Vonn Watch: Sports Illustrated Cover is Predictable

2 02 2010

Sports Illustrated February 8, 2010 Cover

I’ve thought to myself and predicted out loud that leading up to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics that we would see a LOT of Lindsey Vonn in the media.

Vonn is first a GREAT athlete, but she also represents the norm of feminine attractiveness. The combination of athleticism and attractiveness make Vonn the likely poster girl of the US Olympic Team, and the media hasn’t disappointed in constructing her as such.

Not to be left out, Sports Illustrated is featuring Vonn on their February 8,2010 cover (pictured here). For those of you who follow SI Covers, know that female athletes are RARELY featured on the cover.

2007 Sports Illustrated Covers Featuring Women

Over the last 60 years researchers have shown that about 4% of all SI covers have portrayed women.

When females are featured on the cover of SI, they are more likely than not to be in sexualized poses and not in action–and the most recent Vonn cover is no exception.

NOTE: Please read my follow up post below in the comments section, in response to blog readers differing opinions about this post.

Follow up response:

I’ve been getting a lot of comments in this particular blog. It seems I’ve touched a nerve and many disagree with my interpretation of Vonn on the cover of SI. And many of the comments provide alternative perspectives, which is good for discussion. First, let me say I am a fan of Vonn. I have nothing against her and am proud she is a Minnesotan. I am also not saying that Vonn thrives on the attention of the sport media, or seeks it out. I believe she is being covered so frequently because of the combination of the skill, accomplishment, AND her appearance. I have to disagree that this pose is “in action”. In sport media research, we would code this Vonn cover as a passive shot. She is not actually ON the slope skiing, with her helmet on. She IS in a posed tuck position in an attempt to simulate what actually skiing would look like. Yes she is “in uniform” but not her complete uniform and she appears to be on the slope. Picture this as a way to frame what I’m trying to get at: Picture a male ski racer in a similar pose on the cover of SI, smiling at the camera. Would we see that? How would you react to that picture, verses the picture of Vonn? As one blog commenter seemed to hint at, this pose is “ok” because she is hot and sexy, so she is nice to look at. How would “we” feel if the female skier did not meet normative standards of feminine attractiveness (i.e., she was “ugly”) and was in the same pose? I appreciate everyone’s willingness to share their opinions.

Some have brought up a good point that male athletes have been photographed in similar poses, and I do not deny this fact. However, the argument is that because female athletes only receive 6-8% of all sport media coverage regardless of the medium, that when we DO see them it is MORE LIKELY in poses that highlight traditional gender norms, femininity and framed in a way that can be interpreted as sexualized. So yes, Ohno or Kitt have been on the cover in similar ways but we will more likely see male athletes in action, on the court/ice/mat, and in their uniform that we will female athletes, this is a proven fact over the last 25 years of sport media research. -nml

Follow up Part 2 (2/6/10): Thank you to everyone who has submitted a comment. I have approved a sampling of the hundreds of comments that are representative of the varying opinions about this cover and issue. As you can read in the “About This Blog” tab, my goal with this blog is “help readers see the issues I write about with a different perspective (not necessarily one that you agree with)”. It is clear not everyone agreed with the critique of the Vonn SI cover and that is the point, to stimulate dialogue about an issue.  If you are interested in one explanation as to why this post generated so much discussion and attacks on me personally , click here.

Follow up Part 3 (2/8/10): This blog got so much exposure due to the fact it was picked up by USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and more recently CoCo Perez, among other media outlets.





The IOC and (the Lack Of) Gender Equity

8 08 2009

600px-Olympic_rings_square.svgI read two well written and illuminating pieces yesterday that outlined the many ways in which the International Olympic Committee (IOC) appears not to support female athletes and gender equity. I thought I would share them here in case you didn’t see them.

Under Rogge, women’s sports are getting short shrift in Olympics, by USA Columnist Christine Brennan.

To walk the walk about supporting women, IOC must pick softball for 2016, by Chicago Tribune reporter Philip Hersh





Dara Torres v. Tom Watson: One for the Ages

20 07 2009

With the near win of Tom Watson at this year’s British Open, much talk arose around his age (59!) and his potential to win his 6th title at Turnberry. It reminded me of similar age x performance dialogue around then 41 year-old Dara Torres in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Both athletes have accomplished much in their respective sports: Watson (8 major championships, 6th on the list of total major championship victories, and the oldest male golfer to almost win the British Open or any other major championship), Torres (first-ever 5 time US female Olympic swimmer, 10 medals- 4 gold, oldest female swimmer to make the Olympic Team after an 8-year hiatus). Both have accomplished feats when most opine them “too old”. Kudos!

Torres v. WatsonBut what I find interesting is how differently the media constructs the gender x age x performance narrative of Watson and Torres. Here are a few thoughts:

1. The media portrayed that fans WANTED Watson to win and were sad when he didn’t. For Torres the message was people would be surprised if Torres won, and could claim “I knew it” when she didn’t.

2. There was nary a mention that Watson was a father (he has two biological children, and three stepchildren) during the British Open, but we heard NON-STOP that Torres was a mother of one.

3. Also missing from Watson’s British Open run was talk of if he was “competing fairly” or on performance enhancing drugs (although we did hear this drum beat about Lance Armstrong in the past, not for the 2009 Tour de France…yet. Wait until/if he wins then we can discuss.). Torres had to endure (and still does) constant questions about this issue.

4. The media was all-over Watson’s fairy tale near-win, but barely covered Torres’ 50 Free win earlier in the month at the US Swimming National Championships. With that win Torres will compete with the U.S. World Championship Team in Rome in late July-early August.

5. I did not see one picture of Tom Watson posed “sexily” and showing off his AARP body, while we did see picture after picture of Dara Torres in sexy, glammed up poses. Just type ‘Dara Torres’ into Google and hit “images” if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

The take-home messages for these common patterns in the media’s portrayals of female athletes….a near win for a man is valued more than a win for a woman; motherhood defines female athletes but fatherhood is seldom mentioned for male athletes; “old” competitive, winning female athletes are under suspicion as “cheaters” while when “old” men are in the hunt because they are hard working, talented and wily; the bodies of even “old” female athletes can be exploited and sexualized…and regardless, a male athlete’s performance will always be more media worthy than his female counterpart regardless of age. Come to think of it there are even gendered differences about how “old” is defined and constructed. “Old” for a male athlete is ~60 years while “old” for a female athlete is 40…

But don’t give up all hope…Dara Torres does have Tom Watson on one thing….she’s Got Milk?.





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!





Got Milk? Dara (I mean Dairy) Torres does.

13 04 2009

The ‘Got Milk?’ campaign has a long history of featuring celebrities and athletes who encourage consumers to increase milk consumption for improved health. dara_torres_milk-adpdf4Athletes for example such as, Diana Taurasi, Steve Nash, Serena Williams, and David Beckham have appeared in the campaign. With the release of her new book Age is Just a Number, swimming Olympian Dara Torres seems to be everywhere, including in the most recent Got Milk? ad pictured here.

While this ad is just one of many Torres’ sexy “see my body at 42” pictures (See TIME cover also pictured here) what ‘Got Me’ is the ad copy.

dara_torres_timeTorres is not featured as Dara Torres…but “Dairy” Torres. Why is this a problem? Dara Torres is a five-time Olympian with 12 medals. Dairy Torres is a fictional character…she does not exist. The play on words at the end of the ad copy also sexualizes Torres (“Lap it up” and Dairy…I don’t need to make the connection for you do I?). These two ad copy examples demonstrate how even the most successful female athletes can be marginalized, often in subtle (or not so subtle) ways.

I looked at numerous other Got Milk? ads featuring athletes, and I did not see one ad that referred to a person by a name other than their own—male or female. For example David Beckham’s ad says “Goal By Beckham. Body by Milk”. Why is it that one of THE most decorated female Olympians who has defied assumptions about optimal performance, age and motherhood is portrayed in this way? To prove my point would a similar ad featuring male Olympic swimmer Micheal Phelps say “Milky Phelps” and end with a tag line saying “Lap it up” or “Suck it up”? The ad for Torres could of simply said, “(Alot of) Medals by Torres. Body by Milk”.