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.

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?

Top 5 Take Aways: Social Media & Women’s Sports

Social Media Pic_iStock_000009648196XSmall

On Monday, October 19 I took part in the Tucker Center Distinguished Lecture Series on The Impact of Social Media on Women’s Sports-which you can view in its entirety here. There were so many great ideas  and critical thinking from so many perspectives that I’m still processing, but here are my Top 5 as of now.

1. Women’s sport marketing & promotions have always been viral and no one is really sure how to measure return on investment. Social media should be about building relationships and you can’t always measure the impact of relationship building.  (@DigitalMaxwell, Dr. Heather Maxwell)

2. The success of female sports journalists depends on the success of women’s sports, but half of female sport journalists surveyed don’t feel a responsibility to cover women’s sports. They don’t want to be pigeon-holed.(@mariahardinpsu, Dr. Marie Hardin)

3. Is it fair to place the burden of marketing & promoting women’s sports on the shoulders of the female athletes-especially those in “non-traditional” sports like ice hockey? Is this the new model we are left with as social media envelops traditional sport media (where female athletes get 6-8% of the coverage)? (@angelaruggiero, Angela Ruggiero, US Women’s National Ice Hockey Team)

4. Interest in women’s sport is being measured by “click throughs” in online editions of newspapers & websites. So if people don’t click on women’s sport stories, it is interpreted as “non interest”. Those who support women’s sports have to CLICK the stories that we can find!  (Rachel Blount, Sports Columnist, Star Tribune)

5. Time remains to take control of social media and use it effectively to grow women’s sports, but time is running out (Rachel Blount, Sports Columnist, Star Tribune)

If you watched it what were your thoughts?

A Shirt for Girls?

twisted TweeOk, so school is about to start up and I’m feverishly trying to whittle down the “to do” list, therefore haven’t had as much time to blog. BUT….I saw this over Twitter and had to share it as the most ridiculous, sexualizing, exploitative “shirt” made specifically for infants and preschool girls I’ve seen in a long time—perhaps EV-ER! The maker of Twisted Twee is a woman and the advertising tag line for the shirt is “something for the evening!” I’m speechless.

Note: Imagine a similar trouser concept for boys that would be equally offensive…but I didn’t see that in Suzi Warren’s line.

Part 3 (yes 3!): Clarifying the Myth About Exercise

I can’t promise this won’t be the last, but TIME’s front page coverage—a usually reputable and fair minded news source—of “The Myth About Exercise” still has me thinking.

I have a few more thoughts on this matter after reading some responses to the “Myth” article in TIME’s Letters to the Editor.

In the Aug. 31, 2009 issue, TIME published The President of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), James Pivarnik’s, letter to the editor in which he calls out the uneven and untrue reporting in The Myth About Exercise article. The ACSM also published a position statement motivated by the TIME article, in which experts within the ACSM took “strong exception to assertions that exercise can inhibit weight loss by over-stimulating the appetite.” In the position st

What struck me about Pivarnik’s letter was the irony.

How many people read Pivarnik’s letter compared to the millions who read the “Myth” article? The expert, scientific perspective gets 50 words buried on p.6, while the “Myth” story gets front cover exposure, and multiple page, full color feature coverage. Even if you didn’t read the article, you might of read the headline while standing in line at the grocery store—which might be enough to create misinformed perspectives.The exposure of a TIME cover story cannot be underestimated—a major weekly news magazine tells the public what is newsworthy, valued, important….and true (even when the “truth” is skewed, misinterpreted by a journalist, or just plain NOT true).

A Curious Catwalk for a Cure

A charity promotion from the Minnesota Lynx (found by ASC) is a perfect example of how gender is constantly (re)constructed in women’s sport. There is so much going on is this ad, it makes your head spin! The juxtaposition of femininity and sport, and influence of homophobia, as some would argue, are painfully evident. The only thing missing from the event is a kiss-cam! What do you think?
Lynx 2009 Cat Walk

The Social Construction of Fatness and Femininity

Two things happened in last 24hrs which inspired this blog. First, last night I was watching a PBS show (yes..nerdery abounds!) called Make ‘Em Laugh which featured Joan Rivers claiming (this isn’t verbatim but close), “We should all stop pretending that beauty doesn’t matter. It does. So let’s just tell young girls ‘beauty matters’ so try to make yourselves look good.” (You can see part of her interview about “fat” Elizabeth Taylor here.) Second, I read a blog “Fat Pedagogy: On Gluttonous Enterprise and the Exercise-Industrial-Complex” which inspired this blog. I’ve read some about the critical perspective of obesity, overweight, and fatness which I find fascinating (See for example the special issue of Sociology of Sport Journal Special Issue: The Social Construction of Fat—“The Personal is the Political” edited by Margaret Duncan). I’ve thought about this issue and its intersection with gender…here is an excerpt I wrote with graduate student Chelsey Thul for a paper on underserved girls and physical activity:

Some scholars argue that a public focus on inactivity, the obesity “epidemic,” and assertion that the nation’s future is tied to its citizens’ body shape, athleticism, cardiovascular fitness, and vitality (Gard, 2004), contribute to the development of eating disorders, unhealthy body scrutiny, and anxieties in young women. Messages about health and physical activity, constructed by experts and reinforced by the media, tell girls what a “normal” and “desirable” body should look like, which is unobtainable for a vast majority of girls. Achievement of this kind of body within “a cult of slenderness” (Rich et al., 2004) signals worth, discipline, virtue, status, and emotional stability but leaves little room for acceptance of bodies outside the norm or for different perspectives about the role of physical activity in girls’ health and well-being.

This narrow standard of “acceptable bodies” was a theme in my blog about Jason Whitlock’s sexist column about Serena Williams’ backside and his assessment that she wasn’t disciplined enough to be “really good”. Neuman writes about this point, “More importantly, that ‘fixed standard’ is a socially-constructed sensibility grafted to the cultural politics of the ‘Right body,’ one less rooted in scientific nuance than in cultural norms shared by mostly white, upper-middle class, (mostly) masculine, (almost exclusively) Western scientists (Atkinson, 2006).” Neuman goes onto to assert that, “Herein lies the exercise-industrial complex paradox: the more money invested into ‘fixing’ the ‘problem’ of obesity, the more convinced we as a consuming public become of the stakes and consequences—and yet, those investments and moral imperatives have only resulted in higher rates of ‘obesity.’ ”

This got me thinking as well about the female athlete-sexy babe paradox (for more on this click here, and here): the more the media focuses on femininity and sexiness of female athletes, the more convinced the public becomes that femininity is “important” and the only way to market and consume women’s athletics—, and yet, selling sexy female athletes has not resulted in higher rates of popularity and attendance…nor does help challenge narrowly constructed ideas of healthy female bodies—particularly for girls and women.

Wimbledon’s Centre Court = Babe Central?

While I was out of town participating in the Up2Us Regional Sports-based Youth Development Conference hosted by the LA84 Foundation, a graduate student forwarded me an article link I felt compelled to share (thanks EH!).

A nydailynews.com article ran yesterday titled “Wimbledon turns Centre Court into Babe Central, giving players spotlight based on looks, not talent” which outlines that “hot, attractive” lower-ranked players were scheduled to play on Centre Count, and top-ranked players like Serena Williams were relegated to play on less prestigious courts. In the article All England Club spokesman Johnny Perkins was quoted as saying “good looks are a factor” when scheduling matches on Centre Court, in large part it seems due to television coverage.

Wimbledon Thought Process2

Greg Couch writes more about the “babe factor in tennis” on his blog where he states, “A few days ago, Maria Sharapova played Gisela Dulko, and on Wimbledon’s official website, the report of the match said, “As Sharapova and Dulko ran and stretched and lunged, most of the male spectators could not have cared less about their topspin forehands and would no more have recognized a western grip from a western movie — this match was about hormones, pure and simple.”

Unfortunately, it is also “pure and simple” another example of sport media and women’s sport promoting “sexy” athletes (which you could also read as White, feminine, & ponytailed) over athletic competence–which reinforces notions of what matters, what sells, and what is valued. If you want to read a new book out about this issue see D. Daniels (2009) “Polygendered and Ponytailed:The Dilemma of Femininity and the Female Athlete”.

New Twitter research: Help in marketing women’s sport?

A new study from Harvard provides information to those banking on Twitter to help market, promote, and sustain women’s sports. Here are some snippets if you don’t want to read the entire article or the post on Harvard Business Publishing:
1. “Just 10% of Twitter users generate more than 90% of the content”…superchirpthese people are called “super users”. Super Users can now make money through a just launched service called Super Chirp

2. “…very, very few people tweet and the Nielsen data says very, very few people listen consistently.”

3. “Among Twitter users, the median number of lifetime tweets per user is one”

and my favorite bit….Tweet bird

4. “…an average man was almost twice as likely to follow another man than a woman, despite the reverse being true on other social networks. The sort of content that drives men to look at women on other social networks does not exist on Twitter,” said Mr. Heil (one of the researchers). “By that I mean pictures, extended articles and biographical information.”

Twitter may be reaching a certain audience, but probably not males who don’t opt in and follow women’s sport.

Take home message for female athletes and women’s professional sport leagues: Use sexy pictures you download onto TwitPic to garner millions of followers (given the stack of research on how female athletes are sexualized in the sport media, such a picture shouldn’t be hard to find), then start charging your followers money to follow your Tweets. Voila!...instant revenue!

Given Heil’s findings, this may unfortunately lend some credence to the “sex sells” women’s sport debate (for more on this debate click here and here). But… I still contend that sex sells sex, not women’s sport.