Monday, September 20, 2010

Leaked Credentialing Guidelines Focus on Bloggers

In recent weeks, attention was briefly drawn to the NHL’s policy regarding bloggers in the press box. A leaked draft of guidelines for credentialing bloggers surfaced in the hockey blogosphere. The leak grabbed the attention of various members of the hockey community, ranging from established bloggers to the owner of the Washington Capitals, Ted Leonsis.

Reports are that this is old news and the league office is quick to point out that there has been a policy regarding bloggers for two years. What leaked was a draft, and to this point clubs have been allowed to take their own positions regarding the issues. Teams such as the New York Rangers have policies that are regarded to be stringent, while Leonsis’ blog post makes it apparent that he embraces blogging as a positive direction for the multimedia landscape. (He actually prides himself on being a daily blogger.) According to Frank Brown, NHL vice president of communications, the NHL’s current position remains the same as it has for the previous two years.

“We’re aware of the emerging voice of the blogger,” Brown said, “and want to be respectful of that while still being respectful of the significant number of other elements that have to be considered.”

The notion that each team has been able to make a blogging policy that works for itself may be why the NHL hasn’t felt a need to outline specific blogging terms to this point. Blogging isn’t a new practice, and it certainly isn’t new to the NHL, as evidenced by the New York Islanders’ Blog Box program. In its fourth year, the Blog Box invites bloggers to “try out” for a chance to cover the team. The participants receive single-game credentials and access to players and coaches. Obviously, this works for their organization.

Of course, the questions then remain as to whether or not bloggers are journalists in their own right, and if they should be treated like journalists. The blog has emerged as a forum for news, insight and discussion about any topic imaginable. For sports, it’s a place to discuss rumors and the murkier side of how a team performs on a given night. It’s a place where people like Yahoo’s Greg Wyshynski can leak drafted guidelines for credentialing bloggers. Sports bloggers can be anywhere from amateur commentators to engaged, well-read critical thinkers about a league or team.

This topic may not have emerged for its novelty, but it’s still one worth discussing. The changing multimedia landscape forces us to at least think about the role of bloggers in sports media. Whether bloggers should be granted all-access is a hard question to answer. The fact that a draft proposal surfaced shows that a professional league such as the NHL is considering – and has been considering – this question. That their current policy is to let individual clubs make their own call seems fair, as this is a medium we’re still working to understand. It will be interesting to see if a new league-wide policy is released and, if so, how it positions bloggers.

- Melanie Formentin

**If you’re interested in the topic of bloggers as journalists, join the Curley Center for Sports Journalism as we host the first of an online series of chats being launched this year. The first discussion will focus on the topic of credentialing and is set for Monday, October 18, from 1-2 p.m. Stay tuned to this blog for more details about speakers and connecting to the chat.**

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Female television sports reporters: Be attractive, but not too attractive

As pundits and opinion-makers have continued to weigh in on the Clinton Portis saga, discussion has turned to what reporter Ines Sainz was wearing, and whether or not her attire was to blame for the humiliating sexual harassment she was forced to endure from members of the New York Jets. Focusing on Sainz’s clothing and appearance places the blame on Sainz instead of a problematic locker room culture, and is reflective of tired “she asked for it” patriarchal discourse.

Blaming Sainz’s attire is a curious argument, given that there is an obvious unspoken rule that in order to appear on camera and cultivate a career in televised sports, women must exude a kind of heterosexual attractiveness through their physical appearance and dress. Women are thus left in a double-bind: In order to join “the boys” they must be appealing to boys, but should they be too appealing in a certain context (see locker room, Jets) their attractiveness becomes their own fault. Until we begin to see female reporters as qualified sports reporters and not, as Hannah Storm had to remind her two male colleagues on a recent ESPN debate “there to check guys out,” women will continue to be reduced to their bodies in ways that are never on their own terms.

--Erin Whiteside

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

NFL wise to condemn Portis' locker-room comments

The NFL quickly distanced itself from comments by NFL player (Washington) Clinton Portis that female reporters in the locker room are "going to want somebody."
Portis' statement is so offensive and ridiculous as not to warrant much comment. The problem with these kind of statements, though, is that they perpetuate the "locker-room looker" mythology about female sports reporters, which undermines their ability to be taken seriously as journalists in the sports setting.
Portis' comment, related to the harassment of reporter Ines Sainz by New York Jets players over the weekend, is also a timely reminder that perhaps we haven't come as far as we would like to think when it comes to fair treatment of women who cover sports.
It was 20 years ago -- almost to the day -- when sports reporter Lisa Olson was accosted by New England football players in a case that would put national attention on the blatant harassment faced by female reporters simply trying to do their jobs.
How far have we really come since that case? Incidents like those of Olson -- and, two decades later, Sainz -- and the misunderstandings around them point to the importance of organizations such as AWSM and continuing advocacy for women in the sports workplace. --M. Hardin

Monday, September 06, 2010

Will the AVP's end hurt an emerging sport for the NCAA?

If media coverage is any indicator, football is the only college sport under way for the 2010-2011 academic year. But the volleyball -- indoor volleyball, that is -- season has also started. College volleyball fans and aspiring players may have more opportunity to take in the sport in future years if schools take up the NCAA's newest "emerging" sport, sand volleyball.
Sand volleyball -- better known as beach volleyball, has gained in popularity thanks to players like Misty May and Kerry Walsh. Coverage and marketing of the sport has been criticized, however, for using players' sexual attractiveness to attract spectators (and rightly so: one study found that almost 40% of televised shots of players were of chests and buttocks).
NCAA member schools have the opportunity, now that the NCAA has approved the sport, to offer it for intercollegiate competition. But it's difficult to know whether they will. The AVP -- the professional tour for beach volleyball in the U.S. and the pipeline for Olympic players -- announced in mid-August that it was closing shop.
What will this mean for U.S. prospects at the London Olympics in 2012? It's hard to say, but the most talented, experienced players will likely still make a good showing for the U.S. as they stay active in international play.
The bigger question -- depending on how long it takes for the AVP to revive itself financially -- is in the implications for the development of young talent and interest in the sport. The NCAA's approval of sand volleyball as an emerging sport will likely keep the pipeline open, depending on the number of schools that choose to pursue it.
In light of past marketing strategies for beach volleyball, it will also be interesting to watch how the sport will be covered and promoted at the college level. --Marie Hardin

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Glitter, Bronzer and Power

The New York Times Magazine recently posted a stunning visual piece on women’s tennis that features a video gallery of the world’s top players hitting a ball in slow motion. In some ways, the piece takes us a step forward in depictions of female athletes. Rather than simply showing them smiling while holding a racket, we see these women hitting the ball with incredible force --muscles rippling and all, an image only enhanced by the extreme slow motion video.

However, with the exception of seeing these athletes in actual “action,” the piece is more a re-tread on the old theme of emphasizing beauty over athleticism when depicting female athletes. Taken in its full context, the piece unfortunately minimizes the displays of exertion and maximizes sexuality and beauty.

For instance, Serena Williams, arguably the most powerful woman in tennis today, is seen smacking an unseen ball with ferocious intensity. However, that ball explodes in an avalanche of glitter in front of Williams, who is wearing a sequined dress, body glitter and flowing hair. Like Williams, many of the players are wearing body glitter or bronzer while wearing nightclub-style dresses, several not-so-subtle markers of femininity.

Perhaps most troubling is the way several of the athletes’ bodies are literally chopped up, with the camera focusing only on their legs, abs or breasts. For example, viewers see Samantha Stosur’s face for only a split second as the camera zooms into her breasts as she hits the ball, her head literally cut out of the frame. The video of Victoria Azarenka starts at her shoes and slowly pans up her legs, bare stomach and breasts, mimicking the way a film director might shoot a scene to indicate a man “checking out” a woman. The image of her hitting the ball happens only at the very end, and even then her long, loose and untied hair flows around her face in an image closer to what we might see in Sports Illustrated swimsuit than at Wimbledon. In fact, nearly all the women have loose, untied and flowing hair, another common feminine marker.

Even the title of the piece – “The Beauty of Power” – hints at the discomfort we have at a cultural level of associating women with raw physical power. By labeling these images as not just “power” images, but “beautiful images of power,” viewers are reminded that the players are beautiful [read: feminine] and thus “normal women” despite the displays of muscles and exertion.

In these ways, the players are offered as objects of sexual desire, and presented to the viewer from the perspective of the heterosexual male gaze. By doing so, the focus is put on the women’s sexuality rather than on the displays of strength that the camera also captures. Ultimately, despite the video of female athletes in action, the piece is an overall disappointment, especially given the potential it had to present the physical power and athleticism of the women’s tennis elite.

--Erin Whiteside

Mariotti Criticized Following Arrest

Jay Mariotti’s August 21 arrest inspired a wave of joy in the sports world and blogosphere. A week after the incident, in which Mariotti was charged with domestic assault and released on a $50,000 bail, there is still discussion about Mariotti’s journalistic approach and how it makes this incident so compelling.

It is hard to pinpoint a time in recent years that a journalist has received so much negative feedback following a controversial incident. From athletes and sports figures to bloggers and journalists, people seemed to line up to take their turns stabbing at Mariotti’s various perceived faults. Following news of the arrest, renowned movie critic – and former colleague of Mariotti – Roger Ebert tweeted a link to a column he wrote when Mariotti left the Chicago Sun-Times, saying “Jay Mariotti's arrest makes me fondly remember my farewell column after the rat left the Sun-Times.” That farewell column was titled “Jay the Rat.” For The New York Times, Richard Sandomir reported that columnists and bloggers across the country were not only collating instances of Mariotti’s strong opinions about domestic violence, but they were openly showing their dislike of Mariotti as a person and reporter. More than a week after the incident, Chicago White Sox and Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf was asked about his “longtime nemesis” and responded that Mariotti was a “pissant.” In the meanwhile, the silence of Mariotti’s colleagues seems almost as loud as the concert of voices taking this opportunity to express their happiness about the situation.

Such strong reaction has to come from somewhere, and some would point to Mariotti’s journalistic approach as the catalyst for all the schadenfreude. In the past, Mariotti has been known for his commentaries about domestic abuse. Perhaps his most infamous comments regarded Jason Kidd, who was taunted with chants of “Wife Beater!” during an NBA game. Of Kidd, Mariotti said he felt bad for his family but didn’t feel bad for Kidd. Only a week before his arrest, Mariotti produced the AOL FanHouse article “For Acts of Violence, MLB Much Too Soft.” In the article, he described a couple of recent instances of “violence” in the MLB and bemoaned the lack of punishment brought upon the players. Francisco Rodriguez’s suspension by the Mets for a post-game incident involving a family member was considered insufficient because it amounted to “1/81st of a 162-game season, which, coupled with a fine of a bit more than $125,000, constitutes a blip.”

Now, Mariotti is on the other side of the fence he helped build.

It’s not that Mariotti is wrong for taking a stance against domestic abuse and violence. Athletes and sports figures are people who are admired and emulated, and domestic violence is an issue that should not be taken lightly. Where Mariotti seemingly goes wrong is in his approach. He has been described as making issues “black and white.” His more emotional commentaries have been known to leave people offended, and he has garnered a reputation for not facing those he criticizes. However, Dan LeBatard of the Miami Herald took a neutral position on the issue, suggesting that in terms of fan response what has happened to Mariotti is frightening. LeBatard suggests that “Mariotti can’t beg and plead for fairness and due process and compassion, and expect to get it, when he is so often reluctant to extend it himself.” What Mariotti and other journalists lack is empathy, and maybe sports media should be more evenhanded and careful when reporting about others’ shortcomings.

That reluctancy and lack of empathy may ultimately be why Mariotti is coming under so much scrutiny. The Bleacher Report offered an article outlining ten ways Mariotti could reclaim his job at ESPN. Of the ten suggestions, many suggest he make a public relations push to improve his image. This issue, however, shouldn’t be about a one-man public relations effort. It should be about assessing how sports pundits and journalists’ approach their trade. Mariotti’s arrest sends the message that he does not practice what he preaches. As a journalist, he should expect to be held to the same standards to which he holds others. For Mariotti, his historical lack of empathy and unwillingness to work with the same people he writes about seemingly makes him even less likely to garner support from his colleagues and audiences. There’s something to be said for standing for issues, but there’s even more to be said for the way in which opinions and stories are presented and critiqued. Based on the overwhelmingly happy response to Mariotti’s current personal issues, one might suggest he’s seeing that the hard way.

– Melanie Formentin