Sunday, August 7, 2011

SMU Settles Lawsuit with Former Women's Baksetball Player

Here is a news report on the conclusion of a lawsuit I first wrote about in September, 2008. You can see that blog post here for more specific information about the former player's allegations.

The university and coach Rompola will not comment and the university claims it did nothing wrong in this case. The settlement provides the player, Jennifer Colli, with a $19,213 settlement which is the equivalent of one semester of financial aid.

Who knows what really happened here. I guess we can hope that the fact that a player stepped forward to challenge what she perceived as anti-lesbian discrimination by her coach and the failure of the university athletic department to properly investigate her allegations will serve as a warning to other coaches and schools: Athletes and their parents these days are more likely to object to and challenge what they experience as discrimination in sport based on sexual orientation.

Schools and coaches that hope to avoid discrimination lawsuits should educate athletic staff, adopt policy that protects athletes and coaches from discrimination based on sexual orientation and then follow through to make sure these policies are followed by everyone in the athletic department.

The tendency when an athlete charges sexual orientation discrimination against a coach, it seems to me, is for the athletic department to close ranks around the coach rather than conduct an impartial and thorough investigation of the charges. The same seems to hold true for cases in which coaches charge the athletic department with sexual orientation discrimination: The school closes ranks around the AD, as appears to be the case in the Katie Brenny lawsuit currently on-going at the University of Minnesota. It would be a lot less expensive and result in less negative publicity and attention if schools would take a proactive stance on education and policy development related to discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Hat Tip to Women's Hoop Blog for bringing this to my attention.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Sex And Selling Women’s Sports

The Nation magazine has a special issue on the role and impact of sport on U.S. culture edited by Dave Zirin. One of the articles in this issue is “Sex Sells Sex, Not Women’s Sports” by University of Minnesota sport scholar Mary Jo Kane. Kane has conducted research using focus groups differentiated by gender and age to debunk the common assumption that sexualizing woman athletes or downplaying their athleticism are necessary to sell tickets, especially to the demographic coveted by corporate sponsors who advertise to sport audiences : Young males. You can read her article here and see a short slide show of the different ways women athletes are portrayed in the media here.

Kane’s research shows that sex does not sell women’s sports. Sex sells sex. Young men who think Serena Williams, Lindsay Vonn and Danica Patrick are hot don’t necessarily become fans of women’s sports. They just become fans of sexy pictures of these women. Moreover representations of women athletes in sexy, pornographic or non-athletic poses turn off women’s sports core audience: women and older men.

Some of the comments in reaction to Kane’s article reflect how resistant many men and some women are to the results of Kane’s research. Kane is derided as a humorless feminist who should lighten up and stop trying to take the fun and titillation out of women’s sport.

I want to challenge these folks to watch a replay (if they didn’t watch it live) of the USA matches against Brazil and Japan in recent Women’s World Cup. Depending on your preferences, you might think Hope Solo or Amy Wambach are sexy women, but the riveting, heart stopping, scream yourself hoarse reaction to these games came from the competition itself and how well the amazing athletes on all teams played the game. It wasn’t about the make-up, the pony tails (actually some women actually had short hair), who had a husband and children or who posed naked in Playboy. It was about tough and determined athletes playing their hearts out and keeping us on the edge of our seats (or in my case leaping around the living room trying to help them get the damn ball in the net).

That, my friends, is what sells tickets and garners high TV ratings, not seeing Hope Solo or Amy Wambach lying half-naked on a beach with soccer balls placed strategically in front of her breasts and pubic area. Can we please learn something from the Women’s World Cup and from Dr. Kane’s research: Exciting competition, whether the athletes are men or women sells sports. Portraying athletes in the media as the strong, tough, talented, competitive people they are sells sports.

You young guys who are fixated on seeing women in stale, posed soft porn photo shoots, go somewhere else to get your porn fix. You are not a real sports fan unless you can appreciate excellence regardless of the gender of the athletes you are watching. Plus, athletic women playing at the top of their game are pretty sexy just as they are. One doesn’t exclude the other, but if powerful women are scary to you, it might not be your cup of tea.