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One Year of One Sport Voice in the Blogosphere

One Sport Voice is one year old!

Nearly one year ago at the urging a few tech saavy women around me, I decided to begin blogging. I wanted to, but needed a push. I desired to blog to create an outlet for sharing my thoughts and critical perspective on everyday things, hone my thinking and writing, and have a place to share with a wider audience some of the work I do that usually only shows up in academic journals. I felt I had a unique perspective about sports to share, and one not usually represented in many media outlets. I also wanted to answer Dave Zirin’s call he made in Contexts for academics, particularly sport sociologists, to “get off the bench.”

I am so glad for starting to blog for the following reasons, I have…

  • met and connected with an entire network of creative, smart, and sports-minded women I would have never had the opportunity to meet if I didn’t start blogging (Thanks in part to Women Talk Sports Network!).
  • sharpened how I make my arguments, including improving my ability to see and accept both sides of an issue.
  • learned how to accept criticism of my work and my perspective, and not take it personally.
  • learned that a critical perspective of sports is not a common one outside the ivory tower of academe.
  • passed on what I have learned to my students and used my blogs as teachable moments in the classroom. This has helped connect abstract concepts to real life material, which I find enhances learning and increases student engagement.
  • been invited to participate in blog panels and talk about my experiences in blogging.
  • learned that everything I write is public, for better or worse…misspelled words, bad grammar, incorrect information and all!
  • encouraged other women to make their voices heard in the blogosphere and claim what they know or think.
  • thought about how easily I can be “found” on the WWW and how that is both good (i.e., brand recognition, marketing, relevancy) and bad (i.e., stalking, safety, can’t filter who reads or follows) for me personally and professionally.
  • wondered who is reading my blog and the reasons behind what drives them to continue to visit.
  • felt elated, proud, attacked, silenced, hesitant, skeptical, surprised, edified, and everything in between!
  • (I hope) become a better writer, teacher, and researcher.
  • thought about how digital media can both empower and further oppress marginalized groups who get so little attention in mainstream print and digital media.
  • been honored and have enjoyed when blog readers send me stories they think I might turn into blog fodder or want to hear my “take” on a certain issue (keep sending me things!).
  • wondered if I will run out of things to say.

…and most of all I have felt compelled to continue to blog.  Thank you for reading this blog–One Sport Voice. I hope you will visit often, comment when you feel moved to do so, and encourage others to do the same.

Things That Make You Go Hmmmm…More on Social Media & Women's Sport

Following the  Tucker Center lecture and new blog about the impact of social media and women’s sport, it didn’t take too long for me to be in the middle of a real life example. Life works in ironic ways sometimes, doesn’t it? This example is meant to continue the conversation about this emerging and important topic.

9uwom0322w.lOn Tuesday I was at my computer and looked over the TweetDeck and saw that WNBA player Janel McCarville was live on her UStream channel JMACTV. I’d heard about Candace Parker using UStream but hadn’t checked it out yet, so clicked on the link and….ta dah!…there was Janel. As a Minnesotan, two-time Gopher Alum and now Gopher faculty, huge fan of women’s basketball, and advocate/scholar of women’s sport, I’ve been a long time fan of Janel McCarville (no hate Janel, only love!). Who can forget the Whalen/McCarville dynasty in The Barn!

Janel !I thought, “This is really cool… instant access to an elite female athlete“, as I watched her looking at and responding to the comments and questions from the 60+ fans watching her. I shouted through my office door to my two graduate students to “check this out”. Then I took a harder look and wrinkled my brow, “Is she in the bathroom?” I asked them, “and is she really cutting her own hair?” (see screen shot)  Somehow I was a bit disturbed by this. I immediately wasn’t so sure this was cool anymore—or good for women’s sports. So given this subject has been top of mind, I tweeted about it—twice (see screen shot below).mccarville tweets

I continued to watch for about 10mns, and then shut down for the day. I continued to think about it over the next day or so.  In the course of “doing my warm up activities” for the day (aka surfing), I looked at my @ replies on Twitter and saw that my tweets had incited quite a bit of outrage, and a direct response from Janel herself! (see screen shot right, it will enlarge if you click on it).mccarville tweet responses The tone of the responses was “lighten up, this is just silly and fun and everyone but YOU thinks this is great”. Fair enough. I responded to Janel via Twitter:  “@JanelMcCarville No anger, just continuing conversation re: women’s sport & social media, both pro/con. See http://bit.ly/352s8T“. But I felt badly for criticizing her and it bothered me.

I learned a few valuable lessons which may be instructive as we all move forward and think about how to use social media effectively to positively promote women’s sports.

First, if social media is truly a two-way conversation, then I should of phrased my tweet “What is your opinion about @JanelMcCarville’s UStream videocast?”

Second, attacking people on Twitter is just in poor taste and not classy. My apologies Janel. This has played out for KC Chiefs NFL player Larry Johnson this week, as he is paying the price literally and in the media and  for using a homophobic slur. It will continue to occur with increased frequency as social media becomes part of the way we communicate.

Third, shortly thereafter I read a great piece by Q McCall of www.swishappeal.com on Feministing.com titled,  Is there a “feminist responsibility” to support women’s sports? It put into context some of the guilt I felt. Why was I attacking a female athlete?  I’m supposed to support women’s sport. But on the other hand, as a feminist, scholar, and advocate of women’s sport  I often feel I have the responsibility to wave the red flag and point out when I see something that may not be a “good thing”.  Perhaps my role is to raise the issue, provide an alternative viewpoint, and promote respectful discussion.

It also got me thinking about where female athletes and women’s sport might be headed in terms of social media. If everyone  “loves it” (all 66 viewers)—is this our new model of promoting women’s sport? Is that what fans really want to see? Is this how fans want to interact with athletes? Where is the line between “good access” and access that, to borrow from C + C Music Factory,  “Makes You go Hmmmm”? As was pointed out to me,  Ron Artest of the LA Lakers, got his hair cut that same day…which garnered media attention. But if the men do it, should the women follow? Should we always be trying to emulate our male counterparts? (I’m not suggesting that is why Janel chose to UStream, she’d have to tell us the inspiration). Is it possible male athletes use social media differently because of disparate patterns of traditional media coverage? What are the similar and different ways elite male and female athletes use social media? How can female athletes take control and use social media in positive ways to combat sexism, inequalities, and disparities that are well documented in sport contexts? Is this a responsibility they should bear? In conclusion, I highlight Janel not to criticize or judge, but to provide an exemplar real-life issue to promote discussion about social media and women’s sports.

I don’t have the answer, only a lot of questions. What do you think?

Top 5 Take Aways: Social Media & Women's Sports

Social Media Pic_iStock_000009648196XSmall

On Monday, October 19 I took part in the Tucker Center Distinguished Lecture Series on The Impact of Social Media on Women’s Sports-which you can view in its entirety here. There were so many great ideas  and critical thinking from so many perspectives that I’m still processing, but here are my Top 5 as of now.

1. Women’s sport marketing & promotions have always been viral and no one is really sure how to measure return on investment. Social media should be about building relationships and you can’t always measure the impact of relationship building.  (@DigitalMaxwell, Dr. Heather Maxwell)

2. The success of female sports journalists depends on the success of women’s sports, but half of female sport journalists surveyed don’t feel a responsibility to cover women’s sports. They don’t want to be pigeon-holed.(@mariahardinpsu, Dr. Marie Hardin)

3. Is it fair to place the burden of marketing & promoting women’s sports on the shoulders of the female athletes-especially those in “non-traditional” sports like ice hockey? Is this the new model we are left with as social media envelops traditional sport media (where female athletes get 6-8% of the coverage)? (@angelaruggiero, Angela Ruggiero, US Women’s National Ice Hockey Team)

4. Interest in women’s sport is being measured by “click throughs” in online editions of newspapers & websites. So if people don’t click on women’s sport stories, it is interpreted as “non interest”. Those who support women’s sports have to CLICK the stories that we can find!  (Rachel Blount, Sports Columnist, Star Tribune)

5. Time remains to take control of social media and use it effectively to grow women’s sports, but time is running out (Rachel Blount, Sports Columnist, Star Tribune)

If you watched it what were your thoughts?

How NOT to use Social Media….

Since I still have social media on the brain this week, and have been reading the discussion about social media and its impact on women’s sport on The Tucker Center blog…Thanks to ASC, I came across this story on SportsAgentBlog.com about how not to use Twitter. This is precisely how social media can be detrimental to athletes. While this example involves a male college football player, it won’t be too long before we have an example of a female athlete getting into hot water over an inappropriate Tweet about her coach. Wait for it…..

Social Media & Sport Apologies

Discussion in the Tucker Center this morning was very lively around the topic of Serena Williams’ U.S. Open semifinal outburst, fine, and subsequent apology via her blog and Twitter account (also see picture here).

serena apology

I have a few other thoughts on Williams’ ill-timed and ill-fated outburst.
1. From a sport psychology perspective one cannot control the calls made by the umpire or referee, regardless of if a “bad” call occurs on match point or the first point of the match. Let it go. An athlete can only control his/her reaction to the call. This particular reaction showed a lack of mental toughness. In her blog Williams wrote, “We all learn from experiences both good and bad. I will learn and grow from this, and be a better person as a result.” I’m sure it will also make her an even better competitor than she already is.

2. How has social media changed the way athletes interact with fans and the media? Even though Serena lost control of her emotions on the court, she took control of her “brand” off the court by quickly posting apologies using social media tools. It left us wondering if these tools existed when John McEnroe was in the heyday of his outbursts (which were much more frequent, prolonged and arguably egregious), would he of used social media to apologize? (NOTE: In a Google search for “John McEnroe apologizes” I found one result for apologizing for bad behavior, and one story of an apology for bad play.)

3. Then it got me thinking how race and gender intersect with the outburst issue. Do we expect female athletes to apologize more frequently than we do male athletes? We certainly expect female athletes to act “ladylike”, refrain from grunting loudly, not throw tantrums or have outbursts. How much of the criticism leveled against Serena Williams has to do with the fact she is African American? Would the public react similarly if the outburst came from a White female tennis player–for example Maria Sharapova? After perusing one of my favorite blogs–After Atalanta–it seems I am not the only one who noticed or is thinking about these issues. What do you think?

A strange day in the world of sport media

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….

Silent Sidelines: A Band Aid Approach To Controlling Youth Sport Parents

sideline parents arm around_iStock_000002126386XSmallMany strategies are commonly discussed to help change parental behavior on youth sport sidelines. Such strategies include: developing and enforcing a code of conduct; appointing a volunteer sideline monitor; leveling fines for inappropriate spectator behaviors; restricting spectator interaction with athletes (e.g., fans are required to sit on the opposite side of the soccer field from the coaches and team); restricting attendance (e.g., parents are not allowed to attend competitions or practices), and/or encouraging parents to suck on a lollipop if they feel like screaming at the referee or coaching from the sidelines.

Another strategy that gets quite a bit of attention is restricting spectator behaviors—i.e., “Silent Sidelines” or “Silent Sundays” (see the 2009 Toronto Star article or the 2004 NYT article). After reading yet another article lauding Silent Sidelines I felt compelled to give a critique of this and other strategies. In short, putative parental strategies are a terrible idea and provide a Band Aid solution to a deeper internal, chronic wound—the problems which arise on sidelines as youth sport becomes increasingly professionalized (Note: poor sport behavior of parents is not a new phenomena. For a balanced historical account, read Until It Hurts: America’s Obsession With Youth Sports by Mark Hyman and read his blog on youth sport parents). While reversing the professionalization of youth sport is beyond my capabilities (for now at least!), changing parental sideline behaviors IS possible.

BandAidsMany of these Band Aid strategies are employed without any research-based evidence of effectiveness or consultation from the sport science community. For example, barring parents from competition is not an optimal or effective solution because research indicates that a majority of children and adolescents enjoy when parents attend and watch competitions and parents are a vital source of support for children. The mere act of signing a “code of conduct” does not change behavior because it does not address the underlying or preceding feelings or thoughts of parents. To change behavior, parents must be provided with evidence of how their sideline behaviors—what a colleague and I call “background anger”—affects not only their child, but everyone else in the sport landscape. This information can provide motivation that increases the likelihood of behavioral change. Research seems to indicate that potential negative outcomes from exposure to youth sport background anger may include—anxiety, stress, decreased performance, loss of focus due to distraction by parents, confusion, embarrassment, frustration, less enjoyment, burnout and perhaps even dropout of sport altogether.

The important point here is that a Band Aid approach to changing the climate of youth sport sidelines addresses only the behavior (i.e., don’t yell = complete silence or silence by lollipop). An effective strategy promotes change through education and provides parents with research-based information as to what triggers angry parental responses, why it is important for example, not to yell on the sidelines, and how this behavior can affect everyone. For an exemplar educational program visit the University of Notre Dame’s Play Like a Champion Educational Series website and stay tuned for new research on the emotional experiences of sport parents and background anger from myself and colleagues of the Minnesota Youth Sport Research Consortium.

Serena Williams "Oversized Back Pack" Critiqued

When I read this column about Serena Williams by sportswriter Jason Whitlock, I had to include it in the blog for obvious reasons. The column wasn’t about Serena’s third Wimbledon Championship or 11th Grand Slam title, but a critique of how good she could be if she would rid of her “unsightly layer of thick, muscled blubber, a byproduct of her unwillingness to commit to a training regimen and diet that would have her at the top of her game year-round”. Whitlock couches his comments by saying he is really a big Serena fan, that she “has limitless potential” and that people are going to accuse him of being sexist…but really he just has her best interest in mind.

Britain Wimbledon TennisUsing flattery and sham transparency (I know you’ll call me sexist, so I’ll do it first, but I’ll say it anyway) to buffer sexist (or racist, misogynistic, homophobic) remarks is a classic diffusing technique used by those who make them. A real “fan” would not make such remarks as research demonstrates that sexist remarks have negative implications for the target’s (i.e. Serena) well-being and can lead to self-objectification. A real fan, let alone a sportswriter, would not focus on Serena’s “back pack” no matter how big or small it is perceived to be, and no matter how much it is perceived to help or hinder her play. The problem here is that instead of focusing on Serena Williams’ play and accomplishment, Whitlock is trivializing both. Whitlock uses his personal views to prescribe what he thinks is “hot and attractive”, perpetuates a narrow conception of beauty, reinforces the idea that only “in shape” women are attractive, and in the end proclaims that only attractive female athletes are worthy of being watched during prime time TV on Centre Court.

When you read about a sportswriter discussing the “back pack” of a highly accomplished male athlete and the writer’s preference for the “size” of the male athlete’s back pack let me know…Nike_BackPack_LARGE

UPDATE: Listen to Dave Zirin’s Edge of Sports radio spot in which Zirin rails Jason Whitlock’s column.

The Sport Media's Role in Promoting Femininity: An Example in Women's Tennis

feminine tennisA picture tells a thousand words and this picture is a perfect example of when female athletes are covered in the media, it is often in ways that highlight femininity-rather than athletic competence. For more on this subject read here, here, or here.

How Not to Coach Soccer: A Lesson From Minnesota

iStock_minority girls soccer_XSmallWhen I’m not writing about gender, the other part of my research, teaching and outreach pertains to youth sport—mainly studying and trying to improve sport parent sideline behavior, and helping coaches be more effective. When a story broke last week about a Minnesota club soccer team, many of my colleagues and former students forwarded the story link to me which got quite a bit of press here in Minnesota and around the country.

In short, two of the Minnesota Thunder Academy (MTA) teams played each other in the State Cup final to see who would advance to the Regionals—it was the 12-and-under girls v. the 13-and-under girls. The game ended with penalty kicks, when Coach Abboud asked the younger girls to pass the ball nicely to the opposing keeper, in essence throwing the game to the older U-13 team, instead of taking the penalty kicks to win the game. Chaos, tears, frustration, confusion, emergency meetings at all levels, commentary, opinions, anger, a public apology from Abboud, and parental support for the coach ensued. To read all the details go to, the Inside Minnesota Soccer article, the Star Tribune article, and Coach Mark Abboud’s own contrition on his blog.

Let me put this incident into a broader context of youth sport trends. The MTA is one of the most elite of soccer clubs, for “serious soccer players”, meaning they hand pick the best kids from other clubs around the state. In fact, the MTA girls recently joined the inaugural Eilte Clubs National League…yes, “national” league for 13-year-olds.

Winning_iStock_000005893466XSmallSome would argue this type of sport club is the poster child for everything that is wrong with youth sports-specialization, not developmentally appropriate, a win at all cost philosophy, year-round training, privatization, overuse injuries, burnout due to high stress and anxiety, dropout, overzealous parents, highly paid coaches with big egos, treating children like “mini-professional” athletes, and highly structured and governed adult-run clubs and organizations (to name a few).

red card_iStock_000003976608XSmallSport provides many “teachable moments”. Good coaches teach athletes to give full effort, focus on what they can control, treat opponents with respect regardless of the situation, and accept the outcome with grace. One decision by a coach does have an impact on everyone involved, and this is a cautionary tale of how not to coach because, simply put, it taught the wrong lessons. In soccer terms, this coach deserves a red card, and possibly more severe sanctions.

P.S.-A critical gender note. Notice the Minnesota Thunder Academy that houses both boys’ and girls’ teams is the namesake of the men’s team (the Thunder), and not the women’s team (the Lightening).thunderightning