Monday, March 31, 2008

A Pregnant Pause on the Way to Tampa

I’m a University of Maryland grad and a big women’s college basketball fan so that means I’m pretty darned excited about the Terps playing in the NCAA tournament. They had a great game on Saturday (finally) after looking a little raggedity in the first two wins. On to the Elite Eight tonight against Stanford.

If you are a women’s basketball fan, it would be impossible not to know that Maryland Coach Brenda Frese spent most of the season pregnant with twins. They were finally born five and a half weeks ago so Brenda is back on the sideline coaching the team.

I bet you are wondering where I am going with this. Patience, please.

During the Maryland game with Vanderbilt on Saturday, the male commentator ( I can’t remember his name) seemed to me to be obsessed with the idea that Brenda was actually back coaching after giving birth to twins 5 ½ weeks ago. I have never given birth to one baby let along two at once, so it is conceivable that I have no idea what I am talking about, but it seems to me that Brenda is probably a lot more comfortable now. I bet she is much more able to concentrate on coaching than when she was still carrying the twins and sitting on the sidelines in an office chair looking like a very uncomfortable Joba the Hut. Now that must have been difficult. From the comments of this guy, you’d think Brenda had made a miraculous recovery from a life-threatening disease.

In addition to his nattering on about how amazing it was that Brenda could stand, walk, shout instructions to the team for the whole entire game, we saw footage of Brenda telling the team she was pregnant, shots of Brenda and her husband bottle-feeding the twins, shots of Maryland players holding the twins and her husband watching the game and also an interview in which he raved about how wonderful a mom Brenda is.

I think it is great that Brenda Frese is married and gave birth to the twin boys during the season and that she is now back on the sidelines to coach the team during the tournament. I think it is wonderful that her husband is supportive of her as a coach and a mother. I love it when we get personal profile stories about coaches and players and their lives off the court. I do wonder if there would be the same whoop-dee-do if a male coach became a new parent during the season. If we would see stories about him and his wife feeding the babies, the players holding the babies. Maybe we would. I’m just wondering.

Still wondering where I’m going? Ok, here it is. Let’s imagine that a woman coach is a lesbian. Let’s imagine that she is pregnant and gives birth during the season and that her wife (we’ll say she lives in Massachusetts and can get married) is also supportive of her as a coach and a mother. What kind of coverage would we see? I know it is difficult to imagine such a scenario in the first place because all the lesbian coaches are in the closet so it would be quite a moment to have one announce that she is a lesbian let alone a pregnant one.

My point is that heterosexual coaches, women and men, get to share their personal lives – their husbands, their children – and it is a fun side story. Lesbian and gay coaches rarely do. When they do it is considered brave or risky. Many still perceive identifying themselves as lesbians or gay men, let alone sharing anything about their personal lives, a professional threat. And it might be. Will it become grist for the negative recruiting mill? Will their sexuality become the focus of media attention rather than their coaching record? Will it be a distraction for the team? Will it be perceived as “flaunting their lifestyle?”

Profiles of heterosexual coaches in media guides often include references to their spouse and children: Coach Straight lives in East Happy Valley with her husband and two children. Profiles of lesbian and gay coaches are devoid of family information: Coach Queer lives in East Closetville with her cat, Sneakers. The contrast is sometimes used as a clue to parents and recruits trying to figure out where the gay coaches are and maybe the straight married coaches include this information on purpose as a way to announce their heterosexuality.

Here’s an ESPN side story I’d like to see:

“Coach Comfortable Shoes gave birth to twins 5 ½ weeks ago. Her wife, Susie Shorthair, sitting prominently behind the team, tells us that they are sleep-deprived but so happy to be moms. The team is ga-ga over the new members of the family and happy that Coach Comfortable Shoes is courtside again with a recent 5 year contract extension. After having landed the top high school recruit in the country last week, the future looks bright for the team and for the Comfortable Shoes-Shorthair family.”


E Leb said...

This post is one of the reasons I love reading your blog. As someone who lives in a open, progressive community (Oakland/SF) and works in an open, progressive athletic department (Mills College), it's important to be reminded of the slippery heterosexism (in addition to the outright homophobia) that happens all around us.

The one thing I would love to see in your example: more than two gay parents supporting the new mom to break out of the nuclear family/ hetero-normative mold.

Thanks, Pat!

Pat Griffin said...

Thanks, el!

ken said...

I think el makes a good point regarding the support new parents receive. We like to think that the normative two-parent family structure (no matter the gender of the parents) has it all under control even when we know people like nannies and extended family and friends are usually part of the "family." After all if Frese is on the sidelines coaching and her husband is in the stands supporting, who's at home taking care of the twins??

Pat Griffin said...

ken, you and el make a good point about class issues and the need for extended family structures to support all families better. I couldn't agree more. I was just harping on the invisibility/heterosexual privilege thing (again).

s. said...

Lovely post. Well said. My wife (yay Canada!) and I had essentially the same discussion several times while we were in Spokane. It's as if the media is busy saying "Oh, look how wonderful and STRAIGHT Brenda is!"

Anonymous said...

Excellent post! I was afraid ESPN cameras had been in the delivery room and we were going to see Brenda Frese give birth.

I was amazed to learn last night that Pat Summitt had her son Tyler via immaculate conception. The halftime ESPN feature on mother and son did not mention or show a photo of dad, R. B. Summitt.

Divorce = disappeared parent, I guess. Another example of ESPN's family values?

ken said...

There WERE ESPN cameras in the delivery room. You must have missed the footage ESPN aired during the games. We didn't see actual birth but they were there before and after!
Regarding Pat Summitt's missing ex, I see it more as a sexuality thing. Mentioning the ex reminds people that she's single now which calls into question her sexuality. You don't know how many hits I get on my blog from people searching for "gail goestenkors divorced gay (or lesbian)."

Anonymous said...

KEN: when ESPN was in the delivery room, I must have had my eyes shut tight and the sound muted!

After Atalanta, your blog, looks fascinating. While waiting for the Final Four, I'll be reading.

PAT: I thought I was the only one who always read the last paragraphs of women coaches' official bios, looking for a LACK of personal information!

Unknown said...

Carol Anne, I do that too. It's a major source of 'information' on gay coaches and players. Boooo.

Also, if any of you are tennis fans you'll recognize the Brenda Frese phenomenon from the Lindsay Davenport coverage. What an absolute miracle that a rich white woman can go back to her physically demanding yet cushy job (complete with the best medical team money can buy) and be successful after *gasp* having a baby.

Pat, thanks so much for this blog. I'm a regular reader and linker and it is great to see someone express what many of us are thinking.

Pat Griffin said...

Thank you all for your comments. It is great to know my blog is getting a read! Pat

s. said...

For a glaring contrast in coach profiles, check out Tara's profile in the WaPo :

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