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The 2009 State of Girls & Women in Sports

posted by One Sport Voice
Monday, December 28, 2009 at 6:03pm EST

Dr. Nicole M. LaVoi: This blog reflects my critical eye and voice on all things sport. I am a critical thinker, scholar, and researcher in girls & women in sport, youth sport, and coach & sport parent education.

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As 2009 comes to an end, there are some trends for those who care about sports–particularly sports for females–that you should keep an eye on in the months to come. Many groups and organizations that have been cornerstones of advocacy, programming, outreach and research for girls and women in sports are in trouble or on the rumored brink of existing no more.  Yes, girls and women in sports have made major advances in participation in the last 35+ years, but gender equity has yet to be achieved, we now have fewer females in positions of power in sport leadership, and sportswomen are constantly under attack. Some stories from the past year put the fact that fighting for gender equity in participation, leadership, and media coverage, to name a few, are not issues of the past.

Under what criteria do organizations decide to shut down or “put out” important programs that make a difference in the lives of sporting girls and women? Who decides what is “out” and what is included?  Who is left out, and who continues to play, lead, and enjoy the benefits of sports, and be portrayed in what ways by the media?  What constitutes “A Real Life Out Clause?” This is real life and the consequences of the decisions of those in positions of power will continue to shape the future of sport for females in 2010 and beyond.

Consider the following, some of these topics I’ve written about in previous blogs, some I have not:

The Melpomene Institute for Women’s Health Research is struggling to survive in this economy.

The National Association for Girls and Women in Sport (NAGWS) “strives to be one of the premiere organizations dedicated to advocacy, education and the promotion of girls and women in sport”. There were rumors this year that AAHPERD, the parent organization of NAGWS, was discussing whether or not to keep or disband NAGWS. So far it appears it has survived.

It Takes a Team (ITAT) is being discontinued as a programming and outreach arm of the Women’s Sport Foundation. ITAT’s purpose was to “address LGBT issues in high school and college athletics… and make sport teams safe and respectful for all athletes regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity”. To read more about  ITAT ’s “outing” go to former ITAT Director Pat Griffin’s blog post. Be sure the program is not being eliminated because homophobia in sports has been eliminated and is no longer an issue. Homophobia still exists and affects all athletes, coaches, administrators and those involved in sports.

The International Olympic Committee voted not to allow and include ski jumping for females, and endures as a sexist organization.

ESPN sports journalist Erin Andrews, one of the few in the profession, endured a terrible event where she was stalked and sexually harassed. Sportswomen also continue to be sexualized or erased in all types of media-print, broadcast and social.

In 2009 major “newsworthy” stories in women’s sport included “girls behaving badly” such as “extraneous and loud grunting” by one WTA player, a verbal attack on a line judge by another, and”overly aggressive” play by a collegiate soccer player, and the drunk driving of a WNBA MVP …not reports of stellar athleticism. Lest we not forget the obsession of the sex verification of runner Caster Semenya…which only came about because she was FAST, really fast.

Early last spring, when Tennesee Head Women’s Basketball Coach Pat Summitt won her 1,000th game, and Auriemma’s UConn Huskies won another national championship many speculated if they should coach men…the obvious pinnacle of any coach’s career. Interestingly, but perhaps not surprising, Summitt did NOT appear in Sports Illustrated “Coaches of the Decade“, but Auriemma did.

The WNBA lost a team, the Sacramento Monarchs, and another very successful team the Detroit Shock moved to Tulsa. I fear the WNBA is teetering on the brink of collapse in 2010, I hope I’m wrong. The WNBA now has 10 teams.

With 10 teams, The Lingerie Football League debuted its inaugural season in 2009 in cities across the US. According to the LFL website, the mission of the LFL includes: “the LFL will offer the ultimate fan experience providing unyielding access to players, teams and game action.” I fear the LFL will thrive and survive, I hope I’m wrong.

Women’s collegiate sports will never achieve gender equity unless real reform occurs unilaterally at the highest administrative level of institutions of higher learning. This was a clear message of the Knight Commission Report on Intercollegiate Athletics released in late 2009.

Earlier this year I critiqued a piece on ESPN.com title The State of Uncertainty of Women’s Sports. I’m not certain if there is stability or uncertainty or both pertaining to women’s sports. What I do know, and these stories above (and many others not included here) provide evidence, that the work for those who care about sports for females is never done. We must work together to ensure girls and women in sports are not left out, or pushed out.

Stay tuned in 2010 for more information, and certainly more critiques, of these important issues. I’d also encourage you to visit the Women Talk Sports Network and read blogs by colleagues who also write about these issues here, here, here, here, and here.

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