Rethinking “sports”

One of the big reasons so many women make the choice to not participate in sports is because “sports” is defined as a thing that very specifically and consciously denies women a place in. For example, I was discussing Sean Avery with my partner earlier in the week and he expressed the belief that on the whole, hockey is one of the least sexist sports out there.

It took a might amount of restraint for me to point out to him that, well, women aren’t allowed to play in the NHL, they’ve NEVER been allowed to play and the possibility of them being allowed to play isn’t even remotely on the horizon. He got the point–but the fact that even ‘liberated’ or ‘pro-feminist’ men need to be reminded that when a structure is built on the process of exclusion it is, indeed, sexism–well, there’s a lot of work to be done in the act of unfolding all the hurt, pain, silence, marginalization and distaste women deal with on a daily basis when it comes to moving their bodies and the embracing concept of ‘sports.’

So in that vein, I urge you to watch the following video:

Although dance competitions may get an occasional shout out on ESPN, I think all you really need to do is look at where the funding is to see how seriously dancing is taken by the ‘sports’ world, and as such, how accessible that ‘sport’ is to those who would like to participate.

This dance competition is in Europe, where universal health care is normal, so it makes sense that there are enough people to put on a huge competition–economic support to buy the right tools for a sport is essential to being able to participate in that sport. But something I noticed was how ethnically undiverse the population of dancers are. In other words, where are all the people of color? All the women of color? Are they too busy trying to survive? And I have to believe that if there is a lack of ethnic diversity in Europe due to economic hardships, in the U.S., where women of color consistently sit at the bottom of the economic ladder (even more so if they are disabled women of color), dance competitions are beyond the realm of imagination for probably most.

So, what do we do about this? It’s a question that must be thrown out into the atmosphere, but one I think that must be answered first and foremost by the women who are already negotiating exclusion and marginalization.

If you are a disabled woman of color, what are you doing to indulge in your love of moving? What support would you most appreciate from those who are not a part of your ‘team’?

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8 Comments Have Been Posted

Right and Wrong

I agree with you that organized hockey and the NHL are sexist entities, but I disagree with your rationale for thinking that way. Hockey is a sport where many women cannot compete because of physical differences, not because "boys are better than girls" at hockey. I am not saying all women cannot play hockey, I'm just saying many or even most. I'm sorry, but I am not going into a corner to get a puck when a 6'3", 220 lb defenseman is coming in after me. My 5'6" 140 lb frame will not withstand that.

If this is an argument that the way professional NHL hockey is played needs to be changed so that women my size have an opportunity to play it, I'm sorry I am not behind you on this one.

The NHL is sexist in many, many ways, but the on ice game isn't one of them. The NHL has had a female goaltender, and Haley Wickenheiser has played in Europe professionally, but the NHL game is not accomodating for men who are 5'10" - 170 lbs... why should it be for women smaller than that?

C'mon... this isn't a boys against girls argument. This is a size issue.

If you want to talk about the fact that Sean Avery isn't the anomaly that the league would like him to be, and that it's just that the other players are evolved just enough to not say that on TV, then I got your back. But not before.

I'm not arguing anything at

I'm not arguing anything at all about "girls" should be able to play with "boys." I'm saying that girls/women should have the right to access sports in the same manner that boys/men do. That's a completly different argument--and it's a large part of the reason why I chose to talk about dancing and economic access rather than NHL. I'm considering how to make just the concept of *moving* and love of *moving* accessible to women and specifically women of color.

If you want to go the NHL route--I don't really give a shit if "girls are as good as boys"--because I know that women have their own hockey leagues and they can play on those. I *DO* care that women have such a horrible time with getting funding to *play* on those leagues, that those leagues are chronically in danger of folding due to lack of funding and that so many women don't even bother playing or trying to play because they know how difficult it will be to maintain a career. That's what I'm trying to unfold here.

La Macha
Editor: Vivir Latino
La Macha on Twitter:

The Avery factor

I'm not sure if my comment is most appropriate in this post, as there have been several blog postings that have dealt with this issue more specifically.

But I wanted to add something to the Avery issue - has anyone else noticed the average hockey fan's reaction to his suspension?

I read the initial story that was written after Avery "sounded off" his rehearsed sloppy-seconds speech to the press in Calgary, and since he's known for making derogatory comments, I honestly didn't expect much else to come of it. I was really happy to learn the NHL had suspended him, because if nothing else, everyone (i.e. outside of the hockey world) found out about it. I played hockey through my childhood and teen years, and having a slight idea of the "hockey culture" (which I assume is similar to any male dominated sports culture) it's sad to say that comments like these come as no surprise.

But what I've found most disturbing is not Avery's comments themselves, but the reaction of most hockey fans (and being from Canada that translated into the majority of men - I'll leave female hockey fans out of the equation for now) to the comments. Some just think he's an idiot that should be ignored, some honestly think the comments were funny and he shouldn't be reprimanded for bringing some colour (pun ironically intended) into the game, but no one brings up words like sexism and misogyny (except for one hockey analyst I really like). There's a real feeling out there that Avery has been sacrifice to the "political correctness" gods. There was a poll on a Canadian sports website before Avery was officially suspended asking what his punishment should be (ranging from no punishment to over 10 games suspended, along with one other option). The answer that received the most votes was "putting Avery alone in a room with Dion Phaneuf for 5 minutes" (the defenceman for the Calgary Flames who is currently dating Elisha Cuthbert and whom the comments, since Avery was about to play Calgary when he made them, were presumably meant to enrage). I guess most people felt that giving Dion that opportunity to defend Elisha's (and hisown) honour was the most appropriate punishment. I'm not sure what the answer would have been if Dion wasn't 5 inches taller and 20 pounds heavier than Avery.

Not to say that this was, or is, the end of the issue, New York Ranger fans (Avery is a former Ranger) adopted a new taunt for Phaneuf when Calgary played New York yesterday. They chanted "sloppy seconds" when Phaneuf's name was announced after he scored an assist and chanted "Avery, Avery" after he took a penalty. It remains to be seen how long this will continue.

In summary, Avery makes horribly sexist comments to the press, gets suspended by the NHL for a few games, and becomes some sort of pop-culture-free-speech hero. Lovely.

P.S. Quickly, about the women in hockey issue, I'd just like to say that the Canadian women's national hockey team is very popular up here. Mostly around the Olympics and annual world championships, but they draw decent TV ratings and offer an exciting brand of hockey. I even was lucky enough to have a member of the team as a coach, once.

but they draw decent TV

Woman and sports

Although I think you make a good argument for woman in sports, let's not forget about Title X and what that broght to females at the college level. Therfore, I understand you arguement, however for a woman who wants to participate in a sport, it has never been easier.

Title X

While I understand the Title X has made women's access to competitive, albeit amatuer, sports more accessible, we can't deny the fact that women playing sports on a professional level is nowhere near it the arena that men have.

The almost total absence of professional women's sports leagues, where women are paid to be athletes, is very small is comparison, and therefore more competitive. We've heard the excuses before: no one wants to watch women's basketball, the market isn't there, etc... and that holds the women's sports movement back.

Realistically, where does a woman athlete go after she's graduated from competing at the college level? Aside from national teams, the options for a professional woman athelte are minimal.

Exactly Sara. And I've heard

Exactly Sara. And I've heard *many* girls express on baseball teams that they "will have to play softball next year" as if it's a death sentence--Their *love* is baseball, they *learned* how to play baseball, and yet they 'become women' and they are restricted to the sport that nobody follows, nobody cares about, leads to the Olympics (if they're lucky) and that's about it--and doesn't get funding. Those girls *know* that. At the exact moment when boys start getting recruited and laying the foundation for recruitment, girl's 'careers' are effectively *ending*.

So why even bother? And that is the idea I am struggling with. What is the answer to "why even bother"? What do I tell those girls? Why should they bother?

La Macha
Editor: Vivir Latino
La Macha on Twitter:

Thanks so much for this video. And interesting questions....

It was wonderful to watch this. As a woman with a disability who has always loved to dance (first on my feet, then in my chair), it was fantastic to see.

As to the issue of racial diversity, I'm no expert, but from what I've seen of (nondisability) professional ballroom dance competitions, in the US and elsewhere, it seems pretty exclusive, in general. The gender roles are, of course, super rigid. It seems like who gets involved has a lot to do with class background, cultural background, and money.

For example, Russian couples seem to dominate, which I assume is because it's a more culturally valued sport and art form there. I don't think there's as much of the "if you're a guy and you dance, you must be gay" thing, like there is here. It's seen as macho.

But even in the Latin competitions, most competitors seem to be Anglo. And of course the Latin dances come from Latin American countries and cultures, which leads me to think that a lot of people are dancing them at home or at festivals and such, with family and friends, and not for big US or international competitions, which becomes less about the cultural and family tradition of the dance and more about competition and money.

I think a big part of it for nondisabled elite ballroom dancers is that classes, costumes, hair, makeup, etc., costs a LOT. So, that narrows the pool further.

Many dancers come from families with a long history of ballroom, where they grow up in the sport, so I think that brings in an element of exclusivity, too.

On one hand, it was terrific just to see wheelchair athletes -- and women no less. Usually the only wheelchair athletes to appear in the public eye are the one photo of the man and woman who win the wheelchair divisions of the Boston Marathon and then men in chairs doing Really Macho Stuff, like in the movie Murderball, or if you're lucky, wheelchair basketball, etc.

I did notice that overwhelmingly it was the men who were walkies and the women in chairs, and that does seem to reinforce the gender roles in ballroom dance. I wondered if any of the walkies had hidden disabilities.

Also, I was surprised that there were almost no dual-chair pairings.

There were a couple of brief glimpses at some exciting exceptions: two f/f pairs (one of which was a dual-chair pairing, no less!), the occasional male chair dancer and woman walkie dancer, and at least one powerchair user. I was surprised there weren't more -- she really seemed to be a stark exception to the other hard-bodied, sports-chair equipped wheelies.

Anyway, thanks for sharing this and for provoking the conversation. I've sent the link around to a bunch of friends.


integrated dance

Why bother?

Easy. 1 - For the love of it; 2 - for the future of it; 3 - for the hope that you might be at the right place at the right time when the sport grows.

During the '94 MLB strike, I saw lots of college and semi-pro baseball. I saw exciting sports played by people who were playing more for the love of the game than anything, and it was beautiful. In a lot of ways, it was more fun than a MLB game, and it was certainly more accessible for the average person, with tix, food, parking, etc. coming to a reasonable total. I still like going to local minor-league baseball games.

You could fund women's sports with $billions in stadiums, advertising, and merchandising, and it wouldn't be successful without these young women who take a chance, make little or nothing, and may never have their names in lights. If women's sports are to succeed on a level like that of the MLB / NFL / NHL / NBA, it needs players to create and excite that audience. You can't create that market overnight, and you can't do it if the best talent available decides to pursue a career in accounting instead. The WNBA is making progress, and (IMHO, anyway) puts basketball up there with tennis and golf as a sport in which a woman can have a professional career in.

No team or league ever starts easy. The Patriots were a little startup team in the startup American Football League back in the '60s. Players made little, and facilities were essentially borrowed. But if it weren't for Gino Cappelletti back in the '60s, Tom Brady likely wouldn't be making $12 million this year, and certainly wouldn't be doing it on a team called the Patriots. Understand that there are no guarantees. Even with money and talent, not every startup succeeds; not even Doug Flutie could save the USFL.

<blockquote>Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor souls who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.

- Teddy Roosevelt</blockquote>

<blockquote>You may be disappointed if you don't succeed, but you're doomed if you don't try.

- Beverly Sills</blockquote>

<blockquote>Just do it.

- Nike</blockquote>

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