I don’t know any of the women in this photo. Few people probably do. That doesn’t mean they didn’t have a self-defining experience with sport.
I too am a female athlete…with a story. I played sports to the highest level available to me at the time (except for national team and olympic-level competition). I am a title-IXer, a division I soccer player and a division III basketball competitor. I was surrounded by some of the best female athletes of my era. Ninety percent of the women with whom I developed as a soccer player went on to play for division I college teams. My sister, and longtime training partner and teammate was an All-American. My teammate and college roommate went on to compete internationally in cycling and triathalons. The captain of my college soccer team went on to become a gold-medal winning weightlifter in the Olympics. Another teammate competed with the Canadian National soccer team. I competed against women who played with the US Women’s National team…the same one that won the US World Cup in 1999. For all intents and purposes, my sports story is as complete as practically anyones. The thing is, I know it is not a story that anyone else knows. I am sure you have never heard of any of the women I describe.
Recently, I read the November 28, 2011 Sports Illustrated article “Sport in America: My Tribe.” It is a fourteen-page center-spread about the sports stories that define us. Two women’s stories were included in the piece. I think the article accurately portrays the American Sports Story. There is more said in the ommission of women’s stories than could be said with a lame attempt to include them. I get it. Women’s sports are not part of what define us as a society, but they are what define me. I had a bit of an epiphany as I noted the ways I could hardly identify with the professional sports stories in the article. My female sports story is not the sports story of those men.
Maybe that’s the reason I have always loved the Olympics more than any other sporting event. At the Olympics, women’s athleticism is legitimately highlighted, and whether it is a man or a woman in an American uniform, the country unites in its support of their efforts.
So what do I make of the plan to create an HBO documentary called Sport in America? I think the project should be more accurately called Sport for Men in America. It is not that several of the stories they offer did not affect every American, they definitely did, but there is not enough for the women. When I checked today, of the 165 people who have taken part in uploading their sports story, 17 of them are women. That is only a 10 percent female voice.
There is a section of the site that offers Moments to Consider, and I shouldn’t be surprised by the fact that there are only three women’s stories offered as potential sports moments to ponder. Even more incredible is the fact that there are four horse stories. There are apparently more momentous sports achievements involving horse athletes than there are those of female athletes.
For the record, I am not pounding my fists as a crazed women’s libber. I am a firm believer that women are getting fair opportunities to play, to have those great sports moments, to be defined by our own struggles with defeat and victory. And although no one else will ever care about it… those moments define us.
It got me thinking about women in general, and I started to think that there may be an explanation for the popularity of my youth sports survey among the women. Of the 330 responses I have to the survey right now, 65% are women. There are probably a couple of reasons for that: one, my first book was about marriage, and 99% of my audience were women. Over 75% of the followers on my Facebook page are women, and that is absolutely with whom I engage the most. I do wonder what men might think when they see a call for youth sports opinions and then, if they are curious enough, and they see that it’s a woman, do they hurry and click it or move on to another sports experience? That I don’t know. Maybe they know, at a very deep level, that their sports story is not my sports story.
Maybe the women have something more to say about the youth sports story, because youth sports is the one place where so many of them can participate. When someone is called a soccer mom, or a hockey mom or a basketball mom, a stereotyped version of an involved sports woman comes to mind. They can align themselves with the team of moms who participate in sports like they do. They can organize tournaments, wear buttons with their kids pictures, see themselves in the little legs running around, and engage intimately with the athletes performing. Maybe the youth sports world is starting to mimic the professional sports world because everyone wants to experience those defining moments at the highest level possible.
Hear me out for a second.. Maybe, just maybe, the sports story that women can most relate to, are the stories of their kids. Terry McDonnell, author of the SI article writes, ” the excitement comes from knowing enough about the athletes to care who makes the shot and who misses.” The athletes that women know, the ones with whom they can have to most intense emotional connection, are their own kids. They don’t have women athletes (or very many) with whom they can identify, they don’t fully connect with the testosterone-laden male athletes…but they do have their kids.
The women’s stories and the youth sports stories are not among the moments to ponder for the Sport in America documentary, but maybe they should be. There are plenty of people, including me, who define themselves by those experiences in sport… even if no one else does.
To learn more about Meagan Frank, visit her website at www.meaganfrank.com. Or you can follow her author page here: Meagan Frank or the current sports project she is doing at: Choosing to Grow: For the Sport of It. Her twitter handle is @choosingtogrow.