Posted by: Ethan Johnson | April 16, 2010

Mister Women’s Sports

(Originally posted at Actionless Activity.)

I have come to the conclusion that if I am to be eulogized publicly (no rush), I shall simply be known as “Mister Women’s Sports”.

Back when I had a rec center membership, I wore my seemingly endless supply of women’s sports tees. I never could go through with buying a Katie Feenstra jersey (last year with the Atlanta Dream) because that was too gender-bendy, but Candace Parker tee? Check. NY Liberty tee? Yes. Seattle Storm? Yes. WNBA “Expect Great” tee? Right on.

One of the maintenance men noticed my shirt parade and stopped in the hall one day and exclaimed, as he saw my latest buy at the time (probably the Candace Parker tee), “now you’re just [effing] with me!”

Nope, I just really like the WNBA, mostly.

Yes, I like the men too, and am very ready for Barclay’s Premier League to start back up again. I watched the Tour de France end to end. I watched the CONCACAF Gold Cup. I’m not a man-hater. (Duh.)

But a regular customer of mine who is intrigued and annoyed with my affinity for women’s sports asked the fundamental question: Why women?

Why not?

I like women. I like sports. Women… (pushing the word closer to the other) sports… women… sports… are you getting it?… women… sports…

Women’s sports!

/epiphany

Now, I cringe when people think it has something to do with “hotties”. If that were the case I’d be all about Anna Kournikova, who some sports wag zinged with “I hate that tennis is distracting her from her modeling career.”

And yet I do have to note that there was a New York Liberty game earlier this season where Leilani Mitchell was televised toweling off [perspiration] after being subbed off, and ohmygodsohawwwwt.

Ahem.

But strangely, I don’t view her as a sex object. I really don’t. To me (a man), she is some basketball-garbed action figure. Not doll, because dolls don’t do anything. Action! The Bunny runs, jumps and gets into early foul trouble! Collect ’em all!

Diana Taurasi has a similar asexual effect on me. People (I’m sure she has a hand in this) try to sexy her up off the court, but I am reviled. Gimme the Diana Taurasi hair-bunned patchy-skinned action figure who lights teams up for 30+ points at will and has that kick-ass full-court one-armed pass that thrills me every time.

(Note to self: Expect no romantic involvement with DT3, ever.)

I think men would do well to shut up and learn a few things from women.

I’m sure pro anglers (any anglers) are not widely regarded as athletes, and I won’t make that case here. But there are female pro anglers. I’m backing them up all the way.

I found myself glued to the TV last night as I watched “Get Reel with Shelley and Courtney” because Courtney brought one of her friends along (Shelley wasn’t available that time) to go fishing in British Columbia, Canada. Her friend had never fished a day in her life, and flanked by a man and woman sporting all sorts of corporate sponsorship on their attire, she caught the fish.

I thought back to my most recent corporate job and a co-worker who I will call “Britney” (so not her real name). Britney worked in Data Entry in a low-paying, entry-level position in a department that wasn’t very highly regarded. Why would anyone aspire to take a massive pay cut and do data entry?

One day, an opening was available working for/with me and I interviewed the slate of candidates. A male candidate gave the best interview, did the required homework (yes, homework), and appeared to be the best fit for the position. When I announced my selection to management, I was told that I was going to get Britney instead.

Oh.

Well, I didn’t know her very well, but with a fake name like Britney I think I have conveyed that she was, well, eye candy and seemed to be a nice person but I didn’t have much else to go on. I sat with her to go over the nature of the position and what her duties would entail, and she was engaged with the material and I hate to say it, smarter than she looked. Amendment: Smarter than anyone gave her credit for being.

Britney’s mother worked for the same company, but she had no role in the appointment and never meddled.

During some small talk through the course of the meeting the topic of Britney’s mother came up and she said, “my mother cried when I told her I got this job.”

I didn’t understand the gravity of that statement until we worked together for a few months and I was thrilled with the quality of her work and her work ethic in general. Britney was an excellent Secret Weapon to have handy, because sure enough, people regarded her as a pair of boobs, only to get beat up and freed up of their lunch money.

I remember feeling angry at the way people marginalized Britney. I saw men stare at her chest and not make eye contact. I bristled at the comments behind her back that she was just around for me to look at. Hey, I like eye candy, but I was in the results business. It’s icing if someone can provide both.

Which brings us back to the fishing show. I think many people would be inclined to marginalize the girl who was brought along for the ride. The male guide showed her what to do and how, and doop de doo, she sat and caught fish.

Courtney make a point of noting that her friend was incredibly focused for a novice.

And I made a mental note to be focused next time I go fishing.

Tonight, as I took a break from typing this article, I wondered what’s so bad about supporting women? I don’t mean “support” like “welfare” or “condescending patronage”. I’m talking about men wanting women to succeed at sports.

And by extension, what’s so bad about having female heroes?

I can’t stress this enough: Hope Solo is my hero. When I dragged myself out of bed at 4am while on a family road trip to Memphis to watch the 2007 Women’s World Cup, I knew it wasn’t about “hotties”, “chicks” or nothing else to watch on TV. I wanted that ball out of the USA net, and I trusted Hope Solo to deliver. And she did, until Goofus (I refuse to use his real name, begone!) blew it with the infamous switcharoo against China. While others took out their frustrations on Hope Solo, I wished I coached a team so I could bring her on board immediately. You don’t shun the best in the business over petty crap.

Pia Sundhage is my hero. She eshewed the petty crap and recognized that she had the best in the business in goal. Olympic Gold ensued.

Marta is my hero. Good gravy, LA lost this past weekend to otherwise hapless Chicago (weird to say that with Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe on the roster, but hey) and she still put on a highlight reel. I don’t know that she’ll ever truly get the appreciation she deserves, but come ON, there was a run of play where she brought the ball forward, got it stolen, she doubled back, stole it from behind, did her samba moves, tried a shot on goal, got blocked, fell to the ground, and swung her leg out to keep the ball in play to a teammate – who missed.

You can’t coach that.

Leilani Mitchell is my hero. I never really noticed/understood the role of Point Guard until I saw her last year. Plus being 5′ 5″ adds extra “oomph” to the narrative. When she threw herself at 6′ 4″ Candace Parker to try and block a shot (foul!) I knew it was love.

Annika Sorenstam is my hero. I’m so not into golf. I watched a clinic she put on for some silver-haired blue-bloods and was mesmerized. People put her down for wanting to play in a PGA event to see how she stacked up against the men, and as I recall she ended up in the middle of the pack at the end of it. Failure, they decreed. Success, I replied. Someone once explained all you’ll ever need to know about pro golf: Very little separates the best pro from the worst. If Sorenstam was a mid-lister, that’s HUGE. Context, people!

I would say Danica Patrick is my hero, but I can’t do that without saying “the women of pro auto racing are my heroes.” Danica gets all of the attention, but there are and were others. Auto racing should be genderless, in that it’s not about the sex of the driver, but what car won. I can’t see Danica when she is driving. Her performance on the track is all she and every other driver has to offer on race day. If women can win auto races, they should be on the team.

Nebraska’s Women’s Volleyball program are my heroes.

Pat Summitt is my hero. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to wax eloquent about Pat Summitt, and I’m really not the guy to do it properly. All I needed to know about her came after Tennessee beat some other team last year and after the game one of the girls on the losing team waas reduced to tears. Pat Summitt rushed over and embraced her, and gave her what seemed to be stern words of encouragement. (Pat Summitt does gardening: “GROW! ARE YOU WITH ME?”) My heart melted, I got teary, and had absolutely no real investment in either party. A Hall of Fame coach consoles the losing player. That’s [effing] huge.

Candace Parker is my hero.

Sue Bird is my hero.

Lauren Jackson is my hero.

And on and on and on. What I’ve noticed about these heroes is that it’s not just about the active players, coaches, staff, and supporters of the present, but the pioneers as well, and sadly I don’t have more column inches to begin to give them their due.

But as a house needs a strong foundation – there is no lasting house without it – the heroes of the present cannot thrill, amaze and inspire without those pioneers and their sacrifice.

Which is what got me into supporting WFTDA roller derby.

I told that regular customer of mine that had tickets to the roller derby this past weekend, and his eyes widened and he took a step back.

Now you’re just [effing] with me!”

Nope. Just call me Mister Women’s Sports.

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