Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Answer to DeFord: Why we're likely not to notice a women's basketball team excel

NPR commentator Frank DeFord today asked why women in individual sports more often get widespread public attention (and favorable media coverage) than do women in team sports.
Deford contrasted the recent hype around Olympian Lindsay Vonn, tennis star Serena Williams, and racing driver Danica Patrick against that surrounding the UConn women's basketball team to support his thesis that we're generally not willing to support women in team sports.
Deford is right -- women who play in team sports in the U.S. generally don't reach the same kind of "star" status as those who play in individual sports such as tennis. But the issue is more than whether women compete as a team or as individuals.
Team sports are usually contact sports, and that's the bigger issue, I think. Women in sports that involve varying degrees of contact -- from the individual sports of boxing and wrestling, to team sports such as basketball -- challenge traditional ideas about femininity. And that's why they don't get the media attention or public attention they might otherwise deserve. (Danica Patrick, who participates in a highly masculine, contact (car-to-car) sport, gets attention primarily because of her foray into a men's arena. Would we expect that an all-female auto racing circuit would get much media coverage?)
Sports like figure skating, gymnastics, tennis, skiing and snowboarding don't challenge gender norms for women nearly as much. To varying degrees they support them, from an emphasis on aesthetics in performance to the allowance for athletes to dress in feminine attire when they participate in these sports.
And that makes many people far more comfortable watching -- and cheering for -- these athletes.
-- mh


Anonymous said...

Men are more likely to accept women as athletes in sports where they are so obviously superior to the "average guy" ... Gymnastics, figure skating, skiing, tennis and other related team sports are difficult by their very nature. While the "average guy" respects a WNBA team or player, deep down they feel they can do it better than a pro. If you visit a basketball court in any inner city and ask the guys playing if they are better then the best WNBA team, what do you expect their answer to be? Ask them about tennis, figure skating or golf - you will get a different answer.

This is not the case with Serena Williams, Lindsay Vonn or Annika Sorenstam! Right or wrong, women need to do things better than men to gain their acceptence. Whether or not this is fair is beside the point but again, the "average guy" knows when he is watching excellence and appreciates it - but he is more likely to be in awe when the female is doing something he cannot do.

It has nothing to do with "contact sports"

Anonymous said...

I think DeFord's on to something with his gambling comment. This country's oldest spectator sports -- boxing, baseball, and horse racing, were steeped in the gambling culture from their pre World War I days. Bets on football and basketball also became common as those sports grew through the 20th century. People might not bet much on the pro golf tours, but they'll play for a $5 nassau without thinking twice. Many of us will participate in NCAA basketball pools next month. A lot of people won't really care whether or not Morgan State can upset Duke in the first round unless they've got it on their bracket. Do you know anyone who runs a sizable women's tournament pool? I don't.
Perhaps this is part of a blessing in disguise. We can debate the moral ramifications of gambling all we want, but we can't ignore its presence in many corners of men's sports. It just hasn't been there for the women. It may limit the attention they receive, but it's also kept them free from point-shaving scandals and the like.

Anonymous said...

I think you're on to something with the idea many of the team sports don't allow their athletes to dress in feminine attire. I don't think the sports watching world(mostly men) want to watch women dressed as men do "manly" things. I know I don't. It also doesn't help that women compete at a noticeably lower level then men in team sports. No dunking in basketball. No body checking in hockey. Women compete at a lesser level in tennis too but from a spectators point a view all you see is two elite athletes doing their all to win. You don't notice it. Plus they compete in skirts. I can just about guarantee you womens basketball would be more popular if the women wore shorter shorts and tighter jerseys, more in line with traditional womens clothes. Women don't dress like men in everyday life. Why should they in sport?