Read It and Weep: Special pro sports edition!
Not a good week for the ladies, sports-wise. First up, in order of horrifying: The Chicago White Sox haven't been doing so hot, so they initiated a little "slumpbuster" that involved taking two female blow-up dolls and arranging them in the team clubhouse with baseball bats jammed into various orifices. Surrounding the dolls with players' bats, the team also stuck a sign on one encouraging players and clubhouse visitors to "push."
The stunt was vigorously defended by team manager Ozzie Guillen, whose version of the old I'm-sorry-if-anyone-was-offended copout was a masterpiece of douchebaggery. Some highlights, via the Chicago Sun-Times:
"I'm sure it wasn't done to disrespect anyone," Guillen said Monday. "Everyone in the clubhouse, 100 percent of the people in the clubhouse, they are 18 years old and that's a private thing. If the players do it in the dugout so everyone in the public could see it, or did it in the hotel lobby . . . we did it in the clubhouse. A lot of worse things happen in the clubhouse. I don't really know why people are making it a big deal. If people got their feelings hurt because of that . . . they don't really know much about baseball."
Exactly! Of course! Really, what's the harm here, ladies? It's not like the blow-up dolls were in the lobby! And, as the always-sensitive Deadspin reminds us, there was a time when a true slumpbuster was defined as the ugliest woman a player could sleep with. So, you know, let's listen to Guillen and count our blessings, shall we?
Next up, we've got the WNBA, whose players, though clearly wearing their game faces, are now being trained in putting on an entirely different kind of face. League president Donna Orender has encouraged this year's rookies to attend courses on fashion and makeup as part of their orientation.
The Chicago Tribune article on the league's new preoccupation with making its athletes more "professional" (Orender's word) and feminine points out that female athletes are regularly marketed with at least as much of an emphasis on their appearance and sex appeal as on their prowess, name-checking Anna Kournikova as one notable who managed to become the face of her sport while never winning a significant title. It also notes that with salaries that, in the world of professional basketball, are incredibly paltry—number-one draft pick Candace Parker will only pull in about $44K for the season—WNBA rookies must depend on lucrative endorsements to help make both their names and their bankbooks grow.
Veronica at Viva la Feminista, for one, is pissed:
After cooling off from my initial shock and anger, I realized that this is just one more step in the craptastic direction of making some of the strongest and best athletes in the world into cheesecake pin-ups.... I've been musing in my head the idea and fact that girls today can jump from their pink dresses into cleats without much thought, so why am I so pissed? I'm pissed because I fear that the focus on these athletes’ outer appearance reduces the positive influence of sports and is downplaying their achievements on the court.
Read the rest of her post, and revel in the conflictedness. We want to see the WNBA succeed and flourish, and we want female athletes to inspire other women and girls to join their ranks. But it's undeniable that the easiest route to WNBA success is increased broadcast time and copious product endorsements, and equally undeniable that women's sports become most visible because of their most visible players—soccer's Mia Hamm, softball's Jennie Finch—and those visible players are hyped because of their conventionally attractive, feminine attributes and the fact that they appeal as much to male sportswriters as to preteen girl fans and their parents. Susan Ziegler, a professor of sports psychology quoted in the Tribune piece, points out further that the homophobia endemic to women's sports makes appearing to be straight a challenge that leagues like the WBNA are trying to face head-on, saying "No. 1 is, of course, the need for the image of WNBA players to be seen as real women." (Oof, Susan—couldn't you have at least air-quoted that?)
We'll see whether WUSA—the Women's United Soccer Association, which folded several years back due to an inability to drum up broadcast deals and game attendance (despite the fame of such girl-power icons as Hamm and Brandi Chastain) and which is scheduled for a 2009 comeback—follows suit in the glossing-and-primping plan. Until then, I'm with Ziegler, who when asked by the Tribune how the WNBA should be marketing rookie star Parker, said, "As the top athlete in the country. Leave it at that."
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