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Saturday, April 12, 2014

The sports article I want to see

I find that as a follower of competitive swimming I'm just about (well, almost) as much a fan of women's swimming as men's. It's the same sport, just with a different set of standards. I think this is true of most hard-core track fans as well: they follow the women almost as closely as the men. Most tennis fans seem to follow the women about as closely as the men as well.

Somehow, the same dynamic doesn't exist with basketball; I don't know a single male fan who follows the WNBA. And the average baseball junkie knows next to nothing about women's softball.

But I enjoy following women's swimming; I just judge the performances by a different yardstick.

Nonetheless, whenever I read a politicized article -- the kind you find in the NY Times sports section -- about how women are making breakthroughs in previously male domains, or about how social barriers are being broken down so that women can compete in NASCAR, or about pay inequity between male and female golfers, it rubs me the wrong way.

Most professional sports are run pretty much according to market principles. If more people go -- or tune in -- to watch them, there will be more revenues, and thus more money for the athletes. (This isn't a perfect correlation, but it's generally true.)

The reason some women's sports don't pull in the same kind of audiences is simple: they're just not as good athletes. If you want to see the fastest runner on the planet, you watch Usain Bolt, not Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. If you want to see a 100 mile-per-hour pitch, you tune into major league baseball, not women's softball. And so on.

That the NY Times is always trying to imply that it's only piggish males who hold women back from achieving their full athletic glory makes me wants to see an article which spells out gender differences in all their gory detail.

The following is adapted from the Wikipedia summary of swimmer Missy Franklin's accomplishments
at the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona (italics mine):

At the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona, Missy Franklin won six gold medals, setting a new record for the most golds won by a female swimmer at a single edition of the meet. Frankliln's three individual golds came in the 100 and 200 meter backstrokes and 200 meter freestyle.

In her first individual event, held on the third day of the pool competition, the 100 meter backstroke, Franklin won gold in a time of 58.42. The men's event was won by American Matt Grevers in 52.93. (It took a 54.72 just to make it into the men's semi-finals.)

On the fourth day, in the 200 meter freestyle, Franklin won her second individual gold in a personal best time of 1:54.81. The men's event was won by Yannick Agnel in 1:44.20. According to Swimming World's conversion charts, Franklin's 1:54.81 equates to a 200 yard freestyle in 1:41.49, which might even win the boys' state high school championship in a few places like Wyoming and Alaska.

On the seventh day, Franklin successfully defended her title in the 200 meter backstroke, winning with a time of 2:04.76 and setting a new championship record. The men's title was won by Ryan Lochte in 1:53.79; this means that had they raced head to head, he would have beaten Franklin by roughly ten body lengths. 

Franklin's primary advantage as a female swimmer is her size: she is 6'1", with large hands and feet. But even though she is basically man-sized, her times show that the women have a long way to go before they catch up to the men.

(I emphasize: it is only the Times and their ilk who make me want to see such an article.)


Anonymous said...

Maybe the women swimmers are using the wrong steroids: "Strong enough for a man, but made for a woman." They should just get the real Gorilla Serum that men use. And hope the newly-sprouted dong doesn't affect their hydrodynamic coefficient. The titties are already dragging them down.

Glen Filthie said...

Hmpfffff. I wonder what the Noo Yawk Slimes would have to say about the misogyny that gives young, prepubescent girls an unfair advantage in gymnastics?

I seem to recall awhile back that there was a great chit storm in the diving events. It seemed to the gender-resentment crowds that pretty female divers always scored higher than the ugly ones. What ever shook out of that?

Maybe we need to put the people in charge of the Special Olympics in charge of everything...

John Craig said...

Glen --
You follow some of these sports more closely than I do; I hadn't even heard of that diving controversy. I have to wonder how the press tiptoed around the fact that some of the divers were prettier than other. by even passing judgment on that criterion themselves, weren't they themselves guilty of looks-ism?

Steven said...

I know what you mean. A lot of stuff like that rubs me up the wrong way too. Except for me its the Guardian, not the NYT, which I've never read. From things I've read about it though form you and other bloggers, it sounds like basically the same paper.

John Craig said...

Steven --
I'm not familiar with the Guardian, but I'm sure what you say is true.

jova said...

There are only a few sporting female sporting events which attract more viewers than the male version.

Beach volleyball , Gymnastics, and figure skating. It is easy to see the pattern.

I think female dodgeball would also be fun to watch if they had sexy girls playing in bikinis....even curling would be more fun to watch with the same concept.

John Craig said...

Jova --
You're absolutely right, and yes, they could do that with a number of sports. I honestly think that is the only reason beach volleyball is popular; it's a ridiculous sport; dress them back up and nobody would watch it

Steven said...

I was reminded of this article from the Guardian:

'Except it is a remark, throwaway or planned, that exposes the wider culture. Sexism and the explicit discussion of the female body is still acceptable; that it exists in the sporting arena, where women thrive because they are strong, is only more offensive.'

'It is well established that men's sport is more exposed, more prestigious and more lucrative, although Wimbledon has had parity of prize money since 2007; in the 18 months to August 2011, women's sport comprised only 0.5% of sponsorship and 5% of TV coverage. The cyclist Lizzie Armitstead, who won Britain's first medal in the 2012 Olympics, called the sexism she faced "overwhelming. It's the obvious things – the salary, media coverage …" '

John Craig said...

Steven --
Thanks. The second comment you quoted is particularly moronic: salaries in spots are generally driven by market forces, and for women to complain about a lack of parity when they don't have the same pull as commercial endorsers is just silly.

But I read that article, and Gold actually had a good point: for the tennis announcer to put Bartoli down for her looks, and then attribute his comments (falsely) to her father, was just bad manners.

As far as the larger point that people don't tend to dwell on the looks of male sports stars as much as female sports stars, it's true, but evolution has conditioned both sexes to judge the other on different criteria. Males are much more looks-oriented, so female looks get more attention. And that's why female models get paid a multiple of what male models get paid. Maybe male models should start to publicly bewail the fact that there are no male "supermodels" who get the same kinds of contracts that female supermodels do. But, for them to do so would be silly, as those salaries are also dictated by market forces.

And the thing is, females in general subscribe to this ethos whether or not they admit to it, as women in general are much more interested in fashion, etc, than men are. Maybe Ms. Gold of the Guardian should write an article decrying those things.

Glen Filthie said...

The issue came up a few years back John. The experts in charge of manufacturing resentments and offences noticed that the winning divers in amateur dive competitions were consistently prettier and lighter of build than the losers. There was a big controversy about it - and then the issue seemed to fall off the radar. I am not sure why this happened - the 'fat-acceptance' crowd and their related feminists usually make mountains out of molehills like this but the whole issue fell off the radar for some reason. I was hoping you might know something about it...

John Craig said...

Glen --
No, sorry, you're ahead of me on this one, hadn't been aware of it. My sport was swimming and I still follow it closely, but swimming and diving have about as much in common as hockey and figure skating.

Steven said...

I thought the commentators comment was ridiculous.

Most times that I go onto the Guardian website there are 1 to 3 feminist articles on the homepage, often opinion pieces by some female writer. Some seem quite sensible and the bullshit detector hardly goes off or doesn't while other times I can't believe the stupidity. The one I linked was not one of the worst. I have some kind of urge to read just to see what they say and possibly call bullshit on it.

Its true that men are very looks oriented and more so than women but its not obvious to me that sportswomen get a lot more attention for their looks. For example, David Beckham is a global celebrity, in quite large part due to his looks. He might have been England captain and married to a spice girl but I think it is fair to say that the Beckham brand would not exist if he wasn't so good looking. He is an underwear model and he is widely fawned over and desired by women. He was a very good player but there were numerous better players of his generation who are not as famous outside of football (soccer to you, sorry). My mum had a picture of George Best on her wall as a kid- he was a pin up footballer. There are many more examples.

Conversely, Wayne Rooney, one of the most talented footballers in Europe, has often been called 'Shrek', even on television. This is pretty brutal. Another footballer, Peter Beardsley, was the butt of jokes. In the article Ms Gold cites an instance where an Olympic swimmer was likened to a dolphin by a comedian but she did not mention that the same comedian said something more insulting about a male footballer- he said Peter Crouch looks like a cross between a terminally ill schoolboy and a flamingo (you can see what he means!). I would suggest that perhaps less punches are pulled when it comes to insulting the looks of sportsmen. Insulting a woman's looks just seems worse and more likely to get you into trouble.

(Peter Crouch was once asked what he would be if he wasn't a footballer. He replied "a virgin".)

John Craig said...

Steven --
Ha! That's a great line by Crouch.

I disagree with much of feminism, as I've made pretty plain on this blog, but rudeness is rudeness whether directed at either sex, and that tennis commentator deserved to be called out.

True, guys like Beckham wouldn't have become the starts they were if they weren't good-looking. In this country, good looks are often conflated with "charisma," and it can be pretty galling. And a better-ooking male star will make more endorsement dollars. But I'd say a greater portion of a woman's earning power from endorsements etc will come from her looks. The sport I follow most closely is swimming, and the best example there is Michael Phelps (whose comeback, coincidentally, was just announced today). He's a dorky-looking guy, but that doesn't seem to have hurt his appeal to sponsors. I don't think a woman who looked like the female equivalent of him would be earning quite as much money, even if she were the female equivalent swimming-wise. The best example here may be tennis Maria Sharapova vs. Serena Williams, or Anna Kournikova vs. Martina Hingis. Plainly, looks has more to do with earning power here than it would for the men.

BTW, I criticize looks on this blog too, but I usually only criticize the looks of movie stars or others who are known as beauties (like Jennifer Aniston).

Steven said...

I have a theory about female sports.

The most interesting female sports are individual events (track, swimming tennis). They are fairly interesting and popular. There is something legitimate about the quest to find the best individual female specimen or performer.

Female individuals are x amount weaker than men on average but when it comes to a team sport (soccer, for eg) x is multiplied by 11 or maybe even multiplied by itself 11 times. That's a whole different level of inferiority.

John Craig said...

Steven --
Interesting. had never thought of it that way. it is true that while men are often interested in the sports you mention for women, you'll almost never find a man who's interested in women's basketball, etc.