Advice to Females Seeking Careers in Sports

29 04 2010

Yesterday I was invited to be part of a panel for the inaugural Minnesota Lynx Girls and Women in Sport Career Day (kudos to Carly Knox and her Lynx colleagues for putting on this event!)

Myself and 5 other women in the Twin Cities area spoke about our experiences, career pathway, advice for being successful in a male dominated profession and  “a-ha!” moments in our careers. On the panel with me: Cheryl Reeve, Head coach MN Lynx; Laura Day; VP of Business Development for the Twins; Britt Carlson, Director of Premium Seating at Minnesota Timberwolves & Target Center; Rachel Blount, StarTribune Sports Columnist; and rookie Lynx player Monica Wright.

I didn’t know what to expect but I learned a great deal from these accomplished women! There were many common themes, which I found fascinating because we wrote our comments independently. Here are some take homes and some reflections I’ve had since last night:

1. NETWORK!!! Get your foot in the door any way you can, and when you get the opportunity make the most of it. You only get one chance to make a first impression, so be ready and remember you are always interviewing for a job. Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Seek out mentors and surround yourself with good people. I loved when Monica Wright told the audience, “Be loud and confident, and project yourself well”…which she was modeling!

2. Follow your passion. Don’t let anyone or anything stand in the way of your passion and goals. One young woman in the audience asked Coach Reeve if she thought more women would begin to coach men. I wanted to tell this young woman that statistically speaking her chances were very low, but on second thought…good for her! We need more females thinking coaching males is a viable career pathway and to strive to make inroads. If a young man had asked about coaching women, no one would of batted an eyelash. You Go Girl!….coach those males, and pursue your passion. Rachel Blount told a story about how a college football coach once told her to “go back to baking biscuits” rather than try to interview one of his players. She told me that not once in her 25 years as a sport reporter did she think of not doing what she loved, “I was born to do this!” she claimed emphatically….and I agree!

What was really interesting to me is that we were all asked to talk about our experiences in a male dominated profession. Only myself and Rachel Blount talked explicitly about sexism and how females are statistically the token minority in all sports careers. The other women said they’d never experienced sexism or any male-created obstacles–or perhaps didn’t want to talk about it if they had. I was really surprised by their admissions especially because I had I just ordered two books I cannot wait to read on this subject–Sexism in America: Alive, Well and Ruining Our Future (Berg, 2009), and Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism’s Work is Done (Douglas, 2010). I think both books will help me reflect on these women’s claims of a lack of experienced sexism. I came upon these books when I found a new blog this week titled Equality Myth: Young Women, Sexism, and the Workplace which got me thinking about how these concepts apply to my work with female coaches.

One young woman asked the panel why none of us mentioned children and how having kids influenced our careers. All of us looked at each other and a silent awkward pause ensued….none of us had children! Was it coincidental that all 5 women (I’ll exclude Monica Wright, because she isn’t in the same place in her career as the rest of us) were successful yet had no children? I immediately had a sick feeling. What did this mean? What message did it send to the young women in the audience who wanted both a career and children?

I quickly thought of Arlie Hochschild’s work on “the second shift”, which still unfortunately still holds true for a majority of women. The second shift for working women, is the idea a “second shift” or job starts when she comes home and is largely responsible for domestic and child-rearing duties. From the work I’ve done with female coaches, many of them discuss how coaching is only possible for them because their husbands also coach and that is “just what our family does”. My message to the audience was–if you want to have a family and career (which is possible!), be sure to choose a partner that will be supportive of your passion  and is willing to be equally involved in child care and domestic duties. One problem in this model is that on average women still make 77 cents to every $1 made by men, so having 2 working parents isn’t always the best financial choice if the cost of child care, outweighs the second income (here is fact sheet written by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research on the gender pay gap). So which income goes? The one who earns the least…which is usually the female (if the couple is male-female).

I have a lot more thinking to do about these topics and what it means for my career, my research and teaching, and for the next generation of young women. The event was very empowering and energizing, but the reflections I’ve had since the event have been admittedly depressing. I like action items that lead to social change, but when the actions required are tackling gender stereotypes, male power, and work/family gender roles…it seems daunting! But I will take my own advice and not let anything get in the way of pursuing my passion, which is trying to make a difference in the lives of females in and through sport.

What are your thoughts?





(Women’s) ESPN Basketball Bracket Shows

15 03 2010

It’s time for March Madness! I love this time of year! I just watched the ESPN selection and the ESPN-U follow up show for the women. Here is the bracket in case you want to download it. I have some cheers and jeers.

Cheers!

  • I was excited the online ESPN bracket didn’t have the qualifying “Women’s” in front of  NCAA Tournament Bracket 2010.
  • ESPN did a great feature on Baylor’s Brittney Griner, that focused primarily on her SKILLS, numerous ways she can dunk, and how her ability and talent are setting a new standards of excellence for women’s basketball.
  • I loved the fact there were four very qualified women–Doris Burke, Rebecca Lobo, Kara Lawson, and Carolyn Peck--hosting the shows, along with Trey Wingo.

Jeers!

  • The .pdf version of the ESPN bracket however, was labeled as the “Women’s”. I will bet my 2010-11 pay cut that when the men’s bracket is complete, there will be no “Men’s” label on any bracket. Why? Because the men’s bracket is the real bracket, and the women’s bracket must be defined and qualified as the lesser bracket by labeling it the “women’s”. This is a common pattern of marginalizing women’s sports documented over time by sport media scholars. Another example is the NBA and WNBA.
  • The presence of the female sport commentators was undermined both at the very beginning and end of the ESPN-U show by the following comments:

a. At the opening of the follow-up show on ESPN U, after Trey Wingo (seated in the middle, with 2 women on each side) introduced each of his four co-hosts, Carolyn Peck made a comment that the ensemble was like Charlie’s Angels. To that end Wingo asked if that made him “Charlie”, and the banter went on for another 20 seconds with the women confirming that his wan indeed Charlie and they were the Angels.

b. At the end of the follow-up show on ESPN U, as Trey Wingo was signing off and repeated all the names of his female co-hosts, his very last comment was “Look at Doris’ shoes, she went shopping!” and then the camera cut out.

Why is this problematic? Because both comments undermine the credibility of highly qualified and experienced female sport media journalists by focusing on highly feminine roles and symbols of femininity.  Given these four women are clear statistical minorities in their field, they are under a constant barrage of scrutiny their male colleagues do not have to endure. They also have to look feminine enough so they do not feed the flame of enduring homophobia in women’s basketball.

Stay tuned for more March Madness!





The “Best” of 2009 and the State of Girls & Women in Sports

27 12 2009

As 2009 comes to an end, there are some trends for those who care about sports–particularly sports for females–that you should keep an eye on in the months to come. Many groups and organizations that have been cornerstones of advocacy, programming, outreach and research for girls and women in sports are in trouble or on the rumored brink of existing no more.  Yes, girls and women in sports have made major advances in participation in the last 35+ years, but gender equity has yet to be achieved, we now have fewer females in positions of power in sport leadership, and sportswomen are constantly under attack. Some stories from the past year put the fact that fighting for gender equity in participation, leadership, and media coverage, to name a few, are not issues of the past.

Under what criteria do organizations decide to shut down or “put out” important programs that make a difference in the lives of sporting girls and women? Who decides what is “out” and what is included?  Who is left out, and who continues to play, lead, and enjoy the benefits of sports, and be portrayed in what ways by the media?  What constitutes “A Real Life Out Clause?” This is real life and the consequences of the decisions of those in positions of power will continue to shape the future of sport for females in 2010 and beyond.

Consider the following, some of these topics I’ve written about in previous blogs, some I have not:

The Melpomene Institute for Women’s Health Research is struggling to survive in this economy.

The National Association for Girls and Women in Sport (NAGWS) “strives to be one of the premiere organizations dedicated to advocacy, education and the promotion of girls and women in sport”. There were rumors this year that AAHPERD, the parent organization of NAGWS, was discussing whether or not to keep or disband NAGWS. So far it appears it has survived.

It Takes a Team (ITAT) is being discontinued as a programming and outreach arm of the Women’s Sport Foundation. ITAT’s purpose was to “address LGBT issues in high school and college athletics… and make sport teams safe and respectful for all athletes regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity”. To read more about  ITAT ‘s “outing” go to former ITAT Director Pat Griffin’s blog post. Be sure the program is not being eliminated because homophobia in sports has been eliminated and is no longer an issue. Homophobia still exists and affects all athletes, coaches, administrators and those involved in sports.

The International Olympic Committee voted not to allow and include ski jumping for females, and endures as a sexist organization.

ESPN sports journalist Erin Andrews, one of the few in the profession, endured a terrible event where she was stalked and sexually harassed. Sportswomen also continue to be sexualized or erased in all types of media-print, broadcast and social.

In 2009 major “newsworthy” stories in women’s sport included “girls behaving badly” such as “extraneous and loud grunting” by one WTA player, a verbal attack on a line judge by another, and”overly aggressive” play by a collegiate soccer player, and the drunk driving of a WNBA MVP …not reports of stellar athleticism. Lest we not forget the obsession of the sex verification of runner Caster Semenya…which only came about because she was FAST, really fast.

Early last spring, when Tennesee Head Women’s Basketball Coach Pat Summitt won her 1,000th game, and Auriemma’s UConn Huskies won another national championship many speculated if they should coach men…the obvious pinnacle of any coach’s career. Interestingly, but perhaps not surprising, Summitt did NOT appear in Sports Illustrated “Coaches of the Decade“, but Auriemma did.

The WNBA lost a team, the Sacramento Monarchs, and another very successful team the Detroit Shock moved to Tulsa. I fear the WNBA is teetering on the brink of collapse in 2010, I hope I’m wrong. The WNBA now has 10 teams.

With 10 teams, The Lingerie Football League debuted its inaugural season in 2009 in cities across the US. According to the LFL website, the mission of the LFL includes: “the LFL will offer the ultimate fan experience providing unyielding access to players, teams and game action.” I fear the LFL will thrive and survive, I hope I’m wrong.

Women’s collegiate sports will never achieve gender equity unless real reform occurs unilaterally at the highest administrative level of institutions of higher learning. This was a clear message of the Knight Commission Report on Intercollegiate Athletics released in late 2009.

Earlier this year I critiqued a piece on ESPN.com titled The State of Uncertainty of Women’s Sports. I’m not certain if there is stability or uncertainty or both pertaining to women’s sports. What I do know, and these stories above (and many others not included here) provide evidence, that the work for those who care about sports for females is never done. We must work together to ensure girls and women in sports are not left out, or pushed out.

Stay tuned in 2010 for more information, and certainly more critiques, of these important issues. I’d also encourage you to visit the Women Talk Sports Network and read blogs by colleagues who also write about these issues here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Other WomenTalkSports posts of “Best of ’09”:





A Whole Lot of Head-Shaking Sport News

9 12 2009

I’ve purposely stayed out of commenting about Tiger Woods. It’s just low hanging fruit. What is left to say? But I will say the most interesting thing to me is that everyone is shocked that a golfer could behave so badly–especially Tiger Woods.  Sadly, Woods is yet another example of elite male athletes behaving badly and thinking they are above acting in responsible or moral ways. When one constructs his squeaky clean, family man image on a house of cards, it will eventually fall down.

Speaking of men behaving badly….In youth sport, some Canadian hockey dads were arrested in a hotel bar for “disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and obstructing governmental administration” during which one pulled down his pants. They were there for youth hockey tournament in which their sons were playing. And we question if professional athletes should be role models?

On another note, I found NBA commissioner David Stern’s comments about the likelihood of women eventually playing in the NBA within 10 years paternalistic. Many females in the basketball world have long believed women would and can play with men at the highest levels, but when a male validates this fact…then it must be true! Many of the NBA players have also commented, including LeBron James who referred to the WNBA players as “girls”. Given WNBA franchise Sacramento Monarchs will no longer exist, perhaps the NBA will be one of the only viable options of employment for players and coaches.

To round out sport news this week, Danica Patrick will race in the NASCAR series. Evidently this is good for NASCAR as Patrick’s sex appeal (not skill) will likely boost sagging attendance.





Things That Make You Go Hmmmm…More on Social Media & Women’s Sport

30 10 2009

Following the  Tucker Center lecture and new blog about the impact of social media and women’s sport, it didn’t take too long for me to be in the middle of a real life example. Life works in ironic ways sometimes, doesn’t it? This example is meant to continue the conversation about this emerging and important topic.

9uwom0322w.lOn Tuesday I was at my computer and looked over the TweetDeck and saw that WNBA player Janel McCarville was live on her UStream channel JMACTV. I’d heard about Candace Parker using UStream but hadn’t checked it out yet, so clicked on the link and….ta dah!…there was Janel. As a Minnesotan, two-time Gopher Alum and now Gopher faculty, huge fan of women’s basketball, and advocate/scholar of women’s sport, I’ve been a long time fan of Janel McCarville (no hate Janel, only love!). Who can forget the Whalen/McCarville dynasty in The Barn!

Janel !I thought, “This is really cool… instant access to an elite female athlete“, as I watched her looking at and responding to the comments and questions from the 60+ fans watching her. I shouted through my office door to my two graduate students to “check this out”. Then I took a harder look and wrinkled my brow, “Is she in the bathroom?” I asked them, “and is she really cutting her own hair?” (see screen shot)  Somehow I was a bit disturbed by this. I immediately wasn’t so sure this was cool anymore—or good for women’s sports. So given this subject has been top of mind, I tweeted about it—twice (see screen shot below).mccarville tweets

I continued to watch for about 10mns, and then shut down for the day. I continued to think about it over the next day or so.  In the course of “doing my warm up activities” for the day (aka surfing), I looked at my @ replies on Twitter and saw that my tweets had incited quite a bit of outrage, and a direct response from Janel herself! (see screen shot right, it will enlarge if you click on it).mccarville tweet responses The tone of the responses was “lighten up, this is just silly and fun and everyone but YOU thinks this is great”. Fair enough. I responded to Janel via Twitter:  “@JanelMcCarville No anger, just continuing conversation re: women’s sport & social media, both pro/con. See http://bit.ly/352s8T“. But I felt badly for criticizing her and it bothered me.

I learned a few valuable lessons which may be instructive as we all move forward and think about how to use social media effectively to positively promote women’s sports.

First, if social media is truly a two-way conversation, then I should of phrased my tweet “What is your opinion about @JanelMcCarville’s UStream videocast?”

Second, attacking people on Twitter is just in poor taste and not classy. My apologies Janel. This has played out for KC Chiefs NFL player Larry Johnson this week, as he is paying the price literally and in the media and  for using a homophobic slur. It will continue to occur with increased frequency as social media becomes part of the way we communicate.

Third, shortly thereafter I read a great piece by Q McCall of www.swishappeal.com on Feministing.com titled,  Is there a “feminist responsibility” to support women’s sports? It put into context some of the guilt I felt. Why was I attacking a female athlete?  I’m supposed to support women’s sport. But on the other hand, as a feminist, scholar, and advocate of women’s sport  I often feel I have the responsibility to wave the red flag and point out when I see something that may not be a “good thing”.  Perhaps my role is to raise the issue, provide an alternative viewpoint, and promote respectful discussion.

It also got me thinking about where female athletes and women’s sport might be headed in terms of social media. If everyone  “loves it” (all 66 viewers)—is this our new model of promoting women’s sport? Is that what fans really want to see? Is this how fans want to interact with athletes? Where is the line between “good access” and access that, to borrow from C + C Music Factory,  “Makes You go Hmmmm”? As was pointed out to me,  Ron Artest of the LA Lakers, got his hair cut that same day…which garnered media attention. But if the men do it, should the women follow? Should we always be trying to emulate our male counterparts? (I’m not suggesting that is why Janel chose to UStream, she’d have to tell us the inspiration). Is it possible male athletes use social media differently because of disparate patterns of traditional media coverage? What are the similar and different ways elite male and female athletes use social media? How can female athletes take control and use social media in positive ways to combat sexism, inequalities, and disparities that are well documented in sport contexts? Is this a responsibility they should bear? In conclusion, I highlight Janel not to criticize or judge, but to provide an exemplar real-life issue to promote discussion about social media and women’s sports.

I don’t have the answer, only a lot of questions. What do you think?





3 Letters Make A Big Difference for WNBA’s Taurasi

9 10 2009

Does anyone else find it ironic that WNBA player  Diana Taurasi of the Phoenix Mercury went from DUI in July to 2009 WNBA MVP in  September and WNBA Champion in October? Perhaps more interesting is that the DUI was rarely  mentioned at all in the last few weeks of the WNBA playoffs. What are your thoughts on this? I’m mixed. I’d love to hear what you’re thinking.





FINALLY! A Worthy Comparison

9 10 2009

wnbaOn the eve of the final WNBA playoff game, I just watched a fantastic video made by a WNBA Intern, that I saw due to a Tweet by Minnesota Lynx player Candice Wiggins (@candicwiggins). In the video, clips featuring similar plays from the NBA and WNBA are shown back-to-back or simultaneously.  What this sets up is that WNBA players are as athletic as, and do exactly the same exciting plays as their NBA counterparts. Female athletes are depicted in action, on the court, in uniform doing what they do best (in contrast to passive, off the court, and NOT in *cough* uniform Serena Williams). Brilliant! Usually when female athletes are compared to male athletes, the male version of the game is constructed as “better than”, more exciting, or the real version. Not in this video!

Advice to the WNBA: HIRE THIS INTERN. Whomever you are Intern, NICE WORK! This is exactly the kind of marketing and fresh thinking the WNBA needs to sustain the league.

Update: I’ve been advised that credit may be due to more than one intern. In that case, hire them all!