Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Impressive changes in minority hiring

Even my cynical, questioning-of-all-things-teleological self was impressed by this report about the increase in the hiring of minority female coaches in women's basketball. Three years ago the group Black Coaches and Administrators began tracking the hiring of minority women* with the help of Richard Lapchick of University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports. Lapchick and the Institute are known for the issuance of various report cards, which detail how well or poorly various sport associations (professional, intercollegiate, etc.) are doing in terms of creating and maintaining racially diverse and welcoming environments.
There are now 23 minority coaches in women's DI basketball; up from 8 three years ago when the hiring report cards started. Eighteen of those 23 coaches are women.
What the article did not say and I am somewhat interested in is how many of those hirings are of women who were already head coaches at the DI level, versus at different divisions and/or former assistant coaches at DI schools. Obviously there has been a net gain. But there are also head coaches going from one DI school to another a la Nikki Caldwell who left UCLA at the end of last season to take the job at LSU. I don't think this so-called lateral move should diminish the score/grade of an institution. It's just a stat I would be interested in knowing. I think it speaks to issues like social and professional networks and training.
On the not-so-good side, it looks like the number of minority coaches in men's basketball is decreasing. There was a 4 percent drop in the number of minority coaches in DI men's basketball.
The BCA would like to see some kind of rule like the NFL's Rooney Rule in place in intercollegiate athletics.

* The article keeps saying minority women, but is that because people are afraid to say black? Or is this report really tracking all racial minorities?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Poetry Friday


No body was ever composed
from words, not the hipsway

of verse, the iambic beat of a heart.
Yet inside you, a sestina

of arteries, the villanelle of villi,
sonnets between your shoulder blades.

If I were more obsessive I'd follow
the alliteration of age spots across

your arms. But I have exchanged
my microscope for a stethoscope

as I want to listen inside you, past
your repetition, your free verse of skin.

How easy it is to fall for your internal
organs. Your arrhythmia is charming

hidden in the ballad of body,
your gurgling stanzas, your lyric sigh.

Kelly Russell Agodon

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

WaPo no-no

I'm an overworked blogger (how that happened on my first official week of summer break is curious) so I am largely re-telling what the Women's Sports Foundation said to some if its constituents this morning: the Washington Post assumes too much.
WaPo published a a feature on the status of youth soccer in the US and the debate over whether future national team and professional stars in the MLS should be playing high school soccer and be playing in academies.
It's an interesting debate. In case you care, I am for high school sports. The whole full-time, one-sport training thing is a little much as evidenced by the plethora of disappointed former teen tennis players and their parents or even by the successful ones like Andre Agassi.
But that's not the point. The point is that in an article about youth soccer, one would think we would read about all of youth soccer. But no. This is about boys' youth soccer--exclusively. And it does not acknowledge the huge youth soccer system for girls as well. The author has effectively erased the existence of professional women's soccer in this country as well as the young women who are playing youth soccer and will be the future of the league and the USNT.

I plan on writing a little note to WaPo about this "oversight." If you would like to do so here are the addresses:
Ombudsman: ombudsman@washpost.com
or the Sports Department: sports@washpost.com

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Poetry Saturday (oops)


O Eros, silently smiling one, hear me.
Let the shadow of thy wings
brush me.
Let thy presence
enfold me, as if darkness
were swandown.
Let me see that darkness
lamp in hand,
this country become
the other country
sacred to desire.

Drowsy god,
slow the wheels of my thought
so that I listen only
to the snowfall hush of
thy circling.
Close my beloved with me
in the smoke ring of thy power,
that we way be, each to the other,
figures of flame,
figures of smoke,
figures of flesh
newly seen in the dusk.

Denise Levertov

Friday, May 20, 2011

Allums leaves team

Kye Allums, the openly transgender member of the George Washington women's basketball team, has announced that he will not be playing his senior year.
It is largely due to the two concussions he suffered this season, according to some sources. He has sustained eight during his career. He noted that he might not have been medically cleared to play anyway.

According to the NYT though the university's statement included this passage: "[Allums] has decided it is in his best interest to no longer participate in intercollegiate athletics." That leaves some room for speculation. I would have been speculating anyway given my propensity for suspicion. The statement also included a comment from Allums that he came to this conclusion all on his own.
His announcement last fall, of course, drew a lot of attention--both positive and negative. But due to his injuries he only ended up playing in eight games this season, which may have tempered some of the attention.

Of course the media coverage remains pretty bad. Both the above links (one to Fox News even!) referred to Allums as a male and used masculine pronouns. Good.
But this article from the Daily Mail (UK) was disturbing. It strung together Allums's story, Caster Semenya's, and an American trans man who got pregnant when his wife couldn't conceive.
What? First Semenya is not trans. She has an intersex condition. She does not want to be a man. OK, so both stories are about the not-so-certain nature of gender and sex in sports. But the story of a trans man who gets pregnant. What does that have to do with anything? Did the Daily Mail just do some kind of Google search and smash together the results into one rather incoherent story? Weird. And irresponsible journalism.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Whose line is it anyway?

Pretty interesting interview with Kathryn Bertine over at the Huffington Post the other day. Bertine is a senior editor at espnW and is trying to qualify for the Olympic Games and has written a book about her attempt to qualify in 2008. ESPN sponsored her quest to do so, but she didn't make it for those games. So she's at it again looking to be a cyclist in London in 2012.
Here's what impressed me: her clear recognition of the skewed treatment of female athletes with sport itself and, of course, the media coverage.
She gives the example of the lack of prize money in women's cycling, but notes that so few cyclists will speak up because of fear of alienating sponsors. Because there's nothing worse, we know, than an athlete who speaks her/his mind. And it's especially bad if that athlete is a woman who is complaining. I mean, she could be a feminist. Horrors! So Bertine, being the only cyclist from Saint Kitts and Nevis (she got dual citizenship as part of her qualifying quest) has taken it upon herself to note this. And she knows her women's sports history too. She likens the shorter race courses to times (apparently not as long ago as some of us would like to think) when there was fear for women's health and safety if they exerted themselves too strenuously in their athletic pursuits.
And she's also aware of the problematic Google search. The search that brings so many to this blog in their quest to see Ana Ivanovic's armpits of Misty May's bikini wedgies.
Even if you just type the words female athlete into Google what comes up is "ATHLETES IN BIKINIS" or "FEMALE ATHLETES ON THE BEACH!" When that's the front-runner on our search engines, something's wrong.

And she notes the problematic aspects of female athletes who model. But she makes a distinction between those showing off their bodies and being proud of their muscles and those who are "slithering on a car."
But it is a conundrum because if female athletes can only pay the bills by modeling then something's wrong in the system, not the athletes.

Right, but how much do we let the system dictate our behaviors? How far do we take it before we opt out? Even knowing that as someone opts out, as some female athlete refuses to take off her shirt and place soccer balls strategically over various body parts, that another--ten others?--will happily take her place. Also, Bertine's distinction of female athletes who model and female athletes who slither is somewhat ambiguous. There is plenty of room between modelling and slithering and many of the those who model, with or without soccer balls (or volleyballs, or tennis balls, or basketballs--or no balls) do proffer the "but I love my body and want to show it off" explanation when they are critiqued for doing so.
What kind of irked me about Bertine's interview was how it ended. After all the acknowledgment about the inequities, she seemed to revert to the espnW party line:
We're trying to take the gender out of sports and just focus on great athletes, especially female athletes because they are so underplayed by the media.

We're trying to take the gender out of sport?
Might want to wait until things are a little more equitable before you try to implement that goal. It's not like taking the gender out of sports is going to be like taking the sugar out of Dr. Pepper. (And since I started with that somewhat off metaphor, we might also want to be aware of the dangers/side effects of the various additives that will replace gender.)
I mean I don't see the need for a men's and women's sports page either. But I think it's a pretty interesting statement from a senior editor at espnW. Note the W at the end.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Yes there is an obesity problem...

...but tone-up sneakers for kids?? I'm sorry. For girls.

Yep. Sketchers is making and marketing its tone-up sneakers, purporting to tone your flabby ass and thighs, to children.

And what is up with the costumed hot dog and cupcake??

Monday, May 16, 2011

The New WTA Campaign

The WTA has launched its new advertising campaign: Strong is Beautiful.
And the NYT ran an article about said campaign.

Let me note first that this is not a post with one coherent point or thesis. It is largely a collection of musings about the campaign.

First, strong is beautiful. I said that the other day when writing about Sam Stosur.

But is strong alone beautiful? Probably not if you look at the WTA campaign. Makeup and flowy dresses or bandeau bras which reveal a lot of skin are featured in the ad campaign (which consists of several themed videos and still photos). Many of the players were not recognizable to me. In part this is because I have not been following women's tennis as closely in the past year or so. So the newcomers are not as familiar to me. But I do know who Dominika Cibulkova is and I have seen her play--in Paris actually when I went to the French Open a couple of years ago. And I would never have guessed, from her picture in the campaign, who she was.

Last year a similar campaign came from the WTA--it was called "Women who Hit Hard"--and the current campaign still includes some of those photos and videos (like the one of Kim Clijsters). And at the emergence of that campaign Dr. Nicole Lavoi over at One Sport Voice got a lot of crap for calling the campaign soft core porn. And though I didn't agree with that exact characterization, it wasn't hard to see the problematics aspects of the campaign (which was also featured in the NYT). But I thought of Dr. Lavoi's analysis when I saw the picture of Gisela Dulko in which she kind of looks like a dominatrix. And given my cynical nature, I have a problem believing that the producers are completely unaware of that.

I do appreciate the use of many different players, including Marion Bartoli and Svetlana Kuznetsova who do not have the traditionally beautiful feminine bodies (like say Victoria Azarenka has).

And I was really shocked to see the photo of Francesca Schiavone which, upon first glance, made me think I was looking at a slighter Rafael Nadal. She appeared very masculine in the photo. So I was pleasantly surprised the WTA included it. Are they throwing us queer gals a bone with that one? Are they seeing that this isn't just all about the male gaze?

Maybe. Maybe not. WTA CEO Stacy Allaster said that women's tennis is forging ahead despite the poor economy. She announced that two new multimillion dollar sponsorships are forthcoming. Are they selling these beautiful but strong players to sponsors so they can sell them to us? Probably. Will it work. Hmm....

One final thing. One of the 30-second spots is called Sugar and Spice and follows the childhood rhyme about what little girls are made of. Caroline Wozniacki does the voiceover and adds that things like sweat, fury, and grit are also what little girls are made of. One of the ad execs on the campaign said the commercial subverts the sugar and spice construction.

I don't really see that. It's more additive than subversive. And it's a little bit mandatory: you have to be all these things: sweet and spicy and strong and gritty. Let's note that this version of womanhood is largely constructed on a white, Western, middle class woman (yes, I know Serena Williams and Li Na are both featured in the campaign--but their presence alone does not negate the dominant message which is geared toward a white, Western, middle (to upper) class audience).

Friday, May 13, 2011

Poetry Friday


Love is not all: It is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain,
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
and rise and sink and rise and sink again.
Love cannot fill the thickened lung with breath
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
pinned down by need and moaning for release
or nagged by want past resolutions power,
I might be driven to sell you love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It may well be. I do not think I would.

Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892 – 1950)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Gay football players: "Like peanut butter & jelly and cheese"

Inside Higher Ed ran a piece last week about the experiences of gay intercollegiate football players based on a preliminary research study. I have been meaning to post about it but things in Title IX land last week kept me pretty busy. (Not to mention those piles of papers in need of grading.)
But it's still worth noting, even a week later.
I am, as many know, generally skeptical of progress narratives. (For a related skeptic's take see Diane's recent experience at Starbucks.) And this study illustrates that things are not necessarily getting better, even as we hear more people come out and talk about positive experiences playing sports. I had the pleasure of hearing former Bloomsburg University football captain Brian Sims speak positively of his experience coming out to his team. But it seems, based on this study, that for every Sims-like experience there are many more troubling ones. Like a player who "mangled" his own legs so he could no longer play and thus avoid the physical and verbal abuse from his teammates.
Dr. Eric Anderson disagrees with some of the statements regarding the homophobic culture in sports. He believes, based on his research on gay male athletes, that the culture is changing--and rapidly.
The issue is that generalizations don't work in this situation. Anderson has done research in both the US and UK. His research on soccer players and fans in the UK is hopeful, but not necessarily applicable in the US context. I haven't read his current research which updates--I believe--his 2005 book In the Game: Gay Athletes and the Cult of Masculinity, based on narratives from gay male athletes.
And comparing football culture to other sports cultures is also difficult. Heck comparing swimming culture to baseball culture is equally problematic. And comparing intercollegiate sports to professional sports. Women's and men's. DI, DII, DIII. So many variables.
In the end, though, information like that gathered in the football study reveals that--no matter what other good things are happening (like Athlete Ally)--there is still plenty of work to do: cultures to change, discrimination to combat, and athletes to help.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Women as sport executives

From the Globe and Mail, an article that touches on why there are not many women in executive positions in sports. It begins with the story of and commentary from current Women's Tennis Association CEO Stacey Allaster but goes on to mention Canadian hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser who aspires to a position in an NHL franchise front office but recognizes the impediments her gender presents in achieving that goal.
That there are so few women in leadership positions in sports is not shocking, of course. There were, though, two surprising moments for me in this article. Wickenheiser said she doesn't believe that if women gain more ground in the area of sport management that they will make "sweeping changes." The example she gives: women won't take the fighting out of hockey.
Is this a real fear? That women who gain positions of power in sport are going to de-masculinize them? I see that as an excuse. I think it's more simple than that. Sports continue to be a man's world; men want control of it. There is a general belief that women are just not as capable of understanding sports as men are. I think the demasculinization theory is just a scare tactic. Guys who grow up dreaming of being in sports--as athletes, and then as executives when the athlete career doesn't work out (or after it is over)--don't seem all too eager to let girls into their clubhouses.
Second, when asked why there are not as many women in executive positions, Richard Peddie of Maple Leaf Sport and Entertainment made it really simple: babies. Women make "a life decision." Apparently men don't make life decisions. Because having a career, having a family, choosing where to live--I guess those aren't life decisions that men make. Ah, the privilege of getting to do whatever you want without having to make those pesky life decisions.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Sam Stosur: Being apologized for

Sam Stosur currently ranks in my top three of athlete crushes.
And so her success this past year has made me happy not just for her but for me--because I get to see her more when she is winning. She obviously gets more press as well.
Including this article* by Malcolm Knox, which appeared in an Australian publication. It's a lengthy piece that chronicles her career, her sidelining illness, her resurgence, as well as a one-on-one interview with Stosur herself.
Knox relates his encounter with her:

When she stopped to speak to me, what was most remarkable was Stosur's stillness and clarity. She looked you in the eye. Neither as muscular nor as deep-voiced as she appears on television, she was strikingly normal, if that makes any sense.

READ: She doesn't seem like as much of a lesbian (I was going to use the d-word but I'm holding back) as I thought she would.

Stosur's muscles are amazing. Her shoulders make strong and broad-shouldered like myself a little less self-conscious about our not-so-petite frames. I find them very attractive.
But more than that--they are practical. She needs them given her current profession. One might even say they are an asset.
And as for the deep voice comment. Just ridiculous.
Sam Stosur has got it going on. Malcolm Knox doesn't need to make apologies for how she looks or speaks.

* which I found via a link from Diane's Women Who Serve blog.

Poetry Friday


Emily Dickinson

Oh Sumptuous moment
Slower go
That I may gloat on thee --
'Twill never be the same to starve
Now I abundance see --

Which was to famish, then or now --
The difference of Day
Ask him unto the Gallows led --
With morning in the sky --

Thursday, May 05, 2011

I want a girl with a short skirt...

...and a loooooong badminton racket.
Yep. New rules for female badminton players. Skirts are now required. REQUIRED. Despite my occasional equivocation over skirts because I wear them myself when playing tennis, this is just wrong.
The official peeps at the Badminton World Federation say that aren't trying to sexualize female players, they are just trying to create a standard of dress that will enhance the popularity of the sport.
One professional who is opposed to the new rule says she understands the federation's desire to raise the game's profile but that skirts are not going to accomplish this:
"If people want to see women in skirts, they will go elsewhere--they won't go to watch badminton."
So very true.

It should be noted that the BWF is accommodating various religious beliefs by allowing anyone to wear tights, track bottoms or shorts underneath the required skirt. Small points for that, I guess.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Why can't we just stop counting football?

Because I said so.
I know that is the mom response. But it is actually true.

Last week's NYT piece about the ways in which schools not-so-subtly manipulate their roster numbers to make it appear that they are closer to providing equitable opportunities than they really are has generated a lot of response. One such response is the suggestion that we not count football in order to make things more equal. This is not in any way a novel "solution." It was proposed when Title IX was passed and football supporters feared for their sport when they realized supporters of women's athletics were going to use the new gender equity law to claim their fair share. Title IX will be the death of football, people claimed.
But the fear was never realized. Football, however, has been the death of other sports and silently hides (a shocking ability given its massiveness: stadia, rosters, coaching staffs, etc.) while other male student-athletes lose their opportunities and everyone turns a glaring eye to Title IX.
I have never understood the logic of not counting football just because it is big. Crew teams are big. We count them. Or the rationale that it has no female equivalent. Field hockey--in this country--has no male equivalent. We still count it.

I am, thankfully, not the only mom voice in the debate. George Vecsey of the NYT wrote a very good column about the corruption within intercollegiate football and, among other things, how it causes schools to play with the numbers while keeping intact all of football's privilege.
I can't imagine that the shenanigans that go on within football teams and athletic departments are going to improve if football becomes even less accountable.