Jock Bitch: Because a Pun about Balls was too easy

Hi there, sports fans. My name is Jonanna Widner, and for the next couple months I'm going to be doing the guest-blogging about the nexus of sports and feminism. Said guest blog will fall under the name "Jock Bitch."

To start, I thought I'd just sort of spell out my relationship to/with sports, which hopefully will explain why I think sports are a feminist subject, and serve as an introduction to the philosophy behind this Jock Bitch.

First off, I am a huge sports fan. I do not qualify as a sports nut, mind you, as that would entail endless hours of trolling web sites for obscure statistics about how many strikes C.C. Sabathia throws per inning when pitching at dusk when the wind is coming from the south, but let's just say ESPN is often the first TV station I turn to when the TV comes on. Let's also say I've been known to Tivo basketball games to save for later, and that I cry regularly due to some sports-related catharsis or other. Last minute heroics are always good: Show me a walk-off home run and say good-bye to the Kleenex. And that's only during the regular season.....

I also grew up a Dallas Cowboys' fan, and I'll die a Dallas Cowboys fan, and don't think I'm not conflicted about it: I also consider myself well left on the political scale, a Marxist at heart, a queer, and a feminist, and the Cowboys are one of the most historically capitalist, redneck-y, racist sports organizations to ever exist. How do I reconcile that?

I know, too, that sports in general—both the playing of and the watching of—remain the domain of dudes. You can spout off about Title IX and Pat Summitt all you want, but, I mean…c'mon. And we all know that all sorts of anti-feminist behavior goes hand-in-hand with sports, be it Kobe Bryant-esque rape or [fill in the blank with almost any famous athlete name you want]-esque domestic violence or just plain exclusionary behavior. Plus sports are stinky, and butch, and overly competitive—and not everybody's into that, right? So when I inform my friends, No, I can't go out to see that band with you tonight, because I'm watching the Final Four/Opening Day/The Masters/some random cricket tournament piped in from South Africa, I understand when they roll their eyes ask me Why do you love sports so much?

It's a complicated answer, but one that speaks to more than just balls and strikes—there's lots of stuff going on in sports, stuff about race and politics, love and life, and, most important for our purposes here, male and female. Sports are a very primal thing on one level, but on another they are also complicated, and some of those complications make for feminist fodder.

Why feminist? Because there are life lessons in sports (it's cheesy, but it's true), and health benefits, and since sports are considered primarily boy territory, women are not exposed to them, and thus women miss out on both.

For one thing: You are probably a lot more likely to enjoy watching sports if you have played them. You will be more thrilled by a 400-foot home run if you know how hard it is to hit a damn baseball at all; and you'll be more cathartically heartbroken by a last-minute loss if you can relate to the pain.

Hell, you might be even more interested in the failures of athletes than their successes. Take this example: One of the easiest plays in baseball is throwing out a runner from the second baseman's position. We're not talking from second base—which is about 90 feet—we're talking somewhere in between, say, 25-45 feet. It's just a toss, really. And there really is no pressure—you're so close to first base that you can bobble the ball once, maybe even twice, or throw it slightly off target and you'll still beat the runner by several strides.

And yet, in 1999, the New York Yankee's Chuck Knoblauch began a famous freakout, wherein suddenly he couldn't make that exact throw. He would field the ball cleanly, his mechanics smooth and natural, until it came time to get the ball to first. At that point, in a split second, he transformed from finely tuned athlete to a spastic mess, chunking the ball over the first basemen's head, or into the stands, or—and these were the most painful to watch—straight into the ground.

This man was a professional, a top-tier athlete, known for his sound fundamentals, and yet he mindfucked himself so badly, he really never recovered.

The magnitude of the weirdness of Knoblauch's freakout is simply lost on someone who's never played ball. A layperson might sort of get it, but unless you've learned to throw a baseball, and are somewhat familiar with the particulars of the circumstances of making an infield play, you don't truly understand.

But if you've played ball, then you know. You know how simple it is to toss the ball a few feet, and how insane it feels to somehow not be able to perform the same physical action you have performed thousands of times. And you know what it feels like to mess up that badly with everybody watching. And if you know those things, then you know Knoblauch's freakout was a gift to us from the baseball gods, because it was filled with currents of empathy and catharsis.

And you know somewhere on some deep level that sports aren't just about finely tuned bodies and big muscles and jockstraps—sports involve a peculiar balance of gross physical ability and the refined, mysterious interworkings of the brain. It's that balance that makes sports so…human. Relating to that humanity when it succeeds (e.g., winning a World Series) is fun, but relating to it when it fails is even more significant. In that, sports are like this magical portal into the dark recesses of the human soul—they allow you to safely dig through fear and failure, to check it all out, and then come back to your everyday life. It's like what Aristotle said about watching a tragic play—the action "through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation of…emotions"—and believe me, there was never a play more tragic than a jacked-up Knoblauch throw.

So that's why I like sports. And that's why I think it sucks that most young girls' relationship to sports gets all messed up by stupid factors—factors I hope to investigate with this blog. For starters, hopefully the next entry will be an interview with Jennifer Ring, who wrote the recently published Stolen Bases: Why American Girls Don't Play Baseball.

For now, though, I gotta log off. The Dallas Mavericks playoff game is about to start, and having won game one their first-round series against the Spurs, things are looking pretty good. I hope they don't mess it up. But if they do, you can bet there'll be a lesson in there somewhere, and I'll be damned if I don't have as much access to it as anybody else.

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Comments

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Covering Roller Derby

Any chance you'll be covering the "new" sport of the century? Roller Derby?

Do you like hockey ? Because

Do you like hockey ? Because if you do, I'd like you to tell me why I should be interested. Here in Canada it's a national obsession that I just can't relate to. Help !

I actually do like hockey,

I actually do like hockey, though not as much as they do in Canada, I'm guessing.

I don't mean this patronizingly at all, but do you know much about the rules? Hockey has some odd little rules that make getting a grasp on it more difficult. And people tend to enjoy sports more if they understand what they're watching, obviously. And if you don't, well, sports are supposed to be fun, right--and who wants to study a rulebook just to watch a game?
And that is part of what I’m trying to get at. It's easier to learn the rules if you play the sport, and women, people of color, and other marginalized groups are not exposed to sports at a young age the same way men are. So they grow up not understanding sports and are understandably turned off or bored by them.

So, what's the problem with that? Well, since sports are such a huge part of culture, that means those marginalized people get cut out of participating in that culture. I mean, Canada's having this big national dialogue about it, and you're not part of it.

That said, I'm not trying to say everyone should like every single sport there is at every single moment of the day. But hockey is really an amazing sport: Hockey players push their bodies to limits we mere mortals can only dream of, and a hockey goal is one of the most exciting plays in all of sports.

Oh, and it's much more fun to watch live. If you don't like hockey and you've never been to a game in person, try it once before you pass judgment. It's much easier to see the puck, to get a feel for just how graceful the skaters are, and to watch the cycling of the different lines as they take the ice--it's almost like some kind of complicated mating dance.

Oh, and one more thing, while we're on the subject: How do people feel about the fact that most women's hockey leagues are non-checking, while men slamming each other into the boards is an integral part of male leagues? Sexist or protective? Hurtful or helpful?

Hockey, Running, Olympic Protests, Etc

I grew up going to hockey games and still enjoy it. However I rarely watch hockey games on TV, as going to games really is so much better. However, if I was to watch something (by that I mean youtube, don't own a TV), it would be the only thing I would watch. Since I do understand it, I can enjoy watching and figuring out the plays, and do fully admit to enjoying the fights.

And I think it is complete BS that women's leagues don't allow checking. I have heard that some women's leagues do, but part of the reason that they don't on the olympic level is due to women in other countries usually being smaller and therefore at disadvantage. Don't know how true this is through. However that ones that don't allow in within a country, I think is full of unneeded protective sexist assumptions, assuming women have no autonomy, and can't handle choosing a sport with more risk.

(And as someone whose father had played ice hockey through college and almost professionally, but never learned to ice skate, I wish had been put in an hockey league as a kid, and wonder if I would have been if I was a boy).

I personally played some softball and basketball in amateur leagues in middle school and then ran cross country and track all through high school. I still love running, have ran marathons, the hood to coast relay race (longest relay in the world, 2-days, 197 miles from timberline lodge to seaside), etc. I would like to put with that how neat it would be too to do something on how well women do in non-team sports too. For example, women have beaten men in ultra-marathons and trail races, such as the Western Sate 100 (that is 100 miles through the sierra nevada mountains), and Badwater (that is 135 miles from death valley to almost up Mt Whitney, and yes, in summer). Such as Nikki Kimball with western states and Pam Reed winning badwater, and having completed 300 miles without sleep (holy shit!).

I agree sports have the potential to build amazing self-esteem, camaraderie, love, and mental health. I constantly encourage people to exercise, get outdoors, and take care of themselves. I know I am someone whose mental health depends entirely on exercise. I'm also all for sports over gangs, corporation and communication skills, being literally strong and powerful, leadership, etc. It is important for it to be remembered that sports don't at high school or college, but that there are many ways to play in adult community teams, or activities around non-team sports. I say this particularly because I think some associate sports with solely the negative aspects of too aggressive competition, especially when parents worry about what team the kids will be on when said kid is in-utero. (as compared to the greater mental and physical sweat and joy.

However, I would also like a piece written on the controversies around the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, as there have been many protests/actions/campaigns. This has come from a multitude of groups, including indigenous rights activists, homeless and poverty rights workers, environmental activists, etc. And then there is the group of retired and active women ski jumpers suing the olympic committee. (examples being no2010.com and 2010watch.com).

Lastly, I have to say that as much as I like the idea for this blog, I don't feel comfortable with the premise of learning about something solely because it is cultural. Yes, there are pluses of learning horrible song lyrics so you can discuss them with teens, but I don't think this applies to everything. With that said, I agree that understanding sports can make them a lot more enjoyable. And I agree that sports shouldn't be regarded as something to be done away with simply because they have been co-opted by males. That is even more reason to claim them as equally anyones to enjoy. We also can point to how important Title IX was, not just for sport equality, but for instance for women who had kids or were pregnant to be able to use financial aid for education (see: licensetothrive.com).

Look forward to reading your

Look forward to reading your stuff. And was Knoblauch an Aggie? I think I remember my Aggie husband following his career for that reason.

I'm a sports fan more than most of my women friends, but I can still go a few weeks without watching a game. But if a game happens to be on with a team I care about, I get very involved (mostly baseball and football).

He was indeed an Aggie. He

He was indeed an Aggie. He was born in Houston, I think.

Sports are one of the many

Sports are one of the many unspoken evils in this world. They waste countless resources, and they teach all the wrong lessons to the most suggestible, youngest, and dare I say, dumbest, members of society. It makes people think competition for no reason is actually a good thing, it makes people insult, heckle, hate, and every so-often, assault or kill people who have differing oppinions on teams/cities. In that way, it's the same as religion, and has many of the same (horrific) outcomes. Anyone who advocates sports, advocates hate, plain and simple. (Of course I'm talking on any large scale, some friends or neighbors playing street hockey or basketball can be very good for the community, and the people in it, but beyond that, nothing good comes of it.)

I totally disagree with your

I totally disagree with your stand on sports, (but totally agree with you on the subject of religion.)

Sure there are the professional atheletes that are doping, cheating on their spouses, accused of domestic violence, etc., but what about the atheletes that are model members of our societies - the ones we don't hear about? The ones that give back to their communities - that are inspiring children everywhere growing up in inner cities? It's unfair to say that all atheletes are thugs. They inspire hope. They inspire us all to pick up a baseball, tennis ball, football and aspire us all to try. That with hard work and determination, we can aspire to have a better life.

When I was little I wanted to be just like Martina Navratilova. She was my idol. I don't know where my life would be without organized sports. (I played Little League for 8 years and played softball and basketball for my high school and softball in college.)

I blame the media. When was the last time you hears a story about an athelete doing something good? Giving back? All we hear about is A-Rod cheating on his wife with that witchy-hag Madonna. We hear about Michael Vick, Pac Man Jones, Terrell Owens, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens.

Sports are a beautiful thing, but it's a shame that some ruin it for the rest of us.

What planet do you live on?

What planet do you live on? You must hate America.

Come on, really?

Come on, really? Interesting, yet after 5 re-reads, it just gets more and more rediculous, until I think you're joking. You are, right?

A+

Awesome blog, look forward to reading more posts. Can definitely relate to the internal conflict of liking professional football (regardless of code) and holding feminist beliefs, would be good if you could go into it further.

Watching and playing:

"You are probably a lot more likely to enjoy watching sports if you have played them."

I've always hated football, but in February, on a lark, I tried out for a women's semi-pro tackle football team. Getting the rules down has sucked, but now that I've started to understand what I'm doing, it's become fun as hell. And now I can watch football without falling asleep. You're absolutely right - when you don't play a sport, it's harder to "get it" when you're watching it. Looking forward to this series of posts!

(For anybody interested, check out the Independent Women's Football League website.)

It's so obvious, it's genius

It's so obvious, it's genius - great blog, Jonanna. I have a theory about why girls throw like girls. It's because you hafta develop those muscles when you're little-league-age. And yeah - most girls don't play baseball, they play softball, and by then it's too late and they're already throwing like girls.

Don't leave it to the boys!

First, the link to the Jock Bitch blog goes to a blank page... Makes it hard to pass on a link to share the blog and to check in for new posts.

Second....

Jock Bitch is the Bomb! As a feminist and a sports fan, it's a delight! I'm as interested as anyone (ok, probably more than most people) in things like where a Jayhawk will end up in the draft and who has the best steal record in college basketball. I see the all of the positive things that sports can do, especially for young women-- things like learning that our bodies are good for something other than being objects of beauty, feeling strong and powerful in our bodies, that hard work and perseverance lead to success, learning to work as part of a team, but also how to be a leader... Of course I'm also aware of and seriously concerned about all of the problems of violence (sexual and otherwise), male entitlement, homophobia, racism and sexism that are associated with sports. I don't, however, see those things as reasons we should turn our backs on sports. All of those negatives exist all over-- upper levels of academia, high level management of corporations, engineering programs, computer programming, the music industry to name a few-- but we don't see those as reasons to just throw up our hands and leave those things to the boys. Walking away from those things, including sports, just means that women reap fewer benefits and the bad stuff just keeps getting worse. The more of us there are, the better things have to get. It's gets harder to have a good ol' boys club when women make up half the membership!