Tag Archives: athletics

Oh, joy. One whole day.

Whatever you might have thought of the Super Bowl, at least it’s a chance for the people of Seattle to celebrate their first championship in pro sports in 35 years, right?

Wrong.

Although you wouldn’t know it from reports from ESPN, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, or a number of other media outlets, this is in fact the third Seattle pro championship since the 1979 SuperSonics won in the NBA. The Seattle Storm of the WNBA won their league in 2004 and 2010.

Of course, the Storm are used to being ignored. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen people write about their dream of returning pro basketball to Seattle when, unlike the Sonics who moved to Oklahoma in 2008, the Storm never left. But just because they are used to being ignored doesn’t mean they like it.

In fact, Lauren Jackson, one of the all-time WNBA greats, was furious, tweeting “We were good enough then and we are certainly good enough now to be acknowledged.” They certainly were. The 2010 team went 28-6 during the regular season, and were undefeated at home through the year and undefeated anywhere during the post-season. WNBA fans of other teams (as I ruefully remember!) were reduced to hoping and praying for their teams all the while shaking their heads in admiration.

With play of that quality, if coverage of women’s sports were handled differently, things might be different. In her recent op-ed, Irish track star Derval O’Rourke noted that women receive about 5% of sports coverage, and the focus is still far too often on an athlete’s appearance. And those who offer the rationalization that “sex pays” might be interested to know that in her article, O’Rourke also notes that women athletes receive a miniscule 0.5% of sponsorship revenue. A 2012 study at Syracuse “found that American companies rarely employ female athletes as spokespeople, and when they do, they don’t do it well.” Furthermore, the study raises the question of whether or not sex even pays from the perspective of advertisers, finding that “ads highlighting sex appeal impacted consumers negatively, especially when female consumers compared themselves to the spokesperson. The authors suggested that highlighting the similarities between the endorser and the targeted consumer might be a more effective strategy.”

Not to mention, even if sex did pay, would that make it right? Certainly, the sexualization of female athletes not only belittles them but also potentially opens them up to “a barrage of online abuse,” as Rachel Oakes-Ash commented in her excellent article on Australian cricket player Ellyse Perry.

Meanwhile, the WNBA is just emerging from a holding pattern. As I was first writing this blog, their Collective Bargaining Agreement had expired, the future of the Los Angeles Sparks was up in the air, and league officials had not yet issued a schedule for the upcoming season (which normally begins in May) nor scheduled a date for the draft (which usually takes place quite soon after March Madness). David Stern, a longtime advocate and supporter of the WNBA, has retired from his position as NBA Commissioner, which added an extra note of uncertainty. However, as I am rewriting this blog, a press conference has been scheduled and it appears that a group including Magic Johnson and an owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers is ready to purchase the Sparks and keep them in LA. This would enable the league to start making their schedule, and is a relief for all involved.

Still, this is one of the premier women’s professional leagues in the world, and the longest-running women’s professional league in U.S. history. Fourteen years into the 21st century. Although everything seems to have worked out for the best, it does give one pause.

During class on Tuesday, I mentioned National Girls and Women in Sports Day to two of my students, and their eyes lit up and one bounced up and down in her seat. It wasn’t long, though, before one of them said, “We need more field hockey coverage on television.” and the other said, “Exactly. And lacrosse. You can only find men’s lacrosse.” There’s no question in my mind that we need to build support for and viewership of women’s sports, not just for these girls, not even just for girls and women, but really for all of us.

By all means, let’s take the time today to celebrate girls and women who enjoy, practice, and excel at sports. And as we anticipate the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, we know there will be plenty of opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of elite female athletes. The key will be to build on these moments until women’s sports are just as integrated into the daily fabric of our collective lives as men’s sports.

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Filed under Current Events, Gender, On Athletics, Women in media

Nails in the Coffin?

As many of you may know, and to no one’s surprise who follows women’s basketball, Brittney Griner, a 6’8” Senior from Baylor, was the first player to be chosen in the 2013 WNBA draft and will play for the Phoenix Mercury. With only three rounds and only 12 teams drafting, very few players are invited to attend in person, but of course Ms. Griner was there, all smiles, in a white tuxedo.

Two days later, during the course of an interview with “Sports Illustrated,” Ms. Griner was asked why she felt sexuality was no big deal in women’s sports. She responded, “I really couldn’t give an answer on why that’s so different. Being one that’s out, it’s just being who you are.” Asked if making the decision to come out had been difficult, she said, “It really wasn’t too difficult, I wouldn’t say I was hiding or anything like that. I’ve always been open about who I am and my sexuality. So, it wasn’t hard at all.” Though the interview received a fair amount of attention on social media, it received attention more for the low-key “no big deal” feeling to the moment than for the news itself. As Wesley Morris said in his article “Brittney Griner and the Quiet Queering of Professional Sports,” “Maybe it was amazing for its utter whateverness.”

Mr. Morris continued to point out that Ms. Griner had painted her fingernails “a shade of orange that might have been awkward had she been picked up by, say, the Atlanta Dream instead of the Mercury.” To him, the combination of the nail polish and the tux emphasized that Ms. Griner was not playing dress-up but was simply expressing who she is. In his eyes, this is simply the confirmation of a quiet revolution, what he calls “the small but increasing genderlessness in professional sports.” He continues to affirm that “This younger generation of gay athletes — accustomed to degrees of cultural, social, and legal inclusion — better knows the relative personal normalcy of being gay than the crisis and melodrama of telling the world you’ve been living a lie. More and more straight ones have gay friends, classmates, cousins, siblings, and parents.”

The discussion may get a bit tricky when you consider that sexuality and gender aren’t the same thing, though of course, for most people, they are related. And of course, fashion is only significant to the extent that a person deliberately chooses their appearance to reflect their true authentic selves. But Mr. Morris’s fundamental hypothesis – that while we might have been expecting the closet to be smashed open in men’s sports, perhaps the revolution may have already been quietly going on for a while as shown by a certain breaking of gender-based fashion rules – is intriguing. Certainly, if the world of men’s professional sports can embrace gay people wholly and unequivocally, that has the potential to create a major shift in public opinion – one which has also, it must be acknowledged, already been taking place slowly but surely for some time.

And maybe women’s sports are indeed showing the way.

The Humanities 7 class, at one point last Fall, was considering holding a “Come as you are” day. They abandoned the idea for two principal reasons. One, that several people were concerned it might not be taken seriously and become just another excuse to wear sweatpants. Two, that several people were confused as to why anyone wouldn’t “come as you are” in the first place. Their honesty and self-confidence were both refreshing. For Brittney Griner, too, it seems, every day is a “Come as you are” day. Maybe those orange fingernails are helping close the lid on homophobia. Maybe transphobia will meet the same fate soon after.

And maybe my students and their generation will help nail the lid shut.

Once and for all.

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Filed under Athletics, Gender, In the Classroom, On Athletics, On Education, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Gender Matters

You could say I was frustrated. On the way home from Virginia on Sunday, April 7, at a gas station near Scranton, I had downloaded first the CBS Sports app and then the ESPN Sports app, but was unable to tune in to the UConnNotre Dame game. Baseball, NBA, and discussions about baseball and the NBA – and men’s college basketball – abounded across my virtual dial. However, nowhere could I find a live broadcast of the women’s Division-I basketball semi-final game even though it featured one of the premier rivalries in sports.

Shaking my head, I sent out a general tweet asking my friends to keep me informed of the half-time and final scores, started up my car, and got back on the road. Jeremy Deason, our former Athletic Director, and Susie Highley, a middle school teacher friend from Indiana, would both oblige, updating me every 10 basketball minutes or so. I knew Liz Feeley, our Director of Development and a former Notre Dame coach, had been nervous with excitement and anticipation all day, and I decided if only one of us was to be able to experience the game firsthand, it should be her. She must have been experiencing her own frustration, though, since Notre Dame ended up falling to UConn by nearly 20 points, a highly atypical margin from two teams who had produced a one-point game, a triple-overtime game, and a two-point game over the course of the season (all three games going to Notre Dame).

And so it was that Tuesday night, April 9, I was sitting with my legs stretched out on the couch, my computer balanced on my lap as I worked on my preps, my cat scrunched between my legs with her chin on my ankles, my lucky Connecticut Sun cap on my head, watching the pre-game show with an edge of excitement and anticipation. They were profiling Louisville’s star point guard Shoni Schimmel, and in my haze of trying to think what might be a fun activity for my French 2 class to learn the new imparfait tense, I heard one announcer mention that at age six, she was playing with boys. I looked up half-curious, half-perturbed, to see where they would go with this inane insight. Luckily, they dropped that line of thought quickly and focused on her career and her accomplishments. But the moment left me thinking.

Recently, there was a bit of controversy over a statement by Mark Cuban that he would consider drafting Brittney Griner, the 6’8” Baylor senior who has dominated the game from her freshman year, for his NBA team the Mavericks. Part of the controversy, of course, was whether she was genuinely good enough to play in the NBA. But another part of the controversy was whether or not she should even try. Some people felt she should go for it, making the point that there are women good enough to play with the guys. Others felt she should go for it, making the point that one should follow one’s opportunities wherever they lead. Still others felt she should stick to the WNBA, a lifelong dream of hers and one of the premier women’s leagues in the world, adding the cachet that a player of her quality can bring even to a well-established league with many stars.

Pat Summitt, the retired coach of the women’s basketball team at the University of Tennessee, accumulated 1098 victories during her career, more than any other Division-I basketball coach. From time to time, the question would come up: Could she coach men? The general consensus was divided between two opinions – one the one hand, people believing that of course she could coach men, and on the other hand, people wondering what the heck kind of question is that anyway?! Because after all, she is the winningest coach in history. She loved her job, she loved her players, and she was proud of what they accomplished. She has nothing to prove. And besides, the question suggests that coaching men is tougher and/or somehow more important than coaching women. Granted, the men’s game is awash in much more money than the women’s game, and coaches (and, at the professional level, players) make much more on the men’s side. But that’s just money and has nothing to do with actual importance.

That said, as women’s basketball gains in respect and in financial resources, more and more men are drawn to coaching women, and the percentage of women coaches has fallen even as no woman to my knowledge has yet coached a men’s team at the Division-I college or professional level. That is a disparity worth noting – and worth correcting.

Recently, browsing through a Barnes and Noble bookstore, I picked up Pat Summitt’s autobiography, Sum it Up: A Thousand and Ninety-Eight Victories, a Couple of Irrelevant Losses, and a Life in Perspective. In it, she describes a moment when she was doing a question-and-answer session and one person asked her “How do you coach women?” She fixed him with her Gaze and responded with perhaps a tinge of scorn, “You don’t coach women, you coach basketball.”

I remember taking my son and my nephew to their first WNBA game, the Connecticut Sun vs. the Phoenix Mercury right after Phoenix had taken UConn alumna Diana Taurasi in the draft. I can still picture the moment. Standing right in front of us, Taurasi caught a pass and redirected the ball toward a teammate in one impossibly quick flick of her fingertips. My nephew turned to me and excitedly asked, “Who is that?” (My son already knew.)

Good basketball is indeed good basketball, whoever plays it and whoever coaches it, and anyone I know who has truly given the women’s game a chance has enjoyed it. Yet, for most fans, and apparently for most pro team owners and college presidents (who hire coaches), gender still matters. That Shoni Schimel played with boys at age six should be entirely beside the point. Whether or not Pat Summitt could have coached men should be entirely beside the point. Whether or not Brittney Griner could play in the NBA should be entirely beside the point. Someday, maybe that will be true. Maybe then, CBS Sports and ESPN will see the wisdom of giving women’s sports equal weight.

And maybe then, cars passing me on the highway near Scranton will be able to hear me yelling every time UConn scores.

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P.S. For those who don’t already know and who may be curious, UConn did win the championship, beating Louisville 93-60. This tied coach Geno Auriemma with Pat Summitt for eight championships, the record in women’s ball and two behind overall NCAA Division-I record holder John Wooden.

P.P.S. For those who may be interested, here is a link to the Pat Summitt Foundation which raises money to fight Alzheimer’s Disease.

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Filed under Athletics, Gender, In the Classroom, On Athletics, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School, Women in media

Olympic Heights

The hills up into Conway are starting to feel a little longer than I would like, and I can feel my leg muscles straining to keep the pace I’ve set, a little faster than I would normally choose. But I dig deep and force myself to keep going, maybe even step up the pace slightly. “You don’t get to the Olympics by giving up on yourself,” I tell myself. Eventually, I’m at the spot about two miles out where the road flattens out a bit before finally giving way to a longer downhill, and I enjoy a brief moment of exhilaration as my body shifts into cruise control.

To be clear, I have absolutely no illusions that I am going to the Olympics at my age and fitness level. But that doesn’t mean I can’t draw inspiration from those who are. It’s a scenario that plays out every four summers, one that reminds me of my childhood. How many last-minute buzzer beaters did I sink in the driveway while practicing on my own? How often did I complete a pass to my friend Paul that brought invisible crowds to their feet cheering at the top of their lungs? Whether I was Tony Conigliaro up at bat or Chris Evert nailing a cross-court forehand, there was often an inner sportscaster narrating my every move. It’s a phenomenon noted by Garry Wills in his introduction to The Doonesbury Chronicles, observing that we all have that inner voice and that part of the genius and humour of those early Doonesbury strips was extending that inner sportscaster’s voice to narrate everything we do.

In an episode of “Modern Family” I saw recently, Claire (a mother of three) wryly observed (I am paraphrasing here), “You know that inner voice you have growing up that tells you you’re not good enough? That voice was outside me, and it was my mother’s.” The joke hits home not just because of the delivery but also because of the fundamental truths about girls’ and women’s lives that it reveals. That voice outside them might be the Australian and Japanese Olympic committees determining that men will be flying business class and the women in premium economy. It might be woman beach volleyball players sporting QR codes advertising websites on their bikini bottoms (although the IOC has forbidden this during the actual Games). It might be the Melbourne Herald Sun publicly questioning whether swimmer Leisel Jones has gained too much weight and initiating a reader poll on whether or not she is fat. It might be the continuing disparity in the percentage of photos of female athletes in action vs. male athletes. All this in an Olympic year commonly dubbed “the year of the women.”

Frank Bruni nailed it in his excellent op-ed piece “Women’s Time to Shine” when he wrote, “There’s much to savor in the quadrennial spectacle of the Olympics, which will begin in London next weekend, but perhaps nothing more exhilarating than the way it showcases and celebrates the athleticism of women almost [italics mine] as much as it does the athleticism of men.” We’re certainly getting closer. For the first time, all countries involved are sending female athletes, even Saudi Arabia, and for the first time there will be equal numbers of female and male athletes competing. Women’s boxing is making its Olympic debut.

All this being true, the ultimate goals of true equality and true equity are still a long ways off in many ways. At times, it seems an uphill battle that we will never win. And then we dig deep and refocus in hopeful anticipation of the moment of exhilaration when we realize we have made it.

Or so says my sportscaster within.

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Ninja Women

It’s Sunday morning, February 5, and my Twitter feed is bursting with sports news and opinions. Most are about the Super Bowl, of course, and then, somewhat less mainstream, there’s the one from Talib Kweli which links to an Atlantic article by Max Fisher on “Why Thousands of Iranian Women Are Training to Be Ninjas.”

Why, you may ask, are thousands of Iranian women training to be ninjas? In a word, power. Iran is a country where the supposed inferiority of women is so institutionalized that their testimony counts half as much as that of men. Yet, despite what we may believe in western societies, burqas and chadors hide women surprisingly resistant to 33 years’ worth of efforts to disempower them. Sports, and in particular ninjutsu, are one visible sign of that stubborn resistance. (Fisher)

Is it really that simple? Fisher makes important points but in various comments on the article, readers affirm the strength and power of Muslim women as something that should not be so surprising, remind us that Islam is not inherently misogynistic, and point out other regimes are more repressive than Iran. Additionally, it may be argued, western society is not exactly a perfect model for the encouragement of women athletes.

One of our periodic homeroom rituals is for Martha, an ice hockey player, to announce her games, invite people to come, and/or thank those who did. The rules for girls’ ice hockey are modified to discourage hits and strong checking, and Martha is quietly irritated by that. Her attitude seems to be that it’s part of the game, and to disallow girls to play hockey as it was meant to be played dishonors both girls and the sport.

Meanwhile, Women’s Professional Soccer has just announced it is suspending its season, though they hope to resume play next year. Since its release, the film “Bend it Like Beckham” has been a perennial favourite among my students. When it first came out, the idea that girls could dream of playing soccer professionally was bright and fresh and new and exciting. Then, the Women’s United Soccer Association folded, and part of our discussions became the contrast between the exhilaration and hopefulness of the film and what the reality turned out to be. Still later, WPS formed up and our discussion shifted yet again to include a sort of nervous relief that girls could once again dream of playing professional soccer – as long as the league found a way to stay open. Now…well, we’ll see.

Professional women’s soccer leagues do continue in a number of other countries, and of course professional women basketball players have a plethora of teams to choose from all around the world. Most of these pay much better than the WNBA, where the starting salary is lower than what a rookie teacher makes and the maximum salary is $105,500. Minimum rookie pay in the NBA, in contrast, was $473,604 last year. In theory, our country is at the forefront of women’s rights. Why then is the disparity in professional sports so great?

One common argument is that women’s sports just don’t pay for themselves. It is true that the WNBA has survived longer than any other women’s professional league in part because of the support of the NBA, and that WPS was trying to make it on their own. Poor fan support is often cited as the main reason. My favourite WNBA team, the Connecticut Sun, has an average attendance of 7056 per game. My favourite NBA team, the Boston Celtics, has an average attendance of 18,169. So if the critical factor is fan support, then the Celtics as a team should making a bit more than quadruple what the Sun do (their season is twice as long, a fact we’ll set aside for the moment), and player salaries should reflect that. But that isn’t even close to reality. No, it’s all the rest that makes the main difference – concessions, endorsements, TV exposure, etc. Men in this country still have more economic and political power than women, and masculinity in this country is still more highly valued than feminity. That institutionalized sexism, I suspect, is what is really at the root of the vast difference in opportunities for male and female athletes.

We spend a lot of time talking about the intangible benefits of playing a sport, and these are unquestionably important and available to any athlete of any age, gender, nationality, or for that matter skill level. I watch the JV basketball team working hard, improving, always doing their best throughout the entire game despite being probably two years younger and smaller on average than most of the teams they play. We’re always working to build resilience in our students, and certainly the basketball court is one of our most important classrooms. But at the same time, I can think of no good reason why woman athletes shouldn’t be able to look forward to some tangible benefits as well. “Congratulations and welcome to the WNBA! You’re one of the top 130 basketball players in the world! Keep your day job!” just doesn’t have the ring you’d hope it would. Our students would, I think, emphatically agree.

So now it’s time to go back to the world where most people are focused on some football game, where many of the ads will be just as stereotypically male-centric as the game itself. In the back of my mind, a thought… what if, some day, the entire country puts the rest of their lives on pause to watch, say, the WNBA final? Naah, couldn’t happen.

Or could it?

– Bill Ivey, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School Dean

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Esprit de basket

I will never forget the look on Ramses Lonlack’s face when we first walked into the Mullins Center at UMass. Her jaw dropped, her eyes widened, her head tilted back, and as she gazed slowly around the arena, she said softly yet firmly, “Some day, I’m going to play in a place like this.” Along with several other fans from Stoneleigh-Burnham, we sat down near the small but enthusiastic cohort that seemed to be made up mostly of friends, roommates, and family members to cheer on the UMass women’s basketball team, Ramses’s voice rising with many others as she got caught up in her enthusiasm.

Women’s basketball fans are indeed enthusiastic about their sport, and many of us share a bond that goes far deeper than whatever team(s) we happen to support. Liz Feeley is a former women’s basketball coach in Divisions I and III, but although she undoubtedly sees more in five seconds than I see in five games, she loves to discuss the chances of UConn (a team I’ve followed since Rebecca Lobo went there out of Western Massachusetts) vs. Notre Dame (one of her former teams) with me, and a Diet Coke now rides on each match-up. Similarly, when I took Ramses and another girl from Africa to a professional Connecticut Sun game, they discovered the visiting Los Angeles Sparks had a player from Africa and began to root loudly for the opponents. Other fans turned around to gaze at them, but rather than incredulity or irritation, their faces showed a kind of bemused delight.

The following year, I learned a friend of mine (Melissa Sterry, a Sun fan and former WNBA blogger whom I had gotten to know simply by starting an email conversation in reaction to one of her blogs) kept six season tickets for the express purpose of bringing people to Sun games and getting them interested in women’s ball. She invited me to bring a cohort of students whom we took out to dinner after the game so she could talk to them a bit about basketball and about their lives. Ramses was originally supposed to go to that game too, but at the last minute had to cancel because a Division I school had offered her a tryout. She expressed profound disappointment at missing the Sun game, but knew this was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.

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Historical Interlude

Women’s basketball began in 1892 when Sendra Berenson of Smith College adapted the rules of the year-old sport for women. Players could only bounce the ball once before passing, and the court was divided into three zones to minimize running. Three players per team were assigned to each zone – guard, center, or forward. The first known women’s basketball game opposed the classes of 1895 and 1896, with the freshmen winning 5-4.

In 1914, just two years after the college opened, West Tennessee State Normal School played their own first women’s basketball game, winning 24-0 over a local high school. The college would undergo a number of name changes through the years, settling on the University of Memphis in 1994. Despite their early advocacy of women’s sports, the college demoted all women’s athletics from varsity status in 1936. They would remain so until the passage of Title IX, and the women’s basketball team was reinstated for the 1972-1973 season.

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Ramses did end up at the University of Memphis, the school she missed the Sun game for, and made her mark quickly. She won the “Rookie of the Week” award her first week in the league, and has won numerous defensive awards. More recently, she approached a major milestone, her 1000th point. She has also grabbed more than 500 rebounds and had over 250 steals, and is only the 6th player in U. Memphis history to achieve at this level. As Ramses approached the milestone, an excited buzz rose up on the Internet in the spirit both of women’s basketball and of Stoneleigh-Burnham, and when she finally made it, friends and fans from all over joined in congratulations. We could not be happier for her or prouder of her, and wish her all the best as she continues through her senior season.

Photo credit: Joe Murphy

-Bill Ivey, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School Dean

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What are we waiting for?!

I hate stereotypes. I know I’m not alone by any stretch of the imagination, but I do. I really hate them. The ideas, not the people who hold them. So when I was a teenager reading Pat Conroy’s The Great Santini and loving it more and more as I turned the pages, I wanted to scream when I got to the locker room scenes involving the boys basketball team. It seemed like every stereotype of boys’ attitudes toward girls was there. “Come on,” I thought. “I don’t know any boys at all who are like that, and even if I did, I’ve never heard talk remotely like that in the locker room. No wonder so many people hold these stereotypes. Why do authors do this?!” In the back of my mind, I was aware that the locker room in Amherst High got relatively little use in gym class so it wasn’t really a fair test, and I was also aware that I was no varsity athlete and never would be. Still, it all seemed terribly unfair to me.

Fast forward to when my son was 9 and playing town baseball. His team had a party to celebrate the end of the season, and while the kids ran around and played, we parents sat around drinking Diet Cokes and talking about our kids and how they were growing up, their schools and teachers, and so on. Only after a while, I realized it wasn’t “we parents.” All the fathers except me were hanging out by the pick-up truck which held the beer coolers, talking at that point in time about rebuilding tractor engines. I was in fact talking with all the mothers. I shook my head to myself, briefly contemplated getting up and joining them as I could anticipate some joking, some of it friendly, about my hanging out with “the girls,” and then decided “Whatever.” and stayed in the conversation which I was enjoying. Kids were my world. Tractor engines weren’t.

I would never have thought to connect these two moments if the Penn State scandal hadn’t happened. But in point of fact, they very much are connected. There can be, though of course there isn’t always, an undercurrent of misogyny in boys’ and mens’ athletic teams. I’ve learned by now that the locker room talk in The Great Santini was based on Pat Conroy’s experience as a high school and college athlete, and actually does reflect countless locker rooms around the country. And the gender divide at my son’s baseball team party extended to practice and games. Only fathers coached, no matter how talented an athlete a mother may have been. Though wives occasionally kept score during games, they often found that men scorekeepers assumed they knew little if anything about the sport and often came across as blustery and dismissive even when they were, in fact, in the wrong.

So what does all this have to do with Penn State? The allegations involve the rape of boys by men. How does that relate to misogyny?!

Go back in time, not very far, to the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl in Texas. The New York Times article reporting the allegations stated that among the town’s concerns were, “If the allegations are proved, how could their young men have been drawn into such an act? (…) ‘It’s just destroyed our community… These boys have to live with this for the rest of their lives.’ (…) Residents in the neighborhood…  said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s.” In other words, one might conclude, the little tease brought it on herself and in the process ruined the lives of 18 boys and men. An 11-year-old girl. Gang raped.

Meanwhile, the young boys allegedly abused by Jerry Sandusky have been given the kind of sympathy and support you would hope and expect rape victims would have. Only – wait, they were boys raped by men. Think back two springs ago when a woman teacher was accused of statutory rape of one of her male students. Out came the jokes about women desperate for sex, cougars, boys living out their teenage fantasies. Sympathy for the victim? Not one whit. So is there a deeper issue here? Is homophobia rooted in misogyny driving many of our reactions to the Penn State case?

Beyond that, one also has to wonder why no one at Penn State spoke up, why nothing was done once they realized what was going on. I’ve heard the question raised, what if there had been a woman on the coaching staff and she had found out – would she have reported it on the spot? I come at the gender divide from somewhere in the middle, hyper aware that both men and women exhibit a wide range of attitudes, behaviors, and cultures when given the freedom to do so (driven by brains that are more alike than different, not to mention the fact that “female-wired brains” can exist in men and “male-wired brains” in women), and I think the question has to go deeper than that. Woman or not, was there no one on the coaching staff who lived by the ethic of care and in the kind of relational world where they would feel some level of compulsion to stop Sandusky?

My best guess is, probably not. My admittedly brief experience as a father in youth sports taught me that all too often (and I feel extremely fortunate that most of my son’s head coaches have not been in this group), women and girls were seen as inferior, and men and boys who exhibited so-called “feminine” traits suspect.

And so children get raped and nobody does anything about it.

At times like this, I don’t really care that feminism is a dirty word to many people. We need people of all genders out there, speaking up, acting out, working with every ounce of energy every moment of the day to ensure that all genders are respected and treated with dignity.

Now.

– Bill Ivey, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School Dean

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