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]





Stilettos & Heels: “Helping” Female Athletes Transition to the Real World

27 07 2009

Today the NCAA Double-A-Zone blog posted information on two programs that are helping prepare female student-athletes for the real world.

cinderella_nikeKansas’ “Hoop 2 Heels” and Oklahoma’s “Sooner Stilettos” aim to help female athletes transition from athletics to the professional world by learning etiquette, networking with women in positions of power, developing skills, and building resumes. The programs also provide female role models for the student-athletes. Fantastic idea! Access and exposure to female role models in positions of leadership and power is particularly important to girls and young women, as they have fewer such role models in their lives than do their male counterparts—and this is especially true in sport contexts. Such programs may also help females more successfully navigate the confusing (and gendered) professional labyrinth, and make the process of participating, gaining access, and reaching the highest levels of power a bit more obtainable.

Unfortunately, the chosen names of both of the programs only serve to reinforce traditional notions of femininity which continue to limit females in all contexts. Being a successful professional in the real world has nothing to do with donning heels and conforming to feminine norms. In fact, based on the data women who act in traditionally feminine ways (i.e., nurturing, warm, caring) are perceived as less competent.

Perhaps renaming the programs “From Basketballs to Briefcases” would be more appropriate and helpful.





A strange day in the world of sport media

23 07 2009

You know how people claim “bad things happen in threes” well after the last 24 hours of things I’ve seen and read in the sport media, I believe it!

1. “The Erin Andrews Peep Show” which if you haven’t heard about by now, then you’re not reading or watching the sport media (To read about what happened and the critical analysis “it” go to the Sports, Media, & Society blog, After Atlanta blog, or a post on Feministing.com titled “A long History of Objectifying Erin Andrews”.) Unfortunately as After Atlanta points out, nearly 20 years ago we had the Lisa Olson “incident” in the Patriots’ locker room, which documents a long history of sexual harassment and objectification of female sport journalists who dare to cover and/or write about male athletes. What I found almost as irksome is the public’s reaction to USA Today sport columnist Christine Brennan’s tweets (@cbrennansports) about the issue in which she said female sport journalists shouldn’t “play to the frat boys” but write or respond as if she were talking to a “12 year old girl sitting on her couch.” Brennan’s remarks were misconstrued and she herself was called “sexist”. Anyone who knows or has followed Christine Brennan knows this is ridiculous! But on the flip side, as Marie Hardin (one of the leading experts on media & gender) points out, female sport journalists in her research often play the blame game when a female colleague is discriminated against. However, which ever side you fall, I think much of the public response to Brennan was yet another example of the sanctioning of female sport journalists…in part, the the traffic over both these issues crashed the server at Women Talk Sports! Even that is sad…that BAD and icky news about women’s sport and female sport journalists have people searching those terms and THEN click upon Women Talk Sports.

2. Then I read on the @womentalksports Twitter an unedited USOC headline: “Can an Olympic athlete be a pimp?” The first line of the story reads, “A lot of women will need to have a lot of sex with a lot of men to get Logan Campbell to the 2012 Olympic Games.Yes, you read that right. Campbell, to cut a long story short, is a New Zealand taekwondo athlete who has opened a brothel to finance his ambition of winning an Olympic medal in London…He has more than a dozen women handing over half their earnings to him. It is, in his words, ‘a good moneymaking industry.’ ” I think this story speaks for itself, but the most disturbing part as it pertains to sport media is that the story was ON THE OFFICIAL WEBSITE OF THE U.S. OLYMPIC COMMITTEE.

3. And to round out the trifecta of sexist sport stories, an article about Bernadette Locke Mattox one of only three women in NCAA history to have coached in Division I men’s basketball. “Cool!”, I thought given my research on the dearth of female coaches at all levels….and then I read it. Rick Pitino hired Mattox because “he needed a woman to burnish the image of Kentucky basketball and to emphasize academics, career planning and integrity,” and the assistants reported she smelled good….but “she was just one of the guys.” You leave the article feeling like Pitino hired a pseudo-mother for “his boys” and her pioneering position and obvious skill as a coach were lost. This type of blatant gender bias in sport media is one of the many contributing factors as to why coaching men remains off limits to women at all levels (~2-4% of boys and men are coached by females at every level) and female coaches are routinely perceived as less competent than their male counterparts according to research.

Tomorrow is a new day….





Wimbledon’s Centre Court = Babe Central?

1 07 2009

While I was out of town participating in the Up2Us Regional Sports-based Youth Development Conference hosted by the LA84 Foundation, a graduate student forwarded me an article link I felt compelled to share (thanks EH!).

A nydailynews.com article ran yesterday titled “Wimbledon turns Centre Court into Babe Central, giving players spotlight based on looks, not talent” which outlines that “hot, attractive” lower-ranked players were scheduled to play on Centre Count, and top-ranked players like Serena Williams were relegated to play on less prestigious courts. In the article All England Club spokesman Johnny Perkins was quoted as saying “good looks are a factor” when scheduling matches on Centre Court, in large part it seems due to television coverage.

Wimbledon Thought Process2

Greg Couch writes more about the “babe factor in tennis” on his blog where he states, “A few days ago, Maria Sharapova played Gisela Dulko, and on Wimbledon’s official website, the report of the match said, “As Sharapova and Dulko ran and stretched and lunged, most of the male spectators could not have cared less about their topspin forehands and would no more have recognized a western grip from a western movie — this match was about hormones, pure and simple.”

Unfortunately, it is also “pure and simple” another example of sport media and women’s sport promoting “sexy” athletes (which you could also read as White, feminine, & ponytailed) over athletic competence–which reinforces notions of what matters, what sells, and what is valued. If you want to read a new book out about this issue see D. Daniels (2009) “Polygendered and Ponytailed:The Dilemma of Femininity and the Female Athlete”.





The Sport Media’s Role in Promoting Femininity: An Example in Women’s Tennis

26 06 2009

feminine tennisA picture tells a thousand words and this picture is a perfect example of when female athletes are covered in the media, it is often in ways that highlight femininity-rather than athletic competence. For more on this subject read here, here, or here.





International Conference on Girls & Women in Sport

28 05 2009

IWG logoThe International Working Group on Women and Sport (IWG) has officially announced the dates for the 5th IWG World Conference on Women and Sport. The conference will be held in Sydney, Australia May 20-23, 2010. A call for abstracts will be released July 2009. I’ll see you there!





How Not to Coach Soccer: A Lesson From Minnesota

25 05 2009

iStock_minority girls soccer_XSmallWhen I’m not writing about gender, the other part of my research, teaching and outreach pertains to youth sport—mainly studying and trying to improve sport parent sideline behavior, and helping coaches be more effective. When a story broke last week about a Minnesota club soccer team, many of my colleagues and former students forwarded the story link to me which got quite a bit of press here in Minnesota and around the country.

In short, two of the Minnesota Thunder Academy (MTA) teams played each other in the State Cup final to see who would advance to the Regionals—it was the 12-and-under girls v. the 13-and-under girls. The game ended with penalty kicks, when Coach Abboud asked the younger girls to pass the ball nicely to the opposing keeper, in essence throwing the game to the older U-13 team, instead of taking the penalty kicks to win the game. Chaos, tears, frustration, confusion, emergency meetings at all levels, commentary, opinions, anger, a public apology from Abboud, and parental support for the coach ensued. To read all the details go to, the Inside Minnesota Soccer article, the Star Tribune article, and Coach Mark Abboud’s own contrition on his blog.

Let me put this incident into a broader context of youth sport trends. The MTA is one of the most elite of soccer clubs, for “serious soccer players”, meaning they hand pick the best kids from other clubs around the state. In fact, the MTA girls recently joined the inaugural Eilte Clubs National League…yes, “national” league for 13-year-olds.

Winning_iStock_000005893466XSmallSome would argue this type of sport club is the poster child for everything that is wrong with youth sports-specialization, not developmentally appropriate, a win at all cost philosophy, year-round training, privatization, overuse injuries, burnout due to high stress and anxiety, dropout, overzealous parents, highly paid coaches with big egos, treating children like “mini-professional” athletes, and highly structured and governed adult-run clubs and organizations (to name a few).

red card_iStock_000003976608XSmallSport provides many “teachable moments”. Good coaches teach athletes to give full effort, focus on what they can control, treat opponents with respect regardless of the situation, and accept the outcome with grace. One decision by a coach does have an impact on everyone involved, and this is a cautionary tale of how not to coach because, simply put, it taught the wrong lessons. In soccer terms, this coach deserves a red card, and possibly more severe sanctions.

P.S.-A critical gender note. Notice the Minnesota Thunder Academy that houses both boys’ and girls’ teams is the namesake of the men’s team (the Thunder), and not the women’s team (the Lightening).thunderightning





The LFL…that stands for The Lingerie Football League

22 05 2009

lfl_logoThe LFL…short for The Lingerie Football League…should really be short for “LaFf out Loud”. Please take a look at The LFL website if you haven’t yet. LFLMany of you who read this blog probably already know what my response to this might be. But first you should see some recent practice pictures featured on SportsIllustrated.com. Honestly I don’t even know where to start the critical commentary…the team names, the uniforms, the photo gallery, the concept…..(sigh).

If this league survives and thrives, then I guess we all have more data to help us answer the burning question “Does sex sell women’s sport?” What do YOU think about The LFL?





Does Sex Sell Women’s Sport?

13 05 2009

I’ve been wanting to write a blog about this topic for awhile and a recent interview given by my colleague and the Director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport Professor Mary Jo Kane on the Edge of Sports Radio with Dave Zirin provided me with a perfect opportunity!

In the interview with Zirin she discusses research, conducted with Heather Maxwell (Ph.D.), in which their findings refute the idea that sex sells women’s sports. Kane also discusses how the notion of “sex sells” is related to depictions of motherhood and female athletes—like the magazine covers of Sheryl Swoopes and Candace Parker pictured here, homophobia and Pat Griffin’s idea of The Glass Closet, and her thoughts on the Women’s Final Four sport media coverage. (Note: Motherhood and elite female athletes is a popular blog topic lately..see Maria Hardin’s blog and the Pretty Tough blog)Swoopes and Parker_pregnant

I also think Kane’s interview helps us think through why some female athletes feel it is important to “have it all” (i.e., be sexy, feminine, AND athletic)…which I’ve touched upon in a previous blog about social media.

The interview is less than 5 minutes and well worth your while to hear one of the leading experts on sport media, Title IX, gender, and women’s sports talk critically and share cutting edge research. In the end, as Zirin says, “Sex sells sex“. Sex does NOT sell women’s sports.