Women's hoops media guides and web sites getting sexier

posted by Jayda Evans: Womens Hoops Blog
Wednesday, November 11, 2009 at 5:26pm EST

Jayda Evans covers college and pro women's basketball. While its her first year on the Washington beat, she has covered the Storm since its inception. She'll offer observations, critiques, occasional off-beat tales and answers to select e-mail inquires. Evans also has written a book on the Storm and women's hoops, called "Game On!"

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Florida State unveiled its new women's basketball web site today and -- whoa! -- didn't know this was the direction we were headed. This blog pays attention to the No. 15 Seminoles because of Seattle native Sue Semrau, FSU's head coach since 1997 and three-time Coach of the Year.

Her program re-designed its traditional site with the help of Ron Sachs Communications to send an important message: Women athletes are powerful and beautiful, according to the press release. Players are depicted in silky, metallic-colored, sleeveless dresses either stepping out of a limo or leaning beside one in artistic glam shots. There's a photo gallery and video for everyone.

"We feel it is important to set ourselves apart as much as we can," Semrau said in the press release. "We look around at how things are presented in our business, and so much of it looks the same. We had a vision for something that others were not doing. We wanted to have a product that would stand out to the people we are trying to reach."

I can understand this defense of the site. And it's not like male teams haven't been gussied up in the past or done creative photo shoots at places like construction sites because they're "going to work this season." I remember one year at Arizona under coach Lute Olson, the starters were put in tuxedos for a basic photo on some steps on campus.

I guess if you're doing an updated, feminine version of that look, there would be dresses, makeup and limos. We are in the generation of bling-bling.

Yet, the jarring difference is Arizona's was a poster, not the main approach to introduce the team. What FSU has blatantly done is sexualized basketball. Sure, it may draw recruits -- what young woman wouldn't want to be part of a glamorous photo shoot? And I have to give FSU props, the site is cool, fresh and innovative.

But what are they selling? I thought the "target audience" was recruits who sign to play hoops (and get an education)? You do get a sense of the players as people on the site, yet there's not much basketball going on. And if anything is placed before "athlete," isn't it supposed to be "student" not "sex?"

TexasAM.jpgFSU isn't alone. In the Big 12, Texas A&M;released its media guide (pictured above) featuring its players in sexy (some split leg) black cocktail dresses and pants with coach Gary Blair in the middle. You have to hunt for the one basketball and the way Blair is adjusting his tie gives a creepy feeling.

I'm a media-guide/team Web site geek, so I know what Semrau is talking about when she states that too much of it is repetitive. I surfed the net and flipped through my old stash of guides and noticed a trend of programs moving in the stylized photoshoot direction. According conference bloggers, Texas also has a boatload of glam shots inside this year's media guide, however. The Aggies are the only team to go this route.

On the Web, not even the FSU men have a glitzy site.

Washington (women) had their players pictured in street clothes around campus and a photo-page of social events to show personality inside its media guide last season. California did a casual photo session with players like Ashley Walker, now a Storm F, and Natasha Vital all cozy together. And Xavier did individual snapshots that coincided with the players in uniforms on their bio pages. I assume that was all because they are -- hello -- basketball players.

"We didn't do our media guide like that, we still have players in uniforms," said first-year Seattle University coach Joan Bonvicini, who last coached at Arizona. "Previously the media guide was really supposed to be for the media and now it has become a recruiting tool. I don't think everyone is doing that [glam shots] but it is changing in some way."

Sadly, budget cuts are moving teams to just hand out "record books" and many don't have media guides. The few that remain have players who certainly say they love the new trend, however. FSU senior F Alysha Harvin said her team's "images give you an idea of what we are like on and off the court."

I'm just concerned the sexualized look continues a different, damaging constant in women's hoops -- homophobia.

Director Dee Mosbacher was in Seattle in October for the screening of her film "Training Rules." It's a documentary about former Penn State coach Rene Portland, who allegedly had three rules for her players: No drinking. No drugs. No lesbians.

The film is fascinating in its inside look at how homophobia has a cloak hold on women's sports in general. How it's used against each other in recruiting, tagging programs as full of lesbians, and how schools/coaches over feminize themselves to not appear lesbian. All under the "innocent" veil of wanting to show women athletes can be "powerful, beautiful, strong and accomplished." Or, to put it more simply, heterosexual, too.

The WNBA is even guilty of this move, holding beauty sessions at rookie orientation - even when the league made cuts in hosting the orientation immediately after the draft last year.

Mosbacher said the Women's Basketball Coaches Association is looking into having her documentary as part of a training session in the future, maybe even at the Final Four. Portland State coach Sherri Murrell even participated in an accompanying teaching DVD because out of more than 300 NCAA Division I coaches, she's the sole out lesbian.

"I made a conscious decision when I left Washington State to say if I'm going to continue coaching, I don't want any of those guessing games," said Murrell, who added that her sexuality had nothing to do with her leaving WSU in 2007. "A lot of coaches have a fear of coming out because of the unknown -- losing their job because people will not send their kids to their program. It was a fear for me, but it did not keep me from being authentic and being myself. And I have not run into one negative thing since being myself. It's amazing.

"Any player that comes into women's basketball is either going to find a player on the team that's gay or find an assistant or head coach that's gay. But the kids, it doesn't matter to them."

While Murrell said she gets the response that peers would "love to be in your shoes" she said homophobia still runs rampant in women's basketball today. Overtly feminizing the game is just part of the anti-lesbian tactics used.

"You don't want dividers in basketball, period," Murrell said. "At the end of the day, we're all trying to come together to win basketball games. Kids talk and my players know people at such-and-such school where their coach will kick them off if they know their gay. It's tough because I think we need to value a player as a player. The thing I discourage is having relationships with each other on a team because it becomes a divider."

Washington athletic director Scott Woodward said he wouldn't stand for homophobia in his program. And my bet is the school would keep the glam shots of players to the inside of the program. Or maybe Facebook.

"There's no place for intolerance and we will not be intolerant in the athletic program as long as I'm athletic director, period," Woodward said. "We're lucky in Seattle that it's not a big issue here because it's a very tolerant city. But it's a big issue in other parts of the country, especially where I came from in the south. There's a lot of homophobia and it's offensive to me."

Just like the Aggies' cover shot is offense to my view of basketball.

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anngaff says:

Very interesting stuff, Jayda! I saw the Aggies poster earlier this week and was highly annoyed. It looks like a spinoff of The Girls Next Door, with the coach as Hugh Hefner. Overtly sexualized with the basketball being the only thing in the picture that is related to the actual sport. I really cringed.

When I clicked on the link in your post to the FSU site, I expected to be similarly annoyed. However, I actually was very impressed. I'd say 90% of the pictures and associated slogans in the opening slideshow are VERY positive images of female athletes, that is, images of athletes in their uniform, muscles prominently displayed, look of determination on the face, some kind of slogan about confidence/power/ability, etc. A few of them were a bit annoying - why do they need to be in dresses dancing at a club? However, since those kinds of photos were in the minority, it didn't bother me as much. And hey, they're basically trying to show potential recruits that the women are friends off the court.

What impressed me about FSU's site was how much attention it was giving to their women's BB team. When do you see the Women's anything page get more attention and more pizzaz than the rest of the pages on a university's athletic site? That school is PROUD of their women's BB team. I love that.

And while I agree that homophobia is very often an aspect of the marketing of a women's team or league (case in point, beauty school at WNBA), I don't think FSU's site has this problem. None of the pictures in which an athlete was in a dress or other non-uniform attire was she pictured as a (hetero)sexual object. She was never batting her eyes at the camera or showing cleavage or too much leg. Rarely was she even pictured below the shoulders. And the picture of players out dancing? 3 women, no men. Not to say that it was intended to be a homosexual picture, but it certainly wasn't homophobic.

Overall, I think it is great to see FSU treating their women's BB team like the major stars of the school. I bet if you ask the athletes, they had a great time shooting those pictures. I know I would have. I think the end product portrayed power, confidence, and yes beauty but not in the traditional sense...beauty in powerful features, powerful muscles and powerful stares-EXACTLY the role models we need for our young girls -not just dainty features, slim and soft limbs, and coy gazes.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009 at 6:31pm EST

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