Why the Sports Illustrated Sportsmanship Award Needs a Revision

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The Facebook Share that started a war… and an education

When I shared an article from the LATimes with the title “Are Fans Right to Be Upset that Serena Williams Beat American Pharoah for SI Sportsman of the Year” on Facebook, it launched an unnecessary comment-box debate with a 19-year college male. I don’t really support facebook as an appropriate space for “discussions,” but there are certain buttons you don’t press with me… like telling me to “keep your feminism in check.” Enter the dragon.

I call the debate “unnecessary” because by definition, an animal cannot embody sportsmanship. A horse is not a person and, as one of my friends pointed out, it is dehumanizing to even entertain a comparison between American Pharaoh and Serena Williams. Any back-and-forth should have ended with that simple reality.

But it didn’t. And the exchange that followed highlights a few important truths about institutionalized sexism (racism too, but I’m only going to tackle one mountain at a time) in sports (and beyond.)

Let’s start with numbers…

The Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year was created in 1954 to  recognize “the athlete or team whose performance that year most embodies the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement.” 75 people have received the award since then, 10 are women, and only 3 individual women athletes have won the award outright (as in, haven’t shared it with men.)

17 winners are baseball players or teams. 12 are men’s basketball players or coaches. 10 are football players or coaches. 4 are hockey players or teams.

57.3% of the winners represent the major US domestic male pro and college sports. Is that inherently a problem? Nope. Baseball is America’s sport. Football is a multi-billion dollar industry. But none of the basketball recipients have been college or pro female athletes. Are the female athletes not posting impressive numbers? If there’s a LeBron there must be a LaBron… No one watches professional women’s basketball? Why is media attention a criterium for selection?

Do I have to ask the Linda Nochlin artist question in sports? Why have there been no great sportswomen?

You know the answer is no. 

In 1980, the Miracle US Men’s Hockey Team won the Sportsman of the Year award. Their legendary win over the Russian team became symbolic of the larger political-economic battles of the Cold War. It’s a great story. Meanwhile, the US Women’s Hockey Team has won 15 World Championship titles. In 1998, they won a historic gold at the Olympics… the first time Women’s Hockey was ever contested at the games.  In 1998, the award was shared by Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa… both tested positive for doping.

111102_participationIt’s true there are more male professional sports than female professional sports,  and of the 23 million who read SI, 18 million are men… so we can give the editorial board a bit of leeway… the split doesn’t have to be 50-50, men to women recipients. But let’s remember, women have been able to compete in the Olympics since 1900, and as of the 2012 London Games, represent more than 44% of the field. 191,131 women compete on NCAA teams (43% of all NCAA athletes.) If we need a model and are using the Olympics, the highest level of competition for any athlete, then 13% is just too low…

Now, let’s look at the 10 women…

In 2011, Pat Summit was the all-time winningest coach in NCAA Basketball history. She shared the award with Mike Krzyzewski, a veritable legend, but holds the most wins in Div 1 men’s basketball, only.

You might argue that men’s basketball has a longer history or more teams. Lame. Stop. Just stop.

So with the exception of Pat Summit and the 1999 US Women’s Soccer team, the remaining 8 women all won individual titles at an international, World Championship, or Olympic level (let’s be more specific — 3 are tennis players who held multiple Grand Slam titles, 2 won historic Olympic Gold medals, 1 was a golfer who held 6 major pro titles, 1 held multiple World Championship titles and records, and 1 was a Pan-Am games gold medalist.) But let’s not discount the US Women’s Soccer team — they won the World Cup in 1999, soccer’s main stage. (An aside: Do you know when the men’s team had their best performance in the World Cup? 1930. Oh, and they were 3rd.)

And what about Serena? She also held all four major titles in 2002-2003 and broke all sorts of barriers. In 2003, the award was shared by 2 male basketball players.

Do I need to highlight again the percentage of male recipients who were on teams in sports whose “World Championships” are really only domestic championships?

So these numbers beg a handful of questions…

First, are men and women held to the same standards when the editorial board sits down to make their selection? How much does readership play into selection? If readership plays a major factor, is the award a legitimate representation of the best sportsperson across sports that year? Or is primarily marketing tool for the magazine? Is the SI editorial board making a concerted effort to find viable female candidates and giving them equal consideration? Does the award represent, not the readerships’s demographics, but the sport world’s demographics? If it doesn’t, why? Is there a reason why SI doesn’t recognize both a man and a woman every year?

The question is not, well what woman athlete should have gotten it over a male athlete? The question is, is the SI Sportsmans of the Year relevant, and what does its awarding say about how we value female athletes?

The lopsided distribution of the SI Sportsman of the Year is symptomatic and representative of continued inequity and sexism in the arena of professional (and amateur) sports. Serena Williams still makes less than her male counterparts. It wasn’t until 2012 that women competed in every sport on the Olympic program… and on it goes.

The fact that a college-aged male in 2015 would think that the SI numbers and the horse vs. human question isn’t indicative of a problem  indicates a pretty big problem…

Is SI a sexist publication? It’s hard to say no when it purports to be a sports magazine but it’s biggest issue features swim suit models... in the tiniest swimsuits possible…. and when the recipients of it’s biggest award don’t accurately represent the demographics of the field it claims to recognize.

All that being said, Serena Williams is an icon, a role model, a consummate professional, and a classy sportswoman. She embodies all that is great about sport. Her crown has far more than 3 jewels in it…

serena-williams-wimbledon

 

 

 

 

 

Mamas, Please Let your Daughters Grow Up to be Cowgirls

“I don’t want to be in the Annie Oakley skit! I want to be in the Calamity Jane skit! Calamity Jane! I want to BE Calamity Jane.”

As a kid in grade school, I was always well-behaved. Comments on my report cards often read like: “Works well with others. Team-player. Needs to pay closer attention to her spelling. ” But in the 4th grade, I gave my teacher a bit of a shock when I threw a tantrum of epic proportions over the end of the year grade musical.

Apparently, I thought Annie Oakley was a sissy because she wore a dress and was an exhibition sharp-shooter. Calamity Jane was a real cowgirl! A frontierswoman. A daredevil… She could out stalk, out draw, out ride any many in Deadwood City. She also had a really tiny waist and a fabulous buck-skin outfit.

I really liked her outfit.

I should mention that I got most of my education on Calamity from the Doris Day and Howard Keel movie, which I must have watched about 1,000 times.

Despite being the class’s Calamity Jane expert, my teacher refused to yield. The Annie Oakley skit needed someone who could “fiddle” and I was the only violinist in my grade who could read music. She appealed to my “take one for the team! We need you!” better side.

It helped that we were singing “Anything You Can Do” — the whole reason why I wanted to be a cowgirl was because only boys were supposed to grow up to be cow-people. I took the battle of the sexes seriously, even in the sandbox. #BornFeminist

My mother had bought me the Calamity Jane musical on VHS because it had been one of her favorite movies, but also because she liked that I wanted to be a cowgirl when I grew up (so did she… in many ways, she was a kind of frontierswoman, but her Wild West was the wild, untamed, male-dominated land of finance.) Where most kids would want to be doctors or lawyers, teachers or nurses (if you were a girl,) I wanted to heard cattle and shoot cans off fence posts. I took riding lessons and imagined one day moving west to run a dude ranch. Not surprisingly, my favorite Nickelodeon show was “Hey Dude” and I was almost always a cowgirl for Halloween. I have about 5 pairs of cowboy boots, and a stetson. Somethings, you just don’t outgrow…

My parents never discouraged me, which I appreciate. Because wanting to grow up to be a cowgirl was about more than building a home on the range…

1.DustupFlash forward 20 years later, and I’m writing a grant proposal to the National Endowment for the Arts, requesting funds to support an exhibition about female identity. The whole exhibition is held together by one large central piece, “Dust-Up” by New York artist Nancy Davidson.

Nancy is witty and whip-smart. We’d meet several months later, after I won the grant, to talk installation. There’s a generation between us, yet as we swapped Calamity Jane stories, it was clear how much a little girl in the 1950s shared with a girl in the 1980s. Every generation will have its glass ceiling, and the cowgirl will always be a symbol for how, with a little gumption and a good straight shot, we can kick up a little dust up and shatter any barrier.

calamityjane
When I started at my job, my friend Annie (a coincidence) sent me this card. It’s been on my pushpin board, looking at me every day since. 

 

Throwing Stones

“Curling! That seems like my kind of sport,” Frank said. “It’s more like a board game. Hey, Kid, this might be how I finally check ‘Olympics’ off my bucket list.”

“Frank Hampshire” might have been the most nonathletic man I had ever dated, but he was certainly among the most endearing. I like that he called me “Kid” instead of “baby” or “sweetie” (Big called Carrie “Kid,” after all.) But more than that, I liked that Frank saw dating as an opportunity for an outing, for an activity, for an adventure. Dating Frank was like real dating. Where my Ex before him was mostly into dinner and the bedroom, Frank was keen to organize doing something (other than each other…)

Our first date was a ramble around the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Our second: The Jazz Age Lawn Party. Our third: the US Open. We ventured to craft fairs and on hikes. We went to concerts from alt-punk to classical piano. We saw movies in theaters rather than on Netflix. Eating was about finding or attempting to make a new ethnic cuisine. Our final date was a college basketball game. My Alma vs. his. Mine won. We broke up three days later. I don’t think the game had anything to do with it, though it was perhaps an apt metaphor — in our relationship, I always needed to win.

With that in mind, one of my favorite dates with Frank Hampshire was something of a competition: I suggested we try curling.

For those that didn’t get addicted to the sport during the last two winter Olympics (thank you, MSNBC for airing something other than figure skating), this is curling:

My home town is home to one of the few curling clubs in the NYC Metro Area, and it was open house season. I signed us up.

Curling may not seem all that hard, but when you’re 6’3, can barely touch your toes, and have questionable balance just walking, throwing a 40 pound stone down a sheet of ice, from a ground-skimming Warrior 1 pose is nearly impossible. Whereas I had spent more than half of my 28 years in a lunge thanks to fencing, Frank’s primary sport was Fantasy Football. Once our instructor had explained the mechanics, I was throwing stones with some competency. But then it was Frank’s turn, and I threw the worst stone of all. As I watched Frank fumble around in the “House,” all the aforementioned strikes against him, I started laughing… uncontrollably. Doubled over. No words of encouragement, just sheer laughter. #WorstTeammateEver

After several hours, we called it quits and headed out for some curry.

“I take it back, Kid.” He said. “I don’t think an Olympic curling medal is in my future. How about next week I just let you win at ‘Scattergories.'”

 

 

Revealing in 15 minutes of Fame

andy-warhol-quotes-31“Excuse me Miss,” the barista at the coffee counter at Whole Foods paused from making a cappuccino to ask my mother a question: “Is that your daughter in that magazine?”

My mother wasn’t sure if she wanted to confirm that yes, I was officially a cover girl…

“He had a lot of piercings. And those earrings that just make huge holes in your ear lobes. I mean, he’s a skinny white kid, not a tribe leader. What is he is doing? I didn’t want him to ask you out…”

But being the proud mother that she is, the urge to say “Yes! My daughter has a full page spread in a glossy!” won.

“In the future, everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes.” 

– Andy Warhol (maybe… allegedly… potentially… most likely) 

Well, you know you’re living your 15 minutes when everyone working at the grocery store recognizes you as the girl from the magazine or the girl on the news.

Back in February, I found out I had been selected as a 914INC Wunderkind. 914INC is a regional business-focused quarterly magazine. And a wunderkind, (insert condescending tone here) for those not familiar with German, is a person who receives success at a relatively young age. In this case, the magazine highlights a handful of young professionals under the age of 30 who are making waves within their respective industries.

When you make a magazine cover, it's hard to stay under cover.
When you make a magazine cover, it’s hard to stay under cover.

I was honored to make the cut (and lucky… the cut-off for eligibility was one month before I change decades. Wootwoot!)

When you’re young, you’re full of big ideas, but are not often presented with avenues to set those ideas in motion. It’s a rare opportunity when you find yourself in a job where you can make a difference, either within your company or within the community… and even rarer when you get recognized for it in such a public forum. I’m pretty lucky.

But I was also nonplussed.

Growing up in a circle of regular overachievers had tinted my view on my own success. When you’re competitive, you always want to win, but when everyone around you is also competitive, no good result is ever really good enough.

When I met a goal, it was great, but I always knew there was someone next to me who had done just that much better. It didn’t make me jealous or envious, it just meant that I never saw an achievement as something to get overly excited about. For example, I qualified for NCAA Championships 3 out of 4 years as a Division 1 college athlete. I was pissed because I only qualified 3 times. And when I made All-American, I shrugged it off because it wasn’t First Team. When you’re training with Olympians, with aspirations that match theirs regardless of your results, you play down your own personal successes, because they don’t really feel like success. Years later, I realize what a big deal my 3 trips to NCAAs was. Some kids never get a chance to compete in college, let alone qualify once in their 4 years.

The Wunderkind recognition came with a cocktail party, a crystal plaque, a proclamation from a State Senator, and a magazine spread. I got a lot of face time in the issue — a little Missoni dress goes a long way — and I’m overly grateful for finally having a few photos of myself that make me feel beautiful, and not chubby or slubby.

When I shared the news on social media, the photo and online profile got tons of likes. My inbox was flooded with congratulatory notes and kind words. Someone sent me flowers. Someone else, a bottle of wine. Hell, even my ex-boyfriend, who I haven’t seen in a year, called to say congrats, so well-deserved and he wished he could come to the party, but he was going to be in Bogota…

All that loving and genuine praise felt good.

So.

Good.

I have a better view on personal success than I did when I was in college. When you’re getting recognized for doing a good job, enjoy it. Reveal in it. There aren’t many times in your life when someone is going to give you a plaque for doing your thing. I’m rolling on the crest of a good wave right now, and I know that can’t last forever. So I’m going to ride it… as humbly as possible.

Now that everyone in my family has a copy of the magazine, the feature has been shared on all my social media platforms (this one is the last!), and the recognition party has happened, my 15 minutes is quietly ending. Perhaps, though, since 914INC is a quarterly, maybe my 15 minutes will be more like 15.5.

She’s not a “Pretty Little Liar,” but Emma Sulkowicz is not an Innocent: When Performance Distracts from the Real Issues

Art’s greatest power is that it gives a voice to the voiceless. There is no singular language through which we can express ourselves, and sometimes, we lose our words — art can give us back those words. It can give us a language to share our hurt, our triumph, our distress, our distrust, our glory. It can give us the power to connect on a raw, human level; to be seen for who we are and what we stand for when people previously refuse to look and listen. Images are powerful things.

The image of Emma Sulkowicz standing on stage at the Columbia Commencement with her mattress is a powerful image.

And like everything about “Carry That Weight,” it’s a problematic one.

I had seen Ms. Sulkowicz on Columbia’s campus about 2 or 3 months ago at a public event. I was there as a supportive Columbia alumni, and looked around to see if her “weight” was with her. She was hard to miss with her blue hair (how very school spirit!) standing with a group of friends, laughing. I couldn’t see her mattress — I even looked in the stands, outside the doors and it wasn’t anywhere that was visible. I remember those awful twin XL monstrosities in their clinical navy blue plasticized cases. They’re hard to miss in public places. Perhaps if I had seen it, and perhaps it was there somewhere, I would have been more supportive of her decision to carry it at graduation.

I felt a tinge of hypocrisy and a need for personal attention. And I feel bad that I feel that way.

Ms. Sulkowicz chose to walk at her graduation from a University she feels mistreated her. That’s where I’m confused. To me, the more powerful act of protest would have been to NOT be there. To not walk and stand outside the campus with her mattress would have spoken volumes. That’s a snub to the administration — HER refusal to shake its hand and partake in its ceremonies. Instead, she’s walking away with an Ivy League degree and a photo opt. That seems like an all around win for Ms. Sulkowicz… but not necessarily a win for the cause.

The media all gravitated to President Bollinger’s “snub” — there was no handshake for Ms. Sulkowicz as she crossed the stage. There are those horrid “Pretty Little Liar” posters plastered around Morningside Heights. It’s all just sickening. Did Prez Bo snub her? Or was he advised not to shake her hand by lawyers because of the implication that he supported the “trial by media” her performance waged against her accused assailant?

I don’t know… and the problem is, I’m starting not to care.

Well, I mean, I’m starting not to care about Emma Sulkowicz.

Ms. Sulkowicz is becoming a distraction. Where once she was the rallying voice against a broken system, she has come to undermine the cause. It’s become an Emma vs. Paul, Emma vs. Columbia, Paul vs. Columbia tale. Somewhere along the way, we lost the real issue — that the rate of sexual and gender-based assaults on college campuses are painfully high and that administrations are handling them badly.

Can we please refocus on finding a solution for that, and stop talking about a mattress and student work of art?

When I was a freshman at Columbia, two men in my immediate circles were accused of sexually assaulting women. Both were told to leave for a semester. Neither graduated from Columbia. I don’t know how the proceedings went, but what I do know, is that both cases created major factions within the community. Most of the men’s friends, male and female, took their sides, while the victim was completely ostracized. Black-balled socially. How ridiculous, but also, I’m not unsympathetic.

But here’s the problem with “Carry That Weight,” now that Nessinger has had a chance to be interviewed and is filing a not unjustified lawsuit..

Ms. Sulkowicz has unintentionally erased any chance at true justice in her case.

Why? Ms. Sulkowitz felt violated, and the university and public justice systems failed her. What is justice now for her? Her performance targeted an individual while it raised awareness about a larger issue. In doing so, it vilified her alleged assailant, in what became an international venue. What is justice for him? A settlement, which is likely to happen, won’t absolve him of anything.

A pretty tragic cycle.

You Can Have Spin Class, I’ll take the TRX: Collateral Damage of Dating at the Gym

In all my years in the weight room, I’ve only nearly killed somebody once with gym equipment. It was a kettle bell, and it wasn’t officially in use yet — so, I’m going to go ahead and say it was mostly his fault. I was taking the bell off the rack, and as I turned, nearly swung it into the chest of a tall, burly, inked, innocent bystander.

I took an ear bud out to apologize.

With a chest like that, how could I not say hello?

He seemed unfazed — didn’t he realize I had nearly crushed his rib cage? Then again, with those pectoral muscles, the kettle bell probably would have bounced off him and knocked my teeth out instead. That’s one way to have your insurance pay for your invisalign

“Well, now I have to introduce myself,” he said. “I’ve noticed you here before and meant to say hi. You do some pretty intense workouts.”

[Note: Best pick-up line to use on me, ever.]

We introduced ourselves more formally, and chatted a minute or two before we went on our merry ways.

“See you by the TRX tomorrow?” he said.

“Tomorrow’s spin day, but maybe Thursday.”

I had noticed him before too. With a red beard, a half-arm sleeve tattoo depicting a praying angel, and an upper body buff enough to compete with a young Governator, he was hard to miss at the gym — even at my gym, where you trip over a beard, ink, and strapping upper body with every step on your stairmaster.

Thursday rolled around, as did my bosus ball workout by the TRX frame. We made eye contact across the gym, and he swaggered over. He was at school down the block, working on his doctorate of physiotherapy. Being relatively fresh out of nearly a year of physio for a damaged ligament in my knee, I had reason enough to give him my number. A few days later we had plans to meet for drinks.

There’s a lot of statistics and articles about how doing Cross Fit as a singleton leads to more dates. That might be true, but none of these pieces warn you about one simple fact: if things don’t work out with the someone you met while working-out, someone will have to change their gym routine.

This didn’t occur to me till nearly a month in, when I realized there were exactly zero chemistry between us. I wasn’t sure how our mornings would look when chatting on the stretching mat was no longer a kind of foreplay. Would we avoid all eye contact? Wave awkwardly? Would he throw a medicine ball at my head?

“So, like, if things don’t work out, which one of us is going to switch to an after work workout? The only morning you can’t have is spin morning” I asked only half-jokingly, with a kiss as we watched the sunset over the Long Island Sound.

Romance isn’t always my strong point.

In my head, this is what I look like when I'm on the bosus ball...
In my head, this is what I look like when I’m on the bosus ball…

“I’ll just use the gym closer to where I live. I was only coming to this one to watch you on the bosus ball.”

When we broke up, he played the part of the gentleman and kept to his word. We haven’t crossed dumbells or medicine balls at the gym since.

Pre-nups, apparently, are not just for property and bank accounts — they should include all your investments, including the ones you make in yourself… like your fitness routine.