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."