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A Gentleman's - and Lady's - Game for Ruffians

April 23, 2010

As if female athletes didn’t have to battle hard enough already for validation. First off, take the media’s coverage of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship where the University of Connecticut Women’s basketball team was torn apart for a less than perfect game, despite the fact of finishing a second perfect season in a row and achieving few things any college basketball teams have ever done, men’s or women’s. Add to the mix a giant dose of homophobia plus the media’s double-standard of women athletes and it’s no wonder why women’s sports don’t receive the recognition they deserve. Today, Salon.com reported on the long history of homophobia in women’s collegiate basketball – and the scare tactics used by some coaches to eliminate out lesbian athletes from their programs. It is no secret that gay women are known to be athletic and play sports – but in no different a way that some straight women play sports and some do not. The 2009 documentary, Training Rules, follows the story of Jen Harris, who was kicked off the Penn State women’s basketball team by notoriously homophobic coach, Rene Portland, despite being the leading scorer and not actually being gay. The film shows us that even the notion of women not conforming to so called gender norms leads to media and public outcry. The double-standard of female athletes’ images and behavior has led to this deep-seeded homophobia in women’s sports. Throughout the 2009-2010 basketball season, the UConn women’s unprecedented winning streak was actually deemed bad for women’s college basketball – because it somehow meant that the competition was lopsided and therefore not competitive at all. Furthermore, women’s sports in general are constantly criticized for not being as thrilling and competitive as men’s sports, which leads to less coverage, less fan support, and ultimately less funding.  However, when a female athlete does show an aggressive, win-at-all-costs attitude, she is slaughtered by the media. Remember in November when University of New Mexico soccer player Elizabeth Lambert hit headlines? A video of Lambert pulling down a Brigham Young University player by the hair during a game went viral on the internet and lead to media and public outrage -- leaving Lambert with an indefinite suspension and forcing apologizes from the NCAA, the Mountain West conference, the University of New Mexico soccer program and Lambert herself. But would the reaction have been the same if it were a male soccer player? Let’s think about how often we hear of pro male athletes acting “unsportsmanlike” both on and off the field. Not only are they applauded for their aggressive game play, but when they are arrested for domestic violence, drug charges, rape, sexual assault - the teams they play for, the sponsors that back them, and sometimes even the athletes themselves, never become unpopular, are never forced to apologize and are allowed right back onto the field no questions asked. And while the machismo image of the superhero male athlete lives on – women athletes struggle with translating their strong, independent, aggressive selves into the non-threatening, “I-can-still-be-a-wife-and-mom,” sex symbols that the media and the public want to see. Maybe we’re actually causing this so called “lack of competitive women’s sports” by not only making female athletes apologize for their actions on the field, but also forcing them to hide who they are. Rest assured there is no shortage of female athletes in this country who want to play rough, full-contact sports that are thrilling for all spectators to watch. The Associated Press reported this week that women are the fastest growing population of rugby players in the US. Thanks to the decision to include rugby in the 2016 Olympics, and media exposure like Academy Award nominated Invictus and increasing coverage on ESPN and ABC, rugby is becoming more and more popular at all levels – and women are seizing the opportunity to play. “Long denied the chance to compete in contact sports, women are now joining rugby clubs in record numbers and relishing the hard-nosed nature of what has been called a gentleman’s game for ruffians.” preconceptionsTaking advantage of all the hype is the US Women’s Rugby National Team who are headed to the Women’s Rugby World Cup in London this summer. To cultivate supporters, funding, and help further lay a foundation for the women’s game, they’ve created a campaign to spread their message. We WaNT Rugby aims to popularize women’s rugby in the US, build a national following to support the team at the World Cup and empower young women to learn the game and completely obliterate the stereotypes and criticism that have been holding women back. So, if you still can’t find enough evidence to validate women’s sports based on the accomplishments of female athletes already in 2010 alone, and even further, you still can’t see how imperative it is that the images of female athletes realistically portray who they are -- consider this: even the Obama administration is getting in on the action by reinforcing the original interpretation of Title IX that prohibits gender discrimination in federal funded school programs. According to Vice President Joe Biden, “What we’re doing here today will better ensure equal opportunity in athletics, and allow women to realize their potential – so this nation can realize its potential.”
Tags: LGBT, Sports

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