Sunday, December 29, 2013

List fail

'Tis the season for year in review lists.
Outsports compiled its own "gay sports year in review." 
Year-end reviews can sometimes be cursory. But I was initially impressed by the lesser known and/or remembered stories writer Jim Buzinski mentioned in the piece including a gay male high school basketball coach who came out to his team and received tremendous support.
But when I reached the end I asked (out loud to the empty room), did they not include Brittney Griner? So I did a page search for "griner" to compensate for any poor reading skills on my part. Nothing. It was not just that Griner came out, or rather stated publicly that she was gay; one of the biggest parts of the story was the way in which she was, as a player at Baylor, compelled to not discuss her sexuality even after telling her recruiters that she was gay when she was just in high school.
To leave this story off the list is unacceptable whether on purpose or oversight. (Another list, also by Buzinski, posted around Thanksgiving "Things we give thanks for in 2013 gay sports"--did include the Griner story as part of the
And even if it was the latter, such a mistake comes at a bad time. Critiques have been mounting about how the movement for acceptance of gay athletes has been quite male-centric. Such an oversight, and the list in general, reflects this ongoing problem. Outsports has always been male-centric, but in an end-of-the-year list--something more microcosmic--it shouldn't be hard to pay a little more attention to women. I mean there might not be as many of the stories about naked or nearly naked male athletes that Outsports writers seem to enjoy putting on these lists, but it would still be a nice thing.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Two slurs in five years (?)

This week Colorado State University announced it was suspending assistant football coach Greg Lupfer for a gay slur he used during the team's bowl game against Washington State. Lupfer used the term, which he paired with a curse word for emphasis, against Washington State's quarterback after the latter made a touchdown pass. Unclear why Lupfer was so upset so early in the game. It was only the first of six the quarterback, Connor Halliday, would make and CSU ended up winning the game anyway. Not that any circumstance would warrant such behavior. But it might explain why, as part of Lupfer's punishment, he is being required to undergo anger management. He also has to do the requisite "diversity training." He must pay for both interventions himself. (Are there random diversity classes out there? Ones not part of company or university training? I would invite him east to take my diversity course, but I'm not teaching it next semester.) And he has been suspended for two weeks.

This incident reminded me of the 2009 one involving University of Hawaii coach, Greg McMackin, who used the f#@@&t several times during a press conference. McMackin(who retired in 2011) also used the slur against another team (though not an individual), Notre Dame; specifically the "dance" they do before games. He was suspended without pay for 30 days.

Two incidents in five years. Well that's not bad, right?

Well here's what's disturbing to me. It's not about the number of times a coach uses the f-word. It's about how, when, and against whom. The Hawaii incident was particularly egregious because the McMackin used the term in a press conference--and more than once (3 times to be exact!). And like Lupfer's comment, it was directed at an opposing entity. I believe the public finds the behavior, at the very least, in poor taste because the coaches, authority figures, used it against college students. So there is the adult/student paradigm. There is also the issue of using the term against an opponent and in public. It comes across as a little but tacky (at best) and rather (unnecessarily) malicious.

But of course there have not been just two uses of the term by football coaches in five years. It probably gets used daily by coaches during football season. They just don't get caught on tape (well on tape that goes public). [Though the situation with former Rutgers men's basketball coach Mike Rice should be a warning to coaches whose normal discourse includes anti-gay (and I would add misogynist) slurs.]

It is not surprising that a coach would use such a term publicly when he is probably using it privately (i.e., not in front of national media outlets) quite frequently.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Russia does honey badger

Russia don't care. Russia just keeps on planning its Olympics. It don't care that more and more heads of state are opting not to come to the opening ceremonies in Sochi in February. 
Taking a cue from the infamous honey badger, Russian officials are claiming indifference regarding the news the leaders from the US, France, and England, among others, will not be coming to the Olympics as a form of protest against Russia's human rights record, namely (but not entirely) its anti-gay "propaganda" laws. (The US has some other issues with the country as well. I think the controversy over gay people in and coming to Russia has provided an easy out for US leaders and diplomats.)
So instead the US is sending a delegation that includes three out gay people!
Cunning? Passive aggressive? Brilliant?
Don't matter. Honey badger...I mean Russia don't care. Unless they are a little less honey badger-esque than they are letting on.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Let's get less physical?

Sometimes one feels randomly inspired to blog even when one has not done so in quite a while and one has a conference paper to finish writing by Wednesday. C'est la vie.
But I was a little bit surprised to come across this article "Officials set to reduce women's hoops physicality" which said that "Physical play in the post, on shooters and on ball handlers will no longer be tolerated."
The goal, they say, is to increase scoring by creating greater freedom of movement.
There is talk, from time to time, of changing the rules in the women's game for this purpose. But the way in which this rule change and the intense focus on enforcement is being presented seems a little odd. For example, an additional rule change is the ten-second back court rule requiring the offense to bring the ball past midcourt in ten seconds. Makes sense.
But why make the game less physical? And why do coaches think it is getting too physical? Auriemma called it a necessary step back.
While I know that no one believes the men's game lacks scoring, I cannot imagine a scenario in which coaches would get together and say "hey, let's decrease the physicality of the game." Every other possibility would be raised to somehow improve the game rather than "taking a step back" on physicality.  

Read more here:"

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

The sports world says uh-oh

Sh*t's getting real in Russia.
Every day I see a new set of news articles, blog posts, and various other forms of commentary and updates about how Russia's anti-gay propaganda laws will affect the upcoming Olympic Games.
As I wrote about already, the IOC isn't exerting a whole lot of pressure. And, at the time of my last post about this issue, I was leaning toward boycott--or at least bringing it up as a possibility to encourage some more meaningful discussion. But I read a very thoughtful article about how a boycott would serve, in part, to closet some openly gay athletes who would not be given a chance to compete in Sochi. I was compelled by New Zealand speed skater Blake Skjellerup's comments in particular. Skjellerup asserted last week that he would go to Sochi and "speak out rather than sit out." 
The IOC had said that no one visiting Sochi for the games in February (athlete, coach, fan, media, etc.) would be subject to the laws. But the Russian sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, spoke to the contrary: “No one is forbidding an athlete with non-traditional sexual orientation from coming to Sochi, but if he goes onto the street and starts propagandizing it, then of course he will be held accountable."
This would seem to endanger people like Skjellerup and other gay people and allies who plan on doing something to protest the anti-civil rights legislation, whether it is a concerted or individual effort/protest. Skjellerup feels confident that the IOC will have his back in Russia, but what the IOC will do in the face of Mutko's unequivocal statement remains to be seen. Will it subtly suggest that gay athletes not do anything gay (whatever that means) during their time in Russia? Will we hear more statements about the mythical separation of sports and politics?
Well the IAAF is already covering that territory. With all the talk of sprinter Tyson Gay's absence from the upcoming world championships due to a positive test for a banned substance, some of us forgot to notice that the championships are being held in Moscow next week. I believe this is the first big international sporting event to come to the country since the law's passage. In anticipation the IAAF commented about the anti-gay laws. Nick Davies, the deputy secretary general of the organization, made comments even more lackluster than those of the IOC saying (I'm sarcastically paraphrasing) that he wishes Russia would see the error of its ways and reconsider the ban on anti-gay propaganda. However, he noted that the IAAF would follow the IOC lead and not make the events political, adding that the organization had to follow the laws of the countries in which sanctioned events are held, whether they agree with the laws or not.
Well, there is the possibility of not sanctioning events in said countries.
Remember when SARS hit China hard several years ago? Rather than put athletes in danger, sporting events--like the women's world hockey championships--were cancelled or relocated.
The situation in Russia is political (even if we are not supposed to talk about it) and it will be dangerous for those going to the Olympics this winter.
The IAAF's "this is not the place for politics" stance did not surprise me. Davies did remind the world though of its own charter that prevents discrimination based on gender, sex, and religion (what about race, sexuality, age, ethnicity?) and stated that such things are "simply not a problem in our sport."
Let's ask Caster Semenya to confirm that, shall we?

Read more here:

Friday, July 19, 2013

Let's talk about Russia

The writing has been on the wall for a long time now in terms of the geopolitical direction Russia is headed in. I mean, they were not exactly a model of cooperation at the most recent G8 when it came to Syria. But what is on everyone's radar screen right now, of course, is whether Vladimir Putin will let American leaker Edward Snowden stay in his country. (Apparently residence in an aiport is fine.) I am sure the behind-the-scenes wrangling must be quite charged by now.
Is Russia just going to do what Russia wants to do? Or will the United States and its (reluctant?) allies exert enough pressure on Russia to get Snowden back where they would like him?
As much as I probably should, I don't really care about the Snowden thing.
I do care, however, about all the political capital the US and other nations might be using in negotiating Snowden's extradition. Why? Because I think more attention--and more capital--needs to be put toward dealing with the legal institutionalization of homophobia.
While some of us in the United States celebrated the Supreme Court's pro-gay decision in Windsor last month, and nations around the world held gay pride celebrations, Russia passed a very harsh anti-gay measure. On a personal level, this means I have crossed Russia off my places to visit (should have gone to St. Petersburg five years ago when I had the chance), I am more interested in how international sport governing bodies will respond. Or not respond.
Russia is hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and the men's World Cup in 2018. Neither the IOC or FIFA has proven themselves especially good at dealing with gender and sexuality based conflicts (see treatments of female ski jumpers and anti-lesbian soccer teams).
While LGBT and human rights groups have been speaking out about the issue, especially as it affects the impending Sochi Games, the issue has received very little media coverage. 
The Global Post reported yesterday that the IOC has issued a statement which mandates that the Olympics remain open to all and free of discrimination for all participants, journalists, and spectators saying "We would oppose in the strongest terms any move that would jeopardize this principle."
I am sure Putin is quaking in his judogi. This is the man who basically stole a Superbowl ring off Bob Krafts's finger and pocketed it.
Of course then it doesn't really comport that he would ban homosexual "propaganda." What's so scary about a group of gay people waving rainbow flags and kissing? But I think dissent is probably one of the largest fears of a megalomaniac. After all, why would a confident leader fear three young female punk rockers who sing protest songs??*
The call for an international boycott will likely not go very far. And it is difficult to determine what such a boycott would accomplish. Is it better to go to the games wearing rainbow flags, as at least one athlete has vowed to do, and challenge the system? The problem is that I imagine some people--like international athletes, will be more protected than international tourists and maybe even journalists.

* The documentary Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer about the arrest and trials of three members of the feminist art and activist collective Pussy Riot was quite informative. It wasn't splashy, confrontational Michael Moore style but I learned a lot more about the group and the situation than I did from listening to Madonna.

Monday, July 08, 2013

It's just not a major sporting event until...

...a male commentator makes a sexist remark.
Someone needs to start a blog or Tumblr or something entitled "Commentators Say the Darnedest Things"--and by darnedest I meant racist, homophobic, sexist.
Last winter the BCS Championship was marred by a one-sided game and the comments of broadcaster Brent Musburger who spent some of the game's downtime talking about the quarterback's pageant girlfriend.
At this year's Wimbledon, the comments focused on an actual participant in the event. BBC commentator John Inverdale noted, before the women's final on Saturday, that soon-to-be champion Marion Bartoli was not pretty. He surmised that Bartoli's father, who--like his daughter--has been considered somewhat of an oddity in the tennis world because of his style, told his daughter that she would have to work harder because she was never going to be a looker like Maria Sharapova.
The comments caused discord immediately and Inverdale apologized before the broadcast was over, issued a written apology to the new Wimbledon champ, and re-apologized on the air before the men's final yesterday.
His comments were not especially surprising. Commentators make note of women's appearances all the time. Usually it is within a fit/fitness discourse, i.e., "Serena spent the off-season getting fit" means that she lost weight. Men "get fit" too. But this is usually presented in terms of endurance, i.e. James Blake has really worked on his fitness this past year" means that he trained harder in order to not fizzle out in five-set matches and is no longer a "wuss"--a word I detest but which gets bandied about in such conversations.
But all the conversations about women's outfits are also comments on women's appearances. And as rude as Inverdale's comments were, I found the whole Serena/Maria feud discussions that opened this year's Wimbledon far more distasteful.
Also, Inverdale's comments implied that pretty girls--apparently as defined by being blond and tall--don't work hard. (Not sure where a muscular, Black woman falls in this pretty/unpretty spectrum.) When Sharapova came on the scene she had to prove that she was not another Anna Kournikova who, it was implied, relied on her looks to the detriment of her tennis career and thus was not a hard worker. I guess there really is no winning, even when you win.

On another commentators-say-the-darnedest-things note, there is John McEnroe. This should probably be a separate post but I am sticking it on here. McEnroe, when talking about the re-emergence of a former top player who spend some time on the Challenger circuit, imagined that his opponents would see it as a really good opportunity to gain some confidence. This is how he phrased the hypothetical player's inner monologue: "that will be a really good scalp if I beat this guy." And once again racism against Native Americans in sports goes unnoticed.
While scalping was indeed a practice some Native American tribes engaged in, it has been negatively associated with all tribes and furthers the stereotypes used to justify the extermination of many individuals and tribes, while also ignoring that colonizers too would scalp their enemies. Use a metaphor not steeped in a racist, colonialist  history next time, John McEnroe.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

I don't know who is responsible...

...for the Scoreboard for Equality Tumblr, but it is awesome. Thank you thank you thank you to whomever is compiling all this data. We in the world of sport and gender studies are grateful.

UPDATE: It's done by a woman imagenamed Molly Arenberg. You can follow her on Twitter too: @Molly_Arenberg

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Coach behaving badly

No, this is not about the former men's basketball coach at Rutgers. 'Cause really what else is there to say about that that wasn't covered in the fabulous SNL parody with Melissa McCarthy.
This time the offending coach is a young softball coach at Seton Hall. Her players finally had had enough with her unreasonable demands (skip classes, forgo educational opportunities) and retribution when her orders were not followed. They have detailed many specific incidents (including calling her players aborted fetuses) which have reached the local newspaper likely because players' parents felt the administration was not listening to their concerns and had not delineated any kind of process for the investigation. Deliberate indifference and lack of policies/procedures is never a good position for a university to be in these days, but administrators contend that they do have a process and policies that they follow when complaints are made. Other than that, they would not comment on their investigation into the allegations.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Well that took balls, Jimmy Connors

[Warning: this post is more crude than my usual just-plain-sarcastic language. I am not proud of this. But I'm a little enraged.]

Jimmy Connors was constantly checking in on his man-parts when he was an active professional tennis player. He touched his crotch after every point. So he clearly is well aware of the status of his balls.
And now the rest of us are as well.
In his autobiography Connors tells the world that his ex-girlfriend and former professional tennis player Chris Evert, had an abortion while they were together. And he remains upset that he was consulted about her decision to not proceed with the pregnancy because, he says, he would have been there to support the child. Very little evidence to back up that claim given that he complained about Evert's emotional neediness after bad matches.
Slate offers a very good commentary about Connor's reveal and the politics of sport, pregnancy, and patriarchy.
The whole thing is just...icky or creepy or smarmy.
Why this perverse power play four decades later? What kind of issues does this former professional athlete have with Evert, with women in general? What is this "poor me" attitude that is in evidence right on the book cover? "The Outsider"? Really? Connors clearly loved the spotlight. He stayed too long in the game making one notable run at the US Open in his latter playing years. Then he went away. And now he wants back in. But he is no less tolerable.
I hope that Tennis Channel terminates their relationship with Connors in light of this most recent bout of bad behavior.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Did Frank Deford just tell me to lean in??

Last week several people told me I must listen to Frank Deford's weekly piece on NPR's Morning Edition. I finally listened to it this morning. I have not read any other opinions about it--or even looked to see if they exist.
I have seen many opinions, however, on the hot new non-fiction book, Lean In, by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. I have not read the book yet. I am on the Kindle wait list at my library. I don't really want to read it. I am a little irked by the whole thing. Sandberg is pretty darned privileged. She owns $1 billion of FB stock. She is white, married to a man, and a mother of two. Who is she appealing to? I have heard the thoughts about the book and its message from non-white, non-middle-class, non-married women and they all offer legitimate criticisms. But I shall wait until I actually read it before launching into a full-scale critique.
But since I have heard Deford's piece, I won't hold back.
I have heard this rant before. It came from Nancy Lieberman who told a group of lawyers and scholars at a Harvard Law School conference to support women's sports--with dollars. She told us to maybe not buy that Coach bag and instead opt for season tickets to professional basketball or intercollegiate softball.
Deford tells us that if women want more coverage of and attentions to women's sports, we need to show up as fans. He says we can't blame it all on the male-dominated media.
He is absolutely right. But lean in closer, Frank Deford--and you too Nancy Lieberman--because I have some insights into this issue of female fandom.
1. Let's start with obvious. Women don't make as much money as men. While we have economic power in the domestic realm--making purchasing decisions for the home and family members--we have less money for discretionary things like tickets to sporting events.
2. Also, related to money: using economic capital to buy social and cultural capital for use in and outside the institution of sport is different for women. Being fans of women's sports does not provide the same social rewards for us in male-dominated society. The same is true about knowledge of women's sports. Rattling off Abby Wambach's career stats earns you the admiration of some lesbians and little girls. I argue that the reason women have become a greater presence as fans of men's professional sports is because the rewards are greater. Such fandom is more valuable in a male-dominated society. Being a fan of women's sports can actually be potentially damaging. Who likes women's sports? Lesbians!! Granted being gay is more socially acceptable, but overtly enjoying women's sports as an adult women....well...
3. Most women have less time to devote to fandom. So they either go for the socially and culturally valuable fandom--as fans of men's sports; or they don't do it at all. Or they do it less often than they would like to. But if you are a married woman with children--how much time (and let's not forget money) do you really have to devote to following women's sports? I am married but child-free and I still don't have a lot of time. I have been to two Boston Breakers games since the team existed. Because I live two hours from Boston and it's hard to carve out that time. I did manage to make it to one intercollegiate softball game this season and I considered it a triumph. I was able to complete all my work--in and outside my home--and get to the ballpark on a Friday afternoon. I watch a lot of softball on television because I have an extensive cable package--which costs a lot of money--and so I am able to see games other people do not. But does anyone who cares or can make a difference know that I will go home this afternoon and turn on cable and watch some intercollegiate softball? No.

Why is the burden always on the underrepresented to either change the system or buy into it? Why isn't there greater discussion of the limitations that make it so hard for, in this case women, to do so? Frank Deford's piece is not a call to arms. So stop calling out the "ladies" for what they don't do for women's sports and start looking at the larger institutional restrictions.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Why Cal is my new favorite team

I really, really, really though Cal was going to take down the Cardinals last night. And I was rooting hard for that to happen. Sure Cal's trip to the Final Four didn't help my bracket any. But I was deeply distraught that Baylor was beaten by Louisville and I felt so bad for Brittany Griner and all the elbows she took during that game.
But the more I observed Cal and heard pieces of their story, the more my cheers were about them winning and less about vindication for Baylor and Griner.
Because, admittedly, I was a reluctant Baylor fan. I have always like Griner but not so much the Lady (gag) Bears as an organization. But who else could beat UConn consistently? It was Machiavellian really. But Griner is graduating and I can move on.
And I have moved on to Cal. Because I looked at the members of that team and I looked at their coach and I knew exactly what kind of atmosphere is fostered on that team.
Clarendon hugs Coach Gottlieb, pic from San Francisco Examiner
I have this theory--yet to be empirically proven (working on that)--that the make-up of a team is a direct reflection of a coach's philosophy and identity. And if you look at Lindsay Gottlieb's players you see that she believes in an inclusive environment. Can you imagine what Rene Portland would have done with a player with a mohawk like the one sported by senior standout Layshia Clarendon? I can't even imagine Geno Auriemma allowing a player who looks like Clarendon to be a Husky. Gottlieb has recruited almost exclusively from California (the one exception is the player from Israel) and her team looks like few others in DI women's basketball. Long hair, short hair, very little hair, almost no make-up, braids, mohawks. No apologetics here. Even Gottlieb eschews a lot of the unspoken mandates for female coaches. She rarely wears make-up. And yes, she sported some shiny black stiletto sandals last night, but she a quick search of Google images shows that she usually opts for a casual professional look.
And with the exception of the video coordinator, Gottlieb has put together an entirely female staff. I find that particularly impressive at a time when there remains some unspoken need to have a mixed gender coaching staff.
I'm just so excited to have a new team to root for that I feel really good about. So please wait a while before bursting my bubble about some kind of problem or issue with the Cal Bears. It was a tough basketball weekend for me, I need some optimism.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

The end of the Big East

There has been a lot of media focus on the demise--or the changes to--the Big East. I mean even It's Only a Game has aired several pieces on it.
But little has been said about the effects of the conference shuffling on women's basketball. The Big East is representing down in New Orleans this weekend. What will next year look like?
The New York Times discussed these issues.

Friday, April 05, 2013

The gay, gay, gay week in review

It was a pretty gay-focused week in sports.
Here's what happened:
 Rutgers fired head men's basketball coach, Tim Rice, after ESPN got hold of a video--which then went viral--of Coach Rice engaged in conduct unbecoming of a coach, and that was according to New Jersey governor Chris Christie. In addition to physical abuse, Rice dished out a heavy dose of emotional abuse in the form of homonegative and misogynistic slurs. The Outside the Lines story can be found here.
Glad this made news but a few ahem moments that were the topic of discussion in boot camp this morning in between pop squats, long-strider jumping jacks and rainbow deadlifts.
First, Rutgers knew about this behavior last fall when they fined and gave Rice a three-game suspension. The power of a viral video...We tell young people--especially intercollegiate athletes to be careful about social media; maybe college athletics administrators should take their own advice.
Oh my, I just learned that Rutgers AD is now out too! Have to admit, ESPN does a good job covering men's college basketball. Despite acting contrite and saying he made a mistake in not firing Rice last fall, Tim Pernetti is out of a job.
Anyway, second...this is not anomalous coaching behavior. Remember this? The University of Hawaii coach used the word faggot in a press conference! Multiple times.
And this guy. Knight has said he will not comment on the situation at Rutgers. His employer, ESPN, isn't making him either even though he's a college basketball commentator!
Rice and Knight; Juxtaposition of two AP photos
Rutgers got caught. Knight got caught. McMackin (who didn't get fired for his faggot comments) said them in public. There is a less forgiving public that is less tolerant of overt homonegativism. (Pretty tolerant of misogynistic comments as evidenced by the lack of concern over Rice calling his players bitches and other lovely monikers.)
But that doesn't mean bad behavior is isolated. It's just not all caught on video tape and sent to ESPN.

In American football news, Brendon Ayanbadejo has said one of the reasons he was released from the Baltimore Ravens, in addition to his age, is his outspoken-ness on issues of LGBT equality. Ayanbadejo has been vocal in his support of gay marriage, other advocates, and any potential gay NFL players. The Ravens deny this.

And across the pond, fans of the second-tier football (aka as soccer) team in Brighton, England keep asking for help in dealing with homonegative taunts and gestures they are subject to based on the fact that Brighton has a visible gay population. Club officials refer to it as "banter" from opposing teams' players and fans while Brighton fans call it abuse.

Wait, where are all the gay women?
Well, the women's final four commences this weekend in New Orleans. Maybe everyone is packing.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

OTL tackles athlete charities

I caught Outside the Lines on Monday afternoon.

Wait, since when am I home on a Monday afternoon with the TV on?
Oh yeah, since I finished writing my dissertation! Whoop whoop! Hopefully posts will be more frequent.

Monday's episode was called Charity Conundrum. A video segment along with the podcast of the show can be found here. It was an investigation into athletes' charities and began with Lamar Odom's Cathy's Kids, which was used throughout the episode as an example of a bad charity: deceptive in its purpose, high administrative costs, mismanagement, lack of oversight. Attempted interviews with Odom did not go well either. He doesn't seem to know where the money goes (not to underprivileged children but to kids on two elite AAU teams) and is quite defensive when questioned about where the money is going. He kept saying "it's my money, it's my money" as if 1) he doesn't have to answer questions about it and 2) oh, yeah, it doesn't matter--because it's not his money. Once it gets committed to a charity, how it is handled becomes the responsibility of whoever oversees the charity. In this case, his former high school basketball coach, who makes over $70,000 a year just to oversee this charity which has been almost defunct in recent years.
Poor Lamar Odom, it's not enough that he married into the Kardashian family, now he is getting raked over the coals--on ESPN no less!--for trying to do good in his mother's name.
But he's not the only one. The OTL investigators found that almost three quarters of the athlete charities it looked into do not meet the standards set by the Better Business Bureau, GuideStar, and Charity Navigator. In fact the athletes' charities are actually working for other non-profits. This is legal but somewhat deceptive. Also, given the mismanagement and lack of transparency of many of these charities, very little money gets to the partner non-profit.
So what seems to be happening is that athletes start these charities to improve their image and for potential tax breaks.  [This reminded me of a recent episode of House of Lies (another show I now have time to watch!) where Matt Damon plays (a version of) himself seeking a charity to promote his image.]
The charity consultant interviewed suggested that most athletes would be better off throwing their celebrity behind an existing charity. This reduces overhead, meaning that more money can go to the charity. And it leaves the management of a charity to people who have experience doing this kind of work.
I complain about the pinkwashing of athletics, because I find the lack of information presented to potential donors problematic. It is up to the giver to do the work, which she rarely does because cancer is a good cause, right? The OTL report encourages us all to educate ourselves before we give. We should apply this standard to all our charitable giving. The organizations listed above can help in this process.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Best Athlete Ever??: The Missing and the Metrics

I remember a couple of years ago I was a regular reader of a fellow grad student's blog. When she got down to writing her dissertation, she took a blog hiatus. I thought then "well, come on. You must have time to blog even if you are writing your dissertation."
Ok, so I get it now.
Diss writing is in the (knock on wood) final stages, so blog writing--as you may have noticed--has become sporadic, at best.
But I was recently encouraged by DrSportPsych to blog about the recent emergence at of a bracket to determine the best athlete EVER.
We can start with the obvious: there are no women in the running. Perhaps ESPN is waiting until a month from now when we are in the midst of Women's History Month to bring out their women's bracket so they continue to tell us how much they value and respect women's sports and female athletes. But if they do I surmise it will be as compensation for this quite obvious absence. There is nothing on the page that notes another bracket is forthcoming or that this one is an exclusively male contest. So, once again ESPN has done a one step forward, two steps back move. (Remember when we were so excited when the ticker went from NCAA/NCAAW to NCAAM/NCAAW? Those were the days.)
But dealing with the bracket at hand, the problem lies not just in the absence but in the metrics devised by an entity called "ESPN Sport Science." "Faulty metric" is--curiously--a term I've never had occasion to use but one that has been bandied about my household this past week and now I get to trot it out here.
There are some problematic metrics going on here. And the voters know it too. A look at the comments--where no one mentions the absence of women--highlights the arguments about which athletic characteristics (endurance, speed, jumping abilities, power, reaction time, etc.) are the most important and in which quantities and proportions. So while it is certainly possible/likely that women were not even thrown into the mix, we have to look beyond that to how the measurement criteria might favor male athletes. I mean, where's flexibility? Add that and you have to consider gymnasts (who have a quite a bit of power as well which they have to temper with balance. Sounds pretty athletic to me). And what about those crazy splits retired tennis player Kim Clijsters used to pull off? Plus her reaction time and her power and her endurance. How was power measured? Can you break power down into units based on bodies? Pound for pound how does a female gymnast compare to a 300-pound defensive linebacker? What about a measurement that looks at endurance over time? Length of career? Diversity of skills? Mental toughness? These characteristics are not exclusive to women, but add them into the equation and you might see more female athletes enter into the discussion.
The winner of THE BEST ATHLETE OF ALL TIME will be announced on Sports Center this Sunday. There will be arguments of course over the choice. They will not be over the exclusion of women. They will center on the "science" of it all. I contend that the two go hand-in-hand.

Friday, January 18, 2013

This is not about Lance Armstrong

OK. OK. I lied. I bullied you into reading this post and expressed a mistruth. This post is indeed about Lance Armstrong. Judge me as you see fit.
But it's not some moral diatribe about ethics and truth and sportsmanship, blah, blah, blah.
I didn't have any sort of urge to comment on this story. I mean, come on, I study sport and gender. This is not surprising. I am somewhat bemused by my cyclist friends who are just so sad about the whole thing. And I have felt that my ardent cynicism has been completely validated this week.
But the people who are still holding on because Lance has done so much for cancer...really? Because we need Lance to enlighten those last few people who aren't aware of cancer? Still wearing your Live Strong bracelets because you like the mantra? Go ahead. Sure a duplicitous man used his ill-gotten fame and spearheaded a charity/movement that raised money for cancer. It's not as if cancer charities are operating in especially transparent ways these days. So your yellow rubber bracelet is a little bit tainted now; but that pink ribbon thing--if you look close enough--is pretty bedraggled and frayed itself.
All this is a response that I can't post on Facebook to a "friend" who will still wear her bracelet (according to a post she made this morning) and has a "soft spot" for the man who inspired it. Because, after all, she rationalizes, much more powerful men have not been vilified and/or punished for their evil deeds that have hurt many, many people while we "strip" Lance of everything.
[It remains to be seen just how stripped Lance will be by the end of this. Everyone knows this Oprah thing is all about retaining some of his wealth, fame, and prestige.]
I assume my friend is referring to the bank guys in the US who have gotten away with many crimes, misdemeanors and ethical breaches.
But here's what's different about those guys and Lance Armstrong. Armstrong is a public sport figure. People understand sports because they can be broken down into quite simplistic ways. The winners are the best. Cheating is bad. Rules are clear.
Economics--not so clear and not nearly as prominent in the public discourse. And the leaders? Not household names. And not expected to be magnanimous. (Are expected to be ethical and definitely should be punished for misdeeds.) No one pinned all their hopes for a better economic state on these people and have been severely let down by their lying and cheating.
Sport traffics in hopes and dreams--especially the American dream. And Armstrong was a representative of the achievement of that dream. And now he is being punished by sport associations and in the court of public opinion for achievement via cheating. As he should be. As should anyone who cheats and lies and steals their way "to the top"--including all the Wall Street guys.
But just because everyone who has cheated and lied and stolen in this country has not been caught or punished does not mean that other people who do deserve sympathy or special consideration. Plenty of people get away with murder; but we still prosecute alleged murderers.
The problem with discourse in sport about cheating is that people still want sport to be simple: winners and losers. It has never been that simple. I thought the steroid scandal in baseball would raise some of these issues around who are sport heroes are and how to love or like any sport despite its flaws. Perhaps change the way fandom is done. But we haven't, as a society, wanted to engage in those negotiations and complications.
Winners don't cheat and cheaters never win. How long are we going to hold on to that mantra?

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Musburger ramblings

I was compelled by the lure of being in the NYT to think critically about the comments play-by-play announcer Brent Musburger made about the girlfriend of Alabama QB AJ McCarron during the BCS Championship earlier this week. But since my comments didn't quite make the cut, I shall them--and more!--here.
I didn't watch the game, didn't hear about the comments until I got queried by a reporter. (And admittedly did not know Musbuger by name--I did recognize his voice though.)
I think the reporter wanted me to make some kind of direct link to the status of women's sports and female athletes. And I couldn't do that. Because there isn't really one that can be made. All I could say was the somewhat derivative "well, it's all the same patriarchy."
When Musbuger encouraged little boys in Alabama to be throwing the football around with dad so that they too could land a beauty queen like Katherine Webb, he wasn't saying anything new rather he was simply expressing a sentiment that undergirds not just football culture, but American culture. If a man gets status--in this case through football--he can have a good-looking woman by his side. And the message to women: if you're good-looking, you can get a man of status--and possibly your own position of status. Webb is, after all, Miss Alabama 2012. She has, as my wife noted, "made a career out of looking good; she probably didn't care." (Though her current position at Chick-Fil-A probably doesn't require such a coiffed look.) And according to reports--she didn't care. She got 90,000+ Twitter followers during the game, including from professional athletes, at least one of whom sent her his phone number.
This was the aspect of the story that I found most interesting. In the end, Musburger's comments are just kind of odd, reflective perhaps of his age, his race, his class, and of course his gender. But the reaction to Webb herself and Webb's response to this reaction is indicative of a sport--particularly football--culture that continually places women on the sidelines--literally: as the wives, girlfriends, and mothers, as sideline reporters, as cheerleaders. And if you want to get recognized on the sidelines, you have to be pretty. You can be an accessory, but you can never be the star. And the whole incident is indicative of a culture in which women are trained to both desire the attention of men of status and achieve it via their looks. That is why Webb was seemingly not bothered by the whole thing. What should bother her is that this actually isn't about her at all. Because she is not a player in the proverbial (and the literal) game. She is a pawn. She is something a commentator can talk about when the game isn't interesting. She is someone male athletes will jockey over not because they necessarily want her--but because getting her is a marker of their success. This situation was an excellent example of the male homosociality Michael Kimmel has written about: "that men prove their manhood in the eyes of other men is both a consequence of sexism and one of its chief props."