Category Archives: sports

Quoted: On Femininity and Race in Figure Skating

Figure skater Surya Bonaly

By Kendra James

Nancy had gradually come to embody all the qualities that Tonya, it seemed, would never quite be able to grasp. Nancy’s presence was elegant and patrician despite her working-class background; her skating was as graceful and dancerly as Tonya’s was explosive and athletic. Audiences and commentators wanted elegance and grace; they wanted Nancy, and as good as Tonya was—as great as Tonya was—it had become painfully clear, over the last few years, that she would never quite be right.

There seemed to be a greasy, eventually shameful pleasure that came with both writing and reading about not just Tonya’s gaffes or problems but the basic facts of her existence. Her mother had been married six times to six different men, or maybe seven, depending on the journalist’s sources. Tonya owned her first rifle, a .22, when she was still in kindergarten, and had moved thirteen times by fifth grade. She dropped out of high school at fifteen…She skated to songs like Tone Lōc’s “Wild Thing” and LaTour’s “People Are Still Having Sex.” She was ordered to change her free-skate costume at the 1994 Nationals because the judges deemed it too risqué. Her sister was a prostitute. Her father was largely unemployed, as was her mother, as was her ex-husband.

Believermag’s article, “Remote Control: Tonya Harding, Nancy Kerrigan and the Spectacles of Female Power and Pain” provides insight into the role media played in shaping the assault on Kerrigan’s landing leg prior to the 1994 US Figure Skating Championships and how important perceived femininity can be in figure skating and women’s sports.

I wasn’t a serious skater yet in ‘94, but I remember being 6 and absolutely scandalised at Harding’s alleged actions. I believed the media hype and declared Nancy Kerrigan a personal hero. But after reading this piece Tonya Harding is feeling surprisingly, well, relateable. My background is nothing like Harding’s detailed above, but as a Black figure skater achieving the appropriate levels of perceived femininity, grace, and poise wasn’t easy.

Whether it was my my height, my different hair (no neat skating bun for me), the fact that I couldn’t buy skating stockings that matched the color of my skin, the fact that I couldn’t order and wear the same shades of makeup as the other (white) girls on my synchonised skating team, there was always something that kept me from feeling like I was adored the same way the other skaters were.

By the time I left high school I had all my double jumps down, passed all my moves tests, and was helping to coach a local synchronised skating team, so it wasn’t for lack of talent that the familiar accolades of “you’re so graceful” or “you have such artistry” seemed to always turn to variations of “you’re so athletic/aggressive!” or “you have such a unique style”. Someone at my club in Connecticut commented that I’d probably be amazing at track and field because my skating was so fast and powerful, and had I thought about that instead? New York City tourists have politely and very complimentary (in their eyes) told me that I’m “the best Black skater they’ve ever seen, and so powerful!” Strong, powerful, aggressive, athletic; not the words you want to hear in the delicate, feminine world of figure skating.

Harding’s desire to skate programs to untraditional music choices mirror my own. The year Will Smith’s Big Willie Style came out I desperately wanted to do a competition program to Men in Black or Miami. My coach looked horrified when I played her the tape, and I ended up with a program from the musical Camelot instead that satisfied the requirements of soft, graceful, feminine skating.

That was 17 years ago, but you’re still not going to see many programs like Starr Andrews’ (to Willow Smith’s Whip My Hair) in national and international competition. Music that derives from the standard Euro-classical and instrumental should be avoided, but if it is to be presented it should be done only by an All American white girl in a bindi so as not to threaten the sport’s reputation or the judges’ sensibilities.

I don’t compete any more. I haven’t put on a pair of skating tights in years because Capezio’s“tan” is still about 5 shades lighter than I am, and Surya Bonaly was a childhood hero. I put on headphones and skate to whatever I want— almost always starting a workout with Beyonce and DMX. I have half a program to “Partition” choreographed already, not that it would ever be acceptable in competition. We can’t excuse whatever part Tonya Harding may or may not have played in the assault on Nancy Kerrigan in 1994, but I get what it’s like to not be seen as the“‘lovely,’ ‘ladylike,’ ‘elegant,’ and ‘sophisticated,’ one,” and spending the energy trying to conform to a sport standard that’s not necessarily made to fit how the world’s been trained to see you. I suspect that several other Black athletes do as well; along with Bonaly, Serena Williams comes quickly to mind.

Just something to keep in mind as we approach the Sochi Winter Games, or as we work through our Ashley Wagner vs. Mirai Nagasu feelings. Sometimes it’s more than expensive costs that keeps girls off the ice.

Reposted from our Tumblr Hack Refuge

Richard Sherman And Respectability Politics In Sports

By Arturo R. García

One of the worst things about the worst responses to Richard Sherman’s interview Sunday night with Erin Andrews might be this: he probably saw it coming, and has decades’ worth of history to back him in that response.
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On Disability and Cartographies of Difference

By Guest Contributor Wilfredo Gomez, cross-posted from The Feminist Wire

I recently returned to my alma mater to encounter a rather peculiar and interesting narrative about my legacy. While interacting with former teachers, classmates, and current students, stories were told about the years I spent at the school. One person told a story about how I played varsity basketball during my last year of high school, never having played a single minute. I trained in silence, dedicating time and effort for three years, being overlooked until I finally got my break. I rode the bench and never paid attention to the games, as I was too focused on academics and trying to get somewhere. But in the last game of the season with 15 seconds left on the clock, the captain of the team called a time out and requested I join the team on the court. With the clock winding down to zero, I was told to stand in the corner and wait for a pass.

 

That pass was delivered as promised and the defense collapsed on me, forcing me to hesitate and give the ball up. The ball came back my way where I dribbled to my left and took a shot over the outstretched arms of two defenders who may as well have been giants. While a blur, the shot went in as time expired, the only two points I scored in my career, and fans rushed the court emptying the stands, lifting me up in celebration of my presence and shot. I was the team’s good luck charm. Another person told a story about how I was confined to a wheel chair and they had fond memories of my racing up and down the hallways as I moved from class to class. They recalled my playing basketball, not playing, and leaning over to my fellow teammates saying that I was headed somewhere. One would think that if these narratives were to have gotten out to the public, they might have attracted the attention of ESPN. These recollections of heroic feats and athletic persistence were only partial to the narratives of the legacy I have left behind.

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A Muslimah’s Guide to Rocking the World

By Guest Contributor Amina Jabbar, cross-posted from Muslimah Media Watch

Growing up as a queer-identified South Asian Muslimah and a survivor of domestic violence, I’ve occasionally felt that merely existing was, in and of itself, an act of rebellion. But I’ve been fortunate. I’ve not only survived, but thrived, now living the life of a resident physician.

I can’t take all the credit for where I am because, simply put, I’m standing on the shoulders of giants. Through my life, I’ve consistently found media depictions of Muslim women and others engaging in daily acts of resistance to subvert and redefine the predominant discourses about Muslim women. These people and stories form a series of lessons to which I give credit for the awesome trajectory of my life. Here, then, are my seven lessons for a Muslimah’s guide to rocking the world.

Lesson #1: Our commitment to social justice reflects our commitment to faith.

It’s easy, I think, to get lost in the textual analyses of faith alone. The Qu’ran and hadiths are, after all, rich, deep, and complicated. But in an incredible interview on Vimeo, Amina Wadud makes a distinction between being a servant of God and an agent of God.  She talks about how her focus on the Qu’ranic meanings alone wasn’t enough; that being an agent implies an obligation to actively live in ways that are consistent with principles of social justice. Wherever and whenever there is injustice, we’re obligated to challenge the status quo.

Activist Fanta Ongoiba. Image via The Star.

Lesson #2: Some principles are worth being unwaveringly unapologetic about.

Our social and political positions may not always be popular. In general, I’m all for compromise but, occasionally, there are principles that are and should be “non-negotiable.” With the non-negotiables of life, even when the going gets tough, there should be no sidelining, shifting, or redrafting of the message. Easy to say, difficult to do. But Fanta Ongoiba, executive director of Africans in Partnership Against AIDS in Toronto, makes it look slick. Sexual health and HIV remain hushed, tabooed  topics within many Muslim communities. Ongoiba’s work , recently honored by the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, provides real space and fills a real need, no matter the response from religious leaders. As a Toronto Star article put it, “at an international conference, one sheik called her a ‘troublemaker,’ a label she embraced” and to which she also responded “ I’d prefer to be a troublemaker to wake you up.”

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Silence and Spectacle: How the Sports Media Sanctions Racist Mascots

By Guest Contributors C. Richard King and David J. Leonard

Image by Keith Allison via Flickr Creative Commons.

One would hope sport media outlets might take their civic duty to foster critical thinking, public engagement, and informed debated seriously. Their approach to the representations in Native Americans in sport suggest otherwise. Under the veil of fairness and balance, they opt to speak for, to be silent and to silence as preferred pathways.

When ESPN columnist Rick Reilly offered a defense of Native American mascots because the American Indians he knew did not have a problem with them. Flouting his whiteness and playing his privilege with little regard, he spoke for Native Americas. His word – his whiteness, his platform – made their words meaningful. His editors neither batted an eye nor cleared a space for Native Americans to express themselves.

In fact, Reilly misrepresented his key source, his father-in-law, who wrote a lengthy retort in Indian Country Today that noted he found the name of Washington D.C.’s National Football League team to be objectionable. Reilly still stood by his piece and neither he nor his publisher have offered a correction or an apology.
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The Unsung Hero Of League Of Denial

By Arturo R. García

Dr. Bennet Omalu emerges as a key figure early on in PBS’ special report “League of Denial.” All images via PBS.

Advisory: This post deals in part with suicide and brain trauma

At its core, League Of Denial is a story about hurt. The special report by PBS’ Frontline traces the shameful history of the National Football League’s attempts to stymie, then co-opt research into the increasingly hard-to-hide connection between football, concussions and, ultimately, chronic traumatic encephalopathy — the disease known as CTE for short.

And while the report gives due time to the hurt experienced by not only the players affected but their families, another story emerges: how far the NFL went to hurt the career of Dr. Bennet Omalu, the Nigerian-born pathologist who first discovered the fatal link.
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Quoted: ESPN On Jason Collins, A Season Later

Free-agent NBA center Jason Collins. Image via freddyo.com

Welts’ combination of optimism and apprehension is shared by many others around the league who are rooting for Collins, but recognize the forces working against him. They list any number of factors, some unique to his identity as the only openly gay free agent, others products of circumstance.As the league gets stretchier — with some teams employing as few as four conventional big men — fewer NBA jobs remain for a center whose primary on-court asset is interior defense. Many teams prefer to take fliers on younger prospects whose contracts can be discarded on Jan. 10, when the vets’ phones start to ring. For their part, the Warriors have stockpiled centers. They have Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli, Ognjen Kuzmic, Jermaine O’Neal and Dewayne Dedmon all under contract.

“The reality for our team is that we are really deep at the center position — there’s not a roster spot available,” Welts says.

League trends aside, nearly a dozen execs say privately that the media glare that would come with a Collins signing just isn’t worth the distraction to most teams. Locker rooms are fragile places already and not always receptive to change, and though NBA players as a whole are extremely professional with the media, it’s not their favorite half hour of the day. The easier it is, the better. If he were a rotation player or better, the thinking goes, the cost/benefit analysis might produce a different outcome.

In other words, the market for Collins would be bigger if he weren’t openly gay.

- From “What we’re learning from Jason Collins,” by Kevin Arnovitz