It’s a sports blog about life. That’s what I call this. And that might not ever ring truer than in this article today.
I write about (or at least mention) a lot of different things in this blog. There is even more that I wish I could comment intelligently on. If I knew something about the NHL, trust me, I’d write about it. (I am getting into the English Premier League this year, so we’ll see if articles follow on that).
One of these glaring omissions from this blog is not a sport. Nor is it a movie, book, or television show. It’s a gender.
In the year that I have spent writing 48 different articles, I have mentioned women or women’s sports in more than one sentence twice. Both times were regarding the failure of the U.S. women’s soccer team in the World Cup Final. I have tagged the former Big East commissioner, John Marinatto, more times (1) than any female athlete. To my shame, the most significant literature I have written of women, other than the aforementioned Word Cup commentaries, was this: “[At the ESPYs] there’s always that girl who gives out an award who creates a dialogue like this: “Who is that? What movie has she been in?” “Dude, who cares. She’s fine.””
So I suppose I’m a typical male sports fans. Go ahead, feminists, say all sorts of nasty things about me, men, and the religion of sport.
Now listen to what I have to say.
Today I fight for you. Because the world of female sports needs all the help it can possibly get. We can champion Title IX until the end of the age, and we can all go buy Hope Solo jerseys, and we can make all sorts of cool video montages with Mary J. Blige songs of women dunking. We can criticize institutions like Maxim, and we can scream at rappers for demeaning lyrics, and we can make more video montages.
And it would all be a small, but good, start.
What on Earth is he talking about? you say. Well, I’ll tell you.
It doesn’t take Scotland Yard to tell you who dominated the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Women. Think about who got the headlines this year. Among U.S. athletes, women drew the attention. You’d instantly recognize names like Missy Franklin, Misty May-Treanor and Kerry Walsh Jennings, Gabby Douglas, Allyson Felix, Carmelita Jeter, Sonya Richards-Ross, and Alex Morgan. Which men, besides the basketball players and the two swimmers (Phelps and Lochte), drew much attention? I suppose Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin were both in the spotlight for the Usain Bolt show, and Ashton Eaton and Trey Hardy at least got a little air-time for their performance in the decathlon, but who besides them?
The medal count backs it up. U.S. women at the Olympics won 58.5 medals to the men’s 45.5. Women won 29 gold medals to the men’s 17.
Men are superior to women in every sport, but compared to their own gender, U.S. women are ‘better’ than U.S. men. As dominant as the men’s basketball team was, the women’s team was even better. The men’s 4×100 broke the previous world record, but lost to a stacked Jamaican team. Meanwhile, the women’s relay defeated their swift Jamaican adversaries and set a world record, winning comfortably. The U.S. women dominated the Summer Olympics.
And now that’s it.
You won’t watch Hope Solo play soccer again until the next World Cup. You won’t play Where in the World is Carmelita Jeter? You’ll fall asleep watching a WNBA game. You won’t follow Missy Franklin anywhere besides Twitter. Face the facts: the next time you see one of our female Olympians, it will be in next year’s ESPN “Body Issue.”
And you can’t handle the proof.
Exhibit A: Candace and Alex
Women’s soccer is steadily becoming more relevant, but to say that anything outside of major international tournaments is going to draw national attention is false. Women’s basketball does not appear to be going anywhere too quickly. Which is really too bad, because both have an athlete playing right now who should be a household name.
Alex Morgan makes women’s soccer very watchable. My Facebook news feed exploded with posts about her (inspired by her goal, written because of her looks) after the Canada game. She is a very skilled young soccer player, whose place on the field makes her more involved than the also popular Hope Solo. Her attacks at goal are pretty exciting, and some commentators say she’s the fastest player in the world. And yeah, she’s pretty hot. But I still don’t know what club team she plays for. Actually, I can’t name a women’s soccer league.
If Candace Parker can’t make the WNBA popular, no one can. She dominated college ball, she dunks, she won Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same year, had a kid, came back, and is the leading candidate for MVP this year. She’s one of those athletes that just commands the court. She stands out among her teammates, and the game looks like it comes easy to her. And yeah, she’s pretty hot too. If any female basketball player could be a legitimate superstar celebrity in this country, it’s Candace Parker. And yet, women’s basketball, hurt by the fact that it is so dreadfully less exciting than the men’s game, remains marginal at best. Candace Parker is only a moderately famous athlete.
Lo²: A troubling equation.
The example of LoLo Jones provides further evidence and insight in the case of women versus the world. She drew a lot of attention at this Summer’s Olympics, and was featured in at least two commercials, despite the fact that experts were saying she would have a tough time even medaling.
However, LoLo was good media material. First, and perhaps foremost, she had a story of redemption to fulfill. After tripping on the second to last hurdle while leading the race in Beijing, people wanted to know if she would redeem herself in London. Keeping in step with the theme of popular female athletes, she was good looking, too (not so much in her track gear, but then again, who is?). She also made a splash with the news that she was abstaining from sex until marriage because of her Christian faith (and then that connects you to Tim Tebow, and we all know where THAT goes).
LoLo didn’t win. She took fourth, and two other U.S. women, Kellie Wells and Dawn Harper (winner of Beijing gold), medaled. This set off a series of semi-bitter comments from Wells and Harper about Jones’ attention, scathing attacks from the media against Jones, and a teary interview with LoLo herself.
LoLo being attacked for being a hot girl who won’t have sex is a story and a sad commentary on the pagan culture of this country. So is the issue at hand: LoLo is more famous than women who are faster hurdlers than she is, probably because she is better looking. Which provides a very nice segue to my next example:
Anna Kournikova is a beautiful woman who had a mediocre tennis career. And yet she’s still a legitimate celebrity. As Wikipedia puts it: “Most of Kournikova’s fame has come from the publicity surrounding her looks and her personal life.” She never even won a WTA singles title (she was a pretty good doubles player though). The end result: Anna Kournikova is a celebrity who played tennis, not a a famous tennis player.
Our society wants to make more Anna Kournikovas. Female athletes are, ideally, in as good of shape as they can possibly be. They’re halfway to hot before you even see them. So when a pretty face comes around, the media rushes forward with cameras raised. Pretty soon, it’s expected that she will pose with a little less than full clothing. That’s why jockey Chantal Sutherland posed naked on a horse. Yes, on a horse. Amanda Beard ended up in Playboy. Snowboader Gretchen Bleiler talked about posing for FHM 8 years before posing for The Body Issue: “I’ve grown from that place. That shoot was back when I first had some success in snowboarding, and I felt like I had to do it for the exposure — for both the sport and myself. It wasn’t a great experience, plus that shoot was about being sexy [as opposed to the emphasis on muscles and fitness in the Body Issue].” Obviously, female athletes feel a pressure to be models.
Apparently, you can’t be a woman AND an athlete. Alex Morgan is going to have a great career playing soccer, but people will more fondly remember her looks rather than her attacks inside the box. Lindsey Vonn is a dominant skier, but that’s only part of why she’s relatively famous.
On the other side of the spectrum there are many outstanding female athletes who will never shine in the spotlight. I won’t name names, but many people feel that some elite female athletes are too manly. And that’s all the media needs to know. A female athlete that isn’t beautiful isn’t worth their time. If the quality of play is not on the level of the men’s sport, then something has to be done to make the athlete or the sport watchable.
So it’s unfair both ways: People won’t truly appreciate how dominant Lindsey Vonn is because they’re too busy talking about how hot she is, and people won’t talk about some less attractive athletes because, well, they’re less attractive.
This attitude permeates sport. It creates the double meaning of a “spectator sport.” Do women really play indoor volleyball better when they’re wearing spandex shorts? And do outdoor players really play better in skimpy bikinis?
The objectification of women is real, and it’s a real problem. Ideally, a female athlete is beautiful and an excellent competitor. But not everyone is Maria Sharapova. When one of these bodies (because do we really portray them as actual people?) turns out to have a voice of her own, it sends people for a loop. Hope Solo got criticized for criticizing Brandi Chastain’s criticism, even though she was right. Brandi isn’t that great a commentator, and she does have her job because of her name and what she did in ’99. Hope simply stood up for her criticized teammate and her sport and said she thought viewers deserved better than Brandi. And since one of these attractive and dominant athletes decided to make her opinion known instead of being a good little robot, she took criticism.
Whats wrong with us?
I’ll leave you with a song.
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