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.





Sexism Alive & Well, Even in Paintball

31 01 2010

This will be short post, as you’ve come to learn, sometimes at One Sport Voice pictures tell the story better than I could blog. One of my graduate students (Thanks AN!) found this picture while she was playing paintball this weekend. (Does one “play” paintball? What is the proper terminology?… because that sounds wrong.) This reminded me of a calendar that one might find hanging in car repair shop break room.

Picture found at paintball locale "Easy to love, Hard to leave"





What Do Fans of Women’s Sport Want to See?

25 01 2010

Leading up to the Winter Olympics in Vancouver the US Women’s National Hockey Team has been training here in Blaine, MN and going on tour to play exhibition games to prepare. I had the opportunity to support the team and watch two games over the winter break. While at the game I saw the program (Thanks to The Good Dr.!) and immediately felt my blood pressure rising. This program, which was being sold at both the games I attended, looks nothing like the team’s online media guide. The program starts out appropriately as you can see with the Team Roster picture. As you flip through the program, you see pictures of the team in “street clothes” and get a synopsis about “The Player” and “The Person” in the “Get To Know ‘Em” centerfold section (scroll down to see pictures of program pages). Why is this problematic?

For decades sport media researchers have demonstrated that female athletes (compared to their male counterparts) are much more likely to be pictured out of uniform, off the ice/court, and in poses that depict femininity and/or sexiness. Where are the pictures of the team IN THEIR UNIFORMS and IN ACTION? These women are some of the best female hockey players in the world!

Marketing the athlete-person duality of female athletes has become the default strategy for a majority of sport marketers in the last five years. Where did this strategy come from? Who decided this was the status quo? Is it based on research pertaining to what is effective in marketing female athletes and women’s sport? Is this what fans of women’s sport want to  see? I want to to see the evidence! Some of the evidence that I and colleagues have collected indicates that fans of women’s sports and female athletes attend because of the athleticism, not because the athletes are cute “girls next door” or look good in a sundress.

So here is my question: Are the “Get To Know ‘Em” pictures, what fans want to see or have fans been sold these images so they do not know any different?

My logic: If marketers continually pitch the athlete-person duality, this is what fans see and expect, and it becomes the norm, so fans think they like this approach. But what if consumers only saw images of female athletes IN ACTION, IN UNIFORM, DOING WHAT THEY DO BEST? Would that become the expected and the norm? I really want to know when and who decided that to successfully market elite female athletes that a “personal”/ human interest component has to be included. It is also not coincidental that a good portion of the “Team Tidbits” in the bottom picture below reinforce very feminine, traditional roles for women.

NOTE: In the Qwest Tour program, in which these 3 images were taken from,  I counted only 4 action shots in the entire 37 pages program.

RELATED NOTE: Do fans really want to see pictures of tennis player Venus Williams’ flesh-colored underwear? I would argue they do not, but when the media covers and makes it “newsworthy” then fans and general sport consumers are told this is important and begin to pay attention. I am wagering that more people know about V. Williams’ underwear than how she is playing in the Australian Open. Newsflash: female tennis players have been wearing “flesh colored” underwear for years. However, when the “flesh” color matches that of an African American skin tone it becomes international news.

US Women's National Hockey Team Roster page

US Women's National Hockey Team "Get to Know 'Em"

US National Women's Hockey Team Tidbits





The “Best” of 2009 and the State of Girls & Women in Sports

27 12 2009

As 2009 comes to an end, there are some trends for those who care about sports–particularly sports for females–that you should keep an eye on in the months to come. Many groups and organizations that have been cornerstones of advocacy, programming, outreach and research for girls and women in sports are in trouble or on the rumored brink of existing no more.  Yes, girls and women in sports have made major advances in participation in the last 35+ years, but gender equity has yet to be achieved, we now have fewer females in positions of power in sport leadership, and sportswomen are constantly under attack. Some stories from the past year put the fact that fighting for gender equity in participation, leadership, and media coverage, to name a few, are not issues of the past.

Under what criteria do organizations decide to shut down or “put out” important programs that make a difference in the lives of sporting girls and women? Who decides what is “out” and what is included?  Who is left out, and who continues to play, lead, and enjoy the benefits of sports, and be portrayed in what ways by the media?  What constitutes “A Real Life Out Clause?” This is real life and the consequences of the decisions of those in positions of power will continue to shape the future of sport for females in 2010 and beyond.

Consider the following, some of these topics I’ve written about in previous blogs, some I have not:

The Melpomene Institute for Women’s Health Research is struggling to survive in this economy.

The National Association for Girls and Women in Sport (NAGWS) “strives to be one of the premiere organizations dedicated to advocacy, education and the promotion of girls and women in sport”. There were rumors this year that AAHPERD, the parent organization of NAGWS, was discussing whether or not to keep or disband NAGWS. So far it appears it has survived.

It Takes a Team (ITAT) is being discontinued as a programming and outreach arm of the Women’s Sport Foundation. ITAT’s purpose was to “address LGBT issues in high school and college athletics… and make sport teams safe and respectful for all athletes regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity”. To read more about  ITAT ‘s “outing” go to former ITAT Director Pat Griffin’s blog post. Be sure the program is not being eliminated because homophobia in sports has been eliminated and is no longer an issue. Homophobia still exists and affects all athletes, coaches, administrators and those involved in sports.

The International Olympic Committee voted not to allow and include ski jumping for females, and endures as a sexist organization.

ESPN sports journalist Erin Andrews, one of the few in the profession, endured a terrible event where she was stalked and sexually harassed. Sportswomen also continue to be sexualized or erased in all types of media-print, broadcast and social.

In 2009 major “newsworthy” stories in women’s sport included “girls behaving badly” such as “extraneous and loud grunting” by one WTA player, a verbal attack on a line judge by another, and”overly aggressive” play by a collegiate soccer player, and the drunk driving of a WNBA MVP …not reports of stellar athleticism. Lest we not forget the obsession of the sex verification of runner Caster Semenya…which only came about because she was FAST, really fast.

Early last spring, when Tennesee Head Women’s Basketball Coach Pat Summitt won her 1,000th game, and Auriemma’s UConn Huskies won another national championship many speculated if they should coach men…the obvious pinnacle of any coach’s career. Interestingly, but perhaps not surprising, Summitt did NOT appear in Sports Illustrated “Coaches of the Decade“, but Auriemma did.

The WNBA lost a team, the Sacramento Monarchs, and another very successful team the Detroit Shock moved to Tulsa. I fear the WNBA is teetering on the brink of collapse in 2010, I hope I’m wrong. The WNBA now has 10 teams.

With 10 teams, The Lingerie Football League debuted its inaugural season in 2009 in cities across the US. According to the LFL website, the mission of the LFL includes: “the LFL will offer the ultimate fan experience providing unyielding access to players, teams and game action.” I fear the LFL will thrive and survive, I hope I’m wrong.

Women’s collegiate sports will never achieve gender equity unless real reform occurs unilaterally at the highest administrative level of institutions of higher learning. This was a clear message of the Knight Commission Report on Intercollegiate Athletics released in late 2009.

Earlier this year I critiqued a piece on ESPN.com titled The State of Uncertainty of Women’s Sports. I’m not certain if there is stability or uncertainty or both pertaining to women’s sports. What I do know, and these stories above (and many others not included here) provide evidence, that the work for those who care about sports for females is never done. We must work together to ensure girls and women in sports are not left out, or pushed out.

Stay tuned in 2010 for more information, and certainly more critiques, of these important issues. I’d also encourage you to visit the Women Talk Sports Network and read blogs by colleagues who also write about these issues here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Other WomenTalkSports posts of “Best of ’09”:





The LFL Sells Sex, Not Sport

9 11 2009

During the recent sport sociology conference (NASSS) I heard inspired critiques of  sport and had many great conversations about sport media and female athletes. Ironically, I returned home today to this tweet by the Lingerie Football League.

RT @MyLFL: “THE LINGERIE FOOTBALL LEAGUE’S OFFICIAL WEBSITE WWW.LFLUS.COM IS OFFICIALLY ONE OF THE FASTEST GROWING WEBSITEShttp://bit.ly/2YQYvj”

As you know, I’ve written previously about the LFL and I’ve been keeping an eye on what is happening with the league. At the NASSS conference I heard some great audience reception research on why sex does not sell women’s sport, sex sells sex. More specifically, sexy images and sexy female athletes sell sex to young male consumers ages 18-35. I would be really interested to see the market research—who are the consumers and fans of the LFL? (any guesses?)

The LFL is a perfect example of how sex can and does sell sex. The numbers prove it. Arguably, the LFL is not sport it is a dramatic spectacle aimed at entertainment and consumption of the female body.  No where in any of the promotional materials is the athletic competence of LFL “athletes” highlighted or portrayed in any serious way. The  sexualization of the LFL women is overt and aimed at appealing to male sexual fantasy. In fact their website promotes the LFL as “True Fantasy Football” which merges two primary desires and interests of many (not all) US men— football and sex.

If you watch the many videos of LFL games posted on the website, you will see continuous images of women tackling each other, acting violent, and slamming each other to the ground.  Yet one women (New Mexico soccer player Elizabeth Lambert) acts aggressive and pulls a ponytail and we have a national outcry (see the video and read examples of indicative responses on Perez Hilton’s blog).  Male athletes act aggressively and unsportsmanlike all the time (remember Zidane’s head butt in the World Cup? or Florida football team member Brandon Spikes fingers through the face mask? , both of which were similarly caught on national TV). Yet, the sanctions for Lambert were severe and quick (permanent dismissal from the team), while Zindane and Spikes punishments were much less in scope and severity.

What is our take home? Females can act aggressively as long as they are sexy, but if a real female athlete acts outside of the rules in real sport, she will be met with quick and severe sanctions…not only within her sport but will be berated by the public…while male athletes can “act like men” with comparatively less fanfare.

What is most interesting to me is the societal discussion and the media’s construction of Lambert’s transgression, rather then the event itself.





Example of Reproducing Traditional Gender Roles in Soccer

12 10 2009

This example comes from Fox Soccer.com titled Soccer Wives and Girlfriends. Why this is on a sport website is interesting food for thought. I looked for “Soccer Husbands  and Boyfriends” on the WPS website but (thankfully) did not find any. It is picture essays like this that relegate women to the sidelines. Not to mention only including pictures of male soccer player’s female partners and companions is not very inclusive.





A Pattern Has Emerged

8 10 2009

I’m not a big fan of ESPN The Magazine, as I’ve written about their cover photos and coverage of women’s sport in a previous blog….or should I say LACK of coverage that focuses on athleticism, rather than being feminine and sexy.

Serena ESPN mag_Oct 2009

Their latest series of 6 covers for the October 19, 2009  “The Body Issue” has Serena Williams posing naked (thanks for the head’s up EH). It seems to me a recent pattern has emerged.

Here is the pattern:

1) A Black female athlete performs well and dominates opponents,

2) During the course of competition she acts outside prescribed gender norms (i.e., looks like a man, yells and argues with a referee),

3) Subsequently she is grilled and sanctioned by the public and the media,

4) Therefore she has to recover by performing versions of the female athlete apologetic by literally apologizing like S. Williams, and/or highlighting heterosexy femininity on the cover of  magazines. I’m talking about first, Caster Semenya and now Serena Williams (see picture here).

Underlying sport media portrayals of highly talented Black female athletes are racism and sexism. I suppose my blog title should really read…A Pattern Has REemerged.

NOTE: If you want to see the making of The Body Issue and gain insight to the ‘issue’ (and see a whole lot naked) click here.





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.





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”)





The ‘New’ Look of Caster Semenya

9 09 2009

Much has been written about the controversy regarding the sex verification testing of Caster Semenya following the IAAF Championships in August 2009 (to read more go here, here, here, here, & here).

semenya new lookGiven all Semenya has endured, I can’t say I was surprised (albeit saddened) to see an article today titled, “Embattled track star Caster Semenya gets new coach, new look” which also featured the cover of You magazine (pictured here).

It also got me thinking…When a man outperforms his competition by a large margin—such as sprinter Usain Bolt for example—no one asks “Is he really a man?” No one says, “He is so fast, he might be a woman. He should be tested.” But when a woman wins by a lot—such as sprinter Caster Semenya—her sex is immediately questioned, “Is she really a woman?” This appears to be a clear example of marginalizing female athletic performance, homophobia, and sexism. Unfortunately Semenya’s ‘new’ look is not a new phenomenon for female athletes who have fallen under scrutiny as a result of outstanding sport performances.

when you win by a lot