Women and Sports: Outside of the Literal Playing Field

I was lucky enough to have the chance to attend some of the LSA Theme Semester Events at the Hatcher Library Gallery. These speakers are meant to overlap the ideas that are in our Political Science class, which this semester is based off of Sports and the University. On October 30, I was able to listen to Andrea Joyce, a women sports reporter who was able to succeed in the world of male sport reporters. Then, on November 14 I was able to listen to Amy Perko. Perko has been an executive director of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics since 2005. While being an executive director of the Knight Commission, she mainly focused on the treatment of student athletes. 

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Howdy Neighbor! Let’s Talk Nonviolent Resistance

Look closer- you might find nonviolent resistance in your own backyard

For years, I have worked as a lifeguard at my community clubhouse. This institution is close-knit and many have gotten to know their neighbors very well through this centered facility. The Clubhouse is a recreational center that brings residents together for celebrations, socialization, and exercise. Within this institution, residents, management, and the Board of Directors are also faced with daily problems, regarding people, property, and ways to make improvements in the neighborhood. Recently, a large issue erupted when the community manager, Amy, decided to resign from her position. Chaos hit when the Board of Directors (who plans financial budgets and votes on spending use) drove my manager, Amy, out of her job position. As an employee, I heard many stories about the situation. Amy and other witnessing neighbors have claimed that for many years, members of the Board have verbally bullied her. Despite the Board’s attitude toward her, Amy was admired by the majority of the residents. Granted, there were no significant human rights at stake, but neighbors of the Clubhouse demonstrated that nonviolent resistance could exist on a less intense spectrum.

Just like a board meeting? Not exactly- MLK has a much more influential speech under his belt..

There’s a rumor that members of the Board had a personal vendetta against Amy for not hiring their own children as employees of The Clubhouse, years ago. The bullying became so unbearable that Amy chose to resign from her job. I even personally witnessed one incident. I was preparing for a “Come See Santa!” event with Amy and a member from the Board, Jacqueline. This should’ve been a jolly ol’ time, yeah? Not quite. When Amy wrongly predicted the amount of guests to show up, she was scorned by Jacqueline, who told Amy that she “can’t do anything right.” To conduct revenge on Amy, the Board took advantage of their position at The Clubhouse to exert power over Amy, making her life more difficult. They acted so demeaning toward her, that she eventually left. After all, they never had the institutional right to fire her, nor did they possess the legal right to destruct property or even physically impair her. However, I’d like to think that they have stronger morals than to want to commit any such heinous acts in the first place. Nevertheless, when they drove Amy out, they immediately hired a new community manager.

In the meantime, the neighborhood rallied to get Amy’s job back. After the rumors of “bullying” that circled the neighbors, the residents decided to take their own stance of nonviolent resistance. The neighbors were upset with the change of managers, for they saw the injustice that lied behind this situation. They demonstrated their support for Amy through entries in the newspaper, proclaiming that the Board was only interested in obtaining more power. Through neighborhood board meetings, residents even voiced their opinions to large crowds of neighbors about the situation. They also took the civil approach of a written petition, in favor of rehiring Amy. Fortunately for the residents, they had the resources and proper structure to have their voice recognized. They didn’t have to break any established laws within the institution, in order to call attention to the unjust change that occurred. Contrary to the Civil Rights Movement as Martin Luther King Jr. addresses in “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, the neighborhood residents didn’t have to struggle to voice their opinion. They weren’t refused help, unlike the African Americans who conducted sit-ins when they were denied service at a restaurant.

When we take a closer look at the institutions that we are involved in, we begin to better understand how they function. We witness how members of these institutions face an issue, recognize the dynamics of this issue, and then work to change the situation. Although I witnessed community action through The Clubhouse, I surely didn’t witness the uses of nonviolent resistance that shaped our nation as we know it today. However, I noticed how the Board’s use of nonviolent resistance to propel my manager from her job resulted in the nonviolent resistance of my neighbors. The Board’s resistance to keep Amy as the community manager was unjust, for making her job unnecessarily difficult to execute. As a result of community action, the residents’ voices were heard, and a meeting was initiated to vote on the rehire of Amy. After a few months, Amy was rehired, and all five members on the Board of Directors were removed and replaced.  Within the institution of The Clubhouse, both the residents and the Board demonstrated how nonviolent resistance can be used for the good of a cause… and sometimes, for unjust objectives.

Neighbors have to stick together against “evil”

Understanding Attendance Numbers

Upon committing to this amazing institution, I took my official visit and was taken to a University of Michigan Mens Basketball game. Since I have never been to a college basketball game, I did not know what I was in store for. I met up with the coaches, who took us to our seats—about 3 rows up from the floor. We were half an hour early, yet the atmosphere was already unreal. Almost everyone there was wearing a University of Michigan basketball shirt/jersey. Then, within the next fifteen minutes the whole stadium was packed full. The game started and the chants got louder and louder. It was surreal; the amount of people that showed support and sang the chants with everything they had. It was impossible to be drawn away from the game. There was no checking of twitter, Instagram, or any other social media sites. The atmosphere glued everyone to the game; it was as if we were the 6th man, helping them win the game. When the final whistle was blown, Michigan came out victorious. The final applause was baffling; I don’t think I was even able to say anything to my coach at that time and we were standing right next to each other. At this time, I knew I had picked the right college.

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Mill: To Frat or Not To Frat

“Typical” frat dudes

When I first came to Michigan, I was overwhelmed by the amount of clubs and organizations on campus.  There were too many to choose from: so many new things to try and new paths to take.  Ultimately, I ended up joining a fraternity.  I am now part of an organization with a bunch of kids who are just like me.  We did the same things in high school, dress and talk similarly, have similar values, do the same things for fun, and even have similar academic interests.  My pledge brothers and I are taking part in the same traditions that each pledge class has before us for years on end.  As I spend more and more time around these people, doing the same things as them, I naturally conform, making myself part of a homogenous group.

John Stuart Mill in On Liberty stresses the importance of individuality, claiming that it is beneficial to the individual and society as a whole. Mill strongly advocates for experimenting with different lifestyles, no matter how absurd, strange, or crazy they may seem.  He claims that “freedom, and variety of situations” is actually

Base jumping, an “experiment of living”

necessary for human improvement as we learn from the mistakes of these “experiments of living” gone wrong, allowing us to make better decisions in the future.  Mill believes that if we did not show our individuality, we would not progress as a

Mill’s Message

species.  This leads me to believe that Mill would reject greek life, claiming that its conformist nature robs people of their individuality and inhibits the improvement of society.  However, in this case he might be wrong: as restricting as being part of greek life may be, there are many benefits.

Being in a fraternity (and greek life in general) is less about giving up your individuality than it is about becoming a part of a whole.  You sacrifice a small part of yourself in order to become part of a closely knit web of thousands of students and alumni who together all have the same mission: to produce productive members of society and better our communities in the process.  For one, members of greek of life have shown higher engagement in their jobs and a higher sense of well-being.  Additionally, statistics show that 85% percent of fortune 500 executives were in greek life, all but two (in each office) Presidents and Vice-Presidents were in fraternities since the founding of the first social fraternity in 1825, the greek system is the largest network of volunteers un the U.S., greeks raise over 7 million dollars per year, greeks are more likely have higher GPA’s, and more.  The list goes on and on.

In her article Examining the Benefits of Greek Life, Nicole Glass discusses how stereotypes of partying and hazing cast a shadow on greek life, hiding all of its benefits.  She discusses how being a part of greek life gives you social skills that are essential to succeeding in the real world.  She explains how being a part of greek life improves ones interpersonal and leadership skills, since being in a sorority or fraternity is really like running a business.

While I may be giving up some of my individuality, I will reap the benefits of being a part of greek life.  I have numerous leadership opportunities and a network of brothers who are committed to helping each other and helping our communities.  In my first few months in joining greek life I have already gained ample social skills and was part of a fundraiser that raised almost 60,000 dollars for cancer research.  Yes, I will admit that individuality is an absolute necessity for the expression of our liberty and does help society as we learn from our mistakes.  However, in this case, Mill, I think I have you beat.  The benefits of being part of greek life far outweigh the small sacrifice of individuality.  Additionally, the primary purpose of having different experiments of living is to learn from our mistakes so that we make better decisions in the future.  Maybe, this is the better way.

A Women’s Touch

Growing up in Western Michigan, Julie Krone looked up to a male athlete for the majority of her young life. Krone was a thoroughbred jockey, and she wished for nothing more than to have as successful and meaningful of a career as the male thoroughbred jockey, Steve Cauthen. She chased her dream when she went to Florida where she debuted at Tampa Bay downs. Two weeks later, Julie won her first race, finally making a name for herself. Then in 1993, Julie did something amazing for women in sports. Julie won the Belmont Stakes, becoming the first women to win this race. When her career came to an end, she was inducted her into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, the National Women’s Hall of Fame, and the Cowgirl Hall of Fame.

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Being a Woman and Other Standards in Sports


Popeye the Sailor Man – an example of physical strength

If you were asked to define what strength is in an athlete, how would you do it? Most of us would reference the capability of muscles to move or lift an amount of weight, or the ability to maintain speed across a certain distance over time, or demonstrating an ability to apply force which generates a particular motion, or stops a different motion. But, what about mental and emotional strength? How can human qualities such as those needed to overcome adversity, resist temptation, control reaction, or determination to reach certain goals be measured? The strongest muscles, capable of lifting, moving, or altering course will eventually wear down. In contrast, emotional strength is sustainable throughout one’s lifetime. It is a widely held belief that men’s physiques allow them to develop into bigger, faster, and stronger athletes than women. In most professional sports, male athletes typically have “better” records and their accomplishments outweigh those of women. This has created a societal perception that female athleticism is inferior to male athleticism. However, what if the measure of strength could be quantified by the strength of character instead of physical attributes? Would we still perceive “better” results from the men?

Professor LaVaque-Manty states in Chapter 5 of “Being a Woman and Other Disabilities,” of his The Playing Fields of Eton (2009), the extent of women’s participation and success directly correlates with gender norms and institutional barriers. Title IX greatly increased opportunities for female athletes to participate in amateur level sports, which has led to increased participation on all levels and strengthened the battle against unequal rights. During the Olympic Games held in Los Angeles only 30 years ago, 24% of all worldwide participants were women. By 2012, the percentage of female athletes on the U.S. Team more than doubled, resulting in a team on which greater than 50% of the participants were women. The long-term and powerful effects of Title IX cannot be ignored, and while awareness and acceptance were not instantaneous, the resulting female majority may be an indication that strength should be measured by the ability to endure adverse conditions and inspire others to participate in greater numbers year over year.


Candace Parker with child

The media attention and broadcast hours devoted to women’s sports is a fraction of that given to men’s. This reflects an inequality and the question is whether there is a lack of opportunity for female athletes because of a lack of interest, or is the public not interested because the opportunities do not exist? It is evident that being physically fit and accomplished is not enough for the female athlete; those who compete at the highest level gain recognition only when they are also attractive. This double standard is ridiculous in our current society. An example of media coverage on one particular female athlete’s physical features being emphasized even though her physical feats are extraordinary can be found in ESPN’s feature of Candace Parker. The article starts, “‘Candace Parker is beautiful. Breathtaking, really, with flawless skin, endless legs and a C cup…She is a woman who plays like a man, one of the boys, if the boys had C cups and flawless skin. Perfect, white teeth’…imagine that applied to men’s sports: Imagine an article starting this way: ‘Lebron James is handsome. Breathtaking, really, with flawless skin, endless legs and a medium jock strap he is proud of but never flaunts.’” It sounds ridiculous, right? Social standards don’t require men to be the best in their field and attractive. This sends the wrong message, reflecting society’s requirement that successful women must also be photogenic. Discussing Parker’s bra cup size instead of points in a magazine geared toward a male audience is shameful. The examples are numerous and are not limited to one sport or another, as long as the female athlete’s appearance can sell.


Anna Kournikova – "Kournikova-SYD-4" by TwoWings - own work (scanned photography). Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution

Anna Kournikova

Anna Kournikova is another female athlete whose fame was tied to her appearance. “Her popularity during and after her professional tennis career has less to do with her accomplishments as a tennis player, but more to do with her being extremely photogenic, endorsement advertising, and personal relationships with high profile sports and celebrity men.” Her story is even more ridiculous when we consider she never won a singles tournament, even though her face dominated the media for a number of years.

If you know the story of The Battle of the Sexes, Billie Jean King achieved a great feat, beating a male tennis player in a match. However, because King fit the masculine stereotype and wasn’t attractive like Chris Evert, who came into the female tennis scene shortly after King, she wasn’t as marketable. Evert held the public’s attention longer and more intensely. Attractive female athletes were able to obtain endorsement deals and other advertising appearances for which King and her numerous accomplishments were never considered. In one ESPN article, it was plainly admitted that Evert’s success is described partly by her skill, and partly by her appearance. “Part of it was — and there’s no getting around it — she was feminine in a time when the stereotype of the woman tennis player was more masculine.”

For both genders, the percentage of athletic participants who become elite professional athletes is extremely small. Male athletes are judged and gain approval on the basis of their athletic performance. On the other hand, female athletes must be able to compete and rely on their physical appearance to overcome institutional barriers. In that context, lets revisit the question about strength. Is it the male athlete whose physicality allows him to outperform his female counterpart when measuring by traditional competitive means, or is it the female athlete who must compete against male athletes for recognition and battle against bias, doubt, or actions designed to hinder performance and still succeed? The emotional aspects of professional sports is undeniable, yet honored infrequently. This leaves me wondering what we value about sport and who is the stronger athlete. The Olympic motto reads, “Citius, altius, fortius” and translates to faster, higher, stronger. Perhaps the steady and growing introduction of female athletes will result in the existing slogan being replaced with “acceptatione, comunitas, pondus” which translates to acceptance, community, value. Working together as one community to recognize the value of the professional athlete’s effort rather than appearance will reveal the true value of sports, including its ability to break down barriers in social settings.

A Burkean View of American Conservatism and the Republican Party

Edmund Burke outlined what many consider to be the basis of classical conservatism, as we have learned this past week in class. In his essay Reflections on the Revolution in France he denounces the radical change being brought about in the country as a result of revolution. He explained that society should be based upon past tradition, slowly and cautiously implementing new changes as they were needed. In my opinion, conservatism today fits in line with this model of traditionally based politics that Burke identifies with, but perhaps not to the same extent. In America, the political party that is largely associated with the conservative ideology in politics today is the Republican Party. Through an analysis of Republican politicians and directives today, this cautious mindset about change is somewhat echoed and favored in policy-making. However, I would argue NPG 655; Edmund Burke studio of Sir Joshua Reynoldsthat Republican Party has deviated from the ideology of classical conservatism.

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Why Education?

College. A time in most people’s lives involving a myriad of activities, some unmentionable on a class blog,

I pay a lot of money, but at least I study somewhere that looks like Hogwarts.  Source: Wikipedia

I pay a lot of money, but at least I study somewhere that looks like Hogwarts.
Source: Wikipedia

others being tamer, such as joining a club, becoming part of Greek life, playing a sport, and, of course, going to class and getting an education. That is, after all, what the $41,906 out-of-state tuition is supposed to pay for, right? The purpose of college is debated by many. I know I’m a little late on this blogging trend, seeing as most people decided to blog about Louis Menand’s Live and Learn around the time this blog was created, but I enjoy being fashionably late. I also think that a better question to ask when you’re up at 2 AM, having recently taken a biology exam and studying for the orgo exam the day afterwards is, “Why education?” rather than “Why college?” (You might also want to ask yourself why you thought orgo and bio during the same semester was a good idea.)

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Sports: The Simple Remedy

Hockey Memorial

      Throughout our Political Science class, we have examined many aspects of sports. From readings examining why we play games, all the way to tying in disabilities and gender differences in sports, we have covered a broad spectrum. People ranging from Huizinga to Hobbes and Giamatti to LaVaque-Manty have analyzed the subject, providing layers of complexity most have considered. However, in times of tragedy, these analyses become unimportant, and sports revert back to a simple, friendly oasis among a world of harsh and hateful truths. Read More