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.

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The NBA.com Dance Bracket?

24 03 2010

When a student (nice find EH!) sent me this blog post “She Got Game Too: Is the NBA Dance Bracket’s Time Up?” by Sarah Tolcser (@ticktock6).  At first glance I thought the blog was about  “The Dance”…like as in, NCAA March Madness. I was mistaken.

This blog post is about the NBA.com Dance Bracket 2010, which I had no idea even existed…did you? If you click on a Dance Team logo, for example the Luvabulls (yes…roll eyes at the name) you will see pictures of the dancers so that you can appropriately vote. I couldn’t find any criteria for what I’m supposed to be voting for, so I’m guessing it is a vote for the best dancers?

Tolcser makes some GREAT points about the NBA’s confusion about how to market to female fans. She writes, “The answer is not more pink jerseys. Things like, as a member of a growing class of unmarried women ages 25-44,”family friendly” promotions and cute distractions on court during the game entice me no more than they entice male fans. Things like, some of the advertising spots from your own sponsors have sexist overtones that make me uncomfortable. Things like, when I go to your official website and see scantily-clad girls on the front page, I can’t help feeling that the NBA is not meant to be “for me.” WELL SAID!

Females comprise a growing, and predominately untapped, market of sport fans. In a previous blog about female sport fans, I summarized the statistics about the percentage of women that attend professional sport events.

I’m joining Tolcser (@ticktock6) in challenging the NBA and other professional sports to ask their female fans–what can we do for you?!  Who’s in?

3/25/10 addition: Tolscer just added another great blog on the “Body Shot” contest the Memphis Grizzlies are currently running pertaining to their dancers The Grizz Girls and their “preparation” for the NBA.com Dance Bracket. It just keeps getting better…it certainly is MARCH MADNESS!!





Sport Viewing and Gender Trends

1 03 2010

A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center outlines some interesting trends pertaining to viewing sports and sport fans (thanks EH!). In a new report titled Olympics Bridge Gender Divide In Sports Interest, based on the data more women than men were excited and looking forward to watching the Olympics.





A Not So Good Day For Women’s Hockey: What Were the Canadian Women Thinking?

26 02 2010

Canada's Meghan Agosta (2) and Jayna Hefford (16) celebrate with cigars after Canada beat USA 2-0 to win the gold medal.

So I woke up this morning still thinking about the gold medal women’s hockey game between USA and Canada. What a great game! Before I could fully open my eyes and drink half a cup of coffee, one blog reader alerted me to the breaking story and pictures of the Canadian women celebrating on the ice after the arena had cleared. At first I thought she was referring to the fans celebrating with cigars and beer, not the player’s themselves. After I’d woken up a bit and clicked on the link she sent (Thanks Cindy!) I thought I was having a nightmare! What were the Canadian women thinking? Is this a way to portray one’s sport and your team? Here is a full slide show of the “celebration”. These pictures are really quite unbelievable for so many reasons, the least of which is that one of the players is under the legal drinking age (Poulin. Follow up: In Poulin’s providence the legal drinking age is 18, in BC it is 19).

I suppose one could make the argument that men do this, so this can be seen as progress for women’s sport, but that is a real stretch. Obviously athletes–male and female alike– celebrate when they win big games, but this type of public celebration in an Olympic venue is just not appropriate. Celebrations of this type typically happen (and should happen), in the locker room, or at a night club, or in private. I get the athletes were excited and proud to win the gold over their biggest rival, and win in their own country…but this is disrespectful to Canada, hockey, women’s hockey, their teammates who weren’t there,  coach, and the Olympics in general.  It certainly is not good for women’s sport! If I thought women being sexualized on the cover of Sports Illustrated was bad for women’s sport, I’m not sure where this ranks! I’m really stunned.

I’m not against women smoking cigars (to each her own), although I’m sure this will be critiqued by many because cigar smoking is typically thought of a male activity and not “ladylike” (and remember the male commentator throughout the game referred to the women as “ladies”). Also, I’m not saying I believe it to be ladylike or unladylike. That isn’t my point, like I said, to each her own.  However, if you are a gold medal Olympian and want to smoke a cigar, drink champagne or beer or double fist it, don’t do it on the ice of an Olympic venue (regardless of if you are male or female!). I do wonder, as have others, what the reaction would be if male athletes engaged in the same behaviors?

I also wonder how long it will take people to start with homophobic/lesbian/dyke comments and speculation (in fact it has already started). Remember it is a common pattern of marginalization that whenever females are great athletes, and particularly when they play a sport characterized by strength, speed, & power which encroaches upon activities traditionally and historically only reserved for/associated with males (like sport/hockey, and cigar smoking) they are usually immediately labelled lesbian. Pay close attention to how the media will construct this event in addition to the public reaction.

Lastly, these pictures are going to be seen by thousands of young girls and boys, who look up to these great athletes as role models. We somehow construct female athletes as better candidates for positive and “family friendly” role models than male professional athletes, so when “girls behave badly” or out of character to this prescribed norm, the outcry is loud and swift. What makes me sad is this lapse in judgment will probably forever taint their great play. They are now at risk to be remembered, not for their great play on the ice, but for the partying that ensued after the horn blew. What an opportunity lost.

Note: Read the Byline To Finish Line blog as well which outlines some similar perspectives, but raises other issues pertaining to this event.





NOT the Same: Vonn v. Kitt Sports Illustrated Covers

12 02 2010

Sports Illustrated Covers of Olympic Skiers

In rebuttal to the “Vonn Watch” Sports Illlustrated cover blog post I made, many people commented and pointed out that A.J. Kitt was similarly posed in 1992 and no one called it sexual. I don’t recall  the media buzz, so I’ll have to take their word on this point, but I’m inclined to believe it to be true.

Many argued the cover of Kitt was “exactly the same” which provided evidence that male athletes, particularly skiers, can be similarly portrayed in the media.

I would argue from a sport media research perspective that these covers, while at first glance appear to be “exactly the same”, they are in fact not similar in many key facets. The reason why the Kitt photo is unlikely to be interpreted as sexualized, while the Vonn cover might, is the focus on this post.

1. Kitt is literally “in action” doing his sport, Vonn is posed in a tuck position–she is not literally skiing.

2. Kitt has his helmet on, Vonn does not. Skiers don’t ski without their helmets.

3. Kitt is looking down the hill as he would DURING COMPETITION, Vonn is posed looking sideways (not downhill) into the camera.

4. Kitt appears to be actually in context on the mountain, Vonn in her picture appears to be super imposed with the mountains in the background. (However, I am not certain of this)

5. Kitt is leaning down the hill which connotes forward motion during his event, Vonn is static and while she is in a tuck position there are many other positions she performs in the course of a race that could of been used that might be construed as less sexualized.

Another point many made on the blog about this photo comparison, is that we had to “see Vonn without her helmet” because otherwise no one would know who she is because skiing is such an obscure sport. However, Kitt is pictured with his helmet on where we can’t see his face. He is identified by a caption. I would argue skiing is no more or less obscure today than it was in 1992. Therefore, the argument that we need to “see Vonn’s face” to know who she is does not hold up.

I will make one last point that might lend credence to the sexualized argument (albeit subliminally). There is one ironic twist to the Vonn cover photo if you didn’t catch it prior. Someone who works in the media pointed out to me that if you look at how the text in the bottom right corner aligns, you can clearly see the word “AsS” is spelled out vertically (start with the capital “A” in America and look down to the next line of text). Is this coincidental?

Is it great that a female was on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Olympic preview issue–YES! Could the photo chosen been a better representation of the great athleticism and talent of Lindsey Vonn–YES!





Short Video on Sports Illustrated Photographs of Female Athletes

10 02 2010

One of our local Minneapolis  NBC affiliate KARE11 reporters, Jana Shortal, did a great piece on why the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and Lindsey Vonn SI cover might be problematic. It is short and to the point. To watch the video, click here.





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.