Sunday, February 27, 2011

Griner's fans

So because I usually give ESPN a hard time about...well everything, I thought I would give them a shout out for the little piece that aired during tonight's coverage (on ESPN2) of the Baylor v. Oklahoma game.
There were interviews with a couple of NBA players (I don't remember who because I have next to no familiarity with current NBAers) who talked about how they tune in to watch Baylor's Brittney Griner play. One of them sets a DVR alert to make sure he doesn't miss it. They think she is exciting and talented. One even said she should come play for the NBA when she's done at Baylor. She can dunk; she can rebound; she can knock balls down like no one else in the college game. And she scores points too!
I thought this was especially appropriate given that the Women Talk Sports network published a question on their Facebook page today:
Agree or disagree: "People don't watch women's sports because they aren't as exciting as men's sports."

It was kind of oddly worded; a two questions in one kind of thing. I agree that people don't watch women's sports because they believe or profess that they are not as exciting. But as tonight's OU/Baylor game proved, as did the commentaries from some male athletes who are allegedly the more exciting players (according to some), female athletes are doing some pretty exciting stuff on the court (and field, slopes, track, etc.).

Friday, February 25, 2011

Poetry Friday: It's raining


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the moldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the moldering Past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Girls wrestle--even in Iowa

Yep--it's true. Girls wrestle. But girls who wrestle made news this past week (yes, I am late to post on this) when a boy forfeited a first-round tournament match rather than face female student-athlete Cassy Herkelman. Herkelman thus became the first girl ever to win a match at this particular state tournament.
The big deal is not so much that girls wrestle. This we know. The big deal is that this is IOWA. IOWA has produced many an elite wrestler. This year marked the first time a girl had ever qualified for the state tournament (2 girls achieved that mark--Herkelman and Megan Black). But girls have been wrestling in the state for about two decades according to the article linked above.
I haven't seen much anti-girl rhetoric in the coverage of this event--which is good. The defaulter, Joel Northrup, cited religious convictions in his statement about why he chose to forfeit his match. He did not believe it was right for a boy to engage in a combat sport against a girl. Not being especially familiar with the Bible, I don't know which passage he was basing his convictions on. It raises an interesting discussion about sanctioned violence, though. Wish that more people thought violence against women and girls was morally wrong. Or better that violence itself was wrong. But in sport male-on-male violence is accepted and applauded (just turn on any NHL game and witness how that league is practically marketing its sport's violence). Also note that male on female violence is often tacitly sanctioned when the perpetrator is a sports star.
But boys forfeiting to girls in wrestling is nothing new. My one go-to girls' wrestling source says it happens all the time. That it has happened to her on more than one occasion. And that she's happy to take the win and stay fresh for her next round.
What is potentially damaging is what looks like a lack of support for girls' wrestling in general. Northrup didn't have anything against the girls who wrestle but he felt he was the one being placed in an unfortunate situation. And the implication is that girls' wrestling as a whole is a problem. Herkelman and Black are just participating in the system that allows them to participate. I worry that there will be a concerted effort to change this system.
It is changing, though, all the time and at different levels. Women's wrestling teams at the intercollegiate level are emerging at what appears to be a pretty rapid rate despite the fact that the NCAA has been slow to recognize women's wrestling as emerging sport. And supporters of men's wrestling have gotten on board with this trend because they see it as a way to save men's wrestling, which as a so-called minor sport, has suffered in the football and basketball "arms race."
Whenever I hear about controversy in girls' wrestling I recall that heartbreaking scene in Girl Wrestler when the protagonist walks up to her wrestling hero, and he tells her that he doesn't believe girls should wrestle. Attitudes have changed somewhat since that movie was made but how much?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Poetry Friday

It's Langston Hughes's birthday month.
I personally always liked his boogie and jazzy poems so...


Langston Hughes

Down in the bass
That steady beat
Walking walking walking
Like marching feet.

Down in the bass
They easy roll,
Rolling like I like it
In my soul.

Riffs, smears, breaks.

Hey, Lawdy Mama!
Do you hear what I said?
Easy like I rock it
In my bed!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Coaches these days

Or maybe the more appropriate title is "youth basketball these days."

Let me first state my general lack of expertise in youth sports: I am not an expert in youth sports. I've doen the requisite reading but do not have an in-depth knowledge of the workings of youth sport.
Say youth sports in the form of AAU basketball, the subject (kind of) of this article which, ok, is mostly about Geno Auriemma.
Coach feels like kids, I would assume girls specifically since those are the players he is interested in, are not trying very hard these days when they are on the court:
"I think what's happened in the AAU world in the last 10 years or so is kids don't play to win. They just play to play. They show up at a tournament on Friday and play a couple games. They play four or five more on Saturday, then play all morning Sunday before the leave."
Hmm...perhaps the problem is that these girls are playing nearly 10 games in one weekend. One of the commenters to the article pointed out that this format practically mandates a different version of coaching based on keeping players fresh and basically picking one's battles.
It doesn't sound like a system that is set up to showcase the talents of its players. So what is it set up to do? What is the purpose of playing a 10-game tournament in one weekend? I am genuinely asking.
Because with all the talk of burnout, it would seem the system isn't working for a lot of people--including Geno Auriemma who is complaining about finding those go-all-out girls in the ever-more-intense recruiting game.
He's also not happy with those independent-minded ones who ask why when he tells them to do something.
A good time to note I am not an expert in coaching techniques either. I am, however, pretty well versed in issues of gender and social construction. And I worry about the guy in women's intercollegiate basketball (and arguably beyond the intercollegiate ranks) sending the message that the only young women he'll take into his program are the ones that say "yes, sir" all the time. There's a difference between questioning and being obstinate and antagonistic. Teaching both women and men of this age group, one of the biggest issues I have (and my colleagues do as well) is the lack of critical thinking. I do not believe that critical thinking is so antithetical to basketball that Auriemma would want only yes women on his team.
Another of the commenters, responding to a critic of Auriemma (and no, it wasn't me) said that Auriemma must be a great coach because all his players speak well of him after they leave. Well sure if he's recruiting the women whom he believes won't think for themselves, that they don't critique him afterwards isn't really surprising.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Poetry Friday

Because I love a good/bad love poem.

Courtney Queeney

This is a little like high school
he said, when I wouldn't take off my clothes.
It was true, although in high school
I would've come over to torture him deliberately
and now the torture was an unfortunate side effect
of my sadness, and had nothing to do with him at all.
Sleeping with you would be like
a drowning woman grabbing an anvil,
I explained. A burning man guzzling gasoline.
Lame analogies, but I was trying to make a point.
When he got up for a drink, I missed him
but that feeling disappeared once he came back.
I sat there and tried to feel sad,
tracking my blue mute form
as it sank to a furrowed ocean floor.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

ESPN focuses on homophobia in recruiting

The current issue of ESPN Magazine, which appeared on stands this week, features a very good article on homophobia in college recruiting. The story originally was published online at the end of January and thus has been well-covered in the blogosphere. But I would be remiss not to mention it--especially since several people have emailed me the link to the story thus making me think that it's kind of my bloggerly duty.
"On homophobia and recruiting" co-written by Luke Cyphers and Kate Fagan acknowledges, actually focuses on the subtly of homophobia in recruiting. It's a major point that needs to be highlighted in this way. Homophobia is not dead just because fewer people shout dyke or fag to your face (or to your back as you walk down the street). And every coach knows overt homophobia will not be accepted by most administrators and recruits these days.
The language cues center mostly on a family values and morals rhetoric. Not news to many of us. But again, glad to have ESPN shine their spotlight on it. Also reported were the ways that coaches who are openly heterosexual discuss the personal lives of themselves and their staff whereas schools with gay staff members do not. And the openly hetero coaches cast suspicion on other schools' staff and suggest that there is something hidden, possibly nefarious, going on.
ESPN's own study (using 50 former recruits) found that just over half of them said that sexual orientation is part of the "underlying" conversation during the recruiting process.
But two of the openly heterosexual male coaches, Bill Fennelly from Iowa State, and Geno Auriemma from UConn, do not think there's anything wrong with using the family atmosphere language as a recruiting technique. In fact, Fennelly said he and his straight staff are being penalized for being straight and having families. Oh goodness, it's a little too early--even for those who don't know its true meaning--to be invoking the reverse discrimination defense.
There is a lot more covered in the article, so go read it! But I have basically two comments/reactions.
The first is about the closeting of gay coaches. Former WNBAer and assistant coach Sue Wicks spoke about the atmosphere of fear among gay coaches and her own experiences including the advice that she not do an interview for a gay publication.
It appers that the closet atmosphere is being perpetuated by those inside and outside of it. So why don't more coaches come out--and come together? I had the opportunity to interview a very wise older lesbian who came out in a meeting at her place of business in the 70s as a way to protect herself from being fired. Her rationale was that if that information was out there, she would have recourse should she be fired under suspect terms. Granted, it was not a guarantee she would keep her job (she did by the way), but it would have made her bosses have to work all the harder to find "legitimate" reasons for firing her. Several lawsuits brought by dismissed female coaches have claimed discrimination based on perceived sexual orientation. If they were out perhaps they could build a stronger case. This is all speculation of course, but it doesn't seem that this whole asexual facade is working all that well for gay coaches.
Of course the coming out and coming together potential is somewhat negated by the fact that the professional organization for coaches of women's basketball, the WBCA, could be seen as part of the problem. Though the organization has created an ethics committee and is examining and planning to hold seminars on "ethical recruiting," it is the same organization that decided not to show Training Rules, the documentary about the negative recruiting and atmosphere created by Rene Portland, former coach at Penn State. Also note the Auriemma is the current president of the WBCA.
Second, the belief, as expressed by Janel McCarville of the New York Liberty and formerly of University of Minnesota: the younger generation will change things because they do not care about sexual orientation in the way older people do. But I worry that this not caring is part of the problem. If you're a young female athlete, gay or straight, and sexual orientation is just another unnecessary label you don't want to put on yourself, will you really care if one of the schools recruiting you is offering subtle hints that they are not gay--especially when what you really want to do is play basketball at a high level? To actually deal with the problem, people have to be more proactive. This includes my above suggestion about coaches coming out. But it also means punishing the coaches who engage in unethical recruiting by NOT GOING to their programs. A recruit might see herself as a basketball player first and attempt to believe that her sexuality has nothing to do with her athletic identity, but being gay matters. It matters so much that it is used to penalize some and reward others.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Actors versus athletes

Sure the celebrity world often mixes famous athletes and famous actors, but this feature on honor/response (??) to the Superbowl--is a little puzzling.
Play Like a Girl: The Top 20 Female Athletes on Screen features actresses who play athletes. Here is the rationale:
While the Super Bowl is one of the most-watched sporting events in the world (I said “one of,” don’t get mad at me fans of that other football), plenty of female athlete characters have had us glues [sic] to the screen – both large and small.
So to balance out, I guess, those men in tight pants playing actual sports, AfterEllen opted to remind us of how women can act out athletics. It's somewhat tragic actually. You don't want to highlight actual female athletes who we should be paying attention to? Perhaps try to correct the huge disparities of coverage between men's and women's sports. And for the record, I am not saying that these female actors are not athletic or even athletes in their own right or that their roles were/are not physically demanding. But they are actors first--not athletes.
Also, Dana Fairbanks from The L-Word gets the number one spot? That's just wrong. Erin Daniels was not very good at playing a professional tennis player and the show did a poor job at portraying the realities of a professional tennis player's life (which I know wasn't its goal but if you make a closeted lesbian athlete character...well...follow through). I cringed every time there was a tennis scene.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Friday Poetry


ee cummings

there are so many tictoc
clocks everywhere telling people
what toctic time it is for
tictic instance five toc minutes toc
past six tic

Spring is not regulated and does
not get out of order nor do
its hands a little jerking move
over numbers slowly

we do not
wind it up it has no weights
springs wheels inside of
its slender self no indeed dear
nothing of the kind.

(So,when kiss Spring comes
we'll kiss each kiss other on kiss the kiss
lips because tic clocks toc don't make
a toctic difference
to kisskiss you and to
kiss me)

Thursday, February 03, 2011

What counts as news

Almost paid no attention to this article not having any investment in the WBB teams from either Missouri State or Creighton. But here is the headline and first graf:

Women's Basketball Game at Missouri State to be Televised

The Missouri Valley Conference has selected the Creighton women's basketball game at Missouri State to be televised as part of the league’s Wildcard Weekend on Fox Sports Midwest, Fox Sports Indiana, Fox Sports Kansas City, Fox College Sports and Comcast SportsNet Chicago on February 27. The contest, originally scheduled for 2:05 pm, has been moved to 12:05 pm for television purposes.

There's the whole television controlling game schedules of intercollegiate athletics, which I am pretty much resigned to--bigger battles and all.
But what does it say when the fact that a women's basketball game being televised makes headlines?
It says that today, on this day after National Girls and Women in Sports Day, we still need to be paying a lot more attention to what makes headlines and why.