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Why I Will Not Be Watching the Sochi Olympics

The opening ceremony for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia is tonight.  I will not be watching.

I love the Winter Olympics.  I think I love them even more than I love the Summer Olympics.  I love downhill skiing, and ski jump (featuring, for the first time and in a way overdue move, WOMEN).  I love speed skating (Bonnie Blair, HELLO!).  I love figure skating.  There’s nothing like nailing a triple lutz.  Figure skating is just captivating.  So often in my life the female figure skating champion has been the face of the Winter Games.  When someone does the routine of their lives, you just know.  It is mesmerizing.  And CURLING!  I really, really like curling.  Ooh and bobsledding!

Some of my favorite Winter Olympians from my youth. Clockwise from top left: Michelle Kwan, Picabo Street, Kristi Yamaguchi, Bonnie Blair.

Some of my favorite Winter Olympians from my youth. Clockwise from top left: Michelle Kwan, Picabo Street, Kristi Yamaguchi, Bonnie Blair.

All of these things, and more which I will discuss, make my decision to boycott the Sochi Olympics an incredibly difficult one.

By now our readers probably have at least a cursory knowledge of the issue.  In June 2013 Russia passed a law prohibiting “gay propaganda,” punishible with jail time.  This term is meant to be construed broadly; examples include public displays of affection between members of the same sex, gay rights protests and demonstrations, public assertions of being gay or being a gay ally and of course any institutionalized equality for gay people.  The main impetus for the rule is to protect Russian minors (which I don’t need to tell you likens gay people to pedophiles and completely erases Russian minors who are themselves gay), but one can seemingly be jailed for being or being perceived as gay, or being openly supportive of gay people and gay rights whether or not minors are involved or not.

The IOC’s Charter lists 7 “Fundamental Principles of Olympism.”  This sixth states:

Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.

Nevertheless, the Olympics are about to begin in a place where someone was arrested for holding a rainbow flag during the Olympic Torch relay; in a country where the President says that the gay visitors should “leave the children alone please“; in a town where the Mayor says “We do not have them in our city” (despite the fact that Sochi had been a resort town for gay Russians due to an archaic single-sex lodging law and has a gay nightclub that puts on drag shows); and most horrifyingly, in a place where there has been an incredible amount of violence directed at gay people.

It doesn’t matter to me that Russia was selected to host these games years before the law passed, in 2007.  Although the Olympics is supposed to be an apolitical event, it seems to me that the IOC (and other international sporting organizations like FIFA) very often picks countries that the Western world is contemporaneously trying to bring into its fold.  Well maybe the Committee should stop doing that. Or maybe it should, at the very very least, condone the host country for passing a horrible, bigoted law less than a year before hosting the Olympics.

But the IOC has not done that.  That IOC has done nothing.  Huge American corporate sponsors, such as Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Visa, GE and others, have done nothing.  No one in a position to influence the situation did anything.  To me this is utter cowardice.

But I can’t very well say that and then not practice responsible consumerism myself.  I will not watch the opening ceremony tonight, where Russia showcased its achievements to the world. And I will not watch any of the events.

It will be hard not to support the athletes, who are able to compete on a global stage so few times in their careers.  Harder still will be to turn away from the six openly gay athletes, who compete at a risk to themselves.  I can understand why people will watch even though they oppose Russia’s law; to me not supporting the athletes was a really hard part of this decision.

There are some things about America’s response of which I am very proud.  I love that the U.S. delegation does not include President Obama, or Michelle Obama, or anyone from the President’s or Vice-President’s staffs.  I love that it includes three openly-gay athletes, one of whom — Brian Boitano — came out after he was selected and because of the circumstances surrounding his selection.  I understand why the U.S. government can’t boycott the games (indeed, our Navy is in the Black Sea as I type…), but I think the people we are sending sends a strong message about our government and (the majority of) our people’s ideals.

I’m also happy that a few sponsors of the USOC have spoken out about Russia’s law.  This week, AT&T blogged:

On Friday night, many of us will be tuned in to the 2014 Olympic Winter Games opening ceremony.

It’s an event that symbolizes peace and unity amongst nations. It’s also a moment for us to express our pride in America and everything for which it stands.

AT&T has stood proudly with Team USA at every Olympic opening ceremony since 1984 in Los Angeles. As a Proud Partner of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Team for the past 30 years, we’ve showcased American athletes and celebrated their diversity all around the world. For these games, we’re shining a light on some of the hard work and dedication that goes into training for the Olympics, and asking fans to showcase their American pride by uploading U-S-A chants through our free #ItsOurTime app.

The Olympic Games in Sochi also allow us to shine a light on a subject that’s important to all Americans: equality. As you may know, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community around the world is protesting a Russian anti-LGBT law that bans “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations.” To raise awareness of the issue, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has called on International Olympic Committee (IOC) sponsors to take action and stand up for LGBT equality.

AT&T is not an IOC sponsor, so we did not receive the HRC request. However, we are a long-standing sponsor of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), we support HRC’s principles and we stand against Russia’s anti-LGBT law.

AT&T has a long and proud history of support for the LGBT community in the United States and everywhere around the world where we do business. We support LGBT equality globally and we condemn violence, discrimination and harassment targeted against LGBT individuals everywhere. Russia’s law is harmful to LGBT individuals and families, and it’s harmful to a diverse society.

We celebrate the diversity of all Olympic athletes, their fans, Russian residents and all people the world over – including and, especially, our employees and their loved ones.

As the games begin, we’re here to support and inspire American athletes who’ve worked hard and sacrificed much to achieve their dreams. We also want to be on record with our support for the LGBT community, and we hope that others involved with the Olympic Games will do the same.

Go Team USA! #ItsOurTime.

Since then, Chobani and DeVry University also have released statements opposing the law and supporting LGBT equality.  I just wish there were more, and they’d done it earlier.

Google's homepage this week.  Clicking on the image takes you to an Olympic Charter search.

Google (not an Olympic sponsor)’s homepage this week. Clicking on the image takes you to an Olympic Charter search.

Many other athletes, from Greg Louganis to Martina Navratilova to Mikhail Baryshnikov have openly criticized Russia, the IOC, or have otherwise shown support for LGBT rights.

I hope that there are courageous people in Sochi who will use this as an opportunity to stand up for principles of equality, dignity and human rights.  The Olympics is a place for that after all.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos raise their fists for civil rights at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos raise their fists for civil rights at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.  Read Carlos’s great Q&A with the Nation about Sochi here.

I want to say to the IOC and to America’s corporate sponsors: if you’re supporting this I’m not supporting you. I know I’m just one person, and I won’t drastically change the ratings that this Olympics gets.  But every vote counts, right?  Tonight, I’m voting with my thumb, and you should too.

[I would be remiss if I did not plug the blog Towleroad, whom I've linked to so many times in this post and where I've gotten nearly all -- if not entirely all -- of my news on the subject.  Thank you for your comprehensive coverage! -Lydia]

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Sox Sideline Reporter Jenny Dell Reassigned

Last week NESN announced they would be reassigning Red Sox sideline reporter and fan favorite Jenny Dell.  The news comes in the wake of, and is clearly a direct result of, Dell and Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks going public with their relationship via Twitter on New Year’s Eve.

Dell interviews Middlebrooks, via Boston Globe

Dell interviews Middlebrooks, via Boston Globe

It’s not clear whether there is actually a conflict of interest — sideline reporters are not independent journalists but are part of the in-game commentary and analysis which is clearly biased in favor of the team being covered — but it seems that NESN is taking a “better safe than sorry” approach to the situation.  Dell isn’t losing her job altogether; she will be moving to an in-studio role.

We don’t believe there is anything particularly objectionable about NESN’s decision because many employers have non-fraternization policies.  But of course that hasn’t stopped the Boston media from running headlines like “Jenny Dell trades Red Sox gig for Love” and “Love Stinks for Jenny Dell, Red Sox and NESN.”  And it hasn’t stopped some from wondering what, if anything, this does to female sports journalists’ reputations.  I’m not sure it is a blow to female journalists being seen as equals and being taken seriously (also, this would be a less gendered issue if baseball were actually a safe, welcoming place to be gay), but according to the Boston Herald article (first link above), some women in the industry felt strongly that they would never become involved with a player, a decision I can totally understand.  As Celtics sideline reporter Abby Chin is quoted as saying, “Women in this business don’t get three strikes, they get one.”  On the other hand, Dell still has a job with NESN, so maybe that’s not quite true.

What do you all think?

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Super Bowl Ads: Not So Terrible?

Every year since we (Lydia & Sara) have known each other, we’ve kept a running discussion of which Super Bowl ads were great (that Google ad which made all of us cry comes to mind) and which were terrible (um, all of them).  Last night was no different; though we were at different Super Bowl parties, we kept an eye on the ads and texted back and forth (“the NFL football girl!!!”) about what was happening with gender in the ad space.

Advertising at the Super Bowl seemed to change this year.  Gone were the salacious ads of the past (other than Oikos’ blow job insinuations, we suppose, about which we don’t actually object).  Even the GoDaddy ads, notorious for their objectification of women, went in a different direction.  Instead we mostly saw some pretty unmemorable commercials filled with aging actors, a lot of dogs, and sometimes Muppets.

You can watch all the ads here.  Some thoughts:

- Celebrating diversity was a nice theme this year.  We were so happy Cheerios brought back the interracial family from their commercial earlier in the year which garnered criticism from bigots around the country.  Good for them, and on their first-ever Super Bowl ad-buy!  Coca-Cola’s “America the Beautiful” ad was very touching, even if the shot of the gay couple seems like lip service given their unapologetic sponsorship of the Sochi Olympics.  Naturally, Public Shaming has a round-up of the backlash you knew was coming (“Coke your in America where we speak American”).

- We liked the NFL’s commercial “Together We Make Football” because it had a female fan in the very first frame and a GIRL FOOTBALL PLAYER!  That commercial would not have been made that way a few years ago.

We also loved the Goldieblox commercial, in which a mob of girls round up their gendered toys and blast them into space.  Hopefully this means we’re ushering in an era of a little less this:

New line of LEGOs from 2012, via Sociological Images

New line of LEGOs from 2012, via Sociological Images

…and a little more this:

Gender neutral LEGO ad of yore

Gender neutral LEGO ad  from 1981

- We were disappointed that there was no conclusion to the Fios commercials that feature Ella, a young girl turned sports commentator who gets the opportunity to do analysis at the Super Bowl.  Instead they aired the most recent commercial in the series, which has Erin Andrews wishing her good luck and Terry Bradshaw on his couch talking to his dog.  We like these commercials and were looking forward to seeing the plot to its conclusion.  It’s weird that Fios would film several of these ads and then not see the series through in their in-game ad space.  Oh well.

The only one we found truly objectionable was Fox Sports One Team promo, which we can’t find online at the moment.  But the ad basically introduced all of the anchors, of which there was one woman – and she appeared Venus de Milo-style out of a glittering clamshell in a bright blue bodycon dress.  Essentially, everyone else was male and wearing a suit.  It just seemed really unnecessary, and looked more ridiculous than this photo we found of the team below.

I mean, it wasn’t exactly this…but it was basically this.

Fox Sports One is trying to position itself to be an ESPN rival, but with this kind of advertising, we assure you we won’t be watching.

Overall, we are happy to say the ads were less hypermasculine, less sexist, and more celebratory of things that actually represent the Super Bowl’s viewership: a diverse group of people who love puppies.

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News 12 Brooklyn’s Super Bowl Guide for Girls

Even though the women comprise nearly 50% of NFL viewership, and even though the NFL itself has ramped up its efforts to market to its female fans, there are some people who still believe that women need to be told how to act on Super Bowl Sunday.

Local channel News 12 Brooklyn, via Harper’s Bazaar, aired this graphic this weekend:

Not sure what else to say, besides UGH, enough already.  Actually, it’s not necessarily bad as a novice‘s guide to the game.  Although I don’t think you need to pick a team, my Super Bowl party does have a strict “elastic waistband only” policy (not sure anyone will be looking chic though).  So why does it have to be gendered?  Certainly there are men who will be watching who don’t follow football or care about the Super Bowl (but also this is one of the most ubiquitous American traditions – is there anyone who doesn’t know what the Super Bowl is or what Super Bowl Sunday entails?).  This is just another example of how out of touch people can be about female fandom and it’s only worth posting about to show how relentlessly sexist the media is about women and sports.

Needless to say, we’ll be watching, and we’ll have a round-up of commercials that likewise treat women as unequal in fandom and otherwise early next week.

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We Stand Corrected: White Guy, White Guy…Emma Span!

In my last post, I called out the SABR Analytics conference for only having white men on the multiple panels at their event. In the meantime, however, one of our favorite sportswriters (and sportstweeters!), Emma Span, has been added to the roster.


Since I asked for only “one woman” to be added to one panel, I suppose my request has been fulfilled.  But as Emma also noted, “almost everyone’s still white, but you know… baby steps.”  We agree.

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SABR Analytics Conference: White Guy, White Guy, White Guy…2014 Edition

Remember last year, when I discussed how the SABR Analytics Conference was being advertised as headlined by all white men?  Yeah, not much has changed for 2014:

2014 SABR Analytics Conference Email

Things don’t get much better when you go to their website to look at who else is listed for the conference: three more white guys are also scheduled to speak.  From what I can tell by looking through the 2013 coverage, there wasn’t a single female speaker at the 2013 conference.  There was one person of color.

I no longer give a crap about the response that this reflects the current makeup of people working in baseball.  I am sick of that as an excuse for why women aren’t included in these kinds of events.  Women are working and succeeding in baseball, and it is imperative that public-facing events reflect that.  Surely, there was at least one woman who could speak about baseball analytics.  Give me one woman.  That’s all I’m asking for right now.  I will accept just one woman on one panel at the SABR conference as a step forward.  (But it had better be a good one.  Like Kim Ng.  She rules.)


Standing Up for Gay Rights May Still Get You Fired from Sports

Last week, one of our favorite outspoken athletes posted a long article on Deadspin about his treatment by the Minnesota Vikings.  Chris Kluwe, former punter for the Minnestota Vikings and the Oakland Raiders, and author of the incredibly awesome “lustful cockmonster” letter and the excellent book “Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies”, discussed his treatment by the Vikings staff after he decided to become an outspoken advocate for gay marriage.

Chris Kluwe. NO H8.

Kluwe was allegedly targeted by the Vikings special teams coordinator, Mike Priefer.  Kluwe also had negative interactions with the Vikings head coach, but it seems like Priefer was the most directly involved in saying really, really shitty things about LGBT people.

[...] Minnesota Vikings special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer would use homophobic language in my presence. . . . He would ask me if I had written any letters defending “the gays” recently and denounce as disgusting the idea that two men would kiss, and he would constantly belittle or demean any idea of acceptance or tolerance. I tried to laugh these off while also responding with the notion that perhaps they were human beings who deserved to be treated as human beings. Mike Priefer also said on multiple occasions that I would wind up burning in hell with the gays, and that the only truth was Jesus Christ and the Bible. He said all this in a semi-joking tone, and I responded in kind, as I felt a yelling match with my coach over human rights would greatly diminish my chances of remaining employed. I felt uncomfortable each time Mike Priefer said these things. After all, he was directly responsible for reviewing my job performance, but I hoped that after the vote [to legalize gay marriage] concluded in Minnesota his behavior would taper off and eventually stop.

If this is true, it is a terrible indictment against the Vikings management as human beings and as bosses.  Kluwe goes on to write that Priefer said later in the season that “[w]e should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.”  Kluwe said he was shocked, and that even though some of his teammates disagreed with him about gay marriage and gay rights, that he had never had such a negative interaction with anyone else on this issue.

Kluwe was released from the Vikings on May 6 of last year.  He believes that is was directly because of his advocacy, and that his playing numbers should have put him squarely in the middle of the pack of existing punters.  Although he acknowledges that it is likely he will never play in the NFL again due to both his veteran minimum salary and his outspokenness, he says that he wanted to write this article because Priefer has a shot at the head coaching job, and he wants to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Like Chris Kluwe, gay rights athlete-advocates Brendan Ayanbadejo and Jason Collins are also currently unemployed in sports.  Lydia and I have been speculating about this for quite some time, but we wondered if perhaps their unemployment was related.  It is absolutely outrageous that someone’s personal and political beliefs about gay marriage and gay rights would keep them from being employed, but that seems to be what happened in these cases.  If anyone is confused about why more athletes haven’t come out of the closet, here’s your evidence.  Why would you, when coaches spew anti-gay rhetoric, players call each other “faggot” on the field, and you might no longer have a job?  Shame on the Minnesota Vikings, an organization with an existing terrible reputation (see, e.g., sexual assault cocaine boat party, leading the NFL in DUIs this year, and being known as a haven for players released by other teams due to domestic violence cases.)  Shame on Priefer for spewing intolerance.

And good for Kluwe for continuing to speak out, despite the risks to his career.  I’m proud to call myself a his fan.

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Happy Thanksgiving from David Price

Oh David Price, I liked you.  I liked when you publicly corrected the Red Sox’s grammar.  I like that you have a dog named Astro who has his own Twitter handle.  But, it’s just…

Another one bites the dust.

Another one bites the dust.

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Steubenville Rape Case Continues with Four More Indictments

Interesting news out of Steubenville, OH yesterday: four more individuals have been indicted in relation to the high school football rape case that has dominated the news.  The interesting factor, however, is that the new individuals charged are not alleged perpetrators of the crime, but administration officials.  These are:
  • The School Superintendent: felony counts of obstructing justice and tampering with evidence
  • Elementary School principal: failing to report possible child abuse
  • Strength coach: failing to report possible child abuse
  • Former volunteer coach: several misdemeanor charges, including making false statements and contributing to underage alcohol consumption
These charges all stem from their failure to report the rape as required under the law.  The Steubenville head football coach was not indicted.
I see this as an excellent warning to school officials and affiliated persons everywhere.  Mandatory reporting is just that: mandatory.  If you do not report, you break the law.  And being a mandatory reporter doesn’t just go away because the person you should be reporting has a chance at being a professional athlete one day.  Mike DeWine, Ohio’s attorney general, stated that “while this started out being about the kids, it is also just as much about the parents, about the grown-ups, about the adults.  How do you hold kids accountable if you don’t hold the adults accountable?”  These kinds of cover-ups and special treatment give athletes a sense of entitlement that can have detrimental effects on everyone around them.  This action holds the people who contribute to that entitlement accountable.
Earlier this year, when we wrote about Steubenville, we asked “when are we as a society going to change this narrative, or at the very least recognize that in perpetuating it we create and perpetuate sexism in our young, talented athletes?”  This is a step towards that change.
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FSU Quarterback Accused of Rape

The quarterback of the 10-0, #2 ranked Florida State University football team, Jameis Winston, is being investigated following accusations of rape.  Winston, who submitted to a voluntary DNA test earlier this month, is saying the December 2012 incident was consensual.  State attorneys are investigating and considering whether or not they have enough evidence to charge him.

You’ll remember from our posts about the Steubenville Ohio rape case and the multiple incidents of rape at the University of Montana that we believe that “entitled, above-the-law, larger-than-life [attitudes], apparently instilled into male athletes as early as high school, lead to more entitlement and more disrespect for women as boys become men” and that “special treatment afforded to athletes that can ill-effect their behavior can also protect them from consequences of that behavior.”  Heart-breakingly, I feel like we are a broken record when it comes to talking about this stuff, so I won’t re-hash our old posts further.

I have a theory: the level of entitlement and amount of special treatment is greater when the player is more talented and the stakes are higher.  For example, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was suspended six games in 2010 after an incident involving alleged rape of a woman (charges were never brought).  Entering the season the Steelers were already considered contenders.  At the time of his suspension, ESPN wrote:

There are plenty of championship pieces remaining from that team, including 18 starters, for the Steelers to contend again. The schedule appears to be accommodating. The Steelers play three teams that didn’t make the playoffs this past season — the Falcons, Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans – plus the division rival Baltimore Ravens in their first four games.

Pittsburgh hosts the Cleveland Browns in its fifth game and travels to Miami to face the Dolphins in its sixth game. The Steelers have a bye in Week 5, meaning Roethlisberger might have two weeks to practice before he plays, if his suspension is reduced.

There’s nothing to suggest NFL schedule makers were aware of the length of Roethlisberger’s suspension in advance. Still, the first of the Steelers’ five prime-time games isn’t until Oct. 31 — or after his potential return.

Indeed, the Steelers won the games against Falcons, Bucs and Titans.  They lost to the Ravens.  And sure enough — citing a change in behavior of course — the NFL reduced Roethlisberger’s sentence to four games, and allowed him to resume practice six days before their Bye Week, or two weeks before their game against the Browns.  The Steelers would make it all the way to the Super Bowl, where they lost to the Green Bay Packers.

You may think I sound a little tin-hatty.  But with the amount of money on the line for every football game, is it so hard to believe that someone in the NFL encouraged the organization to bring him back early because he was good at football and his team was good at football?  I wish this was as far-fetched as it might sound.

The FSU football team, with Winston at the helm, are undefeated, and have gone from finishing last year ranked #10 to #2.   Winston is a leading Heisman Trophy candidate.  If he was suspended, what would happen to this exciting narrative?  Do you think anyone at FSU, or in the NCAA, would allow that to happen?

I believe as much as anyone that a person is innocent until proven guilty, but if he is charged and the case becomes a “he said she said” battle of credibility (and it likely would, since consent is what’s at issue), can we really expect a jury of Winston’s peers — local Tallahasseeans in the heart of college football country —  to ignore a conviction’s impact on the team?  Can we expect the prosecutor to present a strong case showing there was no consent beyond a reasonable doubt?

Under these conditions real victims don’t stand a chance.  And the statements of the woman’s attorney not only echo this sentiment, but are sadly really not pro-victim at all:

She’s not someone with any interest in ruining the football team.  If this victim was interested in notoriety, why would she have not taken any action all this time? Anyone with a brain can see that. It’s ludicrous. It only came out when someone from the press got ahold of this. It’s really ruined her life. There’s no benefit in this to her whatsoever. She’s a good girl, and this is a nightmare. She was trying to move on with her life, and there was no benefit to her.

I guess she has no choice but to try to pre-empt the “money grubbing opportunist” trope that so often characterizes victims in these types of cases.  But I wish she would frame the case to the media on the victim’s terms, not go in already on the defensive.  And why — WHY — does she need to invoke good girl/bad girl language, as if a woman who, let’s just say, had consensual sex with three other football players and was then raped by the quarterback (not an entirely far-fetched scenario if you think about it) would be any less deserving of justice?

This is a challenge, world.  Prove me wrong.  However this plays out, let it be just and fair.  If he is charged and acquitted, or not charged at all, let it be because the evidence does not support a conviction, let it not smack of side deals and special treatment.  And if he is charged and found guilty, let the message  not be about his future and his life, but about justice for the victim and a push toward changing rape culture in sports.