We are FEMALE athletes

posted by Chantelle, a Women Talk Sports blogger
Thursday, November 12, 2009 at 5:49pm EST

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First of all, let me say that I have tremendous respect for Jayda Evans and her journalistic work in covering women's basketball. I've known her since my first year in the WNBA (maybe longer), and she's always wearing a bright smile and pleasant demeanor. I must however, disagree with her recent blog condemning the sexiness of women's hoops media guides and web sites. Sorry Jayda, but here are my thoughts.

I'm offended that dressing female athletes to look feminine is assumed to symbolize some kind of silent stand against homosexuals. Personally, I think the Texas A&M poster above looks hot (you go girls!). And while Florida State's website may be slightly over the top, I think their minds were in the right place too.


It's true that people sometimes use phrases like "powerful, beautiful, strong, and accomplished," to imply heterosexuality. But to say it absolutely stands for that is prejudicial against all female athletes, gay and straight. Are you telling me that a lesbian cannot/should not be considered beautiful? Do lesbians not wear jewelry, or make-up, or dresses? And because a straight woman embraces the chance to show her femininity, does that mean she has something against her homosexual counterparts? To answer yes to these questions is unfair on both fronts.


I'm not naïve enough to look past the stereotypes as if they don't exist. I've had entirely too many conversations defending the sexual orientations of myself and my peers to do so. Still, I would like to think that any female athlete showing her femininity is doing so because that is as much a part of her as the athletic side. WNBA All-Star Cheryl Ford (pictured below), who's team features both glamour and athletic pictures on their website, doesn't see a problem with it. "It shows that we can be pretty off the court," she says. "It's not about sexuality at all. It's a photo shoot. As women, we want to show both sides. I don't understand why it has to be us trying to prove we're not gay." Young women wanting to be seen as multi-dimensional people instead of just athletes shouldn't upset us; it should be applauded.  

Cheryl Ford - WNBA All-Star and pretty girl.

Looking at it from a top down view gives us another perspective. It doesn't make sense to consider the college media guide as anything less than a recruiting tool, regardless of the name. If colleges are going to spend that much money producing them, they need to make sure they appeal to the ones they're trying to impress: potential student-athletes and their parents, as well as boosters and alumni. Otherwise, there's no need for aesthetics. Just photocopy the stats and pictures, staple them into a packet, and give them to the media like that, because all they really need is the information anyway.


And lets be real here for a second. Most people, regardless of who they are, want to see women dressed like women, and not dressed like little boys that think they're men. I'm not only talking about frilly dresses, high heels, and stuff like that. We all know there's a difference between a nice, tailored pantsuit, and some two-size-too-big slacks and a button down. It doesn't have anything to do with straight, gay, bi-sexual, try-sexual, or asexual. It's the fact that as a college or a professional organization, you are putting a product on the court. As a member of the team, you are representing the organization as that product. I don't consider it as much homophobic as it is appealing to the masses with a more mainstream look. Don't get me wrong. I'm all for being who you are as an individual, no matter what other people think. But in organizational settings, you have to rep the product in whatever way they choose. Teams/schools should have the right to inoffensively separate the business from the personal. In that I'm not talking about discrimination, i.e. Rene Portland's, "No drinking. No drugs. No lesbians." That's just ridiculous. I'm talking about the right to package the product however they see fit to best reach their customers.   


What's funny is that in my six years in and around the WNBA, I rarely saw or noticed anti-lesbian tactics used. It's true that there are instances where I know I've been asked to do something because I represented a certain image the league was trying to portray. But in my opinion, the WNBA is one of the most accepting environments imaginable.  For the most part, people do what they do and no one cares or bothers them about it. What many people don't know is that the league supports homosexuals by offering insurance and benefits to players' domestic partners. How many organizations do that? No, forget the inside culture of basketball; it's the outer one that needs to become more accepting.


Overall, I just don't buy the whole showing a sexier side marginalizes what a female athlete does athletically (which I'm sure is obvious considering the bathing suit picture on my other blog). "When we're playing, it's not about what you look like. It's about ballin' out," Cheryl says. "But when we step off the court, we want to wear the pumps, and the make-up, and the clothes. We want to look nice." To me, if you can be fierce both on and off the court, more power to you! These days no one tells mothers they can't work, or housewives they have to be frumpy, or grandmas they really have to look like grandmas. The beautiful thing about modern-day women is that we can do it all. Personally, I don't think female athletes should be any different. 






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There are 7 comments on this post. Join the discussion!

jschonb says:

Thanks for the insightful post. Just as players have different styles and talents on the court, they should be able to represent their authentic off-court personnas as well. Female athletes are creative, inclusive, diverse and complex and it's not anyone's place to draw conclusions or define who they are or what they want to be based on how they dress or what they look like.

When it comes to marketing women's sports, media professionals should be trying to create a more universal narrative rather than resorting to clichés or stereotypes. So instead of portraying any group in a singular fashion why not just let each player be themselves - and let fans, supporters, potential recruits, reporters, etc. relate to them as individuals?

Thursday, November 12, 2009 at 8:25pm EST

robm says:

A thoughtful piece written in a pleasant, familiar style--nicely done, Chantelle.

Jane, you have augmented it well. The mind that strives for decency regards individuals first. Something we ought to remember, lest our progressivism become in fact regressive.

Friday, November 13, 2009 at 8:21am EST

anngaff says:

Great post, Chantelle and you bring up the that "their minds were in the right place." I think that's an important part...when the photos were taken, were the athletes pushed into poses and wearing outfits that were unnatural for them in order to have a certain effect? I think if the athletes were comfortable, we should take a cue from them. I know that with the ESPN Body Issue, several of the female athletes, including Serena and Lolo, were quoted as saying that the photographers were great, they felt very comfortable, and they like the vision of the ESPN team - which was, powerful bodies.

Friday, November 13, 2009 at 3:51pm EST

Chantelle says:

Jane, good question. while i think it would in some cases be ok to view the players as individuals, sometimes it won't work in context of the vision for the business model. like i said in my post, sports is a business. just like other companies, there is an overriding image to subscribe to. i doubt everyone that works in an office enjoys wearing a suit and tie or high heels everyday, but they do it because that's what the job calls for; it supports the image of professionalism. same thing with sports off the court. i just disagree that an overall feminine image has to imply some kind of prejudice towards homosexuals.

Monday, November 16, 2009 at 12:59am EST

Chantelle says:

Ann, i hope most of the athletes were comfortable during the photo shoot. but i maintain that even if they weren't, sometimes you have to do things to support the vision of the organization. we can't be individuals all the time.

Monday, November 16, 2009 at 1:01am EST

girlzcanplay2 says:

Women's College Basketball is not a "product", in my opinion. It's one thing to package a WNBA team, the women are getting paid to do a job and represent the "company" both on and off the court. I believe that's part of their contract. But college players are young women; they are students first, players second.

When Cheryl Ford says "But when we step off the court, we want to wear the pumps, and the make-up, and the clothes. We want to look nice." Not all young women (students!) would make those particular choices. Some want to wear their flip-flops, shorts, jeans and t-shirts. Sure, they get dressed up when the occasion calls for it, but all in different ways, different styles. They want to be themselves, not part of a "product".

As a student recruit I would have been completely turned off by a media guide or website that was filled with these overly feminine images. Some recruits will probably like it. Others won't.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009 at 12:00am EST

Chantelle says:

girlzcanplay2 - college basketball is definitely a product. and the athletes are getting paid to play and represent the school/company both on and off the court. it's called scholarship money. i got paid $35,000 a year in tuition money plus expenses to go to Vanderbilt. That's more money than a lot of people make at their jobs. and if you don't think i had a responsibility to represent the school in a certain way because of that then you are mistaken. in publicity appearances, like a media guide shoot, the company/team has the right to choose how they are represented. the players can wear whatever they want on their own time (i.e. flip-flops, shorts, jeans, etc.)

you also say the girls are students first, but i disagree with that too. when an out of town game interferes with a class, which one does the athlete go to? the game/road trip. are classes or basketball paying for their schooling? basketball. saying student-athlete is just a phrase to make people who don't play sports feel more comfortable; for the most part, it's not how things really are.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009 at 10:27pm EST

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