Vonn Watch: Part II

9 02 2010

Ok, so if you didn’t agree with my critique (and many didn’t!) of the February 8, 2010 Sports Illustrated cover of Olympian Lindsey Vonn that can be interpreted as sexualized, the photographs of Vonn and other female athletes in the 2010 SI Swimsuit Issue being released today (shown here below) might help illustrate some of my original points.

Sports Illustrated 2010 Swimsuit Issue

I became aware of these pictures, from a news story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune that ran today which stated, “Minnesota skiing sensation Lindsey Vonn is among a quartet of Olympic athletes featured in this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue that is out today in print and online.”  The online version of the SI Swimsuit Issue includes video clips of the Olympic Stars doing their photo shoots.

The critique here is the same, when we DO see female athletes (some of the best in the world at their respective sports!) which happens in only 6-8% of all sport media, they are more often than not in poses that highlight physical attractiveness, femininity, and can be interpreted as sexualized. Is it coincidental that the four female Olympians portrayed here are all blond, attractive, feminine looking, and sexy according to societal norms?Arguably, the Vonn SI cover can be interpreted (or not) as sexualized, but these images are clearly sexualizing in nature and tone.

The obvious target market for the Swimsuit Issue is men.  Therefore, the idea that “sex sells” is viable and research does support that sex sells. What I want to argue however, and some emerging research is supporting, that sex sells sex…but sex does not sell women’s sport.

The point being, by seeing Vonn on the cover of SI, these images of female Olympians, or any other female athlete… does it make the male demographic more likely to attend and pay for a ticket to an event where these women are competing, buy merchandise, or read a story about them? Researchers say it is unlikely. So yes, sex sells sex but it likely does not promote women’s sport or female athletes in a way that helps to grow women’s sport in a meaningful and sustainable way.

The last point I want to highlight is these type of images also reinforce to consumers what is most important and valued in terms of female athletes and females in general, and meaning is constructed from what is chosen to be included and not included. If you want to read more about  how the sexualization of females affects everyone, particularly young girls, go to the American Psychological Foundation’s Task Force Report on the Sexualization of Girls. The report can be downloaded for free, and in short states, “The proliferation of sexualized images of girls and young women in advertising, merchandising, and media is harming girls’ self-image and healthy development. This report explores the cognitive and emotional consequences, consequences for mental and physical health, and impact on development of a healthy sexual self-image.”

Therefore,  I hope to see many more images like the one below in the weeks to follow, as Vonn (who I really hope is healthy enough to race given her shin injury) and other female Olympians have great potential to be positive role models, not only for girls, but for us all.

To see a video segment of me talking with KARE11 reporter Jana Shortal about why sexualized images of female athletes are problematic,  click here.

Lindsey Vonn, Great Athlete..in action, in uniform, on the slope.





Sexism Alive & Well, Even in Paintball

31 01 2010

This will be short post, as you’ve come to learn, sometimes at One Sport Voice pictures tell the story better than I could blog. One of my graduate students (Thanks AN!) found this picture while she was playing paintball this weekend. (Does one “play” paintball? What is the proper terminology?… because that sounds wrong.) This reminded me of a calendar that one might find hanging in car repair shop break room.

Picture found at paintball locale "Easy to love, Hard to leave"





What Do Fans of Women’s Sport Want to See?

25 01 2010

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.

US Women's National Hockey Team Roster page

US Women's National Hockey Team "Get to Know 'Em"

US National Women's Hockey Team Tidbits





Things I learned today about ESPN…

24 11 2009

Today I had Rick Abbott as a guest speaker in my Sport in a Diverse Society class (can I say guest speakers on the eve of Thanksgiving  are the best!). Abbott is the VP of Global Security and Facilities Operations for ESPN where he oversees 4,000 ESPN events worldwide, and most importantly he is a graduate of the University of Minnesota. As someone who usually is critiquing ESPN for one reason or another, I found Abbott fascinating and I learned a great deal.  I’ll give you my Top 5 “plays of the day” (i.e., take homes).

1. Every summer ESPN hires 120 interns. Only 5 are offered jobs!The ESPN Campus in Bristol, CT houses 3,500 employees.

2. ESPN pays $1.1 billion to the NFL to be able to use any footage of the NFL they want in their broadcasts.

3. Poker gets a higher viewership (.5) than the WNBA (.3).

4. More women watch the NFL and Men’s College Basketball than the WNBA. Abbott wasn’t sure many males watch the WNBA, which is what research audience reception tells us.

5. ESPN will launch an “ESPN W” to try and capture the high school girls market. I can’t wait to see what this looks like! It will come out of the ESPN Rise brand.

He also had three great pieces of advice for the students. First, don’t gossip it is a career killer. Second, you never know who you’ll meet that will lead to a job…you are always interviewing for a job. Third, sometimes you have to take risks, go backwards, and make hard choices in your career to get where you want to be…don’t play it safe.





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

20 10 2009

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?





Where are the Photographs of Female Coaches?

14 10 2009

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?





FINALLY! A Worthy Comparison

9 10 2009

wnbaOn the eve of the final WNBA playoff game, I just watched a fantastic video made by a WNBA Intern, that I saw due to a Tweet by Minnesota Lynx player Candice Wiggins (@candicwiggins). In the video, clips featuring similar plays from the NBA and WNBA are shown back-to-back or simultaneously.  What this sets up is that WNBA players are as athletic as, and do exactly the same exciting plays as their NBA counterparts. Female athletes are depicted in action, on the court, in uniform doing what they do best (in contrast to passive, off the court, and NOT in *cough* uniform Serena Williams). Brilliant! Usually when female athletes are compared to male athletes, the male version of the game is constructed as “better than”, more exciting, or the real version. Not in this video!

Advice to the WNBA: HIRE THIS INTERN. Whomever you are Intern, NICE WORK! This is exactly the kind of marketing and fresh thinking the WNBA needs to sustain the league.

Update: I’ve been advised that credit may be due to more than one intern. In that case, hire them all!





The ‘New’ Look of Caster Semenya

9 09 2009

Much has been written about the controversy regarding the sex verification testing of Caster Semenya following the IAAF Championships in August 2009 (to read more go here, here, here, here, & here).

semenya new lookGiven all Semenya has endured, I can’t say I was surprised (albeit saddened) to see an article today titled, “Embattled track star Caster Semenya gets new coach, new look” which also featured the cover of You magazine (pictured here).

It also got me thinking…When a man outperforms his competition by a large margin—such as sprinter Usain Bolt for example—no one asks “Is he really a man?” No one says, “He is so fast, he might be a woman. He should be tested.” But when a woman wins by a lot—such as sprinter Caster Semenya—her sex is immediately questioned, “Is she really a woman?” This appears to be a clear example of marginalizing female athletic performance, homophobia, and sexism. Unfortunately Semenya’s ‘new’ look is not a new phenomenon for female athletes who have fallen under scrutiny as a result of outstanding sport performances.

when you win by a lot





A Curious Catwalk for a Cure

3 08 2009

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





Thoughts on Bras, (Soccer) Balls, & Bikes

10 07 2009

A few random things to think about over the weekend:

SICover_1999 world cup team1. As the 10th Anniversary of the 1999 Women’s World Cup in upon us, pay attention to how the media constructs this historic event. Will the focus be on a) the US win and competitive achievement, b) Brandi Chastain’s offing-the-soccer jersey to expose her Nike sports-bra (see the NCAA Double-A Zone), c) the “girls of summer” (i.e., the wholesome, attractive, All-American darlings that everyone fell in love with) many of whom are now mothers, d) how the historic event gave notice that people DO like to watch women’s sports (especially when it is promoted in the media and marketed) (see Christine Brennan’s USA Today column, e) how the team provided role models for young boys and girls, or f) spawned two women’s professional soccer leagues (see WPS) …..or perhaps some of all of the above? I’ll be curious to see what dominant messages arise.

women cycling2. The Tour de France is underway! Will Lance Armstrong really win it yet again? It got me thinking…why don’t women ride in the Tour de France? I did a little sleuthing and found no real answers but there IS a race called Le Grand Boucle (“the great loop”) which is been held off and on roughly over the last 15 years. The women’s race is shorter, has varied in the number of stages (the men’s race has 21), and the 2009 race will be just four days long “due to organizational difficulties” (according to Wikipedia..take it for what you will). If you know French, you can see the official website of Le Grand Boucle…je parlez un peu francais. It makes me think that the exclusion of women in the Tour de France is arbitrary, and the shorter “lesser than” women’s race, serves to perpetuate existing and historical gender hierarchies in sport that privilege male athletes.