Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Judge Danica Patrick for work on track

With Danica Patrick’s recent announcement that she intends to race full time in NASCAR in 2012, it will be intriguing to observe how she will now be portrayed by various media outlets.

Patrick, who’s the main sponsorship face for GoDaddy.com, seemingly is known as much for her looks as her driving ability. The former appears to have irked at least one of her future NASCAR peers.

According to SI.com, driver Brad Keselowski tweeted: "... Her assent up the ladder of the sport thru various branding 'techniques' (swimsuit ads etc) only serves to undermine the ... future credibility of female races who wish to make it based on skill ... Essentially, she has opened a pandoras box for all female racers. If she doesn't succeed, no female will get the chance for years to come.''

Patrick did struggle this weekend finishing 21st in the IndyCar race at Sonoma, Calif. But her legacy with the organization is already secure with only four races left on this year’s IndyCar schedule.

Patrick is the first woman to win an IndyCar race, but open-wheel driving versus operating stock cars is a whole other matter, so an adjustment period is needed — but how much should time she get from journalists before judgments are formed?

There's likely not an absolute answer, but here's one thing journalists and editors should keep in mind regardless of their feelings about Patrick: She is an accomplished driver and has a record to support that.

Plenty of drivers have unsuccessfully tried to make the switch from open-wheel to stock cars. Whether Patrick goes on to win races and championships or has a mediocre stint in NASCAR, her driving abilities — not anything else — should be the paramount focus.

— Steve Bien-Aimé

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Commentators look beyond the numbers of NBA lockout

One of the most prevalent questions in the media coverage surrounding the ongoing NBA lockout is: does the NBA make money? It may seem like a simple question, but as of yet, it doesn’t have a simple answer.

For example, Larry Coon, in a mid-July article for ESPN.com, compares leaked financial information from the New Orleans Hornets and New Jersey Nets to data provided by the NBA and explains why the numbers don’t seem to add up.

Nate Silver, on his typically political NYTimes.com blog FiveThirtyEight, used some of the same leaked information as well as valuation estimates from Forbes and Financial World to cast doubt on the NBA’s claims of red ledgers.

However, in the same day, Silver published another blog post showcasing a statement from the NBA’s Tim Frank that disputed some of Silver’s earlier post, disagreed with Forbes’ valuations, and reaffirmed the NBA’s claim that it lost $340 million in 2009-2010.

The bottom line in this aspect of the debate is this: the NBA has not released enough information for journalists to provide a definitive answer for the seemingly simple question of whether or not the league is profitable.

So, in the absence of this fact, some commentators have turned to more philosophical questions to fill their pages during the lengthening NBA hiatus.

Ari Paul, in “Class Struggle on the Court” from The Nation’s recent sports-centric issue, compares the NBA’s labor situation to more general perceptions about labor relations in the US. He disputes the pessimistic claim that this and other professional league labor debates boil down to billionaires arguing with millionaires. He, instead, points out that a large percentage of NBA employees are either minimum-salary players who only play a few years or behind-the-scenes and on-the-concourse workers who make NBA games happen.

According to Paul, in ignoring the value of all of their thousands of employees – from LeBron James to ticket taker #327, NBA owners are reinforcing “an impulse in the United States to say to skilled workers that they can afford to take some cuts,” an impulse that “typically stops at CEOs and owners.”

Malcolm Gladwell – better known for his social philosophy than his sports writing – asks a different question for a recent article on ESPN.com affiliate Grantland. Instead of asking how much cash the owners should pocket in the owner/employee split, Gladwell wonders if owners of professional sport franchises should profit financially at all.

Gladwell argues that many professional owners don’t run their franchises like businesses, and as such, shouldn’t expect to receive any monetary benefits. What they can expect, however, are psychic benefits, which Gladwell defines as, “the pleasure that someone gets from owning something — over and above economic returns.”

These psychic benefits should increase the value of sports franchises above and beyond any financial losses, according to Gladwell. He concludes that any owners who do not feel satisfied by the total value – monetary and psychic – of their franchises, should sell to other owners who might.

It seems the more time the NBA and NBA players association spend debating the finer points of revenue sharing and amortization of team buying, the more likely commentators are to question the fundamental nature of the debate in question.

This critical questioning and commentary is a valuable step in contextualizing the NBA lockout debate, which may seem abstract and abstruse to fans that may not understand the finer points of amortization and will likely never see $340 million in their lifetimes. This added perspective should help the public decide how to view the NBA, as well as other sports franchises, in the future.

--Brett Sherrick

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Women's Sports Sell Without Sexual Objectification

This summer, I experienced one of those typical 21st century moments in my apartment in Serbia when talking on Skype while simultaneously chatting on Facebook and watching the Women’s Soccer World Cup on TV. My computer activities stopped when I vaguely heard one of the Eurosport commentators mention “voting”. Out of mere curiosity, I turned the volume up on the TV to listen more carefully to the “contest” that the Serbian commentators were conducting.

The viewers were encouraged to vote for “Miss World Cup.” The rules were simple: send a text message with the name of the best looking player. The players were to be evaluated solely based on their appearance and not on their athletic ability. The viewers were reminded of that distinction quite frequently throughout the broadcast just to avoid confusion.

To make the decision easier, the commentators pointed out the players’ many appealing physical traits such as “beautiful eyes” or “graceful figure,” though here and there they did offer a critical analysis on soccer ability, including the assessment of a French player who had “the skill-set of Zinedine Zidane, but luckily not his looks.”

Female athletes’ objectification and sexualization in the media are not news for those who follow sports. What may come as news, however, is that objectification and sexualization are, perhaps, not the most effective ways to promote female athletes.
Mary Jo Kane, from the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sports at the University of Minnesota, wrote an article in The Nation about her most recent study which examined if the “sex sells” concept indeed increased interest in women’s sports.

Dr Kane argues: No, it does not.

Contrary to the common assumption, the majority of the participants in Dr. Kane’s research found the hypersexual images offensive.
Instead of trying so hard to sell a skewed image of the female athlete with an excuse that these images are necessary because only then can we attract more viewers and appeal to (male) sports fans, Dr. Kane suggests that “those who cover women’s sports [should] simply turn on the camera and let us see the reality.”

If you watched the Women’s Soccer World Cup in the U.S., you saw just that. If you did not, you might have come across some disturbing attempts to “sell” female athletes to the viewers. We are still far from being liberated from the sexualized images. We have much work to do if we want to see the “reality.”

Finding out that sex doesn’t sell women’s sports is a step. Believing, as a society, that women’s sports do not need the sex-appeal to attract audiences would be a stride.

-- Dunja Antunovic