Tag Archives: sports

Gender and Sexuality Discrimination in Sports

Today I read an article from Salon.com, written by Anna Clark, and entitled, “Lesbian athletes just can’t win.”  It’s hard enough being a woman in sports – it’s even harder for non-heterosexual women.  Clark makes some fascinating points:

1) If you go by the official record, Sherri Murrell of Portland State University is the only lesbian coach in Division One women’s basketball out of more than 350 teams.

2) Coaches competing for the best talent will dismiss another program as being a haven for dykes, playing on the homophobia of prospective athletes and their families, and so make their own program supposedly more appealing.

3) The 2009 documentary “Training Rules” tells the story of Penn State University’s Rene Portland who is the stuff of legends, with 27 seasons and a 606-236 overall record.

4) Portland implemented a “No Lesbians” policy, which she curiously defended as a strategy to take the stigma of lesbianism out of women’s sports. Jen Harris was kicked off Portland’s team in 2005, despite being the team’s leading scorer. She filed a lawsuit, alleging that she was cut for her perceived sexual orientation; the suit opened up decades of stories about Portland’s pattern of intimidation and was later settled out of court.

5) Harris’ exit from the team, incidentally, came the same year that Sheryl Swoopes became the first WNBA player to come out of the closet — eight years after the league’s founding. She remains an exception; few gay athletes followed in her footsteps.

6) The WBCA twice awarded Portland its Coach of the Year award and Portland served as the WBCA’s president in 1989-1990 when her well-known “no lesbians” policy was in full effect.

7) Harassment and bullying follow any woman who doesn’t conform to gender norms, and for an extraordinary number of people, the very fact of women playing sports is considered deviant from gender norms. And god forbid you catch a female athlete in bad behavior.

8 ) Some women’s sports teams over-compensate for the public’s discomfort with women who don’t conform to gender norms by issuing promotional campaigns that glam up the athletes, like Florida State University’s straight-girls-going-to-prom” photo shoot this season, as Broadsheet previously reported.


9) As Kate Harding pointed out in Broadsheet, female athletes can’t win for winning: even as the University of Connecticut.  UConn’s women’s basketball team pounded its way to its 78th consecutive win and the NCAA championship this season, it was criticized as actually being bad for women’s sports. The contention was that UConn’s dynasty somehow proved that women’s sports aren’t competitive.  Nobody argues that UCLA’s 88-game winning streak between 1971 and 1974 was evidence of men’s basketball being weak. Indeed, it is celebrated as one of the greatest achievements in all sports….

Read the full article here.

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The Battle of the Sexes

Go watch this video!  It won’t let me link it!

In researching this entry, I found this articleBattle of the Sexes – did you know that Wimbledon JUST RECENTLY began awarding women equal prize money to men?

[Wikipedia Entry for more information and sources.]

The Battle of the Sexes was a nationally televised tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King, held in Houston, Texas, on September 20, 1973. Riggs was a master showman, sports hustler, and a 1940s tennis star who, for three years, had been the World No. 1. He challenged King to a match after beating another top female tennis player, Margaret Court. The match was incredibly important in gaining public support for gender equality in sports.  The journalist in the video of the match is pretty objective – unlike most male journalists and specially sportscasters at the time.  However, the video reveals the deeply rooted misogyny in American and sports during the 70s.  The journalist also makes a crucial point that the match was more than a battle of the sexes, but was a profitable event for the retired Riggs, the successful King, and for the Women’s Movement procuring positive publicity.

Shortly before the match, King entered the Astrodome in Cleopatra style, carried aloft in a chair held by four bare-chested muscle men dressed in the garb of ancient slaves. Riggs followed in a rickshaw drawn by a bevy of scantily-clad models. Riggs presented King with a giant lollypop and she gave him a piglet named Larimore Hustle.

Even from the net, the result was the same: King defeated him, 6–4, 6–3, 6–3.

A few critics were less than impressed by King’s victory. King was 26 years younger, and some experts claimed that it was more an age versus youth game. According to tennis player Jack Kramer, “I don’t think Billie Jean played all that well. She hit a lot of short balls which Bobby could have taken advantage of had he been in shape. I would never take anything away from Billie Jean — because she was smart enough to prepare herself properly — but it might have been different if Riggs hadn’t kept running around. It was more than one woman who took care of Bobby Riggs in Houston.”

Before the match, however, King had forced the American television network ABC to drop Kramer as a commentator.  King said, “He doesn’t believe in women’s tennis. Why should he be part of this match? He doesn’t believe in half of the match. I’m not playing. Either he goes – or I go.” After the match, Pancho Segura declared that Riggs was only the third best senior player, behind himself and Gardnar Mulloy, and challenged King to another match. King refused.

On another note, King has been a powerful icon for the LGBT rights movement, as she was one of the first women to admit her bisexuality in sports, following Martina Navratilova, who King said was “the greatest singles, doubles and mixed doubles player who’s ever lived.”

Article on HBO Tennis Documentary

This 60 Minutes on Bobby Riggs gives you more background on Riggs and The Battle of the Sexes.  He’s a winner.

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1972: Title IX enabled girls to play Little League Baseball

I came across this story while reading Ruth Rosen’s The World Split Open: How the Women’s Movement Changed America.  Issues of gender, sports, and segregation really interest me.  Is “separate but equal” still ok?  Issues of gender and sports are still highly relevant, as captured in the debate over transgender South African runner Caster Semenya’s eligibility in the 2009 World Championships.

Womenstake.org also recently included an article on Viva la Feminista‘s blog on calling attention to the lack of support for women’s professional and collegiate sports teams.  Blogger Veronica Arreola began a petition on Facebook asking members to attend one women’s sporting event in 2010.  The story of Kathryn Johnson, the first girl to play Little League baseball, is still very important in understanding the history of sex-segregated sports and women’s fight for equality and respect on the playing field.


Excerpt from Associated Content

“Before Johnston played, the idea that Little League baseball was a boys’ only sport was just something people accepted. She challenged that and finished out the rest of the season as herself. But, in 1951, Little League made things official. No more girls. There was no proof that this happened because of Johnston, but people unofficially referred to the decision as the “Tubby Rule.”

It would take over twenty years for that rule to be rescinded.”


News article from Gadsden Times on Kathryn Johnston

Kathryn Johnston’s website which includes photos, news articles, and personal stories about her experiences.


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