Things That Make You Go Hmmmm…More on Social Media & Women’s Sport

30 10 2009

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.

9uwom0322w.lOn 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!

Janel !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).mccarville tweets

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).mccarville tweet responses 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?





Stereotypical Media Representations of Female Athletes Starts Early

23 10 2009

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?





3 Letters Make A Big Difference for WNBA’s Taurasi

9 10 2009

Does anyone else find it ironic that WNBA player  Diana Taurasi of the Phoenix Mercury went from DUI in July to 2009 WNBA MVP in  September and WNBA Champion in October? Perhaps more interesting is that the DUI was rarely  mentioned at all in the last few weeks of the WNBA playoffs. What are your thoughts on this? I’m mixed. I’d love to hear what you’re thinking.





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!





Weekend Gender Observations

21 09 2009

Notre Dame Football3This past weekend I traveled back to Notre Dame (ND) for the Michigan State football game. I go back every other year to catch a game and see former colleagues. While I was there I observed a few things I had to share related to how females are marginalized and gender is (re)produced in subtle and not to subtle ways. Here are the Top 5:

1. On Friday morning I played golf at the beautiful links style ND Warren Golf Course. When I worked at ND I would decide to golf after work and show up at the course and be assigned a tee time with a group that had room for one more. Mostly I played with all men. As we stood on the tee box, I would invariable get “advice” from one or more of the men on how to play, how to hit a drive etc….They would tee off first, and then we’d go up to the “Ladies Tees” where I would hit. When I play frequnetly I can hit a 200 yard drive which often surpasses some of the mens’ drives. After that I didn’t get any more advice. I wondered, do men give other men advice on the first tee? Why do men feel compelled to give females paternalistic advice on how to play golf when they have no idea how skilled she may or may not be?

2. One of the traditions of ND football is the Friday night pep rally. While at the pep rally, a distinguished alum and former NFL player was challenging the crowd to cheer loudly for the Irish. He said he was told to keep it “PC”. He told the crowd they should stand the whole game to show support. He then told the players to be tough and not let Michigan State control the game in “their house.” He said if the players wanted to be weak and soft he told them, “You should go to school across the street” (meaning attend the all-women’s sister school St. Mary’s College). To my surprise, a few people in the crowd booed him.

3. While wandering around campus I came across the 2008-09 ND men’s & women’s basketball schedule posters (see picture). 2008-09 nd posters Given the research on portrayals of female athletes we have conducted in the Tucker Center, I noticed immediately that ALL the male athletes were in uniform, in action, and on the court. Some of the female athletes were in uniform, in action, and on the court but the dominant image was the “team shot.” These two posters convey very different messages about athletic competence.

4. On my way home I was checking Facebook and email on my phone when I saw a Facebook post that read: “Eagirls v. New Orleans“…meaning the Eagles were playing the New Orleans Saints. This person felt the Eagles were not playing well, which meant they were playing like girls.

5. Last but not least and related to #1 above…I wandered into an airport book store to find a new book to read on the way home. I came across a book written by man titled, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. I was curious so I picked it up. I’d encourage you to take a look at the table of contents, depending on your perspective you’ll find it infuriating, entertaining or informative.

I think these example speak for themselves. Comments?





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





Women Leaders in the WNBA: Gaining Ground or Walking Onto the Glass Cliff?

31 07 2009

The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) just released the 2009 Race and Gender Report Card for the WNBA. The WNBA is the only professional league to get an “A+” for both race and gender two years in a row, a feat that remains elusive to any other professional league.

In terms of gender here are some highlights:
+ In 2008, women made gains in terms of percentage as head and coaches, team vice presidents, senior administrators and professional administrators, but lost ground slightly in the League Office. In the 2009 season update, at the beginning of the season, women gained further ground with a 10% increase as head
coaches (46%), a 4% point increase as general managers (to 58%) and a 10% increase as CEO/President (to 43%).
+ Donna Orender remains the only woman president of a professional sports league.
+ The number of women in the CEO/Presidents role for WNBA teams increased from four to five at the start of the 2008 season, and from five to six in 2009.

The TIDES report ushers in good news for women leaders and the WNBA, during a summer in which the floundering economy has taken its toll on the league. The numbers are heartening, but after just reading a book chapter about the “glass cliff” for women in organizations, it left me wondering if the increase of women in all positions of power in the WNBA might not be all positive.

glasscliff_no titleMost everyone is familiar with the glass ceiling metaphor commonly used to describe the often subtle and unseen social-structural gendered barriers that prevent women from reaching the highest echelons of corporate leadership.

The glass cliff is a similar metaphor used to describe the phenomenon of women’s appointments to precarious leadership positions. The glass cliff illuminates the stress experienced by women who have made it through the glass ceiling (i.e., Head Coaches, CEOs, Presidents of WNBA teams) and find themselves in a more vulnerable and precarious position than their male counterparts. Women on the glass cliff often fight an uphill battle for success, without the support, information and resources needed to effectively execute the job.

Researchers have recently uncovered that when organizations are in crisis and have a high risk for failure, women are more often appointed to positions of leadership. Two explanations are offered: 1) women are perceived as particularly well-suited to manage the crisis, or 2) women are appointed to glass cliff positions because those who appoint them want to protect men (or expose women).

Are women being appointed to more positions of power in the WNBA, so failure of the league (if it happens…and I hope it doesn’t!) can in turn be attributed to women?

[photo credit to liikennevalo and knowhr.com]





A Sign of Things to Come?: Recent Departures in Women’s Basketball

16 06 2009

I’ve read about three recent occurrences that have me thinking. While two may be related, all three may be a sign of things to come. departuresI’m talking about the recent departures of two male WNBA Head Coaches “to pursue possibilities in the NBA” and the second-ever early departure of Rutger’s Epiphanny Prince to “play basketball professionally in Europe before entering the 2010 W.N.B.A. draft” (Schuye LaRue was the first-ever woman to leave early from Virginia after her sophomore year in 2001 to go play abroad before getting drafted in the second round by the Los Angeles Sparks in 2003…thanks @hoopfeed!)

Successful Bill Laimbeer left the Detroit Shock after three games, and the not so successful Don Zierden left the Minnesota Lynx three days before their home opener to return to coaching in the NBA. While WNBA league officials and the departing coaches were assuring fans their departures were not a sign of trouble for the league, I’m not so convinced. I hope I’m wrong. What it does signal is that despite your success as a male coach in the WNBA, you can still get “called up” or return to the NBA. Would a successful—or better yet an unsuccessful—female coach ever get the same call? (maybe if your name is Pat Summitt, but I’m pretty sure that one’s gender is not a predictor of effective coaching so in theory many women should get said call)

As for Prince forgoing her senior year of ball at Rutgers to play professionally…One one hand, why not go and start making money immediately?—males have been doing it for years as has been pointed out. Prince states she “plans to buy her mother a house and support an A.A.U. team in Brooklyn”, so the move seems to be primarily financially motivated. On the other hand now that the seal is broken, will droves of other young women follow suit maybe never to return to finish their degrees? (and I’m not saying Prince won’t finish, but highlighting the possibility). Is this a trend we want female athletes to perpetuate? In essence, Prince’s move is no different than those of Laimbeer or Zierden….all three are leaving one basketball team, to pursue what is perceived as a better, bigger, and more lucrative opportunity with another team.

I’m not sure if this collective trend signals a sign of the times or is a sign of things to come….or both. And if it is of things to come….what “things” are we really talking about?

Update: To read more about various perspectives about Laimbeer click here or here.

To read more about what Gina Auriemma says about Prince’s departure, click here or read Altavilla’s blog. The NY Times also weighs in with an article titled “She’s Turning Pro, but Is It Progress?”





The WNBA Expect Great Campaign: What is Your Opinion?

17 05 2009

AAIQ024~Lindsay-Whalen-PostersSince this is a critical commentary on sport, I have to agree with Zalika Green, fellow Women Talk Sports blogger, and her opinion on the new WNBA Expect Great commercials. I really wanted to like them, and the slogan “Expect Great” held great promise. But once I watched them, I was disappointed. I wanted to see the athletes in action, not stills. The WNBA has a lot of great talent, show them doing what they do best!

What do you think? Watch them, vote with this poll and comment here if you feel inclined.





Selling Sex Does NOT Attract Men to Women’s Sport

14 05 2009

I just saw a short video as a result of a Twitter from the WNBA. The power of social media at work for one “opt-in” follower! The video is by Mr. Alex Chambers, a self-proclaimed avid WNBA fan who also Twitters, and blogs. Yes, I said “Mr”!

I’m posting this because Mr. Chambers is a prime example of my previous point that sex does not sell women’s sport, it sells sex (not sport) to young men….and alienates and/or offends female sport fans. If women’s professional sport leagues want attract the coveted demographic–young male sport fans–they have to do a better job of selling athletic competence.

Notice in Mr. Chambers’ video, not once does he mention how attractive, sexy, feminine, or motherly the players are. He loves BASKETBALL and he loves the WNBA. 0908jack-black-wnba200I agree with him there are more male fans out there like him….and more that would likely become women’s sport fans if it was marketed differently or deemed “cool” and acceptable by males in general (like if Jack Black pictured here were at a Sparks game…I’m not sure if he is or isn’t at a WNBA game). Keep up the good work Alex Chambers…I can’t wait to hear more about your “journey” this summer. On similar note, the WNBA is about to fully release their new marketing campaign “Expect Great”. The title sounds promising!