Friday, February 05, 2010

When Sports Stars Become Authority Figures, Women Lose

By now anyone interested in sports knows about the upcoming Tim Tebow ad set to appear during the Superbowl. Feminists and other activist groups have critiqued the ad for providing unsafe and misleading information to women about their reproductive health (see here, here and here for more on that). But this is more than just an anti-choice ad: it’s the manifestation of a hegemonic system that creates male sports stars who in turn seem perfectly natural choices to sell any product or in this case, speak on any issue from the biggest mediated platform in American sports.

Tebow is a known social conservative, but just as importantly for this message, a star football player. There’s a reason Focus on the Family isn’t simply airing an ad with James Dobson discussing abortion. Rather, it’s because he is a football star that Tebow is the star of the ad. And it is because of his exploits on the football field, combined with a media system that privileges “power” men’s sports, that Tebow is a recognizable star in the first place.

And herein lies the problem for women: As long as sports – and especially football – are culturally understood as a space only appropriate for men, female athletes will simply never earn a comparable type of hero status, and therefore cannot enter the discourse to speak on political issues with the same kind of impact– even those central to women’s lives.
--Erin Whiteside


Anonymous said...

There's a couple of misconceptions in this post. While, pro-choice stances are typically viewed as a women's issue, the same is not true for anti-abortion stances, which is largely a religious issue so a man would have no less authority here than a women. Also you write as if male sports stars are often politically active. They are not. There are a few exceptions, but not many. If Lindsey Vonn wanted to do a comparable anti-abortion ad during the Olympics, NBC would let her.

Anonymous said...

I don't see the loss to society here. We already have too many people speaking out on political issues and failing miserably to contribute to the marketplace of ideas. Their only qualifications come from the ability to sing a song or act a scene or throw a ball. So women athletes don't get to speak out on political issues because they're not the heroes male athletes are. I don't think it hurts a bit. There's enough clutter out there without adding them to the mix.