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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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…





Reebok on the Rebound?

9 03 2010

So I’ve been offline for a few days and I come down off the slopes from boarding in the Tahoe area to an email from a blog fan (you know who you are!) with a few links to Reebok’s new ad campaign and product line. Please click on these links, but the short story on the marketing tag line for Reebok’s new EasyTone sneakers is “better legs and a better butt with every step”. What? 

According to Reebok, American sales rose 4 percent—its largest increase in four years—on the strength of that launch and the goal of the campaign was to get consumers to “reethink” their perceptions of sports “and remember why they play, sweat and cheer—because it’s fun.” I find this statistic a bit troubling.

My question is this—if Reebok’s target market is women who want to buy ‘performance gear’, how does this commerical appeal to women? With this ad, who are they really trying to get to “rethink their perceptions of [women’s] sports”?





On Champagne, Cigars, Celebrating, and Chicks (i.e., female athletes)

27 02 2010

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Canadian women’s hockey team post gold medal controversial celebrations in the last 24 hrs.

My initial reaction was “What?, this is not good for women’s sports“. I have some new thoughts after taking a step back.

1. I realize my reaction was very US-centric and most Canadians feel this is not newsworthy (as Michelle posted in my previous blog) or a big deal. Is my reaction, and of those who share this viewpoint a result that Canada won the game and put a dent in American chauvinism?


2. This issue has definitely brought to light the double standards for behavior that exist for men and women, and athletes are no exception. On one hand I thought, “Why not? Celebrate, you won the gold medal!…the men do it all the time!” But on the other hand, is following the men’s lead or reproducing male celebratory traditions a good thing?  I keep thinking back to the 1999 World Cup when Brandi Chastain whipped off her shirt to expose her Nike sports bra after the USA secured the win in penalty kicks. Chastain’s behavior was both roundly criticized (that isn’t appropriate for women to do! She is sexualizing herself!) and applauded (finally we get to see a strong, athletic female body!). In an attempt to justify the post-bra incident, Chastain and others stated “the guys do this all the time”. Why is it that women have to justify their (inappropriate) celebratory actions following amazing athletic achievements with the disclaimer “the men do it!”?  This complicates the issue because it at once normalizes the behavior (see the men do it, so we can too) but makes it seem unladylike precisely because the men do it.

3. Many people I talked and listened to stated, “I’d have the same reaction if the men’s team did the same thing”. I’m not sure this is entirely true. What this statement does is erase the gendered component inherent in this event. Sports are not gender neutral or gender blind activities, so the reaction is inextricably linked to the fact the athletes were female and we have expectations for how men and women are supposed to behave.

4. I think one of the issues at play here is we just don’t get to SEE strong, powerful, female athletes celebrating in such a public way because women’s sports are so rarely covered in sport media. This type of celebration might be commonplace, but we don’t see it. When the Yankees win the World Series or the Lakers win the NBA Championships we see their celebrations–in fact an extra half hour is usually devoted to covering the celebrations both on the field and in the locker room.

I might have more thoughts about this, but for now…what do you think?

update 2/28/10: a Canadian colleague passed this article from The Winnipeg Free Press, that has an interesting and new point…happy athletes…oh my!





2010 Olympic Sport Media Gaffes…So Far

22 02 2010

During the first week of media coverage of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, a few interesting things emerged in terms of sport media coverage and sport commentators.

1. It has been noted elsewhere by colleagues at the John Curley Center for Sport Media and Pat Griffin that commentators (and female athletes themselves!) continually call the adult female athletes “girls”, rather than women. I have yet to hear male athletes referred to as “boys”. They outline why this is problematic in a very clear and concise way, and is worth a read.

2. Despite the fact the first-ever Pride House for LGBT athletes and friends at the Vancouver Winter Olympics (which does not have any official affiliation with International Olympic Committee or the Canadian Olympic organization), sport media commentators continue to make derogatory remarks about certain athletes masculinity and femininity (or more accurately, the lack thereof). This is particularly true when it comes to US men’s figure skater Johnny Weir, the target of many stereotypical jokes. I watch The Today Show on NBC most mornings and it never fails that Matt Lauer, Meridith Vieira and Al Roker will make a joke or imply something about an athlete’s sexual orientation–listen for it!

3. If you’re watching ski jumping, you probably won’t hear a word from sport commentators about female ski jumpers, as the IOC voted last year to not allow them to compete.  Much of the general public has no idea about this issue, as evidenced by the Huffington Post article a friend sent me last week. She thought I’d “want to know” and she was  surprised and a bit outraged these women were denied the opportunity to compete. I had to laugh, as I (and many others) have been following this story for some time it seemed like old news.





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.