It’s only one day into the Olympics and I’m already feeling put off by the sexism female athletes still face as they compete  in the games.

First, it was the revelation that many countries were flying their male athletes first class while the women’s teams (even those with much more success in their respective sports) flew economy.

Second, Australian newspapers decided to focus on the weight, rather than amazing Olympic career, of swimmer Leisel Jones. Thus reminding us, as Chloe at Feministing points out,

that no matter how accomplished a woman is, no matter how talented, how skilled, how strong, how tenacious, how gutsy, she is not exempt from the rules of modern femininity. Not even during the Olympic Games. She has to be skinny and beautiful before she can be recognized for being any of those other things, and if she isn’t skinny and beautiful, we’ll ignore her guts and tenacity and talent and dedication and waste our time debating whether or not she’s gained weight during the twelve years she’s been in the public eye.

And today I read an article in the LA Times about how Hope Solo, goal keeper for the U.S. women’s soccer team, is in a “catfight” with Brandi Chastain on Twitter over comments Chastain made while broadcasting the U.S.-Colombia match. Because when a woman expresses an opinion involving another woman they are like screeching cats. While the sexist term “catfight” does not appear in the article, it not-so-well hidden in the URL.

Who doesn’t love a good catfight? Erin Gloria Ryan dares to pose this question over at Jezebel in her post, “America Loves a Crying Gymnast.”

America loves a crying gymnast because a crying gymnast cries because she’s beaten someone, or lost to someone, another girl who is probably also crying. They’re the end result of a female-female rivalry — who doesn’t love a good catfight? — and the media loves to manufacture catfights even where they don’t necessarily exist.

Let’s hope this list doesn’t just continue to grow as we get deeper into the Games (it will). After all, this is the first Olympics in which women are represented on every team and the U.S. team consists of more men than women. Let’s cover them as athletes, rather than lady athletes, mmmkay?
UPDATE (7.30.12): Check out this great piece by Meg Heery about sexism in the Olympic coverage: London 2012, Day 2: Women Win, Not Unicorns. It reminded me of the finding that female athletes’ successes are attributed to luck, while male athletes’ successes are attributed to skill by the commentators.

What have you noticed about the Olympics coverage?

University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team won their 89th straight NCAA game last night, breaking John Wooden’s UCLA men’s streak of 88 games from 37 years ago. Congratulations to these world class athletes. Your hard work and dedication is inspiring. Here’s to other teams being compared to you (instead of vice versa) for a while.

My first question is, had you heard about it?

The sports columnist for my local paper wants to assure you that the reason this story isn’t getting much press has nothing to do with sexism or misogyny, but rather, apathy.

Geno Auriemma imagines an enemy that doesn’t exist. Running short of worthy opponents, Connecticut’s all-conquering women’s basketball coach has constructed a straw chauvinist, a mythological misogynist who can’t bear the thought of females surpassing the record winning streak of John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins.

Frankly, your typical testosterone-laden troglodyte is not threatened by UConn’s success because it has barely registered on his brain. He was not ‘having a heart attack,’ as Auriemma put it Saturday, ‘because a bunch of women are threatening to break a men’s record,’ nor did he wail or gnash his teeth when that threat was carried out Tuesday night in Connecticut’s 93-62 thumping of Florida State.

Neanderthal Man is not angry, agitated or anxious. What he is, at his primal core, is apathetic.

Mr. Sullivan admits that it’s a pity that sports fans are uninterested in the Huskies’ accomplishments, but he defends their right to be indifferent. But how can he explain the media’s lack of coverage of this very newsworthy event? Where he goes wrong is his inability to make the connection between apathy (or anger, even though he denies it’s there) and the gender of the athletes. That’s sexism. It’s so ingrained in him that he can’t even see it.

Imagine for a moment that you have a son and a daughter who are both talented musicians. They perform concerts on separate days and the local newspaper only covers your son’s concert. Would you tell your daughter not to worry, that people aren’t angry with her musical talents (or the fact that she’s better than her brother), they just don’t care about girls’ accomplishments. Is this an explanation you would expect your daughter to understand?

Does my example seem far fetched and exaggerated? Tell that to Alissa Johnson, one of the US’s top five women ski jumpers who was forced to attend this year’s Olympics in support of her brother rather than as an athlete, because there is no women’s team. The women ski jumpers were not allowed to compete in this year’s Olympics, despite the fact that the record for the longest jump is held by a woman, Lindsey Van. The gatekeepers, usually men (in this case the IOC), are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy with regard to women’s sports.

As veteran jumper Jessica Jerome, 23, of Park City points out, without being in the Olympics, it’s tough to develop to the level that the IOC seems to want of her sport. “People don’t understand the seriousness of a World Cup title, or a World Championship medal; they just want to see people at the Olympics. So without the Olympics, you’re not going to get the funding. You’re not going to get the support,” she says. “It’s a catch-22.”

The fact is that there are many men, sports reporters even, who feel very threatened by the accomplishments of women athletes. David Whitley of FanHouse wrote:

“Rule No. 1 in determining whether an activity is a sport: If the best female in the world can beat the best male in the world, it doesn’t qualify.”

Mark Potach feels so threatened by the idea that women could ever beat a men’s record that he feels the need to attack the team’s physical abilities, to remind them of their place:

But if Geno wants to continue the charade of breaking the men’s record, he’s going to have to start playing some men’s teams. I think he knows how ugly that would get. There are probably 10 high school teams in the city that could beat the Connecticut women.

David Whitley and Mark Potach are not straw chauvinists, Mr. Sullivan. And that’s not apathy Potach is expressing. These two men are actively working to keep women’s sports less popular than men’s. Perhaps what some don’t realize about apathy is that it can be feigned. If we pretend not to notice women’s accomplishments, we don’t have to admit that they are just as good, if not better, than the men. Another thing he overlooks is the danger in this perceived apathy. The news media makes decisions every day about whose accomplishments matter. Our daughters are paying attention. By accepting the idea that people don’t care about UConn’s record, you’re making it so.

Yesterday, in Tiger Woods’ apology for (getting caught in) his marital infidelity, he made the following statement:

I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled. Thanks to money and fame, I didn’t have to go far to find them, he confessed. I was wrong. I was foolish. I don’t get to play by different rules.

He felt he was entitled. To what? To having any woman that he wanted be sexually available to him. Why? Because he is a wealthy, famous male athlete and that gives him the proverbial all-access pass to what he wants whenever he wants it. It is widely known that high school athletes on recruitment trips to prospective colleges are often offered women as part of the ‘perks’ of attending that college. Current Legal Developments in the Cal State system note:

…part of the strategy for recruiting high school athletes to play football at the university was to promise them alcohol and sex during their campus visit. Female ‘ambassadors’ were asked to escort the recruits around campus and to make sure that they ‘had a good time.’ One ambassador apparently arranged for several football players and recruits, who had been drinking, to visit Simpson’s apartment. Ms. Simpson and Ms. Gilmore were allegedly sexually assaulted and were too intoxicated to consent.

According to this same article, the media has reported on this widespread policy of ‘showing recruits a good time’ since (at least) 1983, yet the practice appears to continue unchecked today. Woods hit the nail on the head with regard to his sense of entitlement toward women, but he is wrong about male athletes and the rules. We clearly judge male athletes’ behavior by a different set of standards.

“There is a mentality among athletes that ‘we can get away with this, that no one is going to challenge us because we are student athletes,’” said Richard Lapchick, professor at the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida. (ABC News)

The general population has a conviction rate of 80%. The conviction rate of an athlete is 38%. (Benedict/Crosset Study)

The discourse surrounding male athletes’ transgressions sends them a clear message that we’re willing to turn the other cheek, as long as their behavior does not get in the way of their athletic performance or, as in Tiger’s case, their sponsors’ ability to package and sell their image for millions. But is this true only for athletes?

But former college athlete and coach Peter Roby, director of Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society, disagreed that this is a problem for athletes specifically. The former basketball player for Dartmouth College said damning the athletes misses the larger point. This is how society instructs men in general to behave, he said, and athletes have merely achieved the pinnacle of that goal. (ABC News)

The society that teaches male athletes to view women as prizes they’ve earned is incapable of viewing women, female athletes included, as anything but sexual objects for consumption. Just ask Lindsey Vonn.

San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman was arrested early this morning for allegedly choking and restraining Tila “Tequila” Nguyen. The coverage on sports sites unsurprisingly focuses on how this will hurt Merriman’s team, and frustration that this could happen so close to the start of the season. According to SR at the Bleacher Report:

The real questions is…What in the world was Merriman thinking? After all this time in working to come back into the NFL, why would he do something so stupid to not only hurt himself, but his team as well?

To the author’s credit, he does assert that NFL players can’t be choking women and getting away with it. But his immediately concern for the player and the team, with very little consideration for the health of the alleged victim (a sentiment echoed by several articles) is staggering.

Check out this poll:

MerrimanPoll

Misogyny in the sports world is thriving. If you have any doubts, read the comments section of any article covering this story. As a woman who loves sports, it’s growing harder to support any professional team because they condone violence against women.

Late last year, Brian Giles, outfielder for the San Diego Padres, faced assault charges by his former girlfriend. At first, the Padres came out with a strong statement insisting that they would not condone any form of violence against women and, much like the Chargers are doing, vowing to watch the case carefully as it unfolded. Despite video evidence showing Brian Giles throwing his girlfriend on the ground in a public place, the story was swept under the rug. At first, I tried not to support the Padres, a team I’ve rooted for my entire life. Eventually, I started watching games again, secretly rooting against Brian Giles each time he played. But why am I forced to choose between loving professional sports and condoning violence against women?

Sadly, Michael Vick has faced a much stronger backlash for his role in dog fighting than any recent athlete accused of violence against women. Is it because no one was able to turn the tables in the Vick case and blame the dogs? Shawne Merriman’s alleged attack on his girlfriend happened this morning. How long will it take for the media to blame his victim and then forget anything ever happened? Michael Vick has inspired boycotts and angry petitions from sports fans and non-fans alike.� Where’s the “NFL Fans Against Violence Against Women” group?

In a nail-biting pitcher’s duel today, it took the US softball team extra innings to defeat Japan.

If you follow softball, you can probably name some players on the team. If you don’t, you might be able to name one.

Jennie Finch may be the face of women’s softball but it is U.S. team mate Crystl Bustos whose heart provides the beat for the most dominating team at the Beijing Games.

While Finch and many of her team mates look as if they just walked out of swimsuit photo shoot (Finch turned down an offer to pose for Playboy), Bustos’s allure is on the baseball diamond and she makes no apologies for it. (Guardian)
So if Jennie Finch is the face, Crystl Bustos is the body, right? Well, no, because they not-so-subtly suggest here that it’s her teammates (not her) that look like they could pose in swimsuits. And why would she apologize for doing her thing on the field?
Looking as if she could bench press any one of her team mates with her thick tattooed arms, Bustos admits she was well known to local police growing up in California and was a regular visitor to the principal’s office for fighting.
So…she’s scary and mean and therefore a bad role model and that’s why she can’t be the face of softball?
But the woman Sport Illustrated as labelled the Babe Ruth of softball, is by all accounts a slugger with a heart of gold.
“She is probably the most giving, caring person I have ever met in this game,” U.S. coach Mike Candrea told Reuters. “She gives back much more than she ever takes from this game.
Oh.  Well, hmm…she really seems to be the total package on and off the field. What’s stopping Bustos from being the next face of USA softball?
See if you can guess from the following tidbits:
With her bruising physique and pulverizing swing, she’s been called softball’s Babe Ruth — with a braided ponytail. (NBC Olympics)
Bustos was born to hit, and no woman in the history of softball has ever hit home runs like she has. A skinny, left-handed slap hitter as a kid, Bustos made herself a power hitter through hard work. (NBC Olympics)
And on a team of women with sculpted bodies and refined features, the robust, 5-foot-7 Bustos stands out — and not just because of her tattoos. She’s the center on a squad of quarterbacks and running backs. (NBC Olympics)
For years, she has been painted in one dimension, as a bruising basher, the Babe Ruth of softball, a top-heavy woman wielding a wicked stick. She is an attention grabber, mostly because of her towering home runs and partly because she stands out among teammates that generally look as if they could have belonged to the same sorority. (NY Times)
Okay, and this one probably gives it away:
If you’ve seen even a moment of softball highlights, you’ve probably noticed Bustos, who is listed at 225 pounds, appears to weigh significantly more than that, and packs serious power at the plate. (Fanhouse)
These articles don’t exactly dance around the fact that Bustos isn’t skinny. They do this by talking about her strong arms, a physical feature that most softball players have. They use words like “thick,” “bruising,” and “robust.” They compare her to her teammates. They compare them in such a way that insults all involved, by focusing on their physical characteristics and reducing most of them to just “pretty faces,” rather than the world-class athletes that they are.
Crystl Bustos is the best example of an Olympian that there is, as evidenced by the praise of her teammates and her performance on the field. She comes through in clutch moments and is the epitome of a professional athlete. She will do more for softball off the field, by reaching out to kids and being herself, than any swimsuit spread could do.  The fans that are drawn in my the photo spread don’t stick around; they move on to the next trendy “face of the game.” Real sports fans know that it isn’t faces that win games, it’s hearts.
Photo by Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

Photo by Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

Fresno State University (in California) thought it could get away with discriminating against three female coaches based on their genders and sexual orientations. It happens all the time without recourse, so why would this time be any different? Turns out they were wrong in a big way, to the tune of several million dollars.

There have been many victories under Title IX — the 1972 legislation that commanded federally funded educational institutions not to sex-discriminate in any area, including sports — but the three cases that rocked Fresno State University’s sports department last year stand out for their enormity.

Read more from Michele Kort’s article here.

This story speaks for itself.

Blake Wolf

Photo by: Blake Wolf

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