more credibility.
** Please do not call me or leave me a message about why McEnroe might possibly be redeemable.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Oh the tyranny of Red Sox Nation

Having lived in Red Sox Nation* for the greater portion of my life and never having an interest in professional baseball, I have to say, I'm not quite sure of the way this manifestation of fandom works.
Now I don't live in dark cave nor am I visually impaired; I've seen the anti-Yankees stuff. The Yankees Suck t-shirts. The Calvin peeing on a Yankees cap car decal. I'm aware of the rivalry. I'm also aware of the generally high level of fanaticism among Boston/New England fans.
But I was pretty shocked to see a guy wearing a t-shirt that said "A-Rod slaps balls". I wonder how he explained that to his young son who was shopping with him. "You see, son, slaps balls is a double entendre meant to convey the Alex Rodriguez likes playing with men's genitals which means he is gay, which makes him less of a man and thus less of a ball player even though he just set that record. Because all the people we don't like are gay. Even if they aren't, we call them gay. Because no one likes gay people. Get it?"
Given the largely unchecked name-calling and bullying based on anti-gay sentiments that happens in schools these days it's possible the son doesn't need any explanation.
Then when I was googling to see if I could find the t-shirt, I found other anti-Yankees slogans like this one: "Derek Jeter drinks wine coolers". I'm going to skip the sarcastic, fictionalized conversation for this one. I think we all get it.
The fan board I was on (it was a Yankees site) had one fan reporting that he had seen a t-shirt that said "Derek Jeter has AIDS". If that shirt really exists...well I don't think I even have the words if it does. The first one is bad enough. The second one is beyond the most basic level of decency.
Here's a slogan for you:
Homophobia and misogyny: As American as baseball and apple pie.

*TANGENT: Isn't it interesting how we recognize the nationhood of a group of sports fans but fail to recognize the nationhood of people like, say, American Indians. I realize that we aren't talking about laws and sovereignty here but the fandom~nationalism connection and how language is used to construct fandom is interesting.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Where did Lady Vols come from?

Well it came from a lady. Gloria Ray. She was the first female athletic director of women's sports at the University of Tennessee; a position she took over in 1977 after coaching women's tennis at UT. Here is what she said about creating the Lady Vols brand:
"It was fun being in on the very beginning and coming up with the name, 'Lady Vols' which at that time was controversial. I came up with a bumper sticker that said, 'Lady Vols, too.' There was a fear that a women's team would hurt the football team, so we wanted to put out the message that it's Lady Vols, too, in addition to the men, not in place of the men."
Still controversial--well maybe just among the people I hang with--but for different reasons of course. Then it was the mere existence of women's sports that was controversial, today it's having to differentiate them arguably in a way the makes them seem inferior.
And as we all know now--nothing has hurt big-time football, certainly not women's sports.
[I'm going tangential here so hang on...]
I have this theory that like the Roman Empire, football will get too big for itself and will implode. In other words--it's only hurting itself.
(Note the metaphor is based on my vague memory of ninth grade world history.)
I still find it hard to believe that people in the 70s really thought women's sports were going to replace men's sports. I think I want to go back to that time when people were actually a little bit afraid of feminism.

Another good Semenya column

It bolsters my faith in the media and humanity generally to read pieces like Gregg Doyel's column on the negative responses to Caster Semenya this past weekend. Doyel, writing for CBS Sports starts:

Someday soon, Caster Semenya could become the fastest half-miler of all time. I'm positive she's fast enough.

I hope she's tough enough.

Because some of us won't be classy enough.

And he goes on to defend Semenya's participation and chastise the poor losers and admonish the media and hope for the best--though he, like myself, fears the worst. Let's hope we're both wrong.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Response to the Semenya response

So in response to the comments of athletes, notably a female runner from Canada, about the recent performances of Caster Semenya, another Canadian, bike racer Kristen Worley, has made some very insightful comments.
Worley is is male to female transsexual who competes internationally. She called her fellow Canadian, Diane Cummins, to task for her comments that running against Semenya was the same as running against a man. Worley, who co-founded Coalition of Athletes for Inclusion in Sport, worked behind the scenes on Semena's behalf during the whole ordeal, which she describes like this:
“But when a woman does it [excels like Usain Bolt], [a woman] who didn’t actually set a world record (in winning at the Berlin worlds last year), who (more than 10) women have run faster than..., who didn’t set a meet record, we throw her into stirrups and virtually rape her. We did that because of the way her face looks and her voice.”
I was a little concerned that Worley revealed Semenya's condition, congenital adrenal hyperplasia, during the interview with a Canadian newspaper. As far as I knew that was being kept under wraps. Not sure if it will make things better or worse now that it's out.
But Worley clearly sees that this is more than just science and medicine:
“Anything we don’t understand, we fear. So when it comes to gender differences which are normal, it hits to the very core of us as human beings, it puts each one of us into question. That’s the challenge. (IOC president) Jacques Rogge said to me a couple of years ago from his office in Lausanne ‘Kristen, this is a medical problem.’ I said ‘Mr. Rogge, this is a social problem."

Monday, August 23, 2010

New racing categories?

Dear track and field athletes: Hope you like needles, because we're going to test your testosterone levels before every competition and enter you into the appropriate category the day of your race. Sure this will cost us millions and millions of dollars but since you all want things fair and fair seems to be based on the level of testosterone these days based on responses to Caster Semenya's latest race win, let's just do it.
It will be exciting, right? For us: we'll get to watch multiple race finals instead of just one. I mean you'll have no idea who your competition is until the race. You'll have no idea which category you'll be in until that race. This testing system will not only take care of people "on the very fringe of the normal athlete female biological composition" but those who get advantages from being at certain points in their menstrual cycle. And we won't have those silly labels like "fastest woman in the world"; we can just go with "fastest human with T level ____."
So raise your hand if you want fairness. And while it's up there we'll just draw a small amount of blood so we can see just how fringe you are or are not.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

I did it!

The summit of Mt. Greylock! Probably looks the same whether you drive or pedal up. But it's more satisfying after the latter. And not as painful as I thought.

Friday, August 20, 2010

In spite of all the damage we do...

I am an athlete.
I think. I've been having this conversation a lot this summer: what is an athlete? Seems to be going along with lots of conversations, internal and external, about identity--self and otherwise. So since I am being so contemplative and self-reflexive these days, I thought I would post about whether I should ride my bike up a mountain tomorrow. It's all related, trust me.
So this summer I was diagnosed with Achilles tendinitis. It's been a major bummer that I initially (in April) had a good attitude about. I haven't been able to play tennis, but I also have not had to deal with all the drama that seems to come from playing tennis in a women's league. I couldn't run the bases in softball, but I could hit and do some fielding. I also, apparently, have a high pain tolerance which helped me push through activities like biking and spinning.
But my good attitude is turning bad. And there's nothing worse than an athlete with a bad attitude. Let's also note that this is my first major injury. And even though I am a very good sick person--seriously, I once made a witty comment when I came to after fainting on the bathroom floor from the flu. I am not a good injured person.
Round two of physical therapy seems to be promising but it just started and thus the scheduled bike ride up the mountain will likely be painful and potentially damaging. I haven't done extensive hill training this summer. And injury plus dissertation has resulted in less outdoor riding time generally.
But I'm tired of being injured and I have trouble avoiding a challenge I would otherwise tackle head on and feel fairly confident in being successful at. I've been told I could start up the mountain and just turn around if I don't make.
IF I DON'T MAKE IT! Um, no. I have to make it.
Let me state for the record that I am not someone who played sports with any great intensity--certainly nothing that rivals what I see today--as a child and young adult. I hear about coaches pushing athletes to play hurt. I know someone who was forced to have the nerve to a tendon cut before hockey season so she would be able to play her last year in college. She was threatened--by her coach--with never being able to get a job in the coaching if she didn't have this procedure.
Of course athletes push themselves too--for a variety of reasons. But where is the line? How do we weigh participation--and the joy that brings (me, at least and in this case specifically)--with potential damage and further injury? Is it more important for me to ride up a mountain and potentially delay my return to other sports in the fall? Will my frustration at the inactivity and lack of control over my own body outweigh any kind of reason tomorrow morning? Am I being unreasonable?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Canada, hockey, women and the Hall of Fame

Been in Canada this week--hence the lack of posts. (Always an excuse, I know!)
Saw some very good tennis Tuesday at the Rogers Cup. (I've included a few photos below.)

Last night at the hotel bar, where I was watching a most excellent match between Kim Clijsters and Bethanie Matteks-Sands but drinking an only so-so sidecar, I saw a commercial for the hockey hall of fame. No sound so I am not sure what the exact nature of the commercial was but I was pleased, pleased, pleased to note that two of the first three images flashed onscreen were of women. The first was Cammi Granato with the gold around her neck in Nagano and the third featured members from the Canadian women's team.
Since I get accused of being a Debbie Downer so often, I just thought I would take this moment to point out the good that I do have the capacity to see.

Enjoy the pics!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Lest you think Rene Portland was the only one...

...who was up in her players' business and who ran a team with an iron fist; who was controlling and a little bit out of control...
Think again. The story of coach Shann Hart, who is currently at University of Indiana-Purdue University Indianapolis, and the alleged violations of NCAA rules and general good behavior broke a while ago. It was well covered elsewhere and since I have this whole dissertation thing looming over me, I opted to bypass this one.
But the news that Hart, who has now earned a spot at the center of an internal investigation by a three-person UIPUI committee, perpetuated many of these same abuses when she was head coach at American University kind of has me perplexed. With a naivete so uncharacteristic of me, I had assumed that only male coaches got away with bad behavior at one institution only to get hired (and revered) at another institution. But some not-so-deep digging into Hart's tenure at American reveals similar patterns of NCAA violations of recruiting and practice times (practices on game days, exceeding the 20-hour per week limit) and behavior that seems a little bit homophobic including telling a player who kept her hair short to grow it out because it looked like she was gay.
A behavior Hart didn't seem to take to Indiana was the way she used food deprivation as punishment. Former American players allege that there were times when they didn't stop for food on road trips after losses. Hart is also alleged to have ignored player injuries and forced players to practice while injured creating such an atmosphere of fear that players began to not report injuries at all. [As bad as this is, from what I understand from recent intercollegiate athletes this is not an uncommon attitude among coaches. Again, not an excuse for the behavior.]
In other words, she had a history of bad behavior that would not have been too difficult for IUPUI to discover. According to IUPUI administrators, they did their "due diligence" when hiring Hart. Really? Because what it looks like to me is that they either knew of these potential problems and chose to ignore them or they didn't bother to look too hard. Either way, the institution has some liability here.
Skepticism abounds over the ongoing internal investigation because of its internal nature. People are right to be wary of most internal investigations. I think if IUPUI wants to save a little face here they better start seeking some external help.

Friday, August 06, 2010

The Waning of the Warrior Spirit

Atalanta is tired:
of fending off creatures who would have their way
with her;
of having to outrun every man.
Her quads are sore and Achilles inflamed from overtraining
and she could do without comments
from women who disapprove of her warrior lifestyle.
She's still bitter about being left behind
but is managing.
And she really hates those damn apples
getting thrown in her way. Questioning
what deliciousness is and wondering
if she hasn't already tasted it.
How tempting they are: pick them up
and put an end
to all this hunting and running and fighting.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

More on mascots

I'm in crazy research mode these days, hence the lack of posts. But I have been holding on to this link for a while. It's a radio show out of Canada and addresses the issue of Indian mascots. The show is called ReVision Quest and the episode aired on June 30. It's good. I recommend it for personal information; it would probably work well in the classroom, too.
Also a story I have been meaning to mention that is (somewhat) related: a lacrosse team comprised of young men from the Iroquois nation were denied permission to travel to Manchester, England for the World Lacrosse Championship. The players hold passports from the Iroquois Confederacy and England would not accept these as legitimate travel documents despite assurances from the State Department that the players would be allowed back into the US. In mid-July when this story was breaking, US Representative Dan Maffie (NY) said that if Great Britain refused to allow these players into their country it would be an "international embarrassment." And yet, the UK never did allow the lacrosse players in and I haven't heard all that much about it. Of course Britain's got bigger international embarrassment issues right now.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Amanda Beard's new life

The New York Times published an article this weekend about American swimmer Amanda Beard and the new stage of her life. She became a mother about a year ago and is working on a comeback in competitive swimming (she'll be competing in nationals this week; her first big meet since failing to qualify for the final races in the Beijing Olympics).
I had some initial qualms about this article because I feel it constructs motherhood as some kind of happy ending, a positive life changer; something that drew Beard out of the pressures of her competitive sport life. And this is certainly how Beard is describing her new lifestyle. I just worry because one, motherhood is not exactly a stress reliever and depicting it as such when we are talking about an elite athlete makes it seem like the pressures are too great for women at this level of sport. And two, motherhood generally, from what I have seen and heard, often creates greater pressures and stresses. It is not any kind of escape. But I'm kind of overlooking the "she's happy now that she's a mom and she was miserable as a sex symbol, under-pressure athlete" message because the whole part about her being miserable is news, the extent of which I never would have guessed.
It turns out the Beard has abused drugs and alcohol, engaged in disordered eating, and was a self-injurer or cutter. I found this particularly interesting for several reasons. One, it's not something people usually admit. It's a disorder fairly shrouded in secrecy and shame though I have heard it is the second most prevalent disorder among female adolescents (Beard started in college) behind eating disorders.
Two, she was a swimmer and a model so it's kind of hard to hide cuts and she said she cut her arms and ankles--fairly noticeable places. She used make-up for photo shoots, she says.
This leads to three: what people do and do not see. I never met Beard in person so what I "saw" was mediated. And she was in control of some of the image I/we were presented with. I often critiqued her for doing things like posing in Playboy and other magazines and selling her sex appeal and, in my opinion, selling out. I don't think the revelation that she was a cutter excuses the way she marketed herself, but I do think it's relevant to our understanding of the position female athletes find themselves in: extreme pressure obviously that can manifest in poor self-esteem and various forms of self-abuse and the need to succeed that makes one do things like pose for Playboy.
I thought the statement by an addictions counselor (who never treated Beard) who specializes in self-harm was particularly insightful. She noted that, "people don't see what they're not looking for." This was in regards to Beard's cuts. But it can apply to our culture's ways of seeing female athletes. We don't look for the ways that praising good looks and feminine behavior and comportment can be incredibly damaging to both those who do and do not conform. And people don't look because they don't want to see. They don't want to see cuts on arms and have to think about the pain and emotions behind that. And they don't want to see unhappy, pretty athletes because what's behind that is incredibly complicated and, unlike one person engaging in self-harm, everyone who consumes sport is implicated.