Brains & Beauty: The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders

28 09 2009

dallas_cowboys_diamondBlog reader S.C. sent me a story about the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders (DCC’s). Evidently the DCC’s have to take and pass a 100-question test in order be on the squad. Questions include “everything from the governor of Texas to a country that borders Iraq.” Rick Reilly, the author of the story for ESPN.com, poses a great critical question: If the Cowboys football players had to take the same quiz to make the team, how many would pass? To see some of the questions, which have nothing to do with football, see Reilly’s piece. After reading the GQ story on brain trauma of NFL players, it might be less likely that players would fare well on the exam.

Kelli Finglass, the DCC Leader says, “We want our cheerleaders to be knowledgeable and well-spoken in interviews…If they’re not, it’s a deal breaker.” To follow Reilly’s line: Is a non-literate or ill-spoken football player a “deal breaker” for the Cowboys? Who is more likely to be in the media spotlight and give interviews on national television (or any television for that matter!), cheerleaders or football players?

The bigger question may be, why are the DCC’s held to a different standard than the players? Share your thoughts with me.





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?





See & Hear Game Footage of the LFL Now!

15 09 2009

lfl_logo“Serious” game footage of “beautiful football” from the Lingerie Football League replete with (sexist) commentary of male sportscasters now available! (Scroll down about half a page to the video section and click on “Week 1: Chicago v. Miami Highlights”)





Has (Women’s) Tennis Gone to the Dogs?

30 08 2009

The U.S. Open Tennis Tournament starts tomorrow. After reading “Pets Are the Portable Part of a Tennis Player’s Entourage” in the August 30, 2009 New York Times online, I winced internally. Even before reading the story, I thought to myself, “I bet this story is all about dogs owned by female professional tennis players.” I read the story waiting and hoping that just one male player with a furry canine tournament companion would be mentioned. Nada. So it left me with many questions.Tennis, Anyone_

Owning a dog is an equal opportunity activity, so why does it appear that only women players have dogs as part of their entourage? The NYT article offers some explanations that are predictable such as companionship, relieves boredom, dogs don’t care if you win or lose their tails always wag, and dogs calm nerves and ease stress to name a few. But the doggie gender gap in pro tennis seems odd to me.

Are male tennis players dog haters? Are the women pros more lonely on tour than the men, therefore travel with dogs to ease the solitary life of tennis travel? Neither of these explanations seem likely or realistic. Do male players in reality travel with dogs but this is not a “media worthy” story? What does it say if a male travels with a dog verses a female player? A dog is an appropriate companion for women but not males? If females have a doggie buddy does it make them appear more feminine? Therefore if a male player had a little Poodle or Yorkie, it might not be perceived as manly–would his competitive nature be called into question? But male players could have a Pitbull or German Shepard or even a Yellow Lab, but I get that traveling with a small dog is much easier and cost effective. Facetiousness aside, why are the dogs of female pro tennis players newsworthy on the eve of a Grand Slam? Is there no other news in women’s tennis? Does coverage of dogs marginalize female players’ athleticism? Does it make them appear less serious and more frivolous…likening them to celebutante Paris Hilton? Does it somehow further construct a brand of femininity that is marketable? What do you think?

Besides news that (women’s) tennis has gone to the dogs, be sure to keep your critical eye on how the media covers two players who have something in common–their parents! Kim Clijsters returns after a two year maternity leave and Roger Federer is a new father of twins. Which player will we hear more “parent talk” about and more discussion of how parenthood affects one’s tennis performance? Any guesses?

note: picture from Free Dog Wallpapers.





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]





The uncertain, vulnerable, scandal-prone land of [women’s] sports??

24 07 2009

To cap off a week of weird sport media, I’ll end the week with this piece on ESPN.com that discusses the “state of uncertainty for women’s sports.”

The author documents the “state” of women’s sport, which in turn will influence the opinion of some, and nudge others to believe that the “historic meltdown of women’s sports” is imminent.

The problem is the journalist does not document similar “uncertainties” in mens’ sport such as lack of parity in leagues, changes in personnel, controversies, retirements, changes in sponsorship and endorsements, “bad” seasons, teams that don’t make money, mismanagement, lack of ‘star’ power, and financial difficulties driven by a bad economy which are hurting ALL leagues and male and female athletes alike! The sensationalist and inflammatory language that is used also helps inflame the sensibilities of those who already think women’s sports are unwatchable and not consumable, and potentially drive away fence-sitters. Who wants to attend or watch something that is about to crumble? Do you buy an plane ticket of an airline that just had a catastrophic crash? NO! You pick another airline.

plane-belt-extender-aHe goes on to write that, “The modern women’s pro sports movement has proven dangerously vulnerable to market conditions and scandal.” Is this to say that men’s sports are not prone to the same? I haven’t seen a similar piece on men’s sports….anyone? For everyone out there who believes in women’s sport…keep buying those tickets, the women’s sport plane is not likely to crash anymore than the mens’, both might be on a steep decent, but buckle up and ride it out.

UPDATE: In fact some argue the “WNBA: Not Just a Punch Line Anymore”





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….





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?.





Thoughts on Bras, (Soccer) Balls, & Bikes

10 07 2009

A few random things to think about over the weekend:

SICover_1999 world cup team1. As the 10th Anniversary of the 1999 Women’s World Cup in upon us, pay attention to how the media constructs this historic event. Will the focus be on a) the US win and competitive achievement, b) Brandi Chastain’s offing-the-soccer jersey to expose her Nike sports-bra (see the NCAA Double-A Zone), c) the “girls of summer” (i.e., the wholesome, attractive, All-American darlings that everyone fell in love with) many of whom are now mothers, d) how the historic event gave notice that people DO like to watch women’s sports (especially when it is promoted in the media and marketed) (see Christine Brennan’s USA Today column, e) how the team provided role models for young boys and girls, or f) spawned two women’s professional soccer leagues (see WPS) …..or perhaps some of all of the above? I’ll be curious to see what dominant messages arise.

women cycling2. The Tour de France is underway! Will Lance Armstrong really win it yet again? It got me thinking…why don’t women ride in the Tour de France? I did a little sleuthing and found no real answers but there IS a race called Le Grand Boucle (“the great loop”) which is been held off and on roughly over the last 15 years. The women’s race is shorter, has varied in the number of stages (the men’s race has 21), and the 2009 race will be just four days long “due to organizational difficulties” (according to Wikipedia..take it for what you will). If you know French, you can see the official website of Le Grand Boucle…je parlez un peu francais. It makes me think that the exclusion of women in the Tour de France is arbitrary, and the shorter “lesser than” women’s race, serves to perpetuate existing and historical gender hierarchies in sport that privilege male athletes.