The words flash on screen: ”The height of intensity.” Next to the dramatic text is a photo of a young woman in a gown sitting in a limousine; she hugs a basketball like she might her non-existent date. Later, the screen announces: “A passion for commitment.” We’re shown a shot of another beautiful young lady wearing precious pearl earrings and a shoulder-baring dress, while staring directly into the camera with her smoky eyes. Such are the assets of Florida State University’s women’s basketball team, according to its spiffy new Web site.
The video introduction does show us several snapshots of the girls with sweat pouring down their faces and posing in their jerseys — scenarios that are actually relevant to the game — but the glamour shots are garnering controversy. Each player has a bio paired with a photo of her in a shiny dress lounging in or against a limo. One group shot captures the whole team inside the luxury vehicle, their uncomfortable grinning faces reflected in the metallic ceiling. As a university press release explains, the intended message of the site is: “Women athletes are powerful and beautiful” — assuming they’re gussied up like princesses. There’s nothing subversive about the site. It’s not like they’re shown playing a game in their gowns, makeup smeared by sweat and dresses torn to tatters at their feet, or absurdly attempting to pass a ball between their legs while wearing a floofy floor-length skirt. This isn’t a critical commentary on the sad limitations of beauty ideals, it’s a desperate attempt to conform to them.
I suspect this isn’t merely an attempt at sexing up female athletes in order to improve the team’s visibility. Carnal Nation points to “Training Rules,” a new documentary about homophobia in women’s collegiate sports. The film focuses on the story of Rene Portland, the Penn State University women’s basketball coach who was accused of repeatedly discriminating against players she suspected to be a lesbians. Female basketball players have long had to fight against the stereotype that they’re gay and, after watching the preview for “Training Rules,” it’s hard not to wonder whether this straight-gals-going-to-the-prom photo-shoot is evidence that it’s still the case.