One of our local Minneapolis NBC affiliate KARE11 reporters, Jana Shortal, did a great piece on why the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and Lindsey Vonn SI cover might be problematic. It is short and to the point. To watch the video, click here.
Leading up to the Winter Olympics in Vancouver the US Women’s National Hockey Team has been training here in Blaine, MN and going on tour to play exhibition games to prepare. I had the opportunity to support the team and watch two games over the winter break. While at the game I saw the program (Thanks to The Good Dr.!) and immediately felt my blood pressure rising. This program, which was being sold at both the games I attended, looks nothing like the team’s online media guide. The program starts out appropriately as you can see with the Team Roster picture. As you flip through the program, you see pictures of the team in “street clothes” and get a synopsis about “The Player” and “The Person” in the “Get To Know ‘Em” centerfold section (scroll down to see pictures of program pages). Why is this problematic?
For decades sport media researchers have demonstrated that female athletes (compared to their male counterparts) are much more likely to be pictured out of uniform, off the ice/court, and in poses that depict femininity and/or sexiness. Where are the pictures of the team IN THEIR UNIFORMS and IN ACTION? These women are some of the best female hockey players in the world!
Marketing the athlete-person duality of female athletes has become the default strategy for a majority of sport marketers in the last five years. Where did this strategy come from? Who decided this was the status quo? Is it based on research pertaining to what is effective in marketing female athletes and women’s sport? Is this what fans of women’s sport want to see? I want to to see the evidence! Some of the evidence that I and colleagues have collected indicates that fans of women’s sports and female athletes attend because of the athleticism, not because the athletes are cute “girls next door” or look good in a sundress.
So here is my question: Are the “Get To Know ‘Em” pictures, what fans want to see or have fans been sold these images so they do not know any different?
My logic: If marketers continually pitch the athlete-person duality, this is what fans see and expect, and it becomes the norm, so fans think they like this approach. But what if consumers only saw images of female athletes IN ACTION, IN UNIFORM, DOING WHAT THEY DO BEST? Would that become the expected and the norm? I really want to know when and who decided that to successfully market elite female athletes that a “personal”/ human interest component has to be included. It is also not coincidental that a good portion of the “Team Tidbits” in the bottom picture below reinforce very feminine, traditional roles for women.
NOTE: In the Qwest Tour program, in which these 3 images were taken from, I counted only 4 action shots in the entire 37 pages program.
RELATED NOTE: Do fans really want to see pictures of tennis player Venus Williams’ flesh-colored underwear? I would argue they do not, but when the media covers and makes it “newsworthy” then fans and general sport consumers are told this is important and begin to pay attention. I am wagering that more people know about V. Williams’ underwear than how she is playing in the Australian Open. Newsflash: female tennis players have been wearing “flesh colored” underwear for years. However, when the “flesh” color matches that of an African American skin tone it becomes international news.
A NASSS colleague sent an email this morning about a new basketball league (All-American Basketball Alliance) for White Americans. To be admitted and eligible to compete in the league one must be “natural born United States citizens with both parents of Caucasian race”. What?
In the story are many outrageous quotes by Don “Moose” Lewis, the commissioner of the AABA, who claims the reasoning behind the league’s roster restrictions is not racism. “There’s nothing hatred about what we’re doing,” he said. “I don’t hate anyone of color. But people of white, American-born citizens are in the minority now. Here’s a league for white players to play fundamental basketball, which they like.” Lewis said he wants to emphasize fundamental basketball instead of “street-ball” played by “people of color”.
To see the local TV station news broadcast click here.
Even more interesting are the readers comments at the bottom of the story and the video.
As 2009 comes to an end, there are some trends for those who care about sports–particularly sports for females–that you should keep an eye on in the months to come. Many groups and organizations that have been cornerstones of advocacy, programming, outreach and research for girls and women in sports are in trouble or on the rumored brink of existing no more. Yes, girls and women in sports have made major advances in participation in the last 35+ years, but gender equity has yet to be achieved, we now have fewer females in positions of power in sport leadership, and sportswomen are constantly under attack. Some stories from the past year put the fact that fighting for gender equity in participation, leadership, and media coverage, to name a few, are not issues of the past.
Under what criteria do organizations decide to shut down or “put out” important programs that make a difference in the lives of sporting girls and women? Who decides what is “out” and what is included? Who is left out, and who continues to play, lead, and enjoy the benefits of sports, and be portrayed in what ways by the media? What constitutes “A Real Life Out Clause?” This is real life and the consequences of the decisions of those in positions of power will continue to shape the future of sport for females in 2010 and beyond.
Consider the following, some of these topics I’ve written about in previous blogs, some I have not:
The Melpomene Institute for Women’s Health Research is struggling to survive in this economy.
The National Association for Girls and Women in Sport (NAGWS) “strives to be one of the premiere organizations dedicated to advocacy, education and the promotion of girls and women in sport”. There were rumors this year that AAHPERD, the parent organization of NAGWS, was discussing whether or not to keep or disband NAGWS. So far it appears it has survived.
It Takes a Team (ITAT) is being discontinued as a programming and outreach arm of the Women’s Sport Foundation. ITAT’s purpose was to “address LGBT issues in high school and college athletics… and make sport teams safe and respectful for all athletes regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity”. To read more about ITAT ‘s “outing” go to former ITAT Director Pat Griffin’s blog post. Be sure the program is not being eliminated because homophobia in sports has been eliminated and is no longer an issue. Homophobia still exists and affects all athletes, coaches, administrators and those involved in sports.
ESPN sports journalist Erin Andrews, one of the few in the profession, endured a terrible event where she was stalked and sexually harassed. Sportswomen also continue to be sexualized or erased in all types of media-print, broadcast and social.
In 2009 major “newsworthy” stories in women’s sport included “girls behaving badly” such as “extraneous and loud grunting” by one WTA player, a verbal attack on a line judge by another, and”overly aggressive” play by a collegiate soccer player, and the drunk driving of a WNBA MVP …not reports of stellar athleticism. Lest we not forget the obsession of the sex verification of runner Caster Semenya…which only came about because she was FAST, really fast.
Early last spring, when Tennesee Head Women’s Basketball Coach Pat Summitt won her 1,000th game, and Auriemma’s UConn Huskies won another national championship many speculated if they should coach men…the obvious pinnacle of any coach’s career. Interestingly, but perhaps not surprising, Summitt did NOT appear in Sports Illustrated “Coaches of the Decade“, but Auriemma did.
The WNBA lost a team, the Sacramento Monarchs, and another very successful team the Detroit Shock moved to Tulsa. I fear the WNBA is teetering on the brink of collapse in 2010, I hope I’m wrong. The WNBA now has 10 teams.
With 10 teams, The Lingerie Football League debuted its inaugural season in 2009 in cities across the US. According to the LFL website, the mission of the LFL includes: “the LFL will offer the ultimate fan experience providing unyielding access to players, teams and game action.” I fear the LFL will thrive and survive, I hope I’m wrong.
Women’s collegiate sports will never achieve gender equity unless real reform occurs unilaterally at the highest administrative level of institutions of higher learning. This was a clear message of the Knight Commission Report on Intercollegiate Athletics released in late 2009.
Earlier this year I critiqued a piece on ESPN.com titled The State of Uncertainty of Women’s Sports. I’m not certain if there is stability or uncertainty or both pertaining to women’s sports. What I do know, and these stories above (and many others not included here) provide evidence, that the work for those who care about sports for females is never done. We must work together to ensure girls and women in sports are not left out, or pushed out.
Stay tuned in 2010 for more information, and certainly more critiques, of these important issues. I’d also encourage you to visit the Women Talk Sports Network and read blogs by colleagues who also write about these issues here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Other WomenTalkSports posts of “Best of ’09”:
- From Because I Played Sports, Best of ’09: Forming a community, WomenTalkSports.com
- From One Sport Voice, The “Best” of 2009 and the State of Girls & Women in Sports
- From WakeGirls.com, Best of ‘09 – A Year for Women in Wake
- From Robin Bernstein, Best of ’09: A Fresh Meat’s Perspective
- From PrettyTough.com, 2009: A Salute to Women in Sports
- From Jayda Evans of the Seattle Times, Best of the decade: A look back at Northwest women’s hoops
- From Women Talk Sports Co-Founder Ann Gaffigan, Victories and Failures in Women’s Sports in 2009 (#FTW or #FAIL)
- From AthleticWomen.com Best of ’09: an idiosyncratic digest of bloggings
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.
Following the Tucker Center lecture and new blog about the impact of social media and women’s sport, it didn’t take too long for me to be in the middle of a real life example. Life works in ironic ways sometimes, doesn’t it? This example is meant to continue the conversation about this emerging and important topic.
On Tuesday I was at my computer and looked over the TweetDeck and saw that WNBA player Janel McCarville was live on her UStream channel JMACTV. I’d heard about Candace Parker using UStream but hadn’t checked it out yet, so clicked on the link and….ta dah!…there was Janel. As a Minnesotan, two-time Gopher Alum and now Gopher faculty, huge fan of women’s basketball, and advocate/scholar of women’s sport, I’ve been a long time fan of Janel McCarville (no hate Janel, only love!). Who can forget the Whalen/McCarville dynasty in The Barn!
I thought, “This is really cool… instant access to an elite female athlete“, as I watched her looking at and responding to the comments and questions from the 60+ fans watching her. I shouted through my office door to my two graduate students to “check this out”. Then I took a harder look and wrinkled my brow, “Is she in the bathroom?” I asked them, “and is she really cutting her own hair?” (see screen shot) Somehow I was a bit disturbed by this. I immediately wasn’t so sure this was cool anymore—or good for women’s sports. So given this subject has been top of mind, I tweeted about it—twice (see screen shot below).
I continued to watch for about 10mns, and then shut down for the day. I continued to think about it over the next day or so. In the course of “doing my warm up activities” for the day (aka surfing), I looked at my @ replies on Twitter and saw that my tweets had incited quite a bit of outrage, and a direct response from Janel herself! (see screen shot right, it will enlarge if you click on it). The tone of the responses was “lighten up, this is just silly and fun and everyone but YOU thinks this is great”. Fair enough. I responded to Janel via Twitter: “@JanelMcCarville No anger, just continuing conversation re: women’s sport & social media, both pro/con. See http://bit.ly/352s8T“. But I felt badly for criticizing her and it bothered me.
I learned a few valuable lessons which may be instructive as we all move forward and think about how to use social media effectively to positively promote women’s sports.
First, if social media is truly a two-way conversation, then I should of phrased my tweet “What is your opinion about @JanelMcCarville’s UStream videocast?”
Second, attacking people on Twitter is just in poor taste and not classy. My apologies Janel. This has played out for KC Chiefs NFL player Larry Johnson this week, as he is paying the price literally and in the media and for using a homophobic slur. It will continue to occur with increased frequency as social media becomes part of the way we communicate.
Third, shortly thereafter I read a great piece by Q McCall of www.swishappeal.com on Feministing.com titled, Is there a “feminist responsibility” to support women’s sports? It put into context some of the guilt I felt. Why was I attacking a female athlete? I’m supposed to support women’s sport. But on the other hand, as a feminist, scholar, and advocate of women’s sport I often feel I have the responsibility to wave the red flag and point out when I see something that may not be a “good thing”. Perhaps my role is to raise the issue, provide an alternative viewpoint, and promote respectful discussion.
It also got me thinking about where female athletes and women’s sport might be headed in terms of social media. If everyone “loves it” (all 66 viewers)—is this our new model of promoting women’s sport? Is that what fans really want to see? Is this how fans want to interact with athletes? Where is the line between “good access” and access that, to borrow from C + C Music Factory, “Makes You go Hmmmm”? As was pointed out to me, Ron Artest of the LA Lakers, got his hair cut that same day…which garnered media attention. But if the men do it, should the women follow? Should we always be trying to emulate our male counterparts? (I’m not suggesting that is why Janel chose to UStream, she’d have to tell us the inspiration). Is it possible male athletes use social media differently because of disparate patterns of traditional media coverage? What are the similar and different ways elite male and female athletes use social media? How can female athletes take control and use social media in positive ways to combat sexism, inequalities, and disparities that are well documented in sport contexts? Is this a responsibility they should bear? In conclusion, I highlight Janel not to criticize or judge, but to provide an exemplar real-life issue to promote discussion about social media and women’s sports.
I don’t have the answer, only a lot of questions. What do you think?
Since I still have social media on the brain this week, and have been reading the discussion about social media and its impact on women’s sport on The Tucker Center blog…Thanks to ASC, I came across this story on SportsAgentBlog.com about how not to use Twitter. This is precisely how social media can be detrimental to athletes. While this example involves a male college football player, it won’t be too long before we have an example of a female athlete getting into hot water over an inappropriate Tweet about her coach. Wait for it…..
Blog reader S.C. sent me a story about the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders (DCC’s). Evidently the DCC’s have to take and pass a 100-question test in order be on the squad. Questions include “everything from the governor of Texas to a country that borders Iraq.” Rick Reilly, the author of the story for ESPN.com, poses a great critical question: If the Cowboys football players had to take the same quiz to make the team, how many would pass? To see some of the questions, which have nothing to do with football, see Reilly’s piece. After reading the GQ story on brain trauma of NFL players, it might be less likely that players would fare well on the exam.
Kelli Finglass, the DCC Leader says, “We want our cheerleaders to be knowledgeable and well-spoken in interviews…If they’re not, it’s a deal breaker.” To follow Reilly’s line: Is a non-literate or ill-spoken football player a “deal breaker” for the Cowboys? Who is more likely to be in the media spotlight and give interviews on national television (or any television for that matter!), cheerleaders or football players?
The bigger question may be, why are the DCC’s held to a different standard than the players? Share your thoughts with me.
“Serious” game footage of “beautiful football” from the Lingerie Football League replete with (sexist) commentary of male sportscasters now available! (Scroll down about half a page to the video section and click on “Week 1: Chicago v. Miami Highlights”)