Thursday, July 28, 2011

WPS making a concerted effort

There have been many, many article about the potential effects of the Women's World Cup on the WPS. I haven't even bothered to blog about them or to even read all of them. They basically boil down to: 1) the WPS will benefit from the very exciting WWC, 2) cautious optimism about the benefits, 3) Americans still don't like soccer and they certainly aren't interested in watching women play it. There may be other categories or subcategories that I am unaware of.
But it seems like attendance at games post-WWC is up. Way up in some venues. Yay!
And it also appears that the WPS is not just pleasantly riding this wave of popularity. They are working that wave.
I just hung up with someone from the Boston Breakers asking me if I am coming to Harvard stadium for the last two home games. I explained that I cannot because I am busy those days. And I was a little curious as to how they got my cell phone number...But good for them for making personal phone calls. I am sure some poor intern gets that job but talk about good experience being in the publicity trenches. And in the end I didn't really care that they had my number (so long as they don't sell it to other less desirable entities!). After all it's better than getting those pre-recorded, pre-election calls from Susan Sarandon, Hilary Clinton, Obama "himself," or some other celeb-like entity.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Inactivity: It's not just for British women anymore

Is it possible? Are American women's life spans going to dip below those of our mothers' because we don't work out?

Apparently it is possible, according to a study out of the University of Washington.

Not good news for American women. This study follows a report out of Britain a few years ago which showed a dearth of sporting activity among girls and women.

So what's it all about? According to this article, time and money. Because even while we promote Title IX and advocate for equal opportunities for girls, when adulthood hits, exercise is one of the first things to go. Assuming it was ever there at all. But this article says that even adult women who were once quite active, sacrifice exercise when things (i.e. motherhood plus work plus domestic duties plus attempt at salvaging a social life) get busy.
And then when mid-life hits, the effects of a less active life really come into play.
While I sympathize with the issue of making time for exercise when a woman becomes a mother and has even more to juggle, I wasn't too pleased at the way this article presented the issue.
Though the issue of class and access to exercise was mentioned, the woman who was interviewed as being the epitome of this problem (active early in adulthood but then had two kids and a husband) seemed pretty privileged. That she had her second child at age 41 and was married and working suggests a lot of things. She was financially secure. She had good health care. She had control over her reproduction. She had access to exercise, but she chose not to prioritize it. While I agree that prioritizing exercise can be difficult, it is a privilege to have the ability to even consider it as an option.
The article talks about how this lack of physical activity marks a reversal of progress in public health. But it doesn't talk about which groups of women are most affected by this reversal. It is not the white, middle-class mother who is suffering the most. White, middle-class women with two or more children are all over my white, middle-class gym.
Obesity is an issue of class. Poverty means less access: to nutritious food, to exercise (through gyms or recreational sports), to time (because of lack of affordable child care and working more hours for less pay), to healthcare.
I do not think it is the soccer moms, as the article implies, that are at the greatest risk here.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

I'm not the only one...

...who has some reservations about how this WWC is going to dramatically change the women's sports landscape in the US.
WaPo columnist Petula Dvorak talks to some of my favorite people, Mike Messner and Nancy Hogshead-Makar, about how and why the surge in fan interest in women's soccer post '99 and for women's professional sports generall kind of petered out.
The difference, for soccer, is that the WUSA started 2 years after that world cup ended. Too much lag time. The WPS is already in place this time. Hopefully, this will make a difference.
But I too have been skeptical about all the rah-rahing. Some of us have been following women's soccer all along, in the so-called down time--you know when the US won the Olympic gold medal. I worry about fair weather fans. But I worry about no fans at all, too. Boston Breakers 2009

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Wow, ESPNW has some weight issues

I've been lukewarm on ESPNW since its inception for many reasons.
Now I have one more: this article about how fat baseball players are. Well, not exactly an article. It is listed as an opinion piece. Still...
So in light of MLB's All-Star Game and based on some observations, writer Amanda Rykoff is pointing out how large some baseball players are--as in overweight. An additional motivation, as stated in the opening paragraph is "to laugh and poke fun at some absurdities in the sports world."
Let me just own up to the fact that I was observing a young guy in the gym the other day who has clearly bulked up in the last year. He was wearing a UMass Baseball t-shirt. And it made me think "is he too big to play baseball effectively?" Of course he could simply be a fan and not a player. And he isn't fat--just bulky. Still, I thought about how/why larger players can and are prized in baseball. I have theories about the focus on home runs and some masculinity issues, that I won't explore here. But in the end, I just thought that it must be more difficult--if you don't hit the home run--to get around the bases when you are carrying more weight--whether that weight is muscle or fat.
But of course different sports--and different positions within any one sport--require different physiques. As Rykoff herself notes, larger pitchers have been found to be more effective than smaller ones. Unfortunately she kind of presents it in a Barbie-I don't-really-know-what-this-science-thing means way:
"We won't get into the physics of it, and frankly we're not even sure why it's true."
It's problematic that she is implicating all of ESPNW and saying that these women basically don't know what they're talking about here.
Which, in the end, makes the piece look even cattier. While there may be overweight players, their performance cannot be so hampered by their weight that they are grossly ineffective. This is professional sports, people. They aren't paying these men millions to play poorly. If this is a commentary on baseball--that it's a game where overweight people can be successful--then say that.
But you can't say that, right? Because there are plenty of sports where being bigger is an asset--a necessity even. And there are sports where slimming down helps performance even when the sport requires a larger physique.* And there are always trade-offs.
Even as Rykoff keeps a light tone and tries to present this opinion piece as just a little jab at fat baseball players, she is potentially implying so many other things. Fat is gross. We don't want to see it. No athlete should have fat. Having fat makes you less of an athlete and fat athletes reflect poorly on and bring down their sport.
Here's the thing, though. I kind of get it. Even knowing that successful athletes are required to come in all different shapes and sizes, I think it still stinks that male athletes get away with being overweight in a way that female athletes do not. And by get away with, I mean they are criticized far less. That criticism about their weight, when it comes, is made in relation to performance and not aesthetics.
I'm not a proponent of equal opportunity bad behavior, but Rykoff is doing what countless writers and commentators have done to female athletes. It's not right. But if fat is "gross" on a female athlete, and it isn't viewed similarly--or as similarly--on male athletes, well...double standard.
But, unfortunately, this is not the point Rykoff makes. She doesn't even come close to it. It's just a jab. It doesn't make the larger point about how overweight female athletes are treated differently--are less prized--ignored even.
And that is one of my big problems with ESPNW. They aren't doing the hard work. They're taking pot shots and leaving the bigger issues unaddressed. And I think it makes them look bad.

* I saw, last week, an MTV True Life about former high school football player Holly Mangold who is now trying to become an Olympic weight lifter. She slimmed down, which helped her performance, but is still a large woman. I plan on writing more about her and the show later.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Brief WWC comments

Finally got to watch the Brazil v. US match this morning. I knew the general outcome because the second I got back across the border (from Canada) and had my data plan back, I checked Facebook. I also got the hint that it was a dramatic game, though I refused to check for a score or details.
Even knowing the outcome, it was a pretty enthralling game. So here are my thoughts (in case you were wondering):
1. When you watch a recorded soccer match and fast forward through some of it in the interest of time and getting on with your work day, the ball looks like a ping-pong ball, which just makes you appreciate the distance it travels and the abilities of the players to control it.
2. Abby Wambach: still super cute and now with some goals under her cleats. (Because those uniforms don't have belts--thankfully. Though I'm not sure it would make them any worse.)
3. And speaking of Wambach...the Girlfriend noted this morning "that those short-haired girls are making things really interesting." It's true. Wambach finally scores this tournament and of course gets the tying goal in the last seconds of over-overtime. And it is served in so beautifully (seriously--watch the replay over and over again and be awed) by Megan Rapinoe who is sporting a bleached blond short style. And then there is Amy LePeilbet who made things interesting in that not-so-good way in the game against Sweden. But she redeemed herself against Brazil.
So we asked ourselves: in the context of international women's soccer, is a US player who sports a short haircut (in the present day) tacitly revealing her homosexuality? And before I get charged with being a crazy stereotyping self-hating dyke let me acknowledge that, of course, I don't believe that 1) all lesbians have short hair or 2) that all women with short hair are lesbians or have lesbian tendencies and that 3) there are a range of femininities across the range of sexualities.
OK, but I am talking very specifically about US women's soccer in the early 21st century. None of those three women are explicitly out though there is a lot of chatter amongst those in the know and apparently on Twitter by some of the players themselves. Natasha Kai (with her longer hair) is the only out player (who was not chosen for this national team) and coach Pia Sundhage has also previously come out in an interview. So is the short hair the sign? In a still-homophobic and apologetic athletic culture, does the short hair tell us what we may or may not already know? Their short styles are cute and I would argue cooler and, in those ways, reflect in no way on their sexuality. But if you have ever seen any soccer trophies with the cheap gold figures on the top...those figures have ponytails. The former fan group for women's professional soccer in the US was called the Ponytail Posse. The logos for women's soccer contain ponytailed silhouettes. In other words, short hair is not the women's soccer norm. Sure, they could be non-normative straight women. But even (especially?) straight female athletes feel the pressure to conform to feminine ideals through appearance or behavior (i.e. talking about male partners and boyfriends).
I obviously don't have an answer, just these ramblings musings.
4. Drawing on the apologetic and the construction of hegemonic gender in sports...there are a lot of men on the field at the WWC. I find this constant reference to being "a man down" and playing with "only ten men" particularly interesting/problematic in a tournament where some people have actually been accused of being men.
5. There actually are no men on the field this WWC because all the refs are women too this time. I knew, I knew, I knew this was going to turn bad. I knew that any bad calls, and especially a series of bad calls, would create a backlash. I saw it happen when one of the Women's Hockey World Championships used only female refs and bad calls engendered the quality over equality cries. Just like now. I haven't watch the MWC so I can't compare the quality of referring as it pertains to gender. But I have seen plenty of male umpires and linespeople in tennis mess up some pretty big calls--in both the men's and women's game.
Yes, there were so many bad calls in the US/Brazil game and elsewhere. But I think it's dangerous to say that it's because women just can't handle the pressure of these international games. Is it any different from a minor league ump who gets moved up to the big leagues? If this is a lack of training, then so be it. Hold FIFA responsible for trying to compensate for past discrimination with a too-easy, too-soon remedy.

And finally, a PS. Why are there so many commercials for men's Rogaine airing during the coverage? Does this mean that, defying all previous research and amateur chatter about men's lack of interest in women's sports, that men are watching the WWC this time around? Or are they appealing to straight women to buy the balding men in their lives the product?

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

WWC Schtuff

I've been accumulating thoughts about the WWC as I watch--just haven't gotten a chance to get it down.

So I saw--last week--Equatorial Guinea's first game of the tournament. Kudos to the commentators on ESPN for actually mentioning the allegations that several players for the team are men. I have heard other media outlets (NPR's Only a Game, for example) also talk about it. So that's good. Alas one of the ESPN guys, after noting in the pre-game commentary that two of the three accused players were not playing this tournament, urged us all to put that all aside to think about the soccer.
There were other interesting moments in that pre-game; and they seem to involve Brandi Chastain. First, on the shallower and more catty side of things, what's up with the hair? Someone needs to start a blog that deconstructs all of the Chastain's hair-dos this tournament. During this pre-game: several French braids ending in a long ponytail. She looked like a high school softball player. Who is doing this to her? Why does ESPN have such a difficult time with clothing and coiffing female commentators?

But her hair had nothing to do with her seemingly racist comment about how Equatorial Guinea, like of all Africa, is undisciplined. Not all African soccer players--just all of Africa--the whole continent. Probably not what she meant--but that's what she said. The Equatorial Guinea controversy is all tinged with racism, sexism, and colonialism. Doesn't look like the team will make it out of group play, though so I guess things will quiet down for a few years.
Follow up on Nigeria: the overt homophobia is getting a decent amount of press coverage, mostly centering on the coach who has continued to make comments about her amazing ability to purge lesbians from her team.
And FIFA just couldn't ignore it anymore, I imagine. They issued a pretty benign statement about Uche's comments:
"FIFA is against all forms of discrimination," Tatjana Haenni, FIFA's head of women's competitions, told German television channel ARD."We are here at a FIFA event and will point out that it would be best to express oneself neutrally."
Apparently Uche is going to get a talking-to and be reminded of FIFA's official anti-discrimination stance. I hope--though I have my doubts--that this little chat will be more effective than Penn State's little chats with former women's basketball coach Rene Portland, who also had a public no-lesbians policy.

Seems that some of the prominent stars of this World Cup are getting a lot of flack. The USA's Abby Wambach is in a scoring drought--which we hear about ad nauseum. But her place on the team is secure. Even with all the (successful) jockeying of line-ups by coach Pia Sundhage, Wambach has retained her prominent place up front. Germany's Birgit Prinz has not been so lucky. Her slump has resulted in much discussion in the German media and lead to her being taken out of the game against Nigeria in the second half. A theory has been posited by a German scholar that Prinz's performance has been the center of attention because the star's personal life has been kept very personal. As in--no one knows a lot about the team's star. Interestingly it sounds a lot like Wambach. We know about her large family and growing up in Rochester, NY. But not much more. Surprising that rumors about lesbianism float around these so-called private players? Not so much. Surprising that they remain private amidst these rumors? Nope. They are likely going to get criticism for their play regardless. I don't imagine adding aspects of their off-field life to those critiques is an especially appealing prospect.

And finally, an Iranian reporter and photojournalist has been taken into government custody. Maryam Majd was headed to cover the WWC but never made it. The Intelligence Ministry apparently searched her home and took some of her possessions and is currently holding her at an unknown location. Majd is one of the only Iranians to cover women's sports and is also a women's sports advocate. I have not yet heard of a campaign to free Majd or what actions the public might be able to take to help. If I do, I will post them.