And We Wonder Why Some Girls Aren’t Physically Active?

29 01 2010

This morning a colleague sent me this article from ESPN.com about another ban on head scarves for Muslim female athletes. When I see this and other  stories, it makes me recommit to the work I do at The Tucker Center.

It its well documented that females are less physically active than their male peers at all ages, and that girls of color are less physically active than their White counterparts. There are two great reports that summarize the plethora of research on girls, physical activity and health and developmental outcomes–The Tucker Center Research Report: Developing Physically Active Girls (2007), and The Women’s Sport Foundation’s Her Life Depends On It (2009).

Some of the work I do with my graduate student Chelsey Thul, examines the barriers to physical activity of East African girls here in the Twin Cities. We have the largest East African diaspora in the US, and the East African girls in our community find in very challenging to be as physically active as they’d like to be.  They talk about wanting to be physically active but also desire to remain true to religious and cultural norms. If you want to see a great film that documents the challenges Iranian Muslim women face who desire to compete in an international soccer match with a German team, be sure to watch Football Under Cover.

The ESPN.com story illustrates exactly how challenging it can be for Muslim girls and women to be physically active. When are leagues and sport organizations going to enact inclusive policies that encourage and facilitate physical activity and sport participation for EVERYONE?





An All-White Basketball League?

21 01 2010

If anyone thought we are living in a post-racial era in the U.S., click here and then read below.

A NASSS colleague sent an email this morning about a new basketball league (All-American Basketball Alliance) for White Americans. To be admitted and eligible to compete in the league one must be “natural born United States citizens with both parents of Caucasian race”.  What?

In the story are many outrageous quotes by Don “Moose” Lewis, the commissioner of the AABA, who claims the reasoning behind the league’s roster restrictions is not racism. “There’s nothing hatred about what we’re doing,” he said. “I don’t hate anyone of color. But people of white, American-born citizens are in the minority now. Here’s a league for white players to play fundamental basketball, which they like.” Lewis said he wants to emphasize fundamental basketball instead of “street-ball” played by “people of color”.

To see the local TV station news broadcast click here.

Even more interesting are the readers comments at the bottom of the story and the video.





A Pattern Has Emerged

8 10 2009

I’m not a big fan of ESPN The Magazine, as I’ve written about their cover photos and coverage of women’s sport in a previous blog….or should I say LACK of coverage that focuses on athleticism, rather than being feminine and sexy.

Serena ESPN mag_Oct 2009

Their latest series of 6 covers for the October 19, 2009  “The Body Issue” has Serena Williams posing naked (thanks for the head’s up EH). It seems to me a recent pattern has emerged.

Here is the pattern:

1) A Black female athlete performs well and dominates opponents,

2) During the course of competition she acts outside prescribed gender norms (i.e., looks like a man, yells and argues with a referee),

3) Subsequently she is grilled and sanctioned by the public and the media,

4) Therefore she has to recover by performing versions of the female athlete apologetic by literally apologizing like S. Williams, and/or highlighting heterosexy femininity on the cover of  magazines. I’m talking about first, Caster Semenya and now Serena Williams (see picture here).

Underlying sport media portrayals of highly talented Black female athletes are racism and sexism. I suppose my blog title should really read…A Pattern Has REemerged.

NOTE: If you want to see the making of The Body Issue and gain insight to the ‘issue’ (and see a whole lot naked) click here.





Social Media & Sport Apologies

14 09 2009

Discussion in the Tucker Center this morning was very lively around the topic of Serena Williams’ U.S. Open semifinal outburst, fine, and subsequent apology via her blog and Twitter account (also see picture here).

serena apology

I have a few other thoughts on Williams’ ill-timed and ill-fated outburst.
1. From a sport psychology perspective one cannot control the calls made by the umpire or referee, regardless of if a “bad” call occurs on match point or the first point of the match. Let it go. An athlete can only control his/her reaction to the call. This particular reaction showed a lack of mental toughness. In her blog Williams wrote, “We all learn from experiences both good and bad. I will learn and grow from this, and be a better person as a result.” I’m sure it will also make her an even better competitor than she already is.

2. How has social media changed the way athletes interact with fans and the media? Even though Serena lost control of her emotions on the court, she took control of her “brand” off the court by quickly posting apologies using social media tools. It left us wondering if these tools existed when John McEnroe was in the heyday of his outbursts (which were much more frequent, prolonged and arguably egregious), would he of used social media to apologize? (NOTE: In a Google search for “John McEnroe apologizes” I found one result for apologizing for bad behavior, and one story of an apology for bad play.)

3. Then it got me thinking how race and gender intersect with the outburst issue. Do we expect female athletes to apologize more frequently than we do male athletes? We certainly expect female athletes to act “ladylike”, refrain from grunting loudly, not throw tantrums or have outbursts. How much of the criticism leveled against Serena Williams has to do with the fact she is African American? Would the public react similarly if the outburst came from a White female tennis player–for example Maria Sharapova? After perusing one of my favorite blogs–After Atalanta–it seems I am not the only one who noticed or is thinking about these issues. What do you think?





The ‘New’ Look of Caster Semenya

9 09 2009

Much has been written about the controversy regarding the sex verification testing of Caster Semenya following the IAAF Championships in August 2009 (to read more go here, here, here, here, & here).

semenya new lookGiven all Semenya has endured, I can’t say I was surprised (albeit saddened) to see an article today titled, “Embattled track star Caster Semenya gets new coach, new look” which also featured the cover of You magazine (pictured here).

It also got me thinking…When a man outperforms his competition by a large margin—such as sprinter Usain Bolt for example—no one asks “Is he really a man?” No one says, “He is so fast, he might be a woman. He should be tested.” But when a woman wins by a lot—such as sprinter Caster Semenya—her sex is immediately questioned, “Is she really a woman?” This appears to be a clear example of marginalizing female athletic performance, homophobia, and sexism. Unfortunately Semenya’s ‘new’ look is not a new phenomenon for female athletes who have fallen under scrutiny as a result of outstanding sport performances.

when you win by a lot





A Good Built Environment Increases Children’s Physical Activity

2 07 2009

baseball in a small townThe American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a policy statement about the role of the built environment on children’s health. The built environment is overall structure of the physical environment of a child’s community (e.g., safe sidewalks, accessible parks, existence of bike paths) including spaces such as buildings and streets that are deliberately constructed as well as outdoor spaces that are altered in some way by human activity.

Emerging research indicates that the built environment limits or promotes opportunities for physical activity, in turn affecting child health—including obesity. A July 2009 report “F is for Fat: How Obesity Policies are Failing in America” released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America’s Health indicated that in 30 states the percentage of obese and overweight children is at or above 30 percent. Obesity is a gendered and racialized issue as it is more prevalent in girls than boys, and girls of color have higher rates of overweight and obesity than do their White peers. (Note that the sign indicates “baseball diamond”… a game that girls have historically been excluded from. The sign does not say “ball fields” which could perhaps include softball assuming a softball field exists. To read more about girls and baseball read Jennifer Ring’s 2009 book Stolen Bases: Why American Girls Don’t Play Baseball)

In many communities across the US, the built environment unfortunately does not reflect the image depicted here…the existence of a safe community baseball field that youth can easily find, have access to, and may perhaps walk or bike to and from. The American Academy of Pediatrics report published in Pediatrics outlines a number of policies that can help create and increase the existence of health-promoting built environments.





International Conference on Girls & Women in Sport

28 05 2009

IWG logoThe International Working Group on Women and Sport (IWG) has officially announced the dates for the 5th IWG World Conference on Women and Sport. The conference will be held in Sydney, Australia May 20-23, 2010. A call for abstracts will be released July 2009. I’ll see you there!