Monday, June 25, 2012

NBA Combine should open access to more journalists

The NBA appears to be channeling the NFL by trying to make its version of the Combine into a big event. Fans were able to watch future pros attempt to impress NBA scouts and executives by viewing ESPN’s broadcast of the workouts earlier this month.

The problem was most journalists were seemingly relegated to the fan experience. A small note at the end of CBSSports.com’s Jeff Goodman’s review of the Combine mentioned that he was the only non-ESPN journalist allowed to watch the workouts in person, serving as the “pool reporter” as he put it. (Full disclosure: Goodman and I were colleagues at FOXSports.com.)

This is troubling because one media outlet is dominating the coverage and could perhaps control the spin from the Combine. It is one thing to outwork the competition, but it is quite another for competitors to be kept from even playing.

I do not know the arrangement between the NBA and ESPN about coverage of the Combine, so this post is not trying to assign blame. But I know that having a more varied media presence will ultimately benefit news consumers, who are the true losers when the doors are closed to journalists.

-- Steve Bien-Aime

Friday, June 22, 2012

Should a Woman Be "More Like a Fan?"


Stories about Title IX’s anniversary have been popping up in the media throughout the year, but not nearly as overwhelmingly as this week. President Nixon signed the law on June 23rd in 1972. Forty years later, we are reflection on questions such as: What has Title IX done? Where are we going? Do we (or why do we) still need Title IX

The consensus seems to be that women’s opportunities in athletics have increased and attitudes towards female athletes in the American society have changed. The greater impact of Title IX outside of athletics is rarely mentioned, though you can find some information here.

But let’s go back to athletics. NPR’s Frank Deford, like many others, tackled the “what’s next” question. For a fairly short article, Deford brings up a vast array of issues, including the well-established myth that men’s sports such as tennis and wrestling “had to be dropped” because of Title IX. That myth is, perhaps, the most popular out there. No wonder it snuck into Deford’s article.

There was plenty of talk about that myth at the recent Title IX at 40 Conference hosted by the University of Michigan. You can read about that conversation in our earlier blog posts, or for a quick yet though analysis with some numbers and charts, take a look at the ESPN articleby Kate Fagan and Luke Cyphers.

The other important point that Deford addresses is fandom (or lack thereof). He writes, “even as women's participation in sport has soared, there's been no corresponding interest in women watching other women play sports.”

He closes the article by asking: “Why can’t a woman be more like a fan?”

Deford’s question seems to, really, be a statement that says: Look, we allowed women to play sports, but clearly they are not interested in sports because they don’t go to games of professional women’s teams.

The assumption behind this question is that men’s expression of fandom is norm – a norm that women aspire to and should meet. Women’s interest in sports, therefore, is evaluated based on the idea of consumption and spectatorship.

Of course, then, Deford concludes that women are more entertained by novels than sports.

Does fandom have to mean going to professional games, buying tickets and merchandize, watching games on TV, and so forth?

One person who commented on the article offers a different definition:

“Why can't a woman be more like a fan? Because they're done being cheerleaders, and out on the field. Why can't a man be more of a fan? More dads putting soccer cleats on their daughters, instead of ballet slippers, for a start. (Sons choosing between cleats and ballet shoes is a whole other story.) 
The transition started (or boosted) by Title IX is still ongoing.”

Moving beyond the idea of fandom, here is another question: If the benefit of Title IX is that women have had the chance to participate in sports in greater numbers, then why should we try, as Deford suggests, to turn women into spectators of sports? 

Isn't the “point” of Title IX’s outcome that more people (both women and men) are active in sports? And once they had the opportunity to play on an interscholastic level, wouldn’t it be logical that interest in sports is assessed based on continued participation in sports?

Another person who commented on the article seems to think along those lines. She writes:

“My answer to the last question is simple ... I would much rather spend my limited free time PLAYING a sport than watching someone else play.”

The complex answer to Deford’s question could include theories about gender and the purpose of sports placed in an economic, political and cultural context. But it also could be easy and short:

Is that necessary?

-- Dunja Antunovic

Thursday, June 21, 2012

UEFA Punishes Fan Behavior at Euro 2012


The London Olympic and Paralympic Games are only a month away, but that would be hard to tell by looking at the European sports media. Now, the eyes are on the European Championships in men’s soccer, which is about to continue today with the quarterfinals. 

Besides the exciting matches in the group round, a few things happened that are worth discussing.

UEFA, the European soccer federation made a commitmentto the fight against racism and seems to be taking action to live up to that commitment. 

Early in the tournament, the black players on the Dutch team were subjected to racist insults. Slowly, but UEFA reacted.

The Croatian fans decided to disregard the UEFA's warnings and instead offered a similarly problematic treatment to the Italian Mario Balotelli. The Croatian Soccer Federation (HNS) is now facing a fine equivalent to more than $100,000 in pounds.

This amount is in addition to the already existing penalty because of the fans who were throwing flares on the field during a match. Croatian team captain, Darijo Srna, attempted to put some sense into his fans down during the match against Spain by running towards the fans and gesturing to them to calm down. Apparently that did not work and now the Croatians will have to compensate the UEFA for the behavior of their fans. 

Croatian fans are not the only ones to cause trouble. England was also fined for their fans’ “inappropriate conduct.”

In the meantime, we are receiving reports about female fans, specifically, who do not need to be violent, racist or inappropriate to get attention. They just need to look good. The Mirror posted a slideshowof “50 stunning female fans.” The article was so popular that they decided to post a “Part II.”

What did NOT happen, at least not up to this point, is a beauty pageant for the players. Last year, during the coverage of the Women’s Soccer World Cup, the commentators on Eurosport television channel were taking votes from viewers for the “hottest player” of the tournament. Besides commenting on the game, they also offered an insightful analysis regarding whom the viewers should consider for that title and encouraged them to vote throughout the tournament’s coverage.

Unsurprisingly, the commenting of the men’s Euro 2012 is much more professional than the women’s World Cup: the focus is on the game itself and the players’ skills. 

At least the male players are not sexualized. But then, why would they be when we have the slide show of the best looking female fans?

I can't help but think that the attitude towards female athletes and the attitude towards female sports fans are somehow related. Both might be a result of a larger gender ideology which positions women to serve one, and only one, purpose in sports: to be looked at.

 -- Dunja Antunovic

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Steroids fatigue


With Roger Clemens’ acquittal on perjury charges regarding his testimony about taking steroids, the Major League Baseball performance-enhancing drug (PED) issue is back in the national spotlight.
While Clemens’ was acquitted by a jury of his peers, he still has to face the jury of baseball journalists who vote for the Hall of Fame. In dealing with other suspected or admitted steroids users, the Hall of Fame voters have not been particularly forgiving.
According to a recent article by Tim Keown in ESPN the Magazine, however, there is reason to believe that forgiveness is becoming more common, and for one particular reason: fatigue. Keown argues that the public has grown tired of the steroids saga. For proof, he compares the uproar following the initial revelations about sluggers like Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds to the relative calm that has surrounded the recent Ryan Braun case.
Unlike McGwire and Bonds, Braun was actually suspended by MLB for a positive steroids test, but the suspension was overturned when a mediator determined that the test procedures were slightly inconsistent with expectations. Despite his positive test, Braun has faced very little scrutiny and has returned fairly easily to his regular baseball routine, according to Keown.
If Keown is right and the baseball world has become disinterested in PED stories, then Clemens’ first shot at the Hall of Fame will be telling. Hall of Fame voters have been hard on suspected steroid users in the past, but they have had the force of public sentiment in the past.
As the public becomes disinterested, MLB loses suspension appeals on technicalities, and the US government runs out of players to charge with perjury, baseball writers may be the only group left to hold players accountable for steroids use.
--Brett Sherrick

Friday, June 15, 2012

French Open coverage provides window into coverage of men's, women's sports

Print news coverage of the recently completed French Open offers an interesting look at how men’s and women’s can be covered. An Associated Press article said that women’s singles winner Maria Sharapova became the 10th female to win all four major tournaments. Another Associated Press report mentioned both how men’s singles champion Rafael Nadal stopped tournament runner-up Novak Djokovic from becoming the first man to win four consecutive Grand Slams since 1969 and that Nadal won his record seventh French Open singles title.

The reference to men in describing Djokovic’s attempt at his fourth straight major victory is important because it pays respect to the fact that women players have accomplished that feat. Often accomplishments of male athletes are never restricted to their own sex. For example, Landon Donovan is called the leading goal scorer in the history of U.S. soccer. However women’s national team players Michelle Akers, Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach have all scored more goals competing for the United States than Donovan. This is written not to disparage Donovan but to call attention to the fact that the achievements of women athletes should not be given short shrift.

This brings us back to Nadal’s record seventh French Open title. The Associated Press and many other news outlets did not mention that Chris Evert won seven French Open titles. (The Los Angeles Times did mention Evert as a seven-time winner.) Nadal’s accomplishment could be written as a “men’s record seventh title” or even “record-tying” with a nod given to Evert.

With this in mind, it is time for journalism stylebooks to be updated. The change proposed is that for sports where both men and women play that the sex of the sport is mentioned for both (i.e., men’s lacrosse and women’s basketball) and that the accomplishments for athletes of each sport are placed in more nuanced context (i.e., calling Landon Donovan the leading scorer in U.S. men’s soccer history).
-- Steve Bien-Aime

Saturday, June 9, 2012

"Plays like a man" comment receives criticism in the blogosphere


Grand Slams tend to give those of us who follow sports media coverage much to think about. This year’s Roland Garros was no exception.

After losing in the quarterfinals Dominika Cibulkova said that her opponent, Samantha Stosur, “played like a man.”

Cibulkova presumably intended this statement to serve as an explanation as to why she lost, because according to the young Slovakian, “it’s really hard to play against a man.” 

While the post-match interview was not included in the official news release on the Roland Garros website, it did make the headlines of sports media sites in the United States including FoxSports, Yahoo! Sports and Deadspin. The phrase also caught on internationally and appeared in the Australian Courier-Mail and the Croatian 24 Sata, among others.

Cibulkova is not the first person to compare Stosur to a man. In 2010, Serbian tennis player, Jelena Jankovic said that Stosur gave her no chance to win because she played almost like a man. Jankovic added that Stosur’s game was “impressive.” Ai Sugyama made a similar statement. These were supposed to be compliments.

Similarly, Stosur is not the first female tennis player to be called a man by her peers. A few years ago Amelie Mauresmo received the same treatment.

This time, howdver, we encountered some critical commentaries in the online discourse.

Deadspinmildly called Cibulkova’s comment “bad timing.”

Better yet, a couple of bloggers associated with the Women Talk Sports blog network offered an analysis of the sexism and homophobia embedded in that comparison.

The blogger behind After Atlanta explained what the comment tells us about gender performance and sexuality here, while Courtney Szto argued that “playing like a man” should not be considered a compliment for female athletes and here is why.

As long as female athletes are expected to conform to the rules of femininity and as long as the idea that male athletes are superior to female athletes prevails, we are likely to hear that a female athlete "plays like a man." Yet, a critical analysis of this comparison in the online space carries the potential to change the dominant media discourse and, subsequently, perhaps even ideologies of gender.

With this year’s Roland Garros, we seemed to have moved forward in that regard.

-- Dunja Antunovic 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Yearly Release Schedules for Sports Video Games


The 2012 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), an annual conference on the state of affairs for computer and video games, is wrapping up today in Los Angeles. While E3 is mostly known for showcasing major leaps in graphics technology, inventive forms of gameplay, and completely new gaming consoles, it also comes with its fair share of pretty standard announcements. This includes almost every sports game franchise showing up with details and information about its latest upcoming iteration.
For example, at this year’s E3, the folks from EA Sports announced the latest addition to Madden NFL 13: a different physics engine – basically: the computerized system that accounts for player collisions. Former versions of the Madden NFL franchise also, of course, had physics engines, but the engine for Madden NFL 13 is new and improved.
Sports video games are the perfect background and filler for an annual conference like E3 because they also operate on yearly expectations; a new version of Madden NFL and NBA 2K and Tiger Woods PGA Golf and any other successful gaming franchise will appear in stores every year, usually around the same time. The question that the games’ producers don’t want asked is: Should they?
Certainly, there are yearly improvements in video game technologies, and sports video games benefit from these like any other game franchise might. But it’s unlikely that every single year should see an improvement so amazing that it requires a completely new version of the game.
In the past, sports games that are tied to real-life sports (i.e. the NFL or MLB) had a better rationale for a yearly release schedule, since things like rookies, trades, and player improvements could only appear in the game through new physical software. But internet-capable gaming devices have eliminated that need, as rosters are now updated daily – rather than yearly – through downloadable content.
In fact, that was the sort of monumental innovation that deserved an announcement at a major event like E3. But the minor tweaks and adjustments that many sports game franchises make to their physical products from year to year probably don’t need the fanfare – and they may not need completely new product releases either.
--Brett Sherrick