Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Also-Skieds

The emptiest “scandal” to emerge from Vancouver’s Olympic snowjob is the allegedly “sexist” (What’s wrong with being sexy?) Sports Illustrated cover featuring skier Lindsey Vonn. To those with evil, procreation-positive minds, this attractive downhiller is supposedly posed in a sexualized manner.

The blubbering couldn’t be more predictable: it’s a setback for female athletes and why can’t she just be seen as a good skier? and blah, etcetera, yawn. [Clears throat] Well, one reason she can’t just be seen as a good skier is because no matter how good she is, talent-wise, she’ll never be on the same slope as the best male skier (or even the pretty good male skiers). Therefore, viewers who aren’t hardcore ski fans need additional enticement to care about her. Funny how no one complains when a female athlete (or any non-dominant athlete) receives an extra PR boost because of some human interest element; an illness she overcame or the recent death of a loved one. But let it be her cleavage that short-circuits the applause meter and suddenly 49% of America is supposed to stop and introspect.

Athletics=competition, and the only plane on which female athletes can compete with men is sexiness. The best woman is still just that; the best woman. All the equal coverage demands and Title IX bullying won’t undo that reality. Even kids understand this. The phrase “throws like a girl” didn’t fall out of the sky (unlike the hopeless moon passes women throw).

I think we find an apt analogue in boxing. There is a reason heavyweights have traditionally been the most watched…because they’re the biggest, and the best heavyweight will defeat the best flyweight every time. Sure, boxing diehards can make a million arguments about the nuances of the lighter weight classes, and yes, in the P4P rankings, the Sugar Ray Robinsons are generally ranked above the Joe Fraziers. But that doesn’t matter to John Q. Public. His druthers are to watch the fighters who can stomp all the other fighters. He doesn’t care about the sweet science any more than he cares about meteorology. So when the heavyweight division is decent, it easily overshadows the other weight classes. The world’s best middleweight is still just a middleweight.

A few years ago, women’s tennis started grabbing headlines. Did the Amen Corner for female athletics shut up and bask? What, and go against type? Instead they bellyached that this newfound attention wasn’t due to a purist interest in female tennis, but rather to the influx of sexualized tennis players; classic beauties like Kournikova and provocative dressers like Serena. They were 100% correct. Women in any sport aren’t going to galvanize fans on their athletic merits alone, leaving sex appeal as the only equalizer. So you can either have steamy and ultimately successful marketing from players like Serena Williams, or you can have the following audience for the Ladies’ Singles Final: the ball boys, the line judges, and the competitors’ parents (if they can remember to set their alarms).

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