Predictions on media coverage about UConn Women’s Basketball winning streak

16 12 2010

UConn player Maya Moore

I have a couple predictions about how the media will talk about the UConn women’s basketball team as they (hopefully) tie and break UCLA’s record of the most wins in a row in college D-I basketball. Given the scarce coverage of this exciting and historic event which Christine Brennan wrote about in USA Today, it will be interesting to see if my predictions come true. Read Geno Auriemma’s comments about the streak here, including this quote, “The reason everybody is having a heart attack the last four or five days is a bunch of women are threatening to break a men’s record, and everybody is all up in arms about it.”

If UConn breaks the UCLA record…

Prediction 1: The lack of parity in women’s basketball will be highlighted. UConn’s domination will be attributed to a lack of talent among the other teams. I wasn’t around for the UCLA streak, but I’m guessing no one said Wooden’s teams amassed their streak due to a weak field of opponents. The sanctity of the UCLA streak will remain intact.

Prediction 2: The women’s game will be constantly compared to the men’s game, in which the men’s game will be constructed as a better, faster, more exciting form of basketball….”real basketball”

Prediction 3: Some will argue that UConn Coach Geno Auriemma is “so good” that he should go and coach men’s basketball, because he is wasting his talent coaching females

Prediction 4: The UConn players will be called ruthless, robotron competitors who play unapologetically to win…and this will be constructed as not feminine or unladylike. In fact, some will say the UConn women play like men.

Prediction 5: The lack of interest in UConn’s streak will be blamed on women. It will go something like, “if women themselves don’t support women’s sport, than who will?”  The flaw in this argument is that the success of and support for men’s professional sport is attributed to only males. The fact is, nearly 40% of all fans of professional men’s sports are women. Therefore the lack of interest and coverage of UConn should be equally attributed to males and females, maybe even more so to males because they hold over 90% of all sport media positions and thus make the decisions about what is covered and what isn’t.

Prediction 6: More emphasis will be placed on the fact the streak is a women’s basketball streak, rather than the longest winning streak of any team regardless of the sex of the athlete.

Prediction 7: Some will say women’s basketball is lucky to get any coverage, streak or no streak.

I may think of a few more in the next couple days. Do you have some predictions to add?

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“A Women’s Pro Sport That is Growing”

3 12 2010

A Bloomberg Business Week piece posted Nov. 24, 2010, outlined the Lingerie Football League (LFL)  is a women’s pro sport that is actually growing. I originally blogged about the LFL a while back.

If I had to write a quote that exemplifies all that is wrong with the LFL and why its popularity is troublesome to those of us who advocate, study, play, teach and research women’s sport, I couldn’t do it.   Wachter write,  “While playing in the NFL takes a rare combination of strength, speed, and coordination, in the Lingerie Football League, says its founder, Mitchell Mortaza, “You have to be athletic, confident, and beautiful. I would argue that beautiful is the most important and valued attribute of the LFL  and LFL players reflect what society has constructed as the beauty norm for women. I have no doubt some of the LFL players are great athletes who love to play football. It is unfortunate that to play a sport they love, it is necessary to do so in what is barely a uniform–a uniform which accentuates and sexualizes the female body. There are other options (see below). I doubt NFL players, 1) have contract stipulations that reads  “players must cope with the possibility of “accidental” nudity” or 2) gets fined $500 if he wears any “additional garments” underneath his uniform.


Portryal of LFL athlete on LFL website

I agree with my sport sociology colleagues Mike Messner and Mary Jo Kane who are quoted in the Bloomberg piece, that the LFL is not selling sport or promoting female athleticism, the LFL is selling sex.

Portrayal of WFA on WFA website

It is well documented that sex sells just about anything, and unfortunately when women’s sport is packaged as sex, it appears to do well. Mortanza states, “We’re 260 percent more profitable so far this season than at the same point last year.” The dangerous down side of the LFL’s success is that it reinforces what many already believe: To sell women’s sport and female athletes successfully sex and sexualizing the female body must be primary. However the distinction is the LFL is selling sex, NOT sport. The LFL claims to be a “women’s pro sport” but it is little more than athletic Playboy bunnies running around for the benefit of male consumption.

Conversely, the The Independent Women’s Football League (IWFL) is about the sport of football. Founded in 2000 by a group of women, IWFL currently has over 1600 women playing for 51 teams. The Women’s Football Alliance (WFA), founded in 2009, grew to 32 teams in the first year earning the distinction of becoming the “fastest growing league in the history of the sport.

To see a number of additional, interesting and controversial comments made on this blog which is also posted at the Women Talk Sports Network, click here.





Another Example of Constructing Gender

23 11 2010

As a scholar who examines gender in the context of sport I’m always interested in the ways the media arbitrarily construct gender–meaning the images we see in the media tell “us” what it means to be a girl or boy, and what is appropriately feminine and masculine.

I have a long disdain for the “pink-ifying” of girls and the non-stop Princess narrative which bombards girls from the youngest ages. I’ve followed the blog PinkStinks for awhile and love their content. PinkStinks is a campaign and social enterprise that challenges the ‘culture of pink’ which invades every area of girls’ lives. A friend and colleague recently sent me this picture which depicts the dichotomous nature of how gender is constructed in the media. Her rhetorical question to me was: Why does it have to be “versus’ and not ‘and’? Can’t a girl be both a princess AND and tomboy?

According to Star, Girl Princesses wear bling and like to be pampered, while it is unladylike to be violent, wear clothes associated with boys, and have an interest in dead things. My point here is: Who got to decide these behaviors are appropriate or not for girls? Is this really newsworthy? (I suppose you could argue Star really isn’t news)

What message does this send young girls? We need more Princess Free Zones (PFZ) that allow girls the freedom to express all parts of who they are and want to be without sanction from society, peers, and parents. I would also argue the behaviors for what is means to be a boy should be more inclusive and broadened. Here is a Anti-Princess Reading List.

I would argue sport has the potential to be a great PFZ, but only if coaches and parents allow free expressions of gender and resist using stereotyping language that reinforces outdated gender dichotomies.





Oh ESPN The Magazine…You Never Cease to Amaze Me.

19 11 2010

I’ve written previously about portrayals of female athletes  in sport media (here & here) and particularly on the pattern of female athletes on the covers of ESPN The Magazine. and Sports Illustrated.

Yesterday a colleague forwarded me the new cover of ESPN The Magazine “the movie issue” as she thought I’d like to see it. On the cover appeared to be a Sharon Stone look alike from the famous interview scene in Basic Instinct. I thought it strange ESPN would have a movie issue, and didn’t really realize it was Olympic medalist Lindsey Vonn until today! At the risk of asking for more criticism and being hung out to dry by those who will disagree when I write about Lindsey Vonn, I have to address (again) why this cover is just plain problematic. To see video of Vonn’s shoot and why she decided to do the piece, click here.

Reason 1: Females athletes are under represented in the media. Less than 5% of all sport media is dedicated to female athletes. A new report states that number is generous as coverage of females athletes on major networks has declined to an all time low of 1.6%!!!

Reason 2: When female athletes are given media coverage it is usually in ways that highlight their sexuality, rather than athletic competence. (latest ESPN cover as Exhibit A, B, C, D,…..). ESPN The Magazine is the worst culprit of this pattern. In five years (2004- March 2009) females athletes have appeared on 5 of 168 ESPN covers (3.6%…less than the average) and when they do….well see for yourself.

I joke in class with my students that whenever female athletes are on the cover of ESPN they are in white (except for Danica Patrick because she is usually always in black for some reason as part of the media’s construction of her as a badass, sexy vixen…even when she’s “refueling” and promoting Got Milk?). White in U.S. culture connotes purity, chastity, cleanliness, and innocence but when coupled with sexy images of female athletes it has a much different meaning I’m still trying to figure out. This pattern is not coincidental and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Reason 3: When female athletes are consistently portrayed like sexy vixens it become increasingly difficult for most everyone to take them seriously AS ATHLETES. This does little to promote women’s sports.

Reason 4: It sends the wrong message to girls and young women, and heck any female!, that it is more important what your body looks like and how it can be used and gazed upon as a sexual object, than what your body can do athletically. An entire body of literature provides many reasons why the continual sexualization of females is harmful to girls.

This ESPN cover and the countless other images are not proof of female enlightenment, it is as Susan J. Douglas argues in her book it is unfortunately an example of how far we have to go until females are free of sexist practices packaged as post feminist empowerment that undermines female achievement and serves to keep women a sexualized objects, rather than promote them as equal members of society.





Observations from a summer of golf

24 09 2010

So I’ve been golfing again this summer, which I’ve enjoyed. I even have a handicap now like a real golfer. It isn’t very good, despite my image of myself as a scratch golfer. Hey, as someone trained in sport psychology I’m imagining my future goal!

I have a few observations from my summer of golf. I would love to hear from others if your experiences have been similar.

1. This past weekend I went “up north” (to non-Minnesotans, that means north of the Twin Cities to Lake Country) with a friend to test two premier courses, The Classic and Deacon’s Lodge. It was a beautiful weekend so the courses were busy. We golfed both courses and saw a TOTAL of ONE other female on the course besides the two of us the entire weekend. ONE.

2. The results of my mini-research study conducted over the summer lead me to conclude that if a female is playing with a male golfer, he CANNOT resist giving the female golfer tips and advice. CAN-NOT. Even if the female is a better golfer than he.

3. If there is a twosome or more of women playing golf together, the assumption is that we play SLOW. Conversely, if a twosome or more of women are behind a group of men, the men will NOT hurry one bit. They will spend minutes looking for a lost ball that will never be found, and have no regard for the group of women behind them. I have  a sneaky suspicion some hustle would arise if the group behind them waiting were comprised of males.

I found a YouTube video of a male golfer who talks about his observations of Sexism on the Golf Course, and his suggestions on how to change the climate of golf that often isn’t very friendly to women.





The Real Issue Underlying the Sainz/Jets Incident

17 09 2010

I have refrained from weighing in on the Ines Sainz/NY Jets issue thus far because it is complicated and I needed to think about it fully. Many have shared their view points arguing the issue from many angles. Last night I gave a TV interview with our local FOX affiliate and finally weighed in on this subject. To see the interview click here.

The real issue is not whether women should be allowed in male locker rooms. In 1985 the NFL dealt with this issue and granted equal access to credentialed female sport journalists, despite the fact a belief persists among some that females should “stay out.”

The real issue is not about what Sainz was wearing. While it can be argued Sainz was not “dressed appropriately or professionally” that does not give permission for males to harass or act boorishly. I liked Jelisa Castrodale’s take on this issue, she writes, “Disturbingly, the most frequently cited justification for the Jets’ behavior is that Sainz ‘deserved’ whatever comments or catcalls that were launched in her direction, both because she is an attractive woman and because she chose to wear something that fit more snugly than a shower curtain. The ‘she’s askin’ fer it’ excuse has been a longtime favorite of COPS co-stars, domestic court defendants and frat guys on the wrong side of the honor code.”

However, I think that Sainz does not do female sport journalists as a whole any favors by consistently showing up to the workplace/football fields in “clubbing attire.” According to a 2008 report commissioned by the AP Sport Editors, females comprise less than 10% all sport reporters. Given that female sport journalists are statistical tokens (< 15% of a population) they are under constant scrutiny, have to perform above and beyond their male peers to be deemed competent, and are subjected to overt and covert forms of discrimination. The few women who “make it big” and are given access to professional male sport arenas have a responsibility to act professionally above and beyond what is expected so that all females in the industry are respected. As one of my colleagues pointed out when discussing this issue, “Dress for Success” is a cliche for a reason.

I think the real issue underlying the Sainz/Jets situation is that workplace harassment occurred, and we have laws that protect against that. Some of the best pieces I’ve read and agree with are the following:

1. USA Today columnist, Christine Brennan summarized it best when she argued the real issue was workplace harassment. Brennan writes, “Was a credentialed reporter harassed in the workplace by the team that gave her that credential? Everything else about this story is extraneous.” To read her piece, click here.

2. The Association for Women in Sport Media also released position statements which debunked myths and outlined why this is a harassment case. In an open letter AWSM stated, “AWSM sees this as a simple issue: Sainz was granted a media credential by the New York Jets. She was working in an official capacity for her employer, TV Azteca in Mexico. Once she was credentialed, she deserved not only equal access but also the right to a work environment free from harassment and hostility.

I also found it interesting that some tried to explain away, justify, or excuse the behavior of the Jets players and coaches by saying “boys will be boys.” If harassment of women in the workplace by men is explained as “boys will be boys” than that is a sad reflection of the sign of the times. Unfortunately this language is used repeatedly to normalize or minimize the bad behavior of males. Most importantly these were not boys, they were grown men. Why is it still a common occurrence that some men still think nothing of  treating women as sexual objects in the workplace…it is 2010 right?





How is the only high school female football coach doing?

14 09 2010

Last May there was a lot of media coverage about Natalie Randolph, who was hired as the Head Football Coach for Coolidge High School in Washington DC. This fall she and her team are back in the media as the team’s results are being scrutinized. Currently the team is 0-3. My point is not to highlight the team’s record, but to highlight that THIS team’s record is getting national media attention where the many other football teams across the country which are also 0-3 are not.

Coach Natalie Randolph

Randolph should be celebrated, not scrutinized. While her on field results in terms of W/L record is a losing one, there are other outcomes that should be considered, but are often overlooked:

1. Her presence may allow females who love the game to consider playing and coaching football as a viable option. Many girls and women love football just as much as men, but given they 0ften are discouraged or aren’t allowed to play when they desire to, the pathway to playing and coaching the game they love contains many barriers.

2. I’m certain seeing and experiencing a female football coach has provided the opportunity for the young men on her team (and community members) to challenge the stereotypes some likely have about women, leadership, coaching and football.

3. From her interviews and feedback of those familiar with the program, it sounds like she is teaching her team both football and life skills simultaneously , and that is all that we can hope for and ask of any high school coach.

Women coach boys must possess a high degree of athletic capital to coach football or male athletes in general. In fact only 2% of all coaches of male athletes are female, a statistic that has remained remarkably stable even 38 years after Title IX which drastically increased the number female sport participants and the sport expertise of females. Randolph possesses a great deal of athletic capital as a former D-I athlete, professional football player in the WPFL, and assistant high school football coach–experiences which afforded her the opportunity and consideration for the job.  While men are assumed to be competent coaches even if they have never really played the sport, female coaches must continually prove themselves competent above and beyond their male colleagues. It is unlikely a female who never played football would never be hired to coach, but there are many men who have been hired to coach a sport they never played or didn’t play at a high level.

The interesting issue to me in the media coverage of Randolph’s coaching debut is the implicit assumption that effective football coaching resides on the Y-chromosome. No where in the coaching science literature have I read this, but it is a common belief nonetheless. If this assumption is true, then there must be quite a few male football coaches missing the Y-chromosome because their teams have losing records too! While I doubt the  floodgates for women to coach football are going to burst open wide, I hope Randolph’s presence will help challenge and change some outdated thinking patterns.