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From Our Archives: Related Stories on Girls, Women, Sports
by The Editors
Sports – women have been active participants through the ages. But, relative to men, sports have been only a sometime-thing for many women. The articles we ran in On the Issues Magazine, while fewer in number than other topics, were provocative and revelatory.
Facing the Dragon: Reflections on Female Heroism, Winter 1997, by Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Merle Hoffman explored the question of female heroism by looking at the experiences of two intrepid women mountain climbers, Alison Hargreaves and Sandy Pittman.
"What really frightened Hargreaves was not the death zone on Everest above 26,000 feet, or climbing without oxygen, but the thought of having no further challenges to meet. ‘When I set off for Everest...I was desperately afraid that if I reached the top I wouldn't know what to do next,’ she told an interviewer after the Everest climb. Her fear led her to attempt K2, the other major Himalayan mountain, three weeks later. And that climb led to her death.
“Are Alison Hargreaves and Sandy Pittman feminist heroes? Hargreaves, who supported her family by mountain climbing, did not think of herself as either. ‘I don't go around saying I'm a feminist because I'm not. I'm a woman and I've had a rough ride, but that's understandable. I'm in a male world. I've tackled it head on. I've got on with the job,’ she said. ‘Nobody can ever take away the climbs I've done.’
"However they see their extraordinary accomplishments, I see them as feminist heroes. In a world that demands -- of women, far more than of men -- that the good of one's children come before personal desires or obsessions, freedom to follow the solitary heroic journey is labeled as the ultimate selfishness. "
Angell Delaney contributed several articles in 1988 that illuminated sports history. How We Got Rid of the Bloody Corsets by Angell Delaney, Fall 1988.
"1887, Wimbledon's Centre Court: England's Lottie Dod races from baseline to net. Lunging, she returns her opponent's serve and, in the process, marks her place in tennis history as the youngest ever player to win a Wimbledon title. Dod, 15 years old, overwhelmed her more senior, more experienced opponents, and stunned spectators when she used the overhead smash and volley -- the first time such techniques were employed in women's tennis.
"In between matches, Dod and her co-competitors retired to the dressing room to free themselves of their floor-length skirts and petticoats, peel off their stockings and unhitch their bloodied corsets. As they endeavored to twist, turn and lunge on the courts, the women were repeatedly stabbed by the metal and whalebone stays of these cumbersome garments, which encased them from tits to tush."
Enduring Women by Angell Delaney, Fall 1988.
"For years women were considered frail vessels whose weak bodies would be deformed by strenuous exercise. Concerns about sports damaging women's reproductive abilities and feminine charms were so entrenched that women were not allowed to compete in the Olympic marathon event until 1984. But just as professional women have challenged negative and discrediting attitudes in the corporate world, so too have women athletes challenged male dominance in the sporting world - and been victorious."
A Whole New Ball Game by Angell Delaney, Winter 1988.
"Unlike many professional sports where the male stars and supposed role models are at best often immature and avaricious, and at worst, spouse and substance abusers, the women of the WNBA represent a new kind of hero. Gracious and generous to their fans, they warm to crowds in ways most male players, as spoiled as rock stars or foreign potentates, wouldn't deign to do. Michele Timms, the Phoenix Mercury's point guard, spent two hours in the scorching sun signing autographs after a grueling game. Forced to leave for another appointment while fans were still on line, she penned an apologetic letter to them, published in the Arizona Republic newspaper, for not getting to all of them that day.
"’Being a role model is my most important contribution to women's basketball,’" says the 32-year-old Timms, and you believe her. Other WNBA players feel the same way. Perhaps these women take the responsibility seriously because they grew up in a world with few women sports heroes. ‘It wasn't until high school that I had a chance to see women play, it's a lot different now,’ says Los Angeles Sparks point guard Jamila Wideman. ‘I hope to be a role model both on and off the floor. I'd like girls to see that it's okay to be competitive and aggressive. They aren't always encouraged in that. But while I give everything I've got to the game, I also think there's a place for unselfishness on the floor. On or off the floor, the way I present myself should be why someone does or does not respect me. Not because I dribble well.’"
Women Still At the Hoops, But Parity Scores Low by Mary Lou Greenberg, Summer 2009, brought us up-to-date on the WNBA.
"For an update on where things are today, On the Issues Magazine talked with Kym Hampton, who at the time of the 1998 article, played center for the New York Liberty, one of the original teams in the WNBA (Women's National Basketball Association). Hampton retired from the game in May 2000 because of a chronic knee injury, but is still active with the Liberty as its Fan Development Leader.
"When the WNBA was launched in 1997 with eight teams, Hampton said, it was something new on the sports scene and gained a lot of attention. The Liberty and individual team members acquired fans quickly. Soon, the WNBA grew to 16 teams. Today, Hampton continued, you see the results of a decade of development of women's athletic skills. ‘You see the athletes evolving,’ she said. ‘Overall, they are bigger, stronger, quicker, and running smoother than we did in the early days.’
"’This is true for athletes generally, both male and female,’ she said, attributing this to people generally being more health-conscious, as well as having sports opportunities at earlier ages.
"At the same time, however, once past the novelty of professional women's basketball and with corporate financial belt-tightening, sponsorship has not kept pace with the skill level, and the fan base has dropped off. Season ticket-buyers have declined, perhaps because the WNBA season is May-September, competing against summer vacations. Several teams have folded in recent years, bringing the total to 13 today."
Love Means Monica Seles Betrayed No Score by Cindy Shmerlerspring, Spring 1994, discussed the knife attack on tennis great Monica Seles.
"In tennis, love means nothing; it means not a single point has been scored. So isn't it ironic that out of crazy, so called ‘obsessive’ love a fanatical fan has been able to alter the course of the sport in which women have proved their mettle, the sport in which they earn as much money as (and in some cases more than) their male counterparts? Some would call that scoring. And is it possible that behind the need to act out in the name of obsessive love -- whether it be stalking the object of one's desire, or causing harm to her rival -- lurks a hidden, perhaps unconscious, drive to render women at the top vulnerable?"
Girls Kick: Moving the Media's World Cup Goal Posts by Ariel Dougherty, Summer 2010, exposed the lack of media coverage of women in sports.
"That the sports news coverage of women -- in a period of such stars as the Williams sisters, Sue Bird and Mia Hamm (before her 2003 retirement) -- has diminished so precipitously, over five-fold, is deeply distressing. It represents a significant challenge for women's right to information as expressed in Article 19 of the International Declaration of Human Rights. Specifically, Article 19 states: ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless frontiers.' [Emphasis added.]"
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