From Wimbledon to the Charles River: Girls, Women, Tennis, NBA, and Crew

Photo from the  Underwood Archives

Photo from the Underwood Archives

How Empowering Girls to Confront Conflict and Buck Perfection Helps Their Well-Being

Girls, more than boys, are socialized to feel the pressure to please people in their lives, to seek perfection, and to do what they can to avoid conflict, which means they don't learn, as boys do, how to "fight" back in ways that can lead them to constructive outcomes. Here's a story by KQED's Mindshift that presents parents and educators with ways to help young girls to "engage in productive conflict, acknowledge and grow from mistakes, develop emotional intelligence and take responsibility for the role they each play in social situations." By the age of six, girls are less likely than boys to identify their own gender as being "really, really smart." 

Marriage and Motherhood at Wimbledon

From  The   New York Times , July 4, 2018

From The New York Times, July 4, 2018

First marriage:

If Serena Williams wins Wimbledon this week, she'll be a married woman champion. That means her name as champion will switch from Miss S. Williams, which is what it's been, to Mrs. A. Williams, though she neither goes by Mrs. nor is Williams her husband's surname (Alexis Ohanian), which are the only two ways that would befit putting a Mrs. in front of it. Tradition dictates, however, that this is how her name would be recorded, just as it was for Chrissy Evert (Mrs. J.M. Lloyd) and Billie Jean King (Mrs. L.W. King). Fortunately, the club has a compendium that logs the marital history of every woman who has reached the semifinals or finals, except for Martina Navartilova who married a female spouse.

If you don’t know who Mrs. R. Cawley is, you can consult a glossary in the Wimbledon Compendium, an exhaustive record of the tournament’s history. Compiled by the Wimbledon librarian, the compendium also logs the marriage history — husband, wedding date and location — of any woman who has reached the semifinals or final. No such record is kept for the men who have graced the tournament’s final four. Nor does the book appear to include any same-sex marriages, like the nine-time singles champion Martina Navratilova’s 2014 union to Julia Lemigova.
— The New York Times, July 4, 2018

Now motherhood:

It was nearly 30 years after Evonne Goolagong won the Wimbledon singles in 1980 that another mother, Kim Clijsters, became a Grand Slam champion. She  won the 2009 United States Open, the first of three Grand Slam titles that she collected after the birth of her first child. This year six mothers were in the Wimbledon draw, compared with 20 players who are fathers. Now Serena and other moms are speaking out about having nurseries at tournament sites.

‘When I was younger, I was thinking by the age of 27 I would be so tired of tennis that I wouldn’t want to do it,’ said Vera Zvonareva, who is now 33 years old. ‘That was the first thought. The second thought was if I have a family, then for sure my career is over.’

Williams and Azarenka, two of Wimbledon’s newer moms, have clout, and no reservations about exercising it. Azarenka, 28, a member of the WTA Player Council, has championed giving top players returning from their maternity leaves seeding consideration at tournaments.

Wimbledon broke with the status quo by granting the 183rd-ranked Williams the No. 25 seeding here, and the United States Open last month announced it would revise its approach to seeding players coming back from pregnancy.
— New York Times, July 9, 2018

Serena Williams has shared with the public her postpartum depression and what it took to fight herself back into world-class competitive shape. Then, this week from Wimbledon she tweeted about crying when she heard her daughter took her first steps and she wasn't there to see her.

Serena's Tweet about Daughter's First Steps.jpeg

Moms throughout the world empathized with her feelings and tweeted her back with stories of baby and toddler milestones they'd missed, too.

Then, there's the issue of how the media treats motherhood in the context of tournament coverage. When it happened that two moms played each other The Globe and Mail’s headline read: “Serena Williams to play Evgeniya Rodina in battle of the moms at Wimbledon," to which many tweeters replied as these two did:

Huff Post: ‘Battle Of The Moms’ Headline For Serena Williams-Evgeniya Rodina Game Causes Uproar

Huff Post: ‘Battle Of The Moms’ Headline For Serena Williams-Evgeniya Rodina Game Causes Uproar


Finally, the Ball Girls

It was in 1977 that Wimbledon first invited girls to try out to be ball girls. Here's how UPI reported this news:

The All‐England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club at Wimbledon bowed to the women’s liberation movement today and said It would permit ballgirls for the first time at this summer’s annual tennis tournament. The club has agreed to employ 10 girls from schools in the Wimbledon area to help the 70 boys it will hire for the championships. The girls will wear the same purple and green shirts as the boys, but with skirts instead of shorts. The club board’s decision resulted from a campaign by girls at Pelham High School and supported by their games’ supervisor, Liz Kelly.
— The New York Times, March 26, 1977

Not until three years later did Wimbledon mix ball boys and girls on a team (1980), and five years would pass again before ball girls appeared on Centre Court for the first time.

Wimbledon website

Wimbledon website

How ballgirls and ballboys are selected today for Wimbledon.

Gender and Referees:

How two black women referees expanded the conversation about representation in sports

Referees have been left out of the conversation

Lots of eyes turned toward Danielle Scott and Angelica Suffren, two black women referees, when they showed up at an NBA Summer League game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat. It's the first year that the NBA recruited women to officiate at their training ground program like the NBPA Top 100 Camp. In 2017, a third of the referees in its minor league basketball program were women.

Building a pipeline?

Women referees in NBA Summer games.jpeg

Closer to Home: From Rower to Cox

Gained new appreciation for coxswains who more often than not are women given our lighter weight. In my case, me being cox was not about lesser weight but only because I volunteered to take on this role for a 1,000 meter race on Sunday morning on the Charles River. There is a lot of multitasking involved – the cox is motivator-in-chief, primary steerer, stroke rate watcher, and the person in charge of 8 rowers whose adrenaline kicks in. It's the cox's job to focus them on setting a powerful, sustainable rhythm that means catching together to start each stroke, pushing back with power from their feet/legs, and never losing focus in the competition of a sprint race. Here's photos taken of us during the race and on the dock upon our return:

The Cronwell Cup, July 8, 2018, Charles River

The Cronwell Cup, July 8, 2018, Charles River

Cronwell Cup 2.JPG
Back home at the CRI dock, Cronwell Cup 8

Back home at the CRI dock, Cronwell Cup 8








Play it Again, Sam(antha): Highlights from a Week of Low Lights

A Woman's Work: Home Economics* (*I took Woodworking Instead) drawings and story by Carolita Johnson

A Woman's Work: Home Economics* (*I took Woodworking Instead) drawings and story by Carolita Johnson

The girls in my 7th grade year were the first to be allowed to take woodworking at my junior high school in Amherst, MA. Before us, before the very early 1960s, boys went to woodworking classes while girls went to home economics. There, we learned to sew and cook and about how babies are made, but we did that only when the black shades were fully drawn on basement windows to be sure nobody (the boys) looked while we were being taught what girls needed to know.

Perhaps its why Carolita Johnson's story leapt out, grabbed me, and tugged me in.

Published on  Longreads

Published on Longreads

Carolita never did write about woodworking class, but that didn't matter. With every scene of her tale about her marriage, I sensed I knew precisely what she said she felt. It was as though she was writing what could have been my life. Why not? Our girlhoods – woodworking and lots more opportunities some girls in our generation had – gave us the same running start. Oh, by the way, the first thing I made in my woodworking class was a shoe shine kit for my dad. I still have the shoe shine kit – along with gratitude to my father for always pushing me to live my dreams no matter how unlikely their success or how few women shared them.

My dad and me.

My dad and me.

This is first of what I hope will be my weekly blogs spotlighting stories that stick with me through the week. Focus will be on lives of girls and women and most weeks I'll shoot for having at least some highlight women in sports. I'll annotate each story with my insights and thoughts that come out of life experiences. Hoping you'll comment so we can open up a dialogue about these stories – and events and opinions they bring to mind. 

                    – Melissa Ludtke, author of forthcoming memoir,  "Locker Women Talk: A Woman's Struggle to Get Inside"


Mercury 13: The Women Who Weren't Astronauts

Look magazine cover, Feb. 2, 1960

Look magazine cover, Feb. 2, 1960

I was eight years old when this magazine cover was published. The idea of a "girl" going into space seemed unimaginable and I wasn't the only one thinking that way.  Despite passing every one of the tests, physical and psychological, that the Mercury 7 astronauts (all men) passed, Betty Skelton (pictured on the LOOK cover), NASA declared that neither she nor any of the other 13 women who'd taken the astronaut tests would go into space. It would be 23 years before Sally Ride would blast off in the Challenger space shuttle, becoming the first American woman in space.

Betty died in 2011, but many of the Mercury 13 women pilots who tried out to be astronauts share their stories in this magnificent documentary Mercury 13, a Netflix original

SYNOPSIS: Mercury 13 is a remarkable story of the women who were tested for spaceflight in 1961 before their dreams were dashed in being the first to make the trip beyond Earth. NASA’s ‘man in space’ program, dubbed ‘Project Mercury’ began in 1958. The men chosen – all military test pilots – became known as The Mercury 7. But away from the glare of the media, behind firmly closed doors, female pilots were also screened. Thirteen of them passed and, in some cases, performed better than the men. They were called the Mercury 13 and had the ‘right stuff’ but were, unfortunately, the wrong gender. Underneath the obsession of the space race that gripped America, the women were aviation pioneers who emerged thirsty for a new frontier, but whose time would have to wait. The film tells the definitive story of thirteen truly remarkable women who reached for the stars but were ahead of their time. A Netflix original documentary directed by David Sington (The Fear of 13) and Heather Walsh.
— Film Review: Netflix’s Mercury 13 Shows The Cosmic Cruelty of Sexism

Women Sports Reporters: Sexism at the World Cup

‘I prefer to hear a male voice’: Female commentators find harsh judgment at World Cup

Washington Post, June 26, 2018

Washington Post, June 26, 2018

Category: Happens All The Time:

A man complains about the sound of a woman's voice invading what he considers "his" space. Happened again this week when Vicki Sparks became the first woman to broadcast a World Cup game on British TV. Didn't take long a British soccer player to go on national TV to say he didn't think her voice belonged there. Good news: So many pushed back against his comment on Good Morning Britain,  that by afternoon he had to apologize, and he did. So, too, did a few of the men who groped and kissed three on-air women reporters at the World Cup after the women called them out on their gross, sexist behavior.

“Don’t do this! Never do this again,” Ms Guimaraes shouted at the man, who can be heard apologising in the video.

”Don’t do this, I don’t allow you to do this, never, OK? This is not polite, this is not right.

”Never do this to a woman, OK? Respect.”
— BBC News: World Cup reporter Julia Guimaraes' fury at on-camera kiss attempt

Of course, this happens in other realms, too, like politics, really any place a woman challenges the presumed power of men. In no time at all, she's being told about the irritating pitch of her voice. Remember Hillary Clinton and how The Atlantic did a scientific investigation of her sound. 

And Getty Images faced published a photo album, World Cup 2018: The Sexiest Fans” that featured images of only female fans. After receiving a lot of backlash for this photo album, Getty apologized and removed the album, saying that it did not meet “editorial standards.”

Nudity and Athletes = Women's Empowerment

From Jessica Mendoza's Twitter feed

From Jessica Mendoza's Twitter feed

Once upon a time – back in the 1970s when I was a reporter at Sports Illustrated – my magazine published its swimsuit issue as soon as the professional football season ended. Hey, the guys needed something to look at and women with as little clothes on as possible proved to be the best-selling answer. Now SI's swimsuit issue also features women athletes like Olympic gold medalists Aly Raisman and Simone Biles posing in bikinis and displaying women's muscularity.

Just as I admire today's women sportswriters and broadcasters for speaking up and pushing back against the vile things said on social media about them, I get how showing strength in a woman's body and breaking out of the male gaze expectations is empowering, and I applaud these athletes for pushing boundaries by showing who they are as women. Here's my recent blog post about SI's most popular issue. 

ESPN does, too, in its annual body issue, featuring male and female athletes, all posing nude, with their private parts creatively concealed. See gallery below for photos on Twitter feeds sent out about the ESPN Body Issue, primarily featuring softball star Lauren Chamberlain.

Toni Stone: Woman Player in Negro League

From story published by  Timeline

From story published by Timeline

This woman shattered the gender barrier in pro baseball

When Toni Stone joined the Negro League, she became the first woman regular on a big-league team

‘There’s always got to be a first in everything,’ Toni Stone told Ebony in 1953. She knew what she was talking about. By that point, Stone had been the first in a lot of things: the first girl on her church’s baseball team; the first on a traveling barnstorming team; and, now, she had just become the first woman to play Negro League baseball, breaking the gender line at the same time Major League Baseball was making strides with racial integration. Stone felt the sting of both racism and sexism in her journey to becoming a professional in the sport she’d loved since childhood.
— Ashawnta Jackson, writing on Timeline

History is a great reminder that long before women marched for their rights, there were women like Toni Stone, who in doing what she loved the best, was carving paths into places that girls and women didn't usually go. Even nationally syndicated columnist Dorothy Kilgallen took note of her singular success, praising her with these words: “She belts home runs as easily as most girls catch stitches in their knitting, and the sports boys are goggle-eyed.”Here's a video about Toni Stone, narrated by Martha Ackmann, the author of "Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone."

Trans women migrate to escape violence and stay alive:

Reporter Alice Driver takes on the journey with one of them.

As dawn arrives, Marfil Estrella looks out the window of the bus that will take her from San Salvador, El Salvador to Guatemala City, Guatemala. Photos by  Danielle Villasana .

As dawn arrives, Marfil Estrella looks out the window of the bus that will take her from San Salvador, El Salvador to Guatemala City, Guatemala. Photos by Danielle Villasana.

We return to Longreads for Alice Driver's evocative and elegantly written story about the journey north undertaken by a trans woman who will seek asylum in the United States in an attempt to save her life.

At Mister Donut, I sat across the table from Avelar and asked Marfil Estrella if I could join her on her journey to the United States. Marfil Estrella, who had tried to migrate before but had faced violence, said my presence would make her feel safer. I agreed to accompany her to Tapachula, Mexico, via bus, then she planned to spend a few months there getting her papers in order to legally pass through Mexico. Avelar, who had helped Marfil Estrella in the process of preparing paperwork for asylum, said she remembered that Marfil Estella had said to her when they first met, ‘I want to leave here because the streets right now are a time bomb. I don’t want to be left lying in the street, as so many have been left. I want to seek freedom. I want to seek peace.’
— The Road to Asylum Trans women migrate to escape violence and stay alive. Alice Driver accompanied one of these women on her journey, byAlice Driver










Baseball: A Sport Girls Love. A Sport Girls Play.

12-year old Michaela Silher was the only girl playing on her Little League team in Port St. Lucie, Florida. "It's hard being a girl and going into baseball because you don't get the respect sometimes that you want," Sihler told the TC Palm, on a day when she was also the only girl on any team in the baseball tournament,

12-year old Michaela Silher was the only girl playing on her Little League team in Port St. Lucie, Florida. "It's hard being a girl and going into baseball because you don't get the respect sometimes that you want," Sihler told the TC Palm, on a day when she was also the only girl on any team in the baseball tournament,

This headline stopped me cold:

Report: New Hampshire Youth Baseball Coaches Planned To Bean Their League's Lone Girl Player Into Quitting

A girl playing baseball is so threatening to a team or league that hitting her in the head with a pitched baseball seems a good idea? Even verbalizing such an idea, even if you don't intend to go through with it is dangerous and extremely worrisome.  

I read of this threat in Deadspin, in a story picked up from Foster's Daily Democrat, a local newspaper near the girl's hometown, Madbury, New Hampshire. An 11-year-old girl's father had contacted the local baseball association officials to say that "two coaches said they would instruct a player to 'bean' his daughter — strike her in the head with a baseball during practice — in order to intimidate her into leaving the baseball program." His allegation was based on what he'd been told by other coaches who attended the meeting where the plan was discussed.

His daughter is the only girl playing in her age-bracket of this baseball league. She was also reportedly the last player drafted when the coaches met to select their teams. She's played T-ball and baseball baseball and T-ball with teams in this region since 2012, mostly without incident. At younger ages, several other girls were with her on baseball teams, but as they reached their pre-teen years, her female peers switched to softball – while she stayed with baseball.

The matter is being investigated, according to the story, but it is unclear what the investigation revealed or what steps, if any, are being taken to remedy the situation.

My reading of this story coincided with an invitation to spend a few hours on a splendid Sunday afternoon at the Boston Slammers practice. The Slammers are three all-girls' baseball teams – 11 years old upper age, 13 years old and 18 years old – organized by Karen Zerby Buzzelle. a mom. The teams' summer season include a bunch of scrimmages, mostly against boys' teams, and a regional girls' baseball tournament in New Jersey in honor of Marie Pepe.

Maria Pepe.jpeg
Girls can play baseball today because Maria Pepe stood up for their right to play,” said Ms. Justine Siegal, the first woman to coach with a Major League Baseball organization and founder of Baseball for All.

“Maria Pepe, at that time, was a little girl that did not realize what the future would hold as far as playing little league baseball and the controversy it would bring. With her ability to play baseball and her determination, she stood up to the controversy. Because of Maria’s courage and fortitude, she won the court case,” says James Farina, her Little League coach.

In 1972, Maria Pepe, then 12-years old, was selected for her Hoboken, NJ Little League team. After playing three games as a starting pitcher, she was told she could not continue to play under Little League rules dating from 1951 that prohibited girls from playing Little League baseball. With support from her coach, James Farina, Maria Pepe fought for the right to play. The National Organization for Women filed a gender discrimination case on her behalf and won. Her case led to the nationwide acceptance of the right for girls and women to play sports, which aided the passage of the 1975 federal regulations that ensured equal rights to sports in education in accordance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX states that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.
— Baseball for All press release about Maria Pepe girls' baseball tournament

In the first week of August, the Boston Slammers will travel to Rockford, Illinois, the one-time home of the Rockford Peaches in the  All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, for the national girls' baseball championship.

So meet the Boston Slammers – with a few photos and videos from their indoor practice on Sunday. I'll be hanging out with the girls through the summer, so stay tuned. More stories to share ahead. But first a shout out to Justine Siegal who founded Baseball for All so girls could play the game they love, for steering me to my new hometown baseball team, the Slammers.

I was 13-years-old the first time I was told I shouldn’t play baseball because I was a girl.

My coach explained to me that he didn’t want me on his baseball team and that I should play softball instead. It didn’t matter that I was one of the best players on the team, that I loved baseball, or that I practiced way more than any of my male friends. It only mattered that I was a girl.

The day my coach told me to quit was that day I decided to play baseball forever.

Too many girls are still told they can’t play baseball because they are girls. I founded Baseball For All to empower girls to believe in themselves and to keep playing the game they love. I fear if you tell a girl she can’t play baseball what else will she think she can’t do? I then worry what else boys will think girls can’t do?

Baseball For All is leveling the playing field for girls across America by addressing the social justice issue of gender inequality. I want girls to know they can follow their passions. That they have no limits. That their dreams matter.
— Baseball for All, message from Justine Siegal

Meet the Boston Slammers

Pitch Like a Girl, the Boston Slammers

Pitch Like a Girl, the Boston Slammers

Catch Like a Girl, Boston Slammers

Catch Like a Girl, Boston Slammers

Two hour practice begins with drills.

Two hour practice begins with drills.




Circling Home: Girls' Basketball Rekindles an Old Love

Dave Kindred with members of the Morton High School Lady Potters basketball team. (ESPN)

Dave Kindred with members of the Morton High School Lady Potters basketball team. (ESPN)

Is knowing Dave Kindred and admiring him and his sportswriting, as I do, what drew me to read this story? Perhaps. But if my curiosity about what Dave's doing these days wasn't my primary reason, then the headline would have pulled me in. 

Legendary sportswriter returns to roots by covering local girls' basketball

In an extraordinary career covering just about every major sports event there is to cover, Dave was awarded sports journalism's highest honor, the Red Smith Award. He's a member of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame. Then, in 2010, he retired, and he and his wife circled back to where they'd grown up in rural Illinois, and there he's become the beat reporter covering the Morton High School Lady Potters basketball team. (His stories are in this blog on the team's website.) He receives no pay but the "job" comes with lots of spirit-reviving benefits.

Dave sits alone two rows behind the Lady Potter bench in mud-splattered hiking boots, blue jeans and a green Masters Tournament wind breaker. What’s left of his thinning gray hair sprays out from beneath a red 2017 Masters ball cap, the bill shading trained eyes that follow the ball up and down the court through wire-rimmed spectacles and occasionally glance down to scribble a basket or name or note in his handheld notebook.
— Story by Tony Rehagen, ESPNW

After reading Tony's story about Dave, I had to share it – in part because so few high school women's basketball teams receive any news coverage at all. With Dave writing their games, these young women have one of the most accomplished scribes. In writing about this girls' team, Dave is finding renewed joy in life as he copes with his wife's devastating illness.

Before I tell you more about Dave's life today, here's a bit about his career. He was "a columnist for the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Washington Post, the Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionThe National Sports DailySporting News, and Golf Digest. He has written nine books. For "Around the World in 18 Holes," he flew 37,319 miles to 21 countries on four continents with his sports-writing pal, Tom Callahan. (I reported the 1984 Summer Olympics with Tom who wrote sports for Time magazine and I was a correspondent. From those Games, here's my story about Carl Lewis, who tied Jesse Owens' track and field record by winning four gold medals in those games.)

Despite the Lady Potters winning three Illinois High School Association Class 3A State Championships, as the smallest Illinois town (population 16,000) to ever win a 3A title in any sport, few people show up to watch these girls play.

The Lady Potters 2018 team, from the Morton basketball website

The Lady Potters 2018 team, from the Morton basketball website


Let's pick up Tony's narrative about the Lady Potters:

Few patrons take advantage of the hefty return on the free admission. The cozy Potterdome bleachers are only half-full on this frigid December Friday, and many of those parents and students have trickled in midway through this opening act to get good seats for the main event: The Potter varsity boys, whose lone banner is an Elite 8 showing back in 2011. The cheerleaders who bounce out onto the hardwood to try to keep folks engaged during intermissions are working their first Lady Potters game this year, as is the dance squad that will perform at halftime — of the boys’ game.

But the girls have one thing — besides the monopoly on space in the trophy case out front — that the boys don’t; something that really any team in any sport, male or female, amateur or professional, would be lucky to have: David Kindred. He’s not a player’s parent or grandparent, uncle or cousin. He’s not a teacher or administrator; not a coach or scout. He’s not technically even a reporter. In fact, few outside of the tight-knit Lady Potters community know his name — and most of them don’t fully grasp who he is, and even they don’t understand why he is here.
— Story by Tony Rehagen, ESPNW

Early on in Tony's story we learn that Cheryl, his life partner and Dave's high school sweetheart and wife of 55 years, suffered a catastrophic stroke in Dec. 2015. Each day Dave spends time at her bedside, though she remains unresponsive to his visits. One day soon after her stroke a visitor suggested to Dave that he step away from her bedside for a little while and go to back to watching the girls play basketball. He and Cheryl had gone to their games and Dave had begun to write about them. He's not missed one of their games since that day.

What he saw was simplicity. “There was nothing bad about it,” he says. “Everything was good. I didn’t care about the experience or the spectacle. I just watched the game. This is pure — it’s such a cliché — but these games are for the kids.” And why the girls? Sure, there’s the tired answer that the girls game is more rooted in the fundamentals. But Kindred’s answer goes deeper, back to a scene in his sister’s kitchen where his sister, Cheryl, a family friend, and her 12-year-old daughter, Carly, were talking about cheerleading. All three of the women had stood on the sidelines, waving their pompoms. Kindred wondered if Carly wanted to follow suit.

”No,” she said. “I’m going to be the one they cheer for.”

”She had me at ‘no,’” Kindred says.
— Story by Ton Rehagen, ESPNW

Years after my sportswriting career had ended and I was the editor of Nieman Reports, a magazine about journalism published by the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University, I reached out to Dave to ask him to write about sportswriting in the time of social media. I commend his story to you for in so many ways it is the anthesis of the kind of sports writing he's delighting in being able to do today.

As Dave told Peoria Public Radio in a story called "Dave Kindred's Search for the 'Essence of Sports,' he observed: “You get so caught up in the hoopla of a major sports event, you forget what matters . . . If you pay attention, you’ll see something you’ve never seen before. If you work at it, you can make a girls’ high school basketball game as riveting as the Super Bowl.”

In that same collection of stories Marie Hardin wrote a story I titled "A Shrinking Sports Beat: Women’s Teams, Athletes," reminding us of the tough climb women athletes still face in trying to receive news coverage for their games. As her story made clear,

Women’s sports coverage is shrinking—not growing—even as more women and girls are competing in sports. A recent study of ESPN found that between 1999 and 2009 the time given to coverage of women’s sports on that network’s “SportsCenter” dropped from almost nothing to a bit less than almost nothing—from slightly more than 2 percent to less than 1.5 percent. What’s happened to the coverage of women’s sports during the past few years at newspapers, where there have been dramatic reductions and a reshuffling of staff as well as competitive pressures from bloggers, has not been systematically studied. But I feel safe in contending that women’s coverage hasn’t generally increased.
— Marie Hardin, Nieman Reports, Winter 2010

Need further proof of this downward trajectory, check out this video documentary produced by the University of Minnesota Tucker Center to describe findings from their report on Media Coverage & Female Athletics. A key finding –  "40 % of all athletes are women, but only 4% are represented in the media – and too often how they look is more important than their skills." 

I urge you to read Tony's story about Dave and the Lady Potters. And next time the girls are playing basketball at your local school, head over there. You might be surprised at how much you – and hopefully your kids will be with you – enjoy the show.



Girls & Sports: Life's Lessons in the Games We Play

Amherst Junior High School, author second from right

Amherst Junior High School, author second from right

In seventh grade I tried out for the cheerleading squad. It's what girls did, especially those who wanted to be popular. Girls rooted for the boys who played the games. On NFL sidelines and near midline of basketball arenas, scantily clad women still do. Perhaps this is why I like baseball best.

By eighth grade, I left cheerleading behind, forever, and was playing on the girls' basketball team. No one showed up to watch our games except an occasional mom. Mine arrived with younger siblings who could never sit still and sometimes ran onto the court, so my mom had to leave. We didn't have cheerleaders jumping up to spell A-M-H-E-R-S-T when our team took a time out. The cheerleaders only cheered for the boys.

In the memoir I'm writing, I reflect how the rules governing girls' play on the basketball court echoed through our lives as girls off the court. Let's start with how we had to play:

When I played on my junior high school’s basketball team, our rules dictated that before I dribbled the ball a fourth time, I had to stop to pass it. It was a silly rule, as were others, such as one that kept four teammates stuck in half of the court; they played “stationary” guard or forward, but never both at the same time, though two others on the team were allowed to be “rovers,” moving anywhere we liked. When boys played this same game, they switched effortlessly between guard and forward, depending on which team had the ball. Those who promulgated our rules wanted to be sure girls didn’t run too far, play too fast, or compete too fiercely. To compete wasn’t what girls did.
— Melissa Ludtke, forthcoming "Locker Room Talk"

Off the court, societal norms constricted us in similar ways, and with similar consequences:

A boy was free in ways I was not. He got to decide, much more than I did, where, what, how and when things happened in his life. On the basketball court, when a boy saw an opening, his path to the basket, he dribbled the ball for as long as made sense, zigzagging his way to get where he wanted to be. Rules weren’t the only thing holding girls back. Attitudes did, too. What grown-ups thought girls couldn’t do, we didn’t see ways to do. Still, I don’t remember us using the word ‘unfair’ to describe what was happening to us. We knew nothing different. It was just how things were, the natural order about which I heard few complaints. Nor did those older than I was appear upset that girls played by one set of rules and boys by another. So I wasn’t, either.
— Melissa Ludtke, forthcoming "Locker Room Talk"

Once I was on the basketball team, I never was a cheerleader again. From then on, I always played on one team or another – volleyball in the fall, basketball in the winter, tennis in the spring. In the summer I skippered our family's cat boat as the only girl at the helm in races against the guys. In college I discovered rowing – it's my passion, still – and became an inaugural member of Wellesley College's intercollegiate rowing team – in the same year Title IX was birthed.

Wellesley intercollegiate crew team, 1972. Author, second from left.

Wellesley intercollegiate crew team, 1972. Author, second from left.

With my own girlhood sports experiences, I was lucky. It was the 1960s and America was a decade away from Title IX opening opportunities for girls. As I found out later, back then few girls my age had sports teams they could play on. In my hometown of Amherst, MA, we did.

On the basketball court, we were the Lady Hurricanes. We won a few games each season, lost a few others. A scorekeeper tracked the points we scored and our fouls. Not many spectators came. I don't have a single photograph of me playing in a game, expect one in a yearbook I can no longer find. Nor can I go back to our school newspaper to find stories about our games. No one wrote about the Lady Hurricanes.

Until Maddy Blais did.

By then it was the mid-1990s and after just about being state champions for several years in a row, the Lady Hurricanes finally did win the state final in 1993. That season Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Maddy Blais, a journalism professor at the nearby University of Massachusetts, followed the Lady Hurricanes as they finally triumphed after the succession of soul-crusting defeats.

Maddy knew these girls' story was worth telling. She titled her book: "In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle," and I commend her book as a terrific read. 

In These Girls, Hope is a Muscle.jpeg

When she set out to write this story, it didn't matter to Maddy that the Lady Hurricanes played in gyms sparsely filled with spectators – until a championship seemed within their reach. She came to tell a story about athletes founding within themselves what it takes to overcome self-doubt, push through adversity, mend differences, and bond as a team to achieve their shared goal.

Theirs is a universal story, though one too often reserved as a narrative fit for male heroes, especially when it comes to sports. Yet this story echoes today as Americans celebrate the U.S. women's hockey team's gold medal. Four years ago some of these same women hockey players lost In a heartbreaking overtime game to Canada. While battling powers that be in their sport for the gender equity in pay, treatment and respect they felt they deserved, these women dug deep within themselves and built this team's mental fortitude so they'd not be defeated again.

In my next blog post I'll write about Dave Kindred, a sportswriter who covered every major sports event that a man of his generation could attend and received awards recognizing his excellence. Now in a small town in Illinois, Dave attends every game the Morton High School Lady Potters basketball team play and writes a story about each one.

Defying Stereotypes: It's What Girls and Women Do

Chloe Kim, gold medalist in snowboarding 2018 Winter Olympics

Chloe Kim, gold medalist in snowboarding 2018 Winter Olympics

As the White mother of my 21-year old Asian daughter, Maya, who was born in China during its one-child policy, I've learned a lot about the assumptions that Westerners too often make about Asian girls and women. We call it unconscious bias, a term describing how we perceive others even if we don't know that these biases are driving us to do so.

Because Maya has shared with me what it's like for her to move in the world, first as a girl, now a young woman with an Asian face, I've been able to learn how powerful Americans' unconscious biases are. This is especially true when it comes to labeling an Asian person based entirely on her Asian face. I'm offering a few words from an essay that Maya recently wrote touching on some challenges she has had in coming to terms with the duality of her identity as my daughter:

I struggled early on as I navigated my shifting sense of identity. My mere appearance presented challenges. Strangers would often assume my family was Chinese, and that I spoke Mandarin fluently. Small stories reinforced this daily. At a gas station with my mom, I was buckled into the back seat. My mom was talking with the man pumping gas when I heard her mention that I was her daughter. He laughed in disbelief. Yes, I do not look like my family, and my appearance has been made fun of. I think it helps explain why growing up I sometimes felt lonely.
— Maya Ludtke
Maya and her mom

Maya and her mom

Like any other Asian girl, growing up she dealt with assumptions made of her. People would presume that Maya had mastered a musical instrument – isn't that what Asian girls do? She didn't. Or that she excels in math; she doesn't. Or they think they know about her temperament just by seeing her face; they don't. A lot else is occasionally bundled with these most typical stereotypical assumptions.

All of this explains why I'm thrilled that Jiayang Fan's wrote her essay in The New Yorker in which she reminds us how sports can be a powerful vehicle for shifting our biased perceptions.

Kim Yo Jong, Chloe Kim, and the Shifting Images of Asian and Asian-American Women at the Olympics

Here her opening paragraph that kicks her essay into high gear, where it remains:

Whether she appears onscreen or in the popular imagination, the Asian woman tends to fall into one of several predictable archetypes: the evil temptress, obliging mistress, loyal servant, fanatical tiger mom, ruthless overachiever. This facile parsing offers the convenience of manageable stereotypes and feigned knowledge. One of the pleasures of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang has been the number of Asian and Asian-American women defying the stereotypes. Among those who have most captivated audiences this past week are Chloe Kim, the teen-age snowboarder from Southern California who won a gold medal in the half-pipe; Mirai Nagasu, the first American woman to execute a triple axel at the Olympics; and Nagasu’s teammate Maia Shibutani, who, performing in the ice-dance competition with her brother, Alex, also helped the Americans win the team bronze medal. (Half of Team U.S.A.’s figure skaters are Asian-American.) On the other side, so to speak, are the North Korean women, whose presence has been used to reinforce some of the old categories: the ‘army of beauties’ cheerleaders and, especially, Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of Kim Jong Un, whose appearance eventually managed to incite pretty much every stereotype on record.
— Jiayang Fan, The New Yorker

As I girl, I played sports. As a young woman, I wrote sports. I know the power of sports to push societal change and alter societal perceptions – witness Jackie Robinson in baseball, the end of apartheid in South Africa, propelled by a global sports boycott, and the raised fists on Olympic podium in 1968 Summer Games.

Of course, let's give thanks to American girls and women's greatest lever of all, Title IX.

How Title IX First Changed the World of Women's Sports, Time magazine


Title IX Time magazine cover.jpeg



'Someone asked if my uterus would fall out ski jumping.'

Lindsey Van, U.S. Ski Jumper who cannot compete in the Winter Games; she's a woman ski jumper.

Lindsey Van, U.S. Ski Jumper who cannot compete in the Winter Games; she's a woman ski jumper.

The Winter Olympics are underway. Even more than the Summer Games, sports played on ice and snow turn out to be male dominated. Women have fought for recognition since the first Winter Olympics in 1924; in those games, women were confined to figure skating events and represented just 4.3 percent of participants.

By 2014, women comprised 40.3 percent of competitors overall. Yes, change is happening, albeit gradually.

So let's start by exploring how women were only recently allowed to compete in ski jumping at the Olympic Games – in 2014, and still aren't permitted to compete in Nordic Combined – ski jumping + cross-country.

‘Someone asked if my uterus would fall out ski jumping,’ said ski jumper Lindsey Van. ‘People asked me that. I’m serious. Sometimes I thought, ‘I don’t even know how to answer your stupid question.’
— Lindsey Van, record holder in ski jumping

In the 2022 games, they will compete in Nordic Combined, according to this story – "The Winter Olympics: Where Women Are Slowly Gaining Ground" – since the men who run Nordic sports told women they'd have to wait. Something about what's involved in adding a "new" sport, though, of course, this isn't a new sport, just a new gender doing it. All of the excuses, Lindsey Van, who holds the record for longest jump by male and female competitors, isn't buying. After all, she's gone to court to try to be allowed to compete.

Ski jumper Lindsey Van, who holds the record for the longest jump among both male and female competitors, says the men’s arguments make no sense – not least because women already have their own international championships and ‘meet all the technical requirements.’
— Lindsey Van, ski jump record holder

Last weekend, The New York Times magazine featured women and ski jumping in this story – "Once Prohibited, Women’s Ski Jumping Is Set to Take Flight."

Other turn-of-the-century objections were pseudoscientific, often focused on the uterus. Amazingly, these lasted through the turn of our century. By 2005, men had been ski jumping in the Olympics for 81 years, but the International Olympic Committee still refused to sanction a women’s event. That year, the president of the International Ski Federation explained to NPR that the sport “seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view” — to which the American ski jumper Lindsey Van artfully responded, ‘I kind of want to vomit.’ Van found herself burdened with explaining that for her, unlike for all those ski-jumping men, ‘my baby-making organs are on the inside.’
— The New York Times magazine, Feb. 6, 2018

Next up – the bobsled. The four-man sled had its first runs at the first Winter Olympic Games in 1924; the two-man version eight years later. Women weren't allowed to compete for another 70 years, in 2002, with the two-woman sled. In these Olympics, Jamaica and Nigeria will have female bobsledders competing. The women representing Nigeria, all raised in the U.S., will mark another first – until now, no African country has sent bobsledders of either gender to compete in the Winter Olympics.

Nigerian Women's Bobsled team members.

Nigerian Women's Bobsled team members.

in their "Compete Like a Woman" newsletter, Ambassador Melanne Verveer and Kim Azzarelli, co-authors of the best-selling book Fast Forward: How Women Can Achieve Power and Purpose, give all sorts of reasons why girls ought to be involved in sports – from an early age. Leadership skills. Confidence. Empowerment. A sense of knowing they can do what they never thought they could.

And so the world will know that uteruses don't fall from the sky when women ski jump.