One Yeah! Three Nays for Girls & Women in Sport

11 10 2010

In the Yeah! column, a video featuring two girls who play on boys’ football teams.

In the Nay column, Mechelle Voepel’s column on the first-ever FIBA conference and the five “key topics” discussed by attendees (including lowering the rim, and regulating uniforms), to which I say quoting Voepel, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

The second Nay has to do with a basketball coach who wants to “fight the lesbian lifestyle” by creating a team with all heterosexual players. Huh?  Unfortunately, gender stereotypes still haunt women’s sport as this ESPN column outlines.

The third Nay, is the 2010 ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue cover of Diana Taurasi. This blogger on SheWired summed up my thoughts, “This is not the Diana Taurasi I remember!” I will keep contending that seeing female athletes posed like this (given females only receive 6-8% of all sport media coverage), does nothing positive to promote women’s sports or female athletes. If it does, WNBA season ticket sales should be dramatically increasing as I type.

Thanks to the people that have sent me tidbits, some of which are included here.





espnW: Thoughts Part II

7 10 2010

Some additional thoughts to add to my previous blog on espnW.

I want to clarify a few points. I stated that I wanted mostly females journalists, bloggers, videographers and those who do content to be female on the espnW website. I did not say only females, I said a majority. Here is why: We lack females in positions of power in all roles in sport. What better way to provide visible role models for girls and other females who aspire to a similar career pathway in sport (whether it be athlete, journalist, coach, subject matter expert, editor, photographer) that to feature them on espnW!  Research indicates girls are desperate for female role models and identify with same-sex role models more effectively (click here for some good information on how girls construct leadership). If you want to see the research on the lack of females in positions of power in sport click here , here, or here.

For those who respond to the birth of espnW by commenting “Zzzzzzzzzzzz”—don’t worry, espnW isn’t for you!! You are not the target market. Fans of men’s sport have a place to go for high quality, up to date sport news…it is called ESPN.com, all the ESPN TV channels and ESPN The Magazine. Fans (both male and female fans alike) of women’s sport and female athletes have not had a similar outlet to consume their sports and athletes they love and desperately want to follow, and now I hope we will.  For fans of men’s sport and male athletes: How would you feel is all the products associated with ESPN, which have largely covered men’s sports, disappeared tomorrow? What would you do? Well imagine that scenario and you will have an approximation of how fans of women’s sport have historically felt.

Stay tuned, the battle and debate over the contested terrain of sport media and females getting a decent share is just beginning.

For those who think espnW will be a bore, you don’t have to visit espnW…but you might want to when you have a daughter.





Post espnW Retreat Thoughts

5 10 2010

Having returned from the espnW retreat at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, CA I have been thinking about many things. If you don’t know, ESPN is expanding its brand to include espnW  “to serve, inform and inspire the female athlete and fan.” The digital launch will occur March 2011 and the target audience of espnW is women 18+. The retreat brought together key stakeholders in women’s sport, and it was quite a group! I felt very fortunate to be a part of the event, as it was a first-class endeavor from start to finish. You can see pictures on the espnW Facebook page. Laura Gentile, Vice President of espnW, has put together a dedicated team. Her opening night remarks can be found here, that will tell you a bit more about espnW since there is quite a bit of misinformation swirling out in cyberspace.

Billie Jean King at opening keynote @ espnW Retreat

Legend Billie Jean King spoke both at the opening ceremonies and during a breakfast conversation with Julie Foudy and Sage Steele. She was clearly fired-up about the endless potential of espnW. During her remarks she said,  “its OK to want something…don’t settle for the crumbs, want the whole cake!”  Well, I want the whole cake when it comes to espnW! At one of the sessions we were asked, “What would espnW.com look like to you?” I’ve been thinking about this ever since.

I think the answers would vary because not all women are the same, but for me here is what the whole cake looks like. I want to see only information, opinions, stats, blogs, videos, commentary, and expertise about women’s sport and female athletes–Period. I also want most of the information and content on the site to be developed, written and delivered by females. There should be at least (well really I want more!) as many females and females in positions of power on espnW, as I see males and male athletes on ESPN.

I’m also clear about what I don’t want to see on espnW: dumbed-down sport, a version of Self Magazine + Sport, male sports, or male athletes. If I want information about men’s sport I already know where I can go to get that information. If I want information about nutrition, motherhood, fitness, and well-being, I already know where I can go to get that information. Give me aggregated, high quality, legitimate, serious information ABOUT WOMEN’S SPORT AND FEMALE ATHLETES, I don’t know where to find this information (unless I visit 20 different websites).

espnW is uniquely positioned to give female fans and athletes, and post Title IX females in general, what we’ve been so desperate for–a legitimate place to read about women’s sports and female athletes. According to researchers, female athletes only get 1.6% of all sports coverage on major networks, a figure that has declined from 6.3% since 2004. Data over the last 25 years shows female athletes only get 6-8% of coverage for sport print media. Research on the coverage of female athletes and social media lags behind, but based on the data it runs the gamut from unfiltered sexism to empowerment.

espnW has done consumer insight and market analysis research and their blue chip take home is  that females are a different breed of sport fans. Women are busy, multidimensional, and primarily are still responsible for domestic and childcare duties. Many women have less time for sport consumption than their male counterparts, and when they do, the consumption probably looks different.  I don’t disagree with this assessment but the few studies which have sampled female fans find their motive to attend sporting events is nearly identical to male sport fans—they like sports! espnW kept stressing females and female sport fans specifically want to be (inter)connected, and experience a community more than do male fans. A colleague of mine once said, “Male sport fans attend to be seen, while female sport fans go to see others.” This wisdom may translate to social media, but the challenge of how that looks digitally is now in the hands of espnW, because only the ESPN brand is big enough and has sufficient resources to actually do this right. That is a BIG responsibility because it will meet resistance, from both males and females (as Megan Hueter of Women Talk Sports pointed out in her blog).

Given the record numbers of females participating in sport, it hasn’t translated into record numbers of females as sport fans (although the data show that trend is on the rise).  I disagree with the espnW promo literature that states “once an athlete, always a fan” because if that were the case we would have a lot more female sport fans of both men’s and women’s sports.

I would love to see research on the pathway(s) for females to become sport fans. How do we get female sport fans to consume the sports they once played? That pathway and socialization process is clearly in place for males. I ask a similar question when I ask, “How do we get former female athletes to coach the sports they once played?”  The answer is complicated and one I’m still trying to figure out, but I think some of the strategies to increase the number of female coaches translate–ask and invite female to be fans, promote early involvement/hook ’em early, reduce the time commitment it takes to consume sport, and make it easy. I heard echoes of these themes in how the espnW digital presence will be constructed. I also think there would many MORE female fans if we could see legitimate coverage of women’s sport and female athletes….(enter espnW).

However, I fear than until we change the current structure of gender roles in the family and workplace, it will continue to be difficult for some (perhaps the majority of) women to be the kind of sport fans, consumers, coaches, and administrators they desire to be.

I am wishing espnW and their brand team the best, a lot is riding on its success.

photo from espnW Facebook page.





Coming soon…comments on espnW retreat!

4 10 2010

Sue Hovey, vice president and executive editor at ESPN The Magazine and who runs The Magazine’s Body Issue; Olympian High Jumper Amy Acuff; Olympian Sprinter Lolo Jones panel participants on "Sex, Bodies and Beauty: Perceptions of Women in Sports"

Due to the fact we were scheduled every minute of the espnW retreat and then I got the flu almost immediately following the last event, I haven’t had time to post my thoughts on the event. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, colleague and Co-Founder of Women Talk Sports Megan Hueter summarized her thoughts posted in a blog hosted by Blogs With Balls post titled “espnW: A brand for female athletes.”





Telling sport cartoon

28 09 2010

Cartoon in MN Daily student newspaper 9/27/2010





Two physical activity opportunities for women

27 09 2010

Somedays are just more strange than others.

Today, two separate people sent me links to two different non-traditional physical activity opportunities for women. I had never heard of either.

1. Exoterobics…a combo of adult entertainment and aerobics.

2. The High Heel-A-Thon promoted by Regis and Kelly. You can see a video of the “race” here, in which ironically, a U.S. Women’s Rugby team member wins the race.

Do you think events and classes like the two examples above help or hinder the promotion of women in sport? Why or why not?





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?





The First-ever Ice Hockey Summit: Action on Concussion

15 09 2010

October 19-20 The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN will be hosting the first-ever Ice Hockey Summit: Action on Concussion.

The prevalence and consequences of concussion at all levels of ice hockey are concerning. Reduction of concussion risk, as well as improved concussion diagnosis and management require a collaborative effort from medicine, psychology, sport science, coaching, engineering, officiating, manufacturing, and community partners. This quality scientific program focuses on education and generates an evidence-based action plan designed to make a difference. For the rationale on why this summit is important and needed click here.

For more information, to register, or to view the brochure which contains the full line-up of top experts on concussions from multiple disciplines, or visit the website.

This conference comes none to soon as the growing concern over concussions in the NFL and college football mount. A recent story about a former University of Pennsylvania football player, highlights the need for this conference and other educational efforts. In the story it was reported that, “A study of the brain tissue of Owen Thomas, a University of Pennsylvania football captain who committed suicide in April, reportedly revealed the beginning stages of a degenerative disease that is believed to be caused by repeated head trauma.

To read a previous blog post on the NFL and concussions which contains many excellent links to data-based information, click here.





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.