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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espnW, cheerleading, violence, Nike, Title IX…so many things to share!

22 07 2010

Sorry if I’ve been blogging less lately, there are to many things going on to take the time to blog! That said, I wanted to share with you some information you might find interesting.

1. A key Title IX ruling was recently passed down that has implications for girls and women in sport. In essence the judge ruled that cheerleading can not count towards compliance with Title IX.

2. Look for more changes regarding the way in which the NCAA calculates and oversees their Academic Progress Rates (APR). New data analysis reveals that current standards may be weaker than originally intended.

3. On the youth sport news front, The UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre commissioned and released a new report on PROTECTING CHILDREN FROM VIOLENCE IN SPORT: A review with a focus on industrialized countries. The report focuses on the fact that “it has become evident that sport is not always a safe space for children, and that the same types of violence and abuse sometimes found in families and communities can also occur in sport and play programmes. Child athletes are rarely consulted about their sporting experiences, and awareness of and education on child protection issues among sport teachers, coaches and other stakeholders is too often lacking. Overall, appropriate structures and policies need to be developed for preventing, reporting and responding appropriately to violence in children’s sport” (p.vii)

New espnW logo

4. I have two related bits I’ve recently been involved with regarding big sport brands wanting to create social change. What they also have in common is both initiatives have women in charge. You can imagine I’m a bit skeptical on both, but I’m currently cautiously optimistic on both fronts.

The first is the new ESPN  initiative to capture more female consumers–it is called espnW. (the “W” stands for Women). Its launch has gotten a little media buzz. I will keep you posted as I’ve been in communication with the folks at ESPN who are spearheading this new initiative. They are lead by a very sharp woman and her small staff and I believe the resources ESPN has dedicated demonstrates a desire to get this right (unlike Sports Illustrated for Women, which was a miserable failure). So far the process seems on target as they are asking key stakeholders to join the conversation and provide insight.   Added NOTE (7/28/10): Read the MinnPost article titled “Media critic and women’s sports advocate Mary Jo Kane is about to step into the belly of the ESPN beast”

The second initiative is a project of the Nike Social Innovation team, also lead by two sharp women. Nike wants to use current sport science research to help leverage their resources and brand to promote and sustain physical activity in the US and UK. I was asked to be part of a multidisciplinary think tank facilitated by ShiftN (a really cool company) earlier in the month where we examined a research-based systems model of the correlates, barriers and potential outcomes of physical activity.

I am excited and honored to be a part of both these initiatives, however I am both happy and concerned that women are at the helm of these new, risky initiatives. I’ve written in an earlier post about the research on the glass cliff and I wonder if this is what is operating in the background in these instances where two big brands are taking risks.

While the glass ceiling is 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).

I hope I’m wrong, because the women I’ve met and talked to in charge of these initiatives are movers and shakers I want to see succeed in their visions.





Observations from the 2010 Women’s Final Four

5 04 2010

As I’m watching the Men’s Final Four Final on TV, I have a few observations to share from my recent return from the Women’s Final Four in San Antonio. Both are related to Baylor’s Brittney Griner.

Play Like a Girl T-Shirt from SOOZN Design and Print

First, it was my week of meeting enterprising women that own their own companies. I was sitting on the Riverwalk before the semi-final games and fans of all the teams (Baylor, Stanford, UConn, OK) were filing by. There were even some lost Tennessee fans for some reason. Anyway, a couple women walked by with a great T-shirt that said “Play Like a Girl”. I had to get a picture of it, so I ran after them (see pic). The t-shirt is by SOOZN Design & Print. The shirt plays off of Griner’s ability to dunk. I asked the co-owner Susan Loftus (pictured on left with friend Jacky Howell) why make this shirt? She answered they were disgusted with the lack of t-shirts that pictured female athletes in action, that looked authentic and represented an accurate portrayal of athleticism. I thought to myself “Wow”…we need more women like this making sportswear. They were gracious enough to let me take their picture. This is a perfect example of many things: 1. women ARE sports fans, 2. many fans desperately want to see real representations of female athletes, and 3. female business owners can help create change by making products the giant sportswear makers don’t want to make, didn’t think to make, or don’t care enough to make.

The second occurrence happened while I was at the airport gate and overheard a conversation between two high school girls. These two were returning home after playing in the WBCA High School All-America Game. where one of them had met and talked to Brittney Griner. She talked for a good 20 minutes about her conversation with Griner in which she over and over again iterated how “nice” Griner was. She couldn’t believe Griner would care enough to talk to them for that long. It sounded like Griner genuinely took the time to answer her questions, and spend time with she and her teammates. It was obvious what an impression Griner made on this young woman, and I’m guessing on countless others. The girls asked Griner how she dealt with all the media attention and being accused of looking like, sounding like, and playing like a boy. Griner told them something to the affect of… “I can’t control what other people say. I just focus on myself and my basketball”. This also made quite an impression–What a great take away message! I do think Griner will help change and grow women’s basketball just as UConn has set the bar for what the future of women’s basketball will look like. Both are redefining what “Play Like a Girl” means and looks like…unapologetic athleticism.





Critique of 2010 March Madness Sports Illustrated Cover

28 03 2010

Sports Illustrated 2010 March Madness Cover

I love March Madness. Every year I wait for the March Madness cover of Sports Illustrated. Every year I do a critique of the cover. Now that I have a blog, I can post the critique for the first time as I started this blog post March Madness in 2009 (April 5, 2009 to be exact). Here are the results of this year’s cover(s) [there are 4 versions of the March Madness cover this year]. The major point in this critique is to demonstrate that male power and dominance in sport is reproduced by the images portrayed and selected on this one cover. An equally important point is that women’s basketball, female coaches, female referees, and female sport fans are literally erased, marginalized and portrayed as secondary to team mascots.


RESULTS:

  • 1 giant male basketball player dunking a basketball (all 4 covers are of males dunking, despite the fact that Baylor’s Brittney Griner is well known for the fact she can dunk, thus it would of been feasible to feature a well known regional FEMALE player dunking)
  • 2 male referees
  • 3 cheerleaders (2 of which are discernibly female)
  • 4 fans (3 of which are male, the 4th is not discernible)
  • 5 coaches–ALL of whom are male, and I think they are all coaches of men’s teams. This is despite the fact UConn Head Coach Geno Auriemma’s team is on a very long winning streak (74 and counting as of 3/28/10) and is been touted as the BEST women’s basketball team ever.
  • ~9 female basketball players (2 of which are almost not discernible as one positioned under the giant dunking male’s player right foot who I think is UConn’s Maya Moore and one player from Texas(?) is under his gluteus maximus, otherwise known as one’s buttocks)
  • 16 Mascots
  • A LOT of male basketball player (roughly I counted ~77…~8 times the number of female athletes portrayed. I’m pretty sure the ratio of male to female basketball players in the NCAA is not 1:8. In fact, according to NCAA research the 2007-08 numbers are 15,307 women and 17,081 male basketball players)




Latest “Women in Intercollegiate Sport” Report Now Available

23 03 2010

The most recent version of Acosta & Carpenter’s longitudinal (33 years!) research on Women in Intercollegiate Sport is now available on their website. Some good news highlights:

  • 42.6% of women’s teams are coached by a female head coach, a number that has remained stable over the last four years
  • HIGHEST EVER number of paid assistant coaches of women’s teams, 57.6% which are female
  • HIGHEST EVER number (n= 12,702) of females employed in intercollegiate athletics

Given that basketball is the most popular collegiate sport acording to Acosta & Carpenter, and it is March Madness, you can also download the most recent Academic Progress/Graduation Success Rate Study of Division I NCAA Women’s and Men’s Basketball Tournament Teams

Director of The Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES), Richard Lapchick states in the report, “Nineteen women’s tournament teams had a 100 percent graduation rate for their teams. Women do much better academically than men. Furthermore, the academic success gap between African‐American and white women’s basketball student‐athletes is smaller, although still significant, than between African‐American and white men’s basketball student‐athletes.”

Keeping it real with some data during March Madness…





Are Female Athletes Becoming More Aggressive?

21 03 2010

With the start of the March Madness and stories of “aggressive female athletes” making national headlines (i.e., Elizabeth Lambert, Brittney Griner), a question I have heard asked and debated a lot lately is–“Are females athletes becoming more aggressive?”

I don’t have the answer. The best I can say is a cautious–“maybe?” I don’t think there are any data to prove or disprove this question, but the fact the incidents are caught on video and replayed makes it seem like it is more frequent.  I am hesitant to say overly aggressive acts of female athletes is on the rise at the risk of reifying outdated gendered stereotypes and double standards. The New York Times journalist Jere Longman, wrote a balanced piece which contained perspectives of some of the best critical thinkers and brightest sport sociologists. The story titled “Pushing Back Stereotypes” featured a particular quote from colleague and director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota Mary Jo Kane, which I thought was spot on.  She stated,

“Only time will tell if this is an aberration, but what I think is a clear trend, as the stakes get higher in women’s sports, you see more pressure to win….This could be a natural progression to women entering into big-time college sports. You take the bad with the good; you take sold-out arenas with academic scandals. For us to think that women would enter the big time and have it be pristine and without controversy is naïve.”

What do you think about this issue? I wonder if the NCAA Women’s Tourney will conclude without any such incidents and ensuing media coverage.





The (Men’s) Bracket

17 03 2010

In my last blog, I surmised that when the bracket for the Men’s NCAA basketball tournament was released, it would not be labeled as “The Men’s” NCAA Tournament Bracket 2010, unlike the women’s bracket.  Sure enough…I was right. To see “the bracket” click here.