A Whole Lot of Head-Shaking Sport News

I’ve purposely stayed out of commenting about Tiger Woods. It’s just low hanging fruit. What is left to say? But I will say the most interesting thing to me is that everyone is shocked that a golfer could behave so badly–especially Tiger Woods.  Sadly, Woods is yet another example of elite male athletes behaving badly and thinking they are above acting in responsible or moral ways. When one constructs his squeaky clean, family man image on a house of cards, it will eventually fall down.

Speaking of men behaving badly….In youth sport, some Canadian hockey dads were arrested in a hotel bar for “disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and obstructing governmental administration” during which one pulled down his pants. They were there for youth hockey tournament in which their sons were playing. And we question if professional athletes should be role models?

On another note, I found NBA commissioner David Stern’s comments about the likelihood of women eventually playing in the NBA within 10 years paternalistic. Many females in the basketball world have long believed women would and can play with men at the highest levels, but when a male validates this fact…then it must be true! Many of the NBA players have also commented, including LeBron James who referred to the WNBA players as “girls”. Given WNBA franchise Sacramento Monarchs will no longer exist, perhaps the NBA will be one of the only viable options of employment for players and coaches.

To round out sport news this week, Danica Patrick will race in the NASCAR series. Evidently this is good for NASCAR as Patrick’s sex appeal (not skill) will likely boost sagging attendance.

Speechless Over Serena

I just got word via the BBC that “Serena Williams has been fined and given a suspended three-year ban from the US Open for her tirade at a line judge”

I really hope this is a bad joke. Three years? That seems a bit harsh doesn’t it? Would a male players be fined and suspended the same amount? I think players who have tested positive for an illegal substance, say steroids, have been banned for less time!

What does this say about the intersections of class, race and gender in the game of tennis in the 21st century? Who plays and under what conditions? Who is punished (or not) and for what transgressions? Who decides, under what conditions, using what criteria to determine “major offence of aggravated behaviour”. I’m speechless.

The LFL Sells Sex, Not Sport

During the recent sport sociology conference (NASSS) I heard inspired critiques of  sport and had many great conversations about sport media and female athletes. Ironically, I returned home today to this tweet by the Lingerie Football League.

RT @MyLFL: “THE LINGERIE FOOTBALL LEAGUE’S OFFICIAL WEBSITE WWW.LFLUS.COM IS OFFICIALLY ONE OF THE FASTEST GROWING WEBSITEShttp://bit.ly/2YQYvj”

As you know, I’ve written previously about the LFL and I’ve been keeping an eye on what is happening with the league. At the NASSS conference I heard some great audience reception research on why sex does not sell women’s sport, sex sells sex. More specifically, sexy images and sexy female athletes sell sex to young male consumers ages 18-35. I would be really interested to see the market research—who are the consumers and fans of the LFL? (any guesses?)

The LFL is a perfect example of how sex can and does sell sex. The numbers prove it. Arguably, the LFL is not sport it is a dramatic spectacle aimed at entertainment and consumption of the female body.  No where in any of the promotional materials is the athletic competence of LFL “athletes” highlighted or portrayed in any serious way. The  sexualization of the LFL women is overt and aimed at appealing to male sexual fantasy. In fact their website promotes the LFL as “True Fantasy Football” which merges two primary desires and interests of many (not all) US men— football and sex.

If you watch the many videos of LFL games posted on the website, you will see continuous images of women tackling each other, acting violent, and slamming each other to the ground.  Yet one women (New Mexico soccer player Elizabeth Lambert) acts aggressive and pulls a ponytail and we have a national outcry (see the video and read examples of indicative responses on Perez Hilton’s blog).  Male athletes act aggressively and unsportsmanlike all the time (remember Zidane’s head butt in the World Cup? or Florida football team member Brandon Spikes fingers through the face mask? , both of which were similarly caught on national TV). Yet, the sanctions for Lambert were severe and quick (permanent dismissal from the team), while Zindane and Spikes punishments were much less in scope and severity.

What is our take home? Females can act aggressively as long as they are sexy, but if a real female athlete acts outside of the rules in real sport, she will be met with quick and severe sanctions…not only within her sport but will be berated by the public…while male athletes can “act like men” with comparatively less fanfare.

What is most interesting to me is the societal discussion and the media’s construction of Lambert’s transgression, rather then the event itself.

Social Media for Female Athletes as Contested Terrain

imblanced scaleCurrently I’m at the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport (NASSS) in Ottawa. I’ve heard A LOT of great research and ideas that much head is spinning a bit.  I was in a session today that crystallized some thoughts about social media and women’s sports, and the dialogue that is occuring. Social media is a contested terrain-meaning that it is a site where struggle is occurring on many levels. Some of the issues that have arisen during the dialogue happening in many places (like here, here, and here) encompasses such questions as:  Who will control social media? Who decides? Is social media good or bad for women’s sports? I have some additional thoughts, albeit jumbled, I’ll add here to add to the conversation.

Social media is both good and bad, both positive and negative. It challenges and reproduces gender stereotypes. It allows female athletes and advocates of women’s sport to control the message and it is also a residual of traditional media (meaning social media has converged with traditional sport media…like ESPN channel and its social media correlate ESPN.com so therefore it really is not different). Social media is a space to promote women’s sport in the abasence of traditional media coverage and it is a site of unedited and unmediated backlash towards women’s sports. It is a powerful tool to promte women’s sports and also a tool that can hinder its progress.

Discussing social media in binary terms of good/bad erases the fact that women’s sports are forced to turn to and use social media as a way to promote themselves and their sport because of the lack of coverage in mainstream media. I think that is the bigger issue.  How can we tap into more progressive notions and mobilize ourselves to create social change–both in mainstream and social media.

However, this notion is predicated on the idea that everyone involved in women’s sports is on the same page. This is just not true. Diverse viewpoints  fosters rich dialogue and how issues are taken up varies,  for example: “Serena on the cover of ESPN magazine is beautiful” to “Serena is setting back women’s sport”.

Here is my question: Is it possible to create social change and challenge the system if we’re not all on the same page? Who’s page counts? Who decides?

What do you think?

Stereotypical Media Representations of Female Athletes Starts Early

boy & girlToday I was preparing for a WeCoach workshop and was looking for some images on IStock.com. Pictured here is a classic example of how the (re)production of gender stereotypes starts early and in ways we might not even notice because they seem so innocuous. Ironically, shortly after I found these images I read the AAUW blog on Why Media Representation Matters which touched upon the newly released The Shriver Report-A Woman’s Nation. So far, I’ve read the Executive Summary of A Woman’s Nation, and in light of the Tucker Center’s Distinguished Lecture on the potential impact  of social media on women’s sport and the story released today by the New York Post suggesting that ESPN encourages “sexual insensitivity”,  I was struck by the assertion that outdated gender stereotypes will only change if women rise within the ranks and launch new media of their own. So what are we waiting for?

Where are the Photographs of Female Coaches?

As part of my research and outreach I’m always trying to track down pictures of female coaches, specifically at the youth level, that don’t look “staged”. I’ve looked in most all the photo websites like IStock Photo, and when you type in “female coaches”…well just try it and see for yourself. The choices are really pathetic—similar to the  image you see here (not from IStock). coach-mom_baseballIn fact, if you only looked at the pictures you can find on these type of sites– or anywhere for that matter— you’d wonder if legitimate female coaches exist at youth or interscholastic levels.

I’ve had my colleagues and graduate students look as well, in case I was missing something or not searching correctly or in the right spots. Same result. When I needed images for the website of my new initiative to increase the number of female coaches, We Coach: Educating & Empowering Through Sport, I had to email female coaching friends  for images of themselves.

This blog was inspired when I got notice today from WordPress.com that I could have access to pictures on PicApp.com, a site I had not previously been aware of. I immediately went to their site and typed in “coaches” and 3,829 images on 64 pages came up. Here is an example of what you will see–male coaches in action, in uniform, on the field looking competent and in charge. [picapp src=”e/5/7/a/Georgia_Southern_v_69ab.jpg?adImageId=5443390&imageId=6769230″ width=”234″ height=”150″ /] [picapp src=”6/1/2/f/Pistons_vs_Hawks_f5db.JPG?adImageId=5556926&imageId=6783389″ width=”234″ height=”159″ /]What you will not see are pictures of female coaches. I gave up looking for a female coach after the 5th page of images (sigh). (NOTE: I wrote this blog last night, and when I went in today the first images are from the Women’s Sport Foundation Annual Salute to Women’s Sport, including a few of Pat Summitt, the most winning-est coach in collegiate basketball. However, the images of Summitt are not in action, on the court, or in coaching attire, which sends a very different message about coaching competence compared to the images of the male coaches on the page)

Next I typed in “female coaches” resulting in 475 images on 8 pages. The first image is picture of Nadal signing autographs—not sure what this picture has to do with female coaches? The second image is this woman, who in my opinion doesn’t exactly look like a coach.
[picapp src=”c/f/b/e/Rafael_Nadal_Pre_41d7.jpg?adImageId=5557660&imageId=5606384″ width=”234″ height=”316″ /] [picapp src=”9/0/3/e/PicImg_Sarah_Gronert_in_f773.JPG?adImageId=5558108&imageId=4527814″ width=”234″ height=”332″ /]
The ironic part is the search for “female coaches” elicited more pictures of male coaches than female coaches, but when you search for “coaches” only pictures of real male coaches in action show up. (Note: the pics of Summitt mentioned previously do NOT appear on the “female coaches” page)

If you have the skills, passion, and time…please take some high resolution, pictures of female coaches in uniform, and “in action”. When I say “in action” I mean in action while coaching. Take pictures of what it looks like to coach in a REAL game, match, meet, or practice. When you do, make them available somewhere and let me know where to find them! Or if you know of a site with good images of female coaches not at the collegiate level, please enlighten me.

The scarcity of images that portray athletic competence of female athletes is well documented and I’ve written about it previously, but the same portrayal pattern exists for female coaches. A lack of legitimate images virtually and literally erases female coaches which is not good for anyone. Where are the pictures of female coaches?

A Pattern Has Emerged

I’m not a big fan of ESPN The Magazine, as I’ve written about their cover photos and coverage of women’s sport in a previous blog….or should I say LACK of coverage that focuses on athleticism, rather than being feminine and sexy.

Serena ESPN mag_Oct 2009

Their latest series of 6 covers for the October 19, 2009  “The Body Issue” has Serena Williams posing naked (thanks for the head’s up EH). It seems to me a recent pattern has emerged.

Here is the pattern:

1) A Black female athlete performs well and dominates opponents,

2) During the course of competition she acts outside prescribed gender norms (i.e., looks like a man, yells and argues with a referee),

3) Subsequently she is grilled and sanctioned by the public and the media,

4) Therefore she has to recover by performing versions of the female athlete apologetic by literally apologizing like S. Williams, and/or highlighting heterosexy femininity on the cover of  magazines. I’m talking about first, Caster Semenya and now Serena Williams (see picture here).

Underlying sport media portrayals of highly talented Black female athletes are racism and sexism. I suppose my blog title should really read…A Pattern Has REemerged.

NOTE: If you want to see the making of The Body Issue and gain insight to the ‘issue’ (and see a whole lot naked) click here.

Who Knew Tampons Could Be So Funny?

About a month ago I was watching TV and saw a strange commercial for Always, a feminine pad hygiene product, with the tag line “Have a happy period” with a woman dressed in white pulling a pristine pad out of a box, like as in a magic trick. I couldn’t find that ad but did find a French counterpart in which…well just watch it.

happy period
The themes in the Always ad campaign connote freshness, cleanliness, and relaxation. All words that women think of while menstruating (not).According to a New York Times piece women who use pads versus tampons have a different attitude about their periods. Which leads me to….

Yesterday I was alerted by @mhueter to a TV ad for Tampax in which Serena Williams takes on Mother Nature in a tennis match. When I first saw it, I wasn’t sure if it was hysterically funny and clever or super sexist. After watching it a few times, I’m going with the former. I love this ad! I love it because it uses humor to connect with women, rather than try to sell the idea of sanitary freshness regarding the process of menstruation (a rather mythical idea).

The Tampax ad uses strength, athleticism, physical activity, trash talking, and female athletes to promote a very different message to girls and women, than do the Always ads. The Always ad closely mirrors outdated gender stereotypes which were packaged and sold to women in the 1950’s, while the Tampax ad is a contemporary re-brand that females can do anything…and are not slowed down or marginalized by menstruation. I’m sure others out there find the video offensive, or as one colleague said “insipid”, but I’m sticking with funny. Sometimes one must put her critical lens aside and lighten up. Excuse me while I go watch it again. Game, Set and Match to Tampax 6-0, 6-0.

Weekend Gender Observations

Notre Dame Football3This past weekend I traveled back to Notre Dame (ND) for the Michigan State football game. I go back every other year to catch a game and see former colleagues. While I was there I observed a few things I had to share related to how females are marginalized and gender is (re)produced in subtle and not to subtle ways. Here are the Top 5:

1. On Friday morning I played golf at the beautiful links style ND Warren Golf Course. When I worked at ND I would decide to golf after work and show up at the course and be assigned a tee time with a group that had room for one more. Mostly I played with all men. As we stood on the tee box, I would invariable get “advice” from one or more of the men on how to play, how to hit a drive etc….They would tee off first, and then we’d go up to the “Ladies Tees” where I would hit. When I play frequnetly I can hit a 200 yard drive which often surpasses some of the mens’ drives. After that I didn’t get any more advice. I wondered, do men give other men advice on the first tee? Why do men feel compelled to give females paternalistic advice on how to play golf when they have no idea how skilled she may or may not be?

2. One of the traditions of ND football is the Friday night pep rally. While at the pep rally, a distinguished alum and former NFL player was challenging the crowd to cheer loudly for the Irish. He said he was told to keep it “PC”. He told the crowd they should stand the whole game to show support. He then told the players to be tough and not let Michigan State control the game in “their house.” He said if the players wanted to be weak and soft he told them, “You should go to school across the street” (meaning attend the all-women’s sister school St. Mary’s College). To my surprise, a few people in the crowd booed him.

3. While wandering around campus I came across the 2008-09 ND men’s & women’s basketball schedule posters (see picture). 2008-09 nd posters Given the research on portrayals of female athletes we have conducted in the Tucker Center, I noticed immediately that ALL the male athletes were in uniform, in action, and on the court. Some of the female athletes were in uniform, in action, and on the court but the dominant image was the “team shot.” These two posters convey very different messages about athletic competence.

4. On my way home I was checking Facebook and email on my phone when I saw a Facebook post that read: “Eagirls v. New Orleans“…meaning the Eagles were playing the New Orleans Saints. This person felt the Eagles were not playing well, which meant they were playing like girls.

5. Last but not least and related to #1 above…I wandered into an airport book store to find a new book to read on the way home. I came across a book written by man titled, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. I was curious so I picked it up. I’d encourage you to take a look at the table of contents, depending on your perspective you’ll find it infuriating, entertaining or informative.

I think these example speak for themselves. Comments?