Monday, June 11, 2012

Play Like A Girl- A Treatise on Female Athletics

“Look at that, workin’ for free. You gotta admire that.” -Hank Hill

Each camping trip my family took in my youth was planned around the Carolina Tar Heel's basketball team's schedule; or, more accurately, the men's team. My parents drank cheap beer and yelled at the screen, clearly aware of secret plays and the name and background of each pro-ball hopeful. But we never, ever watched women's ball. Or any women's sports for that matter.

I have been to several pro-football games. (Don't get too jealous, they were Carolina Panther games.) I have seen the Charlotte Bobcats, cheered on the Carolina Hurricanes, and I've even yelled from the nose bleed section of a Greensboro Gators game. As a kid, my favorite pastime was going to see the Greensboro Bats. It was the one night when I could run around with a few bucks in my pocket and buy any treat I wanted, as long as I took my little brother. Now, as an adult, my friends and I regularly meet up at Greensboro Grasshoppers games. One of my favorite sporting events ever was a race at Bristol, where I managed to carry in two cases of Budweiser, thus gaining the friendship of every race fan in passing distance. But for all the hundreds of sporting events to which I have borne witness, the only female sporting events I have attended have been my own.

Pat Moss, rally car driver and awesome lady
When I was growing up, I dabbled in soccer. My most clear and vivid childhood moment, the moment that made me know the world was full of surprises, was a movie-worthy state championship that my preppy, undisciplined, 0/10 record of a soccer team won. My team, the Soccer Rockers, got to the state championship by sheer luck. All the games had been rained out and we just happened to win the coin toss that determined who advanced from our region to the finals. This made our team the lowest ranked, by a huge margin, going up against girls who actually wanted to play college soccer. (We were 12 years old, by the way, but some of these girls already knew they were going for soccer scholarships.) On the day of the first game, we all piled into our two coaches vans. Only a few parents came along, as we were sure to lose and the games were out of town. You know the rest. We won the first game, then we tied the second. The reason why we tied the second game was because I scored my first (and only) goal. The third game we played against the highest ranking team in the state. We beat them by one point. By the third game, not only were all of our parents in the audience, all of our teachers were too. And our siblings, neighbors, and classmates. We got to be heroes, Rudys, Rockys... just for that one day. This soccer championship was a turning point in my life. It took an additional 15 years for me to embrace it, but this was the moment I became an athlete.
Lisa Leslie of the WNBA
There is something so honorable and heroic about training and competing in sports. Maybe I feel this way because I am an athlete, and we all crave purpose in our lives. Or maybe I feel this way because it’s one of the only places where people of different skin colors, religions, sexualities, and traditions can play as one; equals on the track, or court, or field. Maybe that childhood victory has stuck with me. (I know it did, and it will forever.) But to become well-versed in a sport, you must discipline yourself and train for years, possibly not even seeing appreciable results from one birthday to the next. You must work with other people, and be told what to do by other people. You must be humble, and loyal, and you must listen to other people's voices and bodies. To be someone's teammate is a bond. Together you work for a common goal, much like the quest in every great fantasy novel. So, why does the world* act like only men accomplish and excel at such a noble feat? Why are even the most feminist of men often blind to how wrongly women athletes are dismissed? When did we decide that being an athlete worth watching means being a man, and that it’s worth a ridiculous (and, I think, dishonorable) amount of money? Why don't you go to female sporting events, or watch them, or support them?

All of this ranting leads me to my final point:

The most honorable of athletes play for the love of the game, not a paycheck. Women athletes may be overlooked by most of the world, and treated as less than by their fellow male athletes, but this only makes us stronger and more noble. Because we truly do it for ourselves.

Venus and Serena, of course
 To all of my fellow female athletes: I salute you. And to my fellow roller derby sisters, see you on the flat track. I look forward to beating you, or losing to you by the sweat of my teeth, like any strong woman would. We, and our fellow women athletes in all different sports, are part of something so much bigger than ourselves. We are paving the way for all the girls that come after us, making the world a place where they to can achieve their dreams, whether their dreams involve sports or something else we’re told women can’t be as good at as men. Being a female athlete is a bold, feminist statement--a platform to set fire to all the injustices in the entire world.

In love and derby (and equality),

Miller Lightnin'

*If you feel as though my point is invalid, please do your research. Compare the number of male Olympic sports versus women's. Then also read the Olympic gender policy (it is horrifying). Look at the “Sports Movie” options on your Netflix queue, or pick up a copy of Sports Illustrated. How many women can you find? (Swimsuit issue doesn’t count and in fact backs up my point.) When you say you are “watching the game”, does it go without saying you are watching a men's game? Does your city have a professional women's baseball team? Compare the salary of a pro softball player to a pro baseball player. Look up Title 9, then go on a college campus and observe how absolutely none of the schools in North Carolina abide by the Civil Rights amendment. None of them. Ask yourself, how much does a pro-football player make? Can you think of anything a woman could do to make that amount of money in sport? How many female race car drivers can you name? Now, how many can you name that are not forced to use their sexuality to get a sponsor? Sigh. If you still think that women and men have equality in sports, I beg you to prove it to me.

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