I LOVE and DISLIKE that 13-year old Philadelphia-based pitcher Mo’ne Davis is creating a stir in the 2014 Little League World Series (LLWS).
LOVE: It is creating awareness that girls can and do play baseball, and can pitch and play successfully against boys. Davis is throwing like a girl–athletic, competent, knowledgeable, competitive.
DISLIKE: Lots of girls outperform boys every day in a variety of sports and it shouldn’t be a big deal and certainly not create a national media event…it should be common knowledge. At 11-13 years-old (the age of LLWS players), developmentally girls are usually ahead of or similar to most boys in height, weight, strength, speed and power. Thus it makes sense Mo’ne and other girls can “hang with the boys” or outperform them. As colleague, Olympian, and Women’s Sport Foundation advocacy director Nancy Hogshead Makar posted: “Way to go Mo’ne Davis! At the same time, there’s too much awe and disbelief that a girl can be a truly outstanding athlete – Especially pre-puberty, where there are very few physical differences. If you’re “AMAZED” – you need to see a lot more female athletes.”
LOVE: The public gets to SEE Davis pitch/bat/field, and SEE her on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Being seen on two of the biggest sports media conglomerates–ESPN and SI--matters. Being seen communicates what is relevant, important and valued. Davis provides visible proof of a performance continuum in sport and communicates positive messages to young girls about athleticism that transcend gender.
LOVE: Mo’ne Davis has become a role model for both girls and boys alike.
DISLIKE: I don’t think children in any sport should be on ESPN at all. Period. It is exploitation pure and simple. It teaches and sends children the wrong message about what sport should be about. If you’ve watched any of the LLWS, it doesn’t take long for the kids to find the camera trained on them and catch them looking into the camera…instead of focusing on the game at hand. It creates scrutiny and pressure on youth athletes, a pressure that not many youth are equipped to cope with yet. How would you like your failures to be broadcast on national TV when you were 12 yrs old? In addition, it is rumored that Davis signed gear is being sold for big money…none of which will benefit HER (else her future college athletic eligibility be nullified).
LOVE: I think it is really cool that Davis appears on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and is also the first Little Leaguer to appear on the cover. Groundbreaking! I like that she is portrayed in action, in her uniform and on the field…markers that communicate athleticism and competence. I love that the coverage of her has increased interest in (record TV ratings, long lines for tickets, merchandise sales, stories written about) and respect for young female athletes.
DISLIKE: ESPN rarely covers girls’ and women’s sport (See this study) and Sports Illustrated rarely puts females on the cover (Go to SI covers and count for yourself! or read one of numerous studies about it) and when they do females are sexualized rather than portrayed as serious athletes, but now that showing Davis will increase ratings and sales she is hyped and promoted. Seems like more exploitation. (Note: it would be really distasteful to sexualize a 13 year old on the SI cover!)
The popularity and hype around Mo’ne Davis is complicated. Images of her are both empowering and transformative, but can also be read as exploitative and regressive. This is what makes sport such an interesting context to examine. What do think?