Girls will be jocks

At last, coverage of women's sports that even this non-spectator can appreciate. Plus: One writer's plaintive cry: "Enough with the sex, dammit!"

Topics: China, Baseball, Abortion, Sex, Violence Against Women, Suicide, Love and Sex,

In June 1998, Royce Webb launched the Sports Jones Web site, promising intelligent, well-written sports coverage that highlighted underrepresented viewpoints in the field. “We want to understand sports, not package and sell it,” his site declared.

I do not follow sports. But while the details of who made what play and who won what series may have slipped my radar, I haven’t failed to notice one glaring fact: In sports reporting, women’s teams (college and pro) almost always come second. I’ve observed that WNBA games are scheduled for 10 or 11 at night, while NBA games get prime time play. I can’t remember the last time a women’s sports event or issue received front-page coverage; perhaps it was Women’s World Cup. When I have seen female sports stars displayed prominently, they’re usually barely clothed and hawking a product or posed on the cover of a men’s magazine. (You want media attention? Show us your sports bra!)

As Webb puts it: “I don’t think it’s [women's sports] treated with any respect. A lot of the editors, of course, come from earlier times when women’s sports weren’t on the map at all. Also, through the years it really has been seen as something that is covered after the ‘real’ sports stories.”

Sports Jones declared its intention to give women’s sports equal coverage in an impressive editorial package last fall. The site recognizes that every female sporting event occurs simultaneously in two arenas: the playing field itself and the culture at large.

In one prominent story, Sports Jones looks at Heather Sue Mercer’s discrimination lawsuit against Duke University, which forbade her to play on their all-male football team, in the context of a small but growing group of college women who are making the cut. In a review of Pat Griffin’s book “Strong Women, Deep Closets,” Sports Jones explores the discrimination faced by lesbian athletes.

There are profiles of female athletes as well as quirky takes on well-hyped topics such as Martina vs. Venus.

Webb readily admits that Sports Jones’ coverage of men’s and women’s sports isn’t 50-50. Webb concedes, “Our staff is still mostly men, and we write about the things we’re interested in. But we try more consciously to take women’s sports seriously. We’re trying as actively as possible to have more women writing, too.” They’re off to a good start.

I was hoping to get sassy, smart coverage of women’s athletic issues from the zine Girl Jock. Unfortunately, the quality of the editorial output is also about 50-50. The interview with kick-boxer Michelle A’Boro was interesting enough, and I got a good chuckle out of the advice column, “What Was That $#@! Smell?” But I’m hard pressed to understand what a recipe for microwaving hotdogs has to do with anything female or athletic.

I’ll get to the sex stuff in a minute, but while we’re on the topic of women’s issues, here are a few more interesting articles published this week that address a variety of feminist topics:

  • In a challenging, disturbing piece, Robin Rothman explores the aftermath of Woodstock ’99 where eight women reported being raped. No charges have been filed, and one case has been dropped entirely due to lack of evidence. The assaults have evoked strong reactions from the National Organization for Women and the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. Most interesting, however, is Rothman’s analysis of how the young women themselves helped support the sexist atmosphere of the concert dubbed, alternately, “Rapestock,” “Tittystock” and “Boobstock”: “Nobody asks, or deserves, to be sexually assaulted. But it’s discouraging when a woman chooses to transfer responsibility for her own well-being to a group of strangers without assessing the danger of the environment and considering the consequences.” (Village Voice, Nov. 3-9)

  • “A quarter of the world’s women live in China, but, according to Women’s International Network News (Spring 1999), the country is home to more than half the world’s female suicides — about 500 a day.” Lynette Lamb looks at the growing rates of female suicide in China and several Third World countries and theorizes that a “collision of Western-style development and traditional culture” is partly to blame. (Utne Reader Online, Nov. 3)

New York Observer, Week of Nov. 8, 1999

“Enough!” by Alexandra Jacobs

Despised mayor Rudolph Giuliani may have taken sex out of Times Square, but it has come back tenfold just about everywhere else. Alexandra Jacobs decries the recent explosion of TV shows (“Sex in the City”), columns (two in Salon alone!), advertisements (too many to list), magazine covers (Maxim and its imitators, the upcoming print version of Nerve) and political scandals (Lewinsky, Lewinsky, Lewinsky) focused on the horizontal mambo. All this media attention serves to cheapen and dull what should be a private, beautiful act. This is not yet another ill-conceived Wendy Shalit-esque plea for Victorian restraint, but a sharp, snarky request to simply cool off for a bit. People do it. We know, already! The bad news for Jacobs and those of us who agree with her is that sex continues to sell better than other topics — say nuclear test-ban treaties or genocide. And until that changes (ha!), expect more of the same, sleazy stuff. God bless America.

Willamette Week (Portland, Ore.), Nov. 3-9

“Sweeps Stakes” by Patty Wentz

“Television news — it sucks, right? It’s vapid yet sensationalistic, dazzling yet monochromatic. But each night, television news enters the homes of some quarter-million Portland metro-area viewers. What’s more, the majority of Americans use television as their main news source.” This fast-moving, entertaining piece looks at why.

Jenn Shreve writes about media, technology and culture for Salon, Wired, the Industry Standard, the San Francisco Examiner and elsewhere. She lives in Oakland, Calif.

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