Tag Archives: social media

Social Media for Female Athletes as Contested Terrain

imblanced scaleCurrently I’m at the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport (NASSS) in Ottawa. I’ve heard A LOT of great research and ideas that much head is spinning a bit.  I was in a session today that crystallized some thoughts about social media and women’s sports, and the dialogue that is occuring. Social media is a contested terrain-meaning that it is a site where struggle is occurring on many levels. Some of the issues that have arisen during the dialogue happening in many places (like here, here, and here) encompasses such questions as:  Who will control social media? Who decides? Is social media good or bad for women’s sports? I have some additional thoughts, albeit jumbled, I’ll add here to add to the conversation.

Social media is both good and bad, both positive and negative. It challenges and reproduces gender stereotypes. It allows female athletes and advocates of women’s sport to control the message and it is also a residual of traditional media (meaning social media has converged with traditional sport media…like ESPN channel and its social media correlate ESPN.com so therefore it really is not different). Social media is a space to promote women’s sport in the abasence of traditional media coverage and it is a site of unedited and unmediated backlash towards women’s sports. It is a powerful tool to promte women’s sports and also a tool that can hinder its progress.

Discussing social media in binary terms of good/bad erases the fact that women’s sports are forced to turn to and use social media as a way to promote themselves and their sport because of the lack of coverage in mainstream media. I think that is the bigger issue.  How can we tap into more progressive notions and mobilize ourselves to create social change–both in mainstream and social media.

However, this notion is predicated on the idea that everyone involved in women’s sports is on the same page. This is just not true. Diverse viewpoints  fosters rich dialogue and how issues are taken up varies,  for example: “Serena on the cover of ESPN magazine is beautiful” to “Serena is setting back women’s sport”.

Here is my question: Is it possible to create social change and challenge the system if we’re not all on the same page? Who’s page counts? Who decides?

What do you think?

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?

Stereotypical Media Representations of Female Athletes Starts Early

boy & girlToday I was preparing for a WeCoach workshop and was looking for some images on IStock.com. Pictured here is a classic example of how the (re)production of gender stereotypes starts early and in ways we might not even notice because they seem so innocuous. Ironically, shortly after I found these images I read the AAUW blog on Why Media Representation Matters which touched upon the newly released The Shriver Report-A Woman’s Nation. So far, I’ve read the Executive Summary of A Woman’s Nation, and in light of the Tucker Center’s Distinguished Lecture on the potential impact  of social media on women’s sport and the story released today by the New York Post suggesting that ESPN encourages “sexual insensitivity”,  I was struck by the assertion that outdated gender stereotypes will only change if women rise within the ranks and launch new media of their own. So what are we waiting for?

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?

FINALLY! A Worthy Comparison

wnbaOn the eve of the final WNBA playoff game, I just watched a fantastic video made by a WNBA Intern, that I saw due to a Tweet by Minnesota Lynx player Candice Wiggins (@candicwiggins). In the video, clips featuring similar plays from the NBA and WNBA are shown back-to-back or simultaneously.  What this sets up is that WNBA players are as athletic as, and do exactly the same exciting plays as their NBA counterparts. Female athletes are depicted in action, on the court, in uniform doing what they do best (in contrast to passive, off the court, and NOT in *cough* uniform Serena Williams). Brilliant! Usually when female athletes are compared to male athletes, the male version of the game is constructed as “better than”, more exciting, or the real version. Not in this video!

Advice to the WNBA: HIRE THIS INTERN. Whomever you are Intern, NICE WORK! This is exactly the kind of marketing and fresh thinking the WNBA needs to sustain the league.

Update: I’ve been advised that credit may be due to more than one intern. In that case, hire them all!

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 & NFL on the Brain

BrainGiven the upcoming Tucker Center Distinguished Lecture on social media and women’s sports I’m helping plan, I’ve had social media on the brain. Here a few interesting tidbits I thought to share:

1. Did You Know 4.0 (video on YouTube produced in conjunction with the Third Annual Media Convergence Forum). This is a very cool piece (thanks to ASC!).

2. Blogs about social media and women’ sport on the NEW Tucker Center blog. The first is an intro piece written by TC staff about social media and why it matters to women’s sports, followed by Dave Zirin’s piece on Double Standards.

3. Marie Hardin, contributing panelist for the TC Distinguished Lecture posted a Sports, Media & Society blog today about the topic. Look for her guest TC blog in the next day!

GQ brain injury footballLATE ADDITION: Speaking of brains, a just colleague sent an interesting piece over the NASSS listserv from GQ. The story is on the NFL, brain trauma, concussions and cover up. As my colleague explained it, “Good insight as well on the commodification of athletes and institutional denials of medical conditions.”

update: ESPN.com ran a story this week on the higher incidence of dementia in NFL players compared to the general population.

Update October 13, 2009: Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point and Blink, wrote a piece for The New Yorker titled, Offensive Play: How different are dogfighting and football? Great read.

See & Hear Game Footage of the LFL Now!

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”)

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….