I’m re-posting a poster on Economic Inequality & Female Coaches in honor of Equal Pay Day 2013. #EqualPayDay
I just read another great column by espnW writer Kate Fagan regarding discussion about Brittney Griner’s possible tryout for the NBA. In her column, Fagan argues that Griner, or any other female BB player, could not compete in the NBA and gives her rationale by pointing out that, “…now everyone is once again measuring female ballers in relation to their male counterpart. These constant comparisons do little more than reinforce the notion that the women are somehow second-class players, instead of world-class in their own right.”
However, I want to enter a few friendly counterarguments to Fagan’s column. I say ‘friendly’ because I want to state that Fagan is one of the very few sport journalists that write about women’s sport thoughtfully and from a critical perspective. I greatly welcome, appreciate and admire her perspectives and in a space greatly in need of diverse voices.
Fagan makes the point that the best female BB players cannot compete with the best male BB players. This statement however serves to reinforce the viewpoint of gender as two distinct and opposite binaries, and that the only (or certainly the most important) comparison that matters is between elite athletes as the highest levels. Highlighting this comparison further reinforces female athletes as second class citizens–the very notion that Fagan is trying to argue against! It sets up the idea that the NBA is the norm by which female athletes are compared against.
What is not articulated in Fagan’s piece or elsewhere, is that MANY females routinely outperform many male athletes in basketball and other sports. I’m sure there are many college male BB players that have not dunked 12 times during a game in their careers, as did Griner. There are also many males who have not dunked as many times (if any) as the male dunk leader (For the NBA, Blake Griffin is the dunk leader. I couldn’t find stats for most college dunks). The key point here is range of difference in performance is far greater between males, than between males and females. But we never hear about these comparisons. If we discussed performance as a continuum (See Kane, 1995), rather than a binary, it may help resist against constructing female athletes as inferior.
Fagan also states, “Game recognizes game, and the best players know that the main difference between the men and the women is something completely out of their control: a threshold for athleticism bestowed upon them at birth.”
Unfortunately when a “biology is destiny’ argument is used, it is used against women as difference = less than, and again reinforces female inferiority.
What Fagan does say and is ultimately the MOST important point to highlight is that women’s basketball and female ballers should be appreciated for their athleticism….period. No comparison needed!!
College basketball players are arguably the most visible and popular female athletes in college sport, and thus have great potential to change the way society views female athleticism. Celebrate and enjoy, rather than compare, women’s basketball.
Also read Jemele Hill’s espnW piece “The false promise of the NBA” on this topic, also good!
March Madness takes on a whole new meaning when you watch this Outside the Lines video about the Rutgers head men’s basketball coach, Mike Rice. I find this video hard to watch and appalling. What is more appalling is that Rice has not been fired for his abusive behavior and sexist and homophobic language (update 4/3/2013 Rice has been fired). This type of old school coaching behavior should be just that…Old School.
Coaches have the responsibility to treat their athletes with respect and care, as human beings, not just as cogs in the performance machine. I think you can learn a lot about a coach by watching him/her on the sidelines and by listening to what he/she says.
What is the demeanor of the coach? How do they act under pressure in the most contested moments? How do they act when they are winning versus losing? Are their athletes paying attention in the huddle and looking engaged? Do the athletes look like they are listening to the coach intently or blowing him/her off with disregard? What is the body language and facial expressions of the athletes and of the coach? How are the assistant coaches involved in the game? How does the head coach treat the assistant coaches? How does the coach treat the officials? How does the coach react to mistakes by athletes? How does the coach explain losses and wins? Do the athletes embrace the coach after wins and seek him/her out after losses?
On the contrary, last night I watched the Cal Bears Women’s Basketball Head Coach Lindsay Gottlieb, coach her team to their first-ever NCAA Final Four last night with grace. I was impressed by this young coach. She didn’t yell or act abusively toward athletes, officials or assistants. She coached. Her Google Image Search tells a very different picture of teaching, calmness under pressure, care, fun, enjoyment, pride…what coaching should look like.
I hope that the New School and face of coaching begins to look much more like Gottlieb and others like her, and that taxpayers who pay the HIGH salaries of coaches like Rice become outraged and less tolerant of abusive behavior toward young people.
- Read An Open Letter to Division I College Presidents and Governing Boards: Fix Skewed Incentives in Your Sports Programs published April 4, 2013 in the Chronicle of Higher Education, where the unsustainability of the current model of college athletics is laid out.
- Read Dave Zirin’s April 8, 2013 column for The Nation where he also argues that Old School Coaching needs to go, The Soul of Sports: Why Fox News & Former Players Defend Former Rutgers Coach Mike Rice.
- Read Murray Sperber April 8, 2013 column in Inside HigherEd on The End of Coach Kick-Ass ?
March Madness 2013 is now in full swing. As we approach our brackets, be aware of how women’s basketball and female athletes are covered and discussed in the media, compared to men’s basketball and male athletes. If you haven’t read Kate Fagan’s piece on espnW titled “What Brittney Griner says about us?”…you should. Fagan outlines why some people negatively react to Griner and why it matters. After I read her piece, I thought it may be worth sharing here an OpEd I wrote that was published in the Boston Herald in 2006, a few days before the Women’s Final Four began in Beantown.
After you read the OpEd, I’d like to know if you think the argument has changed? If you insert ‘Griner’ for “Parker’ would it still ring true? I contend it has, and in fact the negative comments and critique of Griner has been far more egregious than what Candace Parker endured. This is precisely what Fagan discusses…and it is important to bring attention to the fact female athletes still face discrimination, marginalization and other barriers than preclude them from being seen as equally athletic to their male counterparts.
To dunk or not to dunk in women’s collegiate basketball? (originally published in the Boston Herald, April 1, 2006)
Candace Parker is changing girls’ and women’s basketball. In 2004 Parker won the McDonald’s All-American dunk contest over the best boys in the country. Last week, 6’4” Parker made history by completing two dunks in a first-round NCAA Tournament game. While many applaud past and current dunks as advancing the sport and female athletic potential, others are quick to criticize Parker’s dunks as the demise of the women’s game citing various reasons such as; (1) The dunk is seen as undermining the quality of the men’s game. Thus, dunks are an unworthy pursuit for women; (2) Focusing on the dunk takes away from the array of women’s basketball skills (dribbling, passing, shooting); (3) No one wants to see women dunking, that is — acting like men.
What is missing from the conversation is how women’s dunks, and the commentary around them, simultaneously positively promote, change, and oppress women’s basketball.
A double standard exists for dunking women. On one hand, if a woman dunks, she may be criticized for showboating, and for trying to be “like a man.” Similarly, her dunk is dismissed and compared to men’s dunks as “not a real dunk,” “less than,” or lacking proper elevation above the rim. On the other hand, the lack of female dunking in games is often used as a reason why some people lack interest in the women’s game and as evidence the women’s game is a “lesser” version of basketball. Dunking women are damned if they dunk, and dunked if they do.
The frequency and magnitude of the media’s coverage in recognizing Parker’s achievement can create change in and of itself. The public rarely gets to see or hear about women’s exhibition of skills that are considered male — especially in a sport that is as highly valued and close to the cultural center of male sport — such as basketball. Underlying the hype around Parker’s dunks, however, is an unspoken fear. The dunk has long provided irrefutable, natural (i.e. biological) evidence of male sport superiority. Dunking females threaten male sport superiority by challenging the separation of “men’s sports” and “women’s sports.” Dunking females provide evidence of a continuum of sports performance, where many women routinely outperform many men (e.g., many 6’4” male basketball players have never dunked in a game) and possess strength, ability and speed in equal and greater capacities than men. The dunk confirms female athleticism and potential when equal access, opportunity, and quality training and coaching are provided for girls.
Dunking is a worthy pursuit for girls and women. Dunking is not a proven gateway of demise for basketball. Even if one believes it has contributed to a decrease in the quality of the men’s game, a similar fate in the women’s game is not a given. Dunking adds to the skill array of women’s basketball. People do want to see women dunk. Dribbling skillfully through defenders does not make ESPN SportsCenter’s “Top Plays of the Week.” Unquestionably, women’s dunks provide increased exposure and coverage of women’s basketball. The dunk is constantly promoted by the media as the dynamic standard of performance and skill, which communicates its societal importance and value in basketball. Why should the standard be different for women? Because discouraging women from the pursuit of dunking under the paternal guise of what is best for the women’s game, will keep women’s basketball subordinate to men’s basketball.
The dunk at its worst can be used as a means to maintain women’s sports as “less than,” thereby reinforcing notions of a gender binary of “women’s sports” and “men’s sports,” while also perpetuating traditional stereotypes of femininity and masculinity. The dunk at its best can be a change mechanism for people’s perceptions about, and interest in, women’s basketball, and girls’ and women’s sport in general. To that end, girls and women go forth– be strong, fast and powerful and dunk, dunk, dunk!
Celebrate the active and sporing females in your life today-or yourself-by trying a new physical activity.
1. Set a timer to beep every 30-45mns and when it rings, get up and walk up and down a flight of stairs or down the hallway.
2. Go to a local boutique gym and take a new class…smaller, customized, friendly, local gyms are the new trend, so find one near you and venture out. Here is a list of the Top 10 new fitness trends for 2013.
3. Practice your balance. Balance is an important part of functional fitness, but we rarely think about it that way. Just get our of your chair and stand on one leg for up to one minute and switch legs. You can do it holding onto something or free standing.
To see my monthly blog post for the Women in Coaching blog pertaining to the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport Fall Distinguished Lecture click here.
I wrote about three significant trends pertaining to females and the Olympics for Minnesota Public Radio. Namely I wrote 2012 has marked the 40th anniversary of title IX in the US, female Olympians outnumbers their male counterparts for the USOC, and women in predominately religiously conservative Muslim nations were allowed to compete for the first time in summer Olympic history. I also wrote about the lack of women in positions of power for the US Team (also see previous blog).
After I wrote that piece I’ve been thinking about other broken barriers, and in some cases have proven just how far girls and women in sport have yet to go. Other key occurrences include:
1. African American women winning gold in sports traditionally dominated by Whites–Serena Williams (tennis, becoming only the 2nd female to obtain the Golden Slam), Gabby Douglas (all-around gymnastics). However, both athletes competed in sports and trained in systems that are not under the jurisdiction of Title IX (i.e., private, non-school based). This is a key point because while Title IX as dramatically improved participation rates for females, girls and women of color have not benefited from this law to the same degree as their White peers.
2. On Friday, August 9, 2012, Shannon Eastin became the first female to referee an NFL game. This is key for many reasons–its provides proof females can be in other visible roles in football than cheering on the sidelines, it provides a role model for girls and young women to aspire to a career in refereeing at the highest level, and it provides evidence that women are capable of referring a sport that most don’t play (no one ever raises an eyebrow when men ump or coach softball!). Unfortunately due to enduring sexism and gender stereotypes about women in positions of power she will endure criticism that is not leveled at her male colleagues, and backlash in the blogosphere. However, her appearance is not without controversy due to the NFL ref picket line.
3. While US women have won 58% of the medals for Team USA (as of 8/10/12), female athletes in most all sports have been criticized and subject of derogatory remarks for not being feminine or attractive enough. There are a number a articles on this topic which details that “faces not feats” are predominately highlighted in Olympic coverage. I was encouraged by the fact some female athletes fought back and resisted those who tried to marginalize their amazing feats.
- What’s the right way to be a female Olympic athlete? (a parody which includes “do” be feminine, and “don’t” be fat or ugly)
- Beach Volleyball Photos Focus On Women’s Body Parts — Not Their Athletic Skills
- What’s Wrong with Media Coverage of Women Olympians?
The reason why this matters is that just as many current Olympians (e.g., Alex Morgan, Gabby Douglas, Missy Franklin) talked about how their aspirations for gold began as they watched 12, 8 or 4 years ago, today’s girls are doing the same. Girls need to see active, athletic female role models rather than be subject to commentary about how female athletes should look and conform to society’s notions of femininity and beauty. Athletes are beautiful…in all shapes, sizes, sport types, ages (equestrian Karen O’Connor is the oldest Olympian competing for the US at age 54; swimmer Katie Ledecky is the youngest at 15).
For some female athletes they self-promote by relying on looks, and for those who have them…can we blame them?. According to Jere Longman, a NYT writer, “Lolo Jones has received far greater publicity than any other American track and field athlete competing in the London Games. This was based not on achievement but on her exotic beauty and on a sad and cynical marketing campaign.” As Jones took 4th place in the 100m hurdles by a tenth of a second, I wondered if all the attention and hype distracted Jones’ attention and energy from optimal performance. What is even MORE interesting is that Longman’s critical column of Jones garnered considerable criticisms of its own (here, here, here, here).
…primarily from blogs that are rarely interested in covering women’s sport!
So is the lesson from “low blows on LoLo” that one should not be mean spirited and critical of the Olympic “It Girl”? (I’m reminded of my blog where I criticized the SI cover portrayal of 2010 Winter Olympic It Girl Lindsey Vonn). That female athletes should be left alone to market and promote themselves as they see fit? That it is OK if girls and young women internalize consistent messages of “it is more important what you look like than what you can do athletically” that can, according the to American Psychological Association, lead to a host mental and physical disorders?
If remaining gender barriers are to be broken, how female athletes are portrayed, portray themselves, and critiqued by the media must be examined and changed.
Athleticism and talent of ALL female athletes, not just the ones who meet society’s standards of femininity and attractiveness, (of all the hours of NBC coverage I did not see any of female weightlifters or boxers) should be sufficient for coverage.
And when they perform well and give it all they had in the tank, we should celebrate– not compare them to men, call them “manly” or other gendered slurs, subject them to sex testing, or wonder if performance enhancing drugs are involved (e.g., Ye Shiwen, Caster Semenya).
Given 2012 marks the 40th Anniversary of Title IX, this is ironic for a few reasons.
1. As Founder of Women Talk Sports Network, Jane Schonberger points out, media coverage of female athletes in the Olympics has lagged behind participation. If media coverage were to reflect and be in proportion to the % of female athletes, than ~50% of the coverage would given to women’s teams. Perhaps this year coverage will be equal, but based on previous data I am not overly optimistic.
2. While female athletes outnumber males, female head coaches of USA Olympic Teams are a minority. Based on the research of my summer interns (thanks Alyssa & Emma!) and the information available (some of which is unclear, unavailable or can’t be found), the USA Olympic Team has 9 female Head Coaches total (Tennis, T & F, Synchro Swim, Swimming, Soccer, Pairs Rowing, 4′s Rowing, and Table Tennis). All nine are head coaches of female athletes. Based on this data, less than 30% of the women’s teams and 0% of men’s teams are coached by women. If this data is incorrect please let us know.