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Why I Have Been Half-Heartedly Watching the Sochi Olympics

If you haven’t read Lydia’s post on this subject, please read it first.  I agree with so much of what she’s written on the subject of the Sochi Olympics, and why their existence is problematic.  And yet, I have been casually watching the Winter Olympics this year, for a few reasons I’ll articulate.

First of all, even just committing to “casual” is a huge step for me.  There’s something I can’t reconcile in my head about being obsessed over these Olympics as I have been for Olympics past.  And obsessed I have been: during the 2008 Summer Olympics, I watched during the start of my 1L year of law school, staying up far into the night when I should have been reading about Lucy, Lady Duff-Gordon, cheering Michael Phelps in the relays and screaming about track stars.  But this Olympics doesn’t seem to warrant that prior obsession; despite the fact that my viewership has no bearing on Putin’s Russia, it somehow feels disingenuous to all of my LGBT friends to go haywire over some people skating against each other halfway across the world in the rich white people Winter Olympics.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t care at all.  And in fact, it is precisely because I do care that I have been watching.  It is not the fault of the 2014 Winter Olympians that they have happened to reach the peak of their sport during this Olympic year in this country.  Sochi was chosen as the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics long before any of them maybe even knew they had a shot.  Sochi was even chosen before Russia implemented its extremely terrible LGBT laws.  While I have little faith that the IOC would have done anything differently had they known these laws were coming, I think it is important to celebrate not only the U.S. athletes, but also athletes from around the world who made it to the Olympics despite the challenges (for many, those challenges are financial – it’s not like the Jamaican bobsledders or the Nepali luger really have a lot of access to government funding.  For that matter, neither does the U.S. Olympic Team, which is why they have to get sponsors in the first place.)

I also feel compelled to support the Olympics because for almost all women’s sports (perhaps only excluding women’s soccer, which has the World Cup), the Olympics are literally the pinnacle of the sport.  Right now is one of the only times that people actually pay attention to women in sports.  The NHL does not have a women’s league.  In fact, very few of the female athletes in these games have a professional league in which to compete – and get paid.  (Certainly, there are sports, such as skiing and ice skating, that are not lacking for events during the year.  Unfortunately, these are the exceptions to the rule.)  Most of the athletes compete in college, and then they have to find something else to do to support their sport in the four years between Olympics.  Some of them were even college athletes in one discipline who’ve been enticed to others, such as the track stars who join bobsleigh teams.  (This is also why I strongly support the return of softball to the Summer Olympics.  Whatever on baseball since MLB never lets the stars play anyway, but oh, softball, we need you back.)  There are some professional women’s sports leagues around the world, but their defining characteristic, other than say, the LGPA, WTA and WNBA, is that players must work elsewhere during the off-season to make ends meet.

USA Women’s Hockey, Silver Medalists 2014

So, I’ve been watching: for female athletes, for whom this is their only shot, for all Olympic athletes, for whom this is their only shot, and for those who are competing for the pride of countries that don’t muck with human rights.  And I’ll continue watching throughout the games, but don’t think I do it without pause.

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Lauryn Williams Becomes 5th Athlete Ever To Medal in Both Winter and Summer Olympics

Lauryn Williams is my new Olympic hero.

In the women’s two-man bobsleigh competition today, USA athletes Elana Meyers and Lauryn Williams (USA-1) won the silver medal, beating the USA-2 team of Jamie Greubel, a former heptathlete at Cornell, and Aja Evans, a track star at Illinois, who took the bronze. USA-1 was unable to edge out Canada-1 due to a fourth run filled with problems.  Meyers and Williams had been in the first position before the fourth run.

Driver Elana Meyers and Brakeman Lauryn Williams

Lauryn Williams had previously taken gold in the 2012 Summer Olympics as the anchor leg of the USA women’s team in the 4×100 relay.  A hamstring injury sidelined her track career, but we think we’ll be seeing her in 2016 due to her excellent performance as brakeman here.

The USA-3 sleigh of Jazmine Fenlator and Lolo Jones came in 11th.

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Dear Bloomer Girls: Happy Valentine’s Day. Love, Baseball

We at Bloomer Girls have mixed feelings about Valentine’s Day.  Lydia says “It’s a fake holiday that encourages mass consumerism, but any excuse to recognize and spend time with people that you love is a good one.”  Sara says “I never liked it when I was single, so it’s not really fair for me to like it just because I have a boyfriend.”

But then, today, we got this email, and Lydia exclaimed “I know I’m such a homer, but this strikes me as a really good way to do it.  No pink.  Men buying women baseball tickets for v-day.  Not too shabby!”

metsbaseball

Aww. The Mets love each other.

 

And then we got this email, causing Sara to cheer “Sox, too!”

soxbaseball

LOVE this headline.

We’d both like to thank the baseball gods for making us fans of the teams that don’t market to women using only the color pink.  Happy Valentine’s Day – we suggest tickets to favorite sports team games as an excellent gift, if you’re the gift-buying type.

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Michael Sam, College Football Star, Comes Out Before the Draft

The New York Times posted an article this evening in which Michael Sam, former defensive lineman for the University of Missouri (Mizzou), a first-team all-American, defensive player of the year in the Southeastern Conference, and Mizzou’s Most Valuable Player, came out of the closet as gay.   This is before the NFL draft, which takes place in May.  Sam has been projected to get drafted in the first few rounds, confronting NFL teams with an immediate issue.  They will have to decide if they are (finally) ready to let sexual orientation go the way of race as a limiting factor in professional sports.

Michael Sam, celebrating.

There’s a phenomenal article on the backstory of how the decision was made to come out on Outsports, which is well worth your time.  The amount of strategy and planning on this story is truly huge, but shows exactly how important this is to so many people.

As a former resident of the state of Missouri, I’m somewhat floored and also thrilled that a Mizzou player will likely be the first openly gay professional NFL player.  Missouri is not known as a hotbed of tolerance.  I’m worried about the level of intolerance that is going to come out of Missouri, and frankly, the rest of the country about this.  But by the way, Sam was out to his entire team and coaches for his senior year.  That team won the Cotton Bowl, so clearly his sexual orientation wasn’t a distraction. Even Senator Clare McCaskill, a huge Mizzou fan, is already on board:

Last year, when a rumor was circulating about a current NFL player coming out, I wrote this:

As encouragement to the unnamed player thinking about coming out, I would like to offer the following: if said unnamed gay player comes out, I hereby vow to a) buy this player’s jersey immediately, b) wear it on the first day of football season in 2013, c) cheer for their team for the first game, and d) DO ALL OF THIS EVEN IF THE PLAYER IS ON THE NEW YORK JETS.  As a Pats fan, I’m sure you can understand what a big offer this is.  So, please do it, unnamed player.  Please put yourself out there so that football fans who practice acceptance, tolerance and equality can show you our love.  We are ready for you.

I reiterate that promise now, for 2014.  The team that signs Michael Sam will have my support, even if it is the New York Jets (please don’t be the Jets) and I will purchase and wear his jersey on the first day of the football season in 2014.

We are ready for you, Michael Sam.  We are ready.

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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.)