The First-ever Ice Hockey Summit: Action on Concussion

15 09 2010

October 19-20 The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN will be hosting the first-ever Ice Hockey Summit: Action on Concussion.

The prevalence and consequences of concussion at all levels of ice hockey are concerning. Reduction of concussion risk, as well as improved concussion diagnosis and management require a collaborative effort from medicine, psychology, sport science, coaching, engineering, officiating, manufacturing, and community partners. This quality scientific program focuses on education and generates an evidence-based action plan designed to make a difference. For the rationale on why this summit is important and needed click here.

For more information, to register, or to view the brochure which contains the full line-up of top experts on concussions from multiple disciplines, or visit the website.

This conference comes none to soon as the growing concern over concussions in the NFL and college football mount. A recent story about a former University of Pennsylvania football player, highlights the need for this conference and other educational efforts. In the story it was reported that, “A study of the brain tissue of Owen Thomas, a University of Pennsylvania football captain who committed suicide in April, reportedly revealed the beginning stages of a degenerative disease that is believed to be caused by repeated head trauma.

To read a previous blog post on the NFL and concussions which contains many excellent links to data-based information, click here.





A response to fans of the NYT “Women Who Hit Hard” piece

8 09 2010

In a past post I critiqued the NYT Magazine “Women Who Hit Hard” piece on female professional tennis players, and argued the expose was “soft core porn that had nothing to do with tennis”. While it is a strong statement, I stand by it, even when others disagree with me including Laura Pappano of Fairgamenews.com and a blogger on After Ellen. As always I welcome dialogue about this topic, and present here a critical perspective.

Some more specific reasons based on sport media scholarship to back up my claim are below which further expand why I think this piece is particularly problematic.

Image of Kim Clijsters in NYT Magazine p 30-31, August 29, 2010

1. In sport media, scholars have used the term “ambivalence” (Duncan & Hasbrook, 1988) to describe how female athletes are routinely marginalized in the media. Ambivalence is manifest when two statements, or a picture and the text, are contradictory and conflicting. One seems positive and flattering, and the other has subtle or overt negative, sexualizing or belittling tones.  The NYT piece is classic ambivalence. The article is quite positive and includes discussion of the depth of the women’s field, the increased global audience and prize money, and how much stronger and more fit female players are today. However, the accompanying slide show and particularly the video are what make the packaged piece ambivalent.

Sam Stosur

The 2 biggest pictures, both two-page  color spreads (dare I say centerfolds?), are the most sexualizing. First, the picture of Kim Clijsters (included here) in gold dust has nothing to do with tennis. You can’t tell she is even a tennis player from looking at the picture. Second, the picture of Sam Stosur (also included here) has her playing in a nude tube top, a piece of equipment she would NEVER play a match in.

In fact last night watching the US Open, Clijsters played Stosur in the fourth round in a great match.  So last night when I was watching the match, I thought to myself “Who is Stosur? I’ve never heard of her or seen her.” So I looked her up and found out she is an accomplished Aussie player. Is wasn’t until I sat down to write this blog and looked at the pics again that I put 2 and 2 together…the woman featured in this picture and the woman I watched last night were the same person! My point is, if we want to increase recognition of female athletes, this is NOT the way to do it. Emerging research indicates that sex does not sell women’s sport (I’ve written about this numerous times in the blog but to read one click here, or click on the “sexualization” blog tag)

The videos are also ambivalent. Yes they feature strong female athletes hitting the ball, which many think is really cool, but the slow motion, ballerina music, and the elongated shot time on the buttocks, crotch, and chest areas make it contradictory and sexualizing. Not to mention the make-up, hair down, and wearing of uniforms that most of the WTA players would dare not play.

2. Sport media scholars, study patterns of portrayals of female athletes, namely if the athlete is in uniform, on the court, and in action. The slides and videos do portray all three…kind of (I’ll expand on this point below).

3. Females athletes get so little coverage from sport and regular media, that when they are covered and it is in sexualized ways, it undermines their athletic achievements. In fact, in a recent report “Gender in Televised Sports” by two well-known sport media scholars, Professors Michael Messner and Cheryl Cooky, based on the data they illustrate that network sport coverage of female athletes is at an all time low–only 1.6% which was a decline from 6.3% in 2004!

Therefore, based on the data we rarely see females athletes, and when we do it often resembles soft core porn (or “muscle porn” as one person on the After Ellen blog dubbed it). Even though we disagree on this one, I agree with Laura Pappano’s statement below when she argues in her blog “ We have to find a way to consider athletic female bodies without automatically finding that because they are fit they are sex objects.”  Unfortunately because we see athletic female bodies in primarily sexualized ways, it will be hard to tease out bodies, fitness levels, and athleticism without objectifying those same bodies. The  NYT Magazine pieces only perpetuate the problem by again linking the female athleticism to sexualized bodies. What we have to get away from is the thinking pattern that female athletes and women’s sport is only interesting and marketable when their bodies are highlighted and sold. Highlight their athletic bodies in a natural setting–on the court (the real court, not a blacked out studio setting), in action (hitting real tennis balls not rolled in glitter), and in uniform (a real uniform in which certain body parts would not fly out or be exposed upon moving or hitting a real tennis ball).

To illustrate my point, imagine a similar NYT expose on ATP male professional players such as Nadal, Murray, Roddick, and Federer with their shirts off, chests oiled with gold glitter stuck to their muscles, glammed up, hair spiked, wearing super tight and short tennis shorts, lips slightly parted, hitting balls rolled in chalk or glitter to the same music. Wouldn’t that seem weird?

I invite further dialogue and counter arguments to this blog. What do you think?





The New York Times does soft core pornography feature of female professional tennis players

26 08 2010

Earlier I posted that today, August 26th, is Women’s Equality Day. No sooner did I post my blog and a colleague (thanks ED!) sent me something so distrubing I had to do another post today. What I will write about next is a perfect example of why Women’s Equality Day is important.

In my previous and many other posts, I argue and researchers have proven time and again, that female athletes are rarely seen in sport media and when they are, athletic competence is minimized (click here), and their bodies are sexualized as commodities to be consumed.

The most recent and blatantly sexist, disgusting and marginalizing example of sexualizing female athletes is a piece the New York Times just ran titled “Women Who Hit Hard.” The piece features professional female tennis players and I’m sure is meant to capture attention leading up to the 2010 US Open, and is replete with an article, slide show and slow motion videos of each player hitting tennis balls in sexy attire to eerie music. I’ve seen a LOT of examples of sport media that sexualizes female athletes, but this tops the list.

This is soft core pornography and has NOTHING to do with athleticism or tennis. It is pure exploitation of female athletes.





Women’s Equality Day is August 26th…and yes, we still need it!

26 08 2010

Today is Women’s Equality Day. Some may wonder why such a day exists, or that because women are achieving at all levels, why such a day should exist. Here are a few facts that point to the idea that women are far from achieving equality and Women’s Equality Day is still needed:

  • The Gender Pay Gap: women on average earn .77 cents to every dollar earned by a male (click here or here from more info)
  • Men outnumber women in all positions of power in all contexts (click here)
  • Women far outnumber men as victims of sexual violence, harassment and discrimination (click here)
  • The structure of our society disadvantages women who work outside the home, and who for the most part are still primarily responsible for care taking and household upkeep. Families need more flexible work schedules, comprehensive child care policies, redesigned family and medical leave, and equal pay as to help females succeed in life-work balance. (click here)
  • Women and girls are constantly exposed to what Susan J. Douglas (2010) calls Enlightened Sexism (a response to a perceived threat to the existing gender regime of male power) and bombarded by the media with messages that “purchasing power and sexual power are much more gratifying than political or economic power”…buying stuff and performing hyperfemininity has emerged as the way female empowerment (See Douglas’ book, Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism’s Work is Done for a complete explanation of the deleterious affects of enlightened sexism)
  • Female athletes are rarely seen in sport media and when they are athletic competence is minimized (click here).

What other ways can you think of in which females are not equal participants? Please comment and add to this list…





A Tipping Point in Changing the Culture of Youth Sport?

24 08 2010

In the last month I’ve been thinking and reading about the idea of equal playing time in youth sports (click here and here). Based on the evidence, I’m convinced that equal playing time should be mandatory up until the age of 12. Following, all youth sport organizations and associations should adopt this policy at ALL levels of play–in house, recreational, travel, and competitive. Regardless of the level of play, kids are still kids who should all have the opportunity to develop, grow, and experience all the joys and benefits sports has the opportunity to impart. I’ve come to believe in the last month that short of having a strong equal playing time policy, parents and coaches will structure youth sport to meet the needs of their own goals, needs, and desires rather than what is best for all kids.

I applaud USA Hockey for leading the way constructing a better model for youth sports. The USA Hockey Youth Council just voted to eliminate their national championship for the Peewees–the 12 & Under level. USA Hockey has recently rolled out the American Development Model (ADM)– “a tool  that will ensure every kid will have the same chance to succeed.” The mission and purpose of ADM is clearly focused on countering (and hopefully reversing) the detrimental forces of the performance/win at all costs focus and professionalization of youth sport. The philosophy and ABC’s of ADM is evidence-based, and the “E” of the ABC’s is….equal playing time! Finally at least one youth sport organization appears to taking some cues from sport science scholars!

On a similar note, the Boston Globe ran an interesting piece titled “What happened to losing?” which outlines how youth sport has lost the true meaning of competition (which is “to strive or strive with, not against”). When I worked at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendelson Center for Sport and Character, the co-director and my colleague David Light Shields, was working on a book about “True Competition”. He has since finished and I recommend you read it as it is accessible and instructive for why and how to change the culture of youth sports-True Competition: A Guide to Pursuing Excellence in Sport and Society. Check out the accompanying website TrueCompetition.org and sign up for the newsletter.

I hope these and other efforts by those who care about the health and well being of all youth athletes provide a start of a Gladwell-esque Tipping Point in changing the culture of youth sport to a primary focus on fun and development, rather than winning and performance.





New Reports on Women in Muslim Societies

17 08 2010

Two “hot of the presses” resources have recently come out on women in Muslim societies.

The Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) has published a collection of essays by women leaders from Muslim societies. The publication is titled, “Women’s Leadership Network: Women’s Political, Public, and Economic Participation in the Muslim World.”

I think this report is particularly important given the current flap over President Obama’s comments about the building of a mosque near Ground Zero.

In the forward (p.3) of the report it states, “These papers both join and respond to the call for Islamic feminism as part of a modernist movement bent on contextualizing Islam. The women leaders in this Network are at the forefront of reform across the Muslim world and are mining the egalitarian core of Islamic jurisprudence. Women’s struggle for equality and basic rights has been intensified by the rise of a male dominated Islam that too often defines women’s empowerment as anti-Islamic or Western cultural imperialism. The women leaders featured in this volume embrace a progressive interpretation of Islam to support women’s rights. These leaders are working both within the tenets of Islam and the universal human rights framework to make changes for women and to broaden the frontiers of economic, political, and educational participation for women.”

Gender ideologies also affect Muslim women’s participation in physical activity and sport. Another new book just out addresses these issues, titled “Muslim Women and Sport.” According to the Routledge website, “The book presents an overview of current research into constructs of gender, the role of religion and the importance of situation, and looks closely at what Islam has to say about women’s participation in sport and what Muslim women have to say about their participation in sport.”





More Thoughts on Equal Playing Time in Youth Sports

10 08 2010

Thank you for everyone who weighed in and took the time to provide insight and opinions on equal playing time in youth sports for a previous blog. It is clear playing time is a pressing issue across all sectors of youth sport and parents, coaches, and administrators alike are struggling to make informed decisions.

Existing and emerging evidence from child development, pediatric sports medicine, sport psychology, sport sociology, and moral development seems to point to the idea that equal playing time is imperative for children up to age 12 (and some would argue age 14).

From my observations and interactions with youth sport stakeholders the debate over playing time starts with differing views on the purpose of youth sport and the tension between winning/being competitive and athlete development/fun/enjoyment. I reject the notion that winning, athlete development and fun/enjoyment can’t simultaneously be achieved. This dichotomous thinking is part of the problem in organized youth sport.

Adults who run, organize, and coach youth sport consider many factors when making decisions about playing time and arguably factors change in weight as the child gets older. The graphic in Figure 1:  Playing Time Considerations illustrate this complexity.

I’ve outlined EFFORT in red as this is one of the few factors that a child can control. Giving full effort in practice and games regardless of the situation is a very important life lesson that can be taught and learned through participation in sport.

A father in a recent sport parent workshop asked me about the danger of “teaching children to be  mediocre” by awarding equal playing time. His point was that a child who didn’t work hard or give full effort would automatically be awarded the same playing time as a child who was working hard, and that if playing time weren’t used as “the carrot” (i.e., you work hard, you get to play) that kids wouldn’t work hard. It was a good question.

To answer his question used evidence and borrowed some wisdom from my colleague Clark Power, Ph.D., a scholar in moral development and Director of the Play Like a Champion Educational Series at the University of Notre Dame. Power argues playing time is not a reward for displaying virtue, it is a means for developing virtue. I also pointed out the carrot approach is a problematic way of using playing time. First, children need to be taught that working hard is an inherent part of sports, skill development, and life. Children should want to work hard because it is inherently enjoyable, as hard work can lead to improvement, satisfaction, sense of self worth, accomplishment, and many more positive outcomes. These intrinsic motives for giving full effort will lead to a much greater likelihood of long term participation than using playing time as an extrinsic reward that can be taken away or awarded by adults.

Second, up until age 10-11, developmentally children cannot discern between effort and ability. They equate effort with being good at something. Therefore, under an unequal playing time system a child who gives full effort but does not get to play, is likely to think he is not good at that sport. Based on evidence in sport psychology, perception of competence is one of the biggest predictors of enjoyment and sustained participation. The take home message here:  a child who believes he is incompetent because he is sitting on the bench even thought he believes he’s given effort in practices, will be much more likely to drop out. If he drops out before he can understand cognitively that effort and ability are not always the same, and that effort is a virtue, then he will not reap the developmental and health benefits which can be accrued through sport participation.

A great deal more evidence than what I’ve presented here exists in support of an “equal playing time through age 12” youth sport policy, but this is an evidence-based food for thought starting point for youth sport stakeholders to consider. For more information on youth sports visit the Minnesota Youth Sport Research Consortium.