Her Mom Dies and a Daughter's Hockey Play Helps to Heal a Family's Grief

Wulf family.jpeg

My friend and colleague at Sports Illustrated, Steve Wulfwrote about Elizabeth, his hockey-playing daughter who is ending a remarkable on-ice career at Middlebury College, and his late wife, Bambi Bachman Wulf, a friend, too, since our days at Sports Illustrated, and Elizabeth's three siblings and other family member and friends who encircled her after her mother died early in her college years. With their presence, they infused her mom's fiercely spirited devotion to sports into the games Elizabeth played – and by gathering at this rink, together they began to heal their grief. 

This story's title – "As Strong As Mom: How sports helped a family heal" – hints at the essence of Steve's evocative tale about loss and the power of sports to knit together his family with newly found strength. Steve shows how his family, holding sports at its core, summons through Elizabeth's hockey the joy of family being together in their deep and abiding love for Bambi, who left their lives through illness much too soon. They settle into the familiarity of family rituals at the rink as Steve, his grown children, and his and Bambi's first grandchild, root for Elizabeth and her team. In their togetherness, woven by the threads of love they share for sports, they honor and remember their missing family member whose spirit resides in them.

Here's how Steve describes the first game of Elizabeth's hockey season after her mother had died during that summer:

For that first game of the season, Friday, Nov. 17, we descended upon Middlebury from many different directions. John and Abby flew up from Washington, Bo drove up from Philadelphia, Eve hightailed it out of Bristol and my sister Karen headed west from Cape Cod. Me, I was in a such a hurry that I got a speeding ticket for going too fast through Hubbardton, Vermont.

Bo put a HERE WE ARE placard in the seat adjacent to Bambi’s. We waited for the introductions of the starting lineups and heard announcer Liza Sacheli summon “No. 7, from Larchmont, New York, Elizabeth Wulf” out to the center spot. She fist-bumped goalie Lin Han first, then the rest of the starters.

What was different about the introductions this time was that the players all had stickers affixed to the backs of their helmets. On them was a beautiful logo designed by Maddie Winslow’s mother, Olivia — a heart with wings and the initials JBW, Jane Bachman Wulf.

After the anthems, we scurried to the other side of the rink, to the less comfortable concrete steps on the offensive end. It’s a routine borne of both superstition and a better view of Elizabeth at work. Not so weird, really. What is strange is that we don’t sit together, I guess because we don’t want to contract each other’s anxiety.
— ESPN W, As Strong As Mom: How sports helped a family heal
Elizabeth Wulf.jpeg

A bit later in his story, Steve delivers us to the team's championship game.

Kenyon Arena was fairly packed on Sunday to see if Middlebury could win another NESCAC title, Mandigo’s 10th, and the team’s third straight — a feat that had never before been accomplished in NESCAC. I savored Elizabeth’s last spin around home ice. (Sigh.)

She later told me that just before they took the ice for the introductions, Mandigo tugged on her ponytail and said, “Bambi’s gonna help us out today.”

For one final time at Kenyon Arena, we listened to “from Larchmont, New York,” and watched her touch the other starters with her glove. Then, like hardwired birds, we made our roosts on the concrete seats at the other end of the rink. The Mammoths came out strong, dominating the first half of the first period. But Lin Han made some clutch saves, and Middlebury revived itself. At the end of the first period, the score was 0-0.
— ESPNW, As Strong As Mom: How sports helped a family heal

I urge you to read Steve's story to find out how this game ends – and Elizabeth's role in its score.

To end my own blog post, there is only one image to share. Its words speak volumes about the young woman I knew at Sports Illustrated when we worked together in the 1970s. Known to us as Bambi, she was Jane at birth, and in her happiest days she was known as Mom.

This is the seat where Bambi always sat in to watch Elizabeth warm up on the home ice of Kenyon Arena.

This is the seat where Bambi always sat in to watch Elizabeth warm up on the home ice of Kenyon Arena.

I choose to have Steve"s opening paragraph end my blog post: 

A few hours before the opening game of the 2017-18 Middlebury College women’s hockey season, a senior center for the team sat in Kenyon Arena’s Seat 7, Row AA. It was the same seat that her mother liked to sit in while watching warm-ups, and the coach of the Panthers, Bill Mandigo, had just shown her the plaque he had affixed to it in tribute to her mother, who had died between last season and the one about to start. The plaque read: ALWAYS WATCHING.
— ESPNW, As Strong as Mom: How sports helped a family heal

In Memory of Christina-Taylor Green: A Girl Who Loved Baseball

Christina-Taylor Green watched over her younger brother, reading to him as a big sister does. in her memory, this sculpture was dedicated and stands in sad remembrance of this girl who was born on 9/11, who died from when bullets aimed at Representative Gabby Giffords hit her. That was on a morning when Christina, who was nine year old, awakened feeling excited that her neighbor was taking her to meet a woman she admired in politics.

Christina-Taylor Green watched over her younger brother, reading to him as a big sister does. in her memory, this sculpture was dedicated and stands in sad remembrance of this girl who was born on 9/11, who died from when bullets aimed at Representative Gabby Giffords hit her. That was on a morning when Christina, who was nine year old, awakened feeling excited that her neighbor was taking her to meet a woman she admired in politics.

Christina-Taylor had just been elected her class president at Mesa Verde Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona. Her plans were to start a club at her school to help her less fortunate classmates. I knew none of this about her or much about her aunt Kim Green, when in my last blog I shared the photograph of Kim as a girl wearing a baseball glove who then was just about the same age as Christina when she died. Kim had tried to play on her town's Little League Baseball team, but she couldn't because she was a girl. When Christina was nine, she was the only girl playing baseball on her Little League team. She put her glove on to play second base.

Girls in Baseball 1974 Kim Green.jpeg

When Christina was nine, she was the only girl playing baseball on her Little League team. She put her glove on to play second base.

Christina-Taylor Green

Christina-Taylor Green

Two days after I published my blog, "Play Ball," this comment arrived from Perry Barber. I didn't know Perry then, but I know I lot more about her now – and this tells me why she wrote to me about Christina-Taylor. More on Perry later. Now the words Perry shared with me:

Kim Green, the little girl shown in the photo from 1974, is the sister of Roxanna Green and aunt to Roxanna’s daughter, another baseball-loving little girl whose name was Christina-Taylor Green.

Christina was murdered in the same Arizona shooting that severely injured then-congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords back in 2011. Christina was honored at the very first Baseball For All Nationals tournament in Kissimmee, Florida in 2013; the more than two hundred baseball-playing girls from all over the globe who participated in the tournament, organized by BFA founder Justine Siegal, wore armbands with Christina’s initials in her memory. Christina’s spirit continues to inspire other girls who play and love baseball the way she did, the way her aunt and her whole family has done for generations. 

I wrote these words to Perry: 

How remarkable, Perry Barber, for you to introduce me to Christina-Taylor Green and to share her remarkable life with me – a life of such extraordinary promise, beauty and heart, a life which so sadly was shortened by the violence that’s all too horribly visited on children in America today. And to learn from you about her love of baseball, how Baseball for All honored her at its National Tournament, and how the girls playing in it wore armbands in her memory. Your words are leading me to write another blog post that I will be sharing soon, words of mine in honor of Christina-Taylor, a girl I wish I’d had the pleasure of meeting, a girl whose memory will stay within me forever. With gratitude for you enabling me to know her. Melissa

And then I put Perry Barber's name into Google search and before long I knew why Perry toook the moments she did to write to me about Christina-Taylor. With this girl and woman, baseball became a shared passion.

Perry Barber, MSBL umpire

Perry Barber, MSBL umpire

Soon, I came upon this story, "Perry Barber: Renaissance Umpire," published by the Men’s Senior Baseball League (MSBL)/Men’s Adult Baseball League (MABL), and is my introduction – now yours – to Perry Barber:

Perry Barber is a very extraordinary lady. This 61 year old dynamo is a Jeopardy game show champion from 1972 when Art Flemming paved the way for Alex Trebek and is also a musician who’s talent took her to the same stage as the ‘Boss’, Bruce Springsteen, as his opening act. She is also an MSBL umpire in her third year of working the MSBL World Series down here in the warm sun of Arizona.
— Perry Barber: Renaissance Umpire

How remarkable that by reading about a threat allegedly made about an 11-year old girl who wanted to play baseball in New Hampshire, I start this magical chain reaction with stories of girls and baseball. How magnificent, too, that Justine Siegal, who in 2009 was the first female coach of a Major League baseball team (the Oakland A's) after she'd founded Baseball for All at the age of 23, was the person to introduce me to Karen Zerby Buzzelle, the mom who'd founded the all girls baseball team, the Boston Slammers. So when the 11-year old girl from New Hampshire came to scrimmage with the Boston Slammers and inspired me to write a blog post about her, I came to learn about Kim Green's long-ago passion to play baseball and how in 1974 her mom Sheila made it happen for Kim and lots of other girls, as moms like Karen still do. Then, I thought about how 1974 had been the year when I followed my passion for baseball and other sports to becoming a researcher and reporter at Sports Illustrated, and in this job I'd become the first woman to cover Major League Baseball full-time and four years later in 1978 I'd win a federal court case to give women equal access to report on baseball.

For Perry Barber to be the one to introduce me to Christina–Taylor, this girl who loved baseball, is fitting. Feeling Now connected with Christina and with the youthful Kim and her childhood friend Alice, and with Perry, makes me wish for the day when our shared passion won't be a story told only by a few of us who love this game and possess the inner drive to want to share it with others. Instead, my dream is that one day, soon, when more girls and women play baseball that the crowds cheering them on and the media telling their stories will be the equal in size and yes, in passion, to those who gather to watch and report on the boys and men.

Now in my mid-60s I'm writing this blog, my first, and I am writing my memoir, Locker Room Talk, about the time in America's history when I was in my mid-20s and women in America marched to fight back against gender discrimination. I want my 21-year old daughter Maya to know how I was able to play a small role in this social movement for gender equality by opening the baseball's locker room doors to the girls and women whose job it was then – and one day would be – to report on baseball.

These doors, I am happy to say, are ones that many women have walked through. 

Sexy Sports Illustrated Hijacks #MeToo: Thumbs Down on the Result

SI Model Robyn Lawley.jpeg

Six years I reported on sports such as baseball and basketball at Sports Illustrated. Those six years the SI Swimsuit issue was published in mid-February. Still is. Gotta snap the men out of their winter doldrums. No more NFL where they can watch men crack heads, in the week after the Super Bowl the nearly naked women issue appears. Well, a man can go ice fishing for so many winter weeks. Heck, it's what men want, its sales and focus groups tell them – time to serve up gorgeous women wearing less and less of bathing suits as each year goes by.

This year, at least, in one section, they've dispensed with bathing suits altogether.

So along with nudity, Sports Illustrated is parading the fact that for first time ever both bosses in charge of this issue are women – the editor and the photographer, also a first.

By the way they are marketing this year's issue, you'd think #MeToo linked arms with a different kind of female empowerment. All the while the editor is assuring men that no matter what's up with women they can count on SI to serve up "sexy" images.

So how are the 2018 reviews? 

"Spectacularly Silly" – The New Yorker

"Ridiculous?" – Fashion

"the first shoot in which 'models were as much participants as objects' – Vanity Fair

The opening words of Vanity Fair's dive into this 2018 issue:

On the short list of American media institutions invented to take commercial advantage of the male gaze, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue surely ranks in the top-three, mostly-safe-for-work division. One could be forgiven, then, for thinking that the staff of the issue were reconsidering their efforts last fall as #MeToo trended, stories about sexual harassment consumed news cycles, and audiences thought more deeply about the ways their media and entertainment were made—and who was making them. It turns out the issue’s staff had already been on their way to rethinking all of it. Editor MJ Day and her core team, comprised of all women, had decided as early as last spring to try in 2018 to make a magazine where models were as much participants as objects.
— Vanity Fair

Let's pause to consider the word "objects."  Really? SI sees its models as much as objects as participants? Sounds about right. Can we agree that the women are objectified. I know some argue that being nude or nearly nude in these magazine spreads so men can ogle their bodies is an act of empowerment. I'm not in that camp; one reason I'm not is how often some of the same male sports fans objectify women who broadcast and write sports – undressing them on Twitter et al. with descriptions and threats that strip them of their humanity.

The consequences of inhabiting an objectified body are, in many ways, what #MeToo is all about, and there’s something spectacularly silly, not to mention tone-deaf, about Sports Illustrated fighting fire with fire. The ‘In Her Own Words’ shoot got a predictable amount of flak on Twitter; it seems that removing models’ remaining scraps of clothes in the name of empowerment has not been widely taken in the liberating spirit in which it was intended.
— Alexandra Schwartz, The New Yorker

In trying to "mirror" the #MeToo movement on their model's bodies, SI explained its mission this way; they are "allowing women to exist in the world without being harassed or judged regardless of how they like to present themselves." Yet, as editor MJ Day assured its predominantly male audience for this annual post-Super Bowl issue, this issue is “always going to be sexy, no matter what is happening.”

Again, a word check:  "Allowing" this to happen? Perhaps, a wiser word choice would be "enabling" if this is such an empowering act. 

Perhaps all of this explain why on the brink of Sports Illustrated's sale to Meredith, Time Inc. announced the launch of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Enterprises. Here's how New York Post greeted with this news:

Sports Illustrated is going into the modeling business

.. the launch of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Enterprises, a branding and licensing venture announced this week by the Time Inc. title, which hopes to turn the popular swimsuit issue that hits in mid-February into a year-round enterprise to offset declines in SI’s print ad business.
— The New York Post
Si Calendar.jpeg

Meet SI's 2018 Swimsuit Calendar. Stay tuned for more as the year moves on. My hunch is that this is one part of SI's "editorial" content that won't be tampered with by Meredith.