Shrinking and Pinking

I've been thinking a lot about women's sports lately, so when Amazon delivered Mina Samuels' new book, Run Like a Girl: How Strong Women Make Happy Lives, I started reading right away.  In no time I'd learned something new about women's athletics-- "shrinking and pinking." What does the term mean? It's how a lot of athletic clothing and gear were, and are, made for women. Companies simply shrink down the men's versions and dye them pink (Samuels discusses this on page 24).

It seems that shrinking and pinking is the state of affairs in some women's sports.  USA Today sportswriter Christine Brennan took quite a bit of flak last week for reminding people that the women's tourney is also part of March Madness.  She even dared to suggest that female NCAA basketball players not settle for shrunken media coverage and audience attendance in "the other tournament," and instead move their dates so they don't coincide with the men's tournament's dates.

But there are glimmers of hope, stories of women succeeding in sports-- and on their own terms. Four articles from the past week illustrate this point, and the first three are actually about basketball.

1. SI ran a story on women's basketball as part of their March madness preview; "The Cardinal Kin" is on Stanford standout sisters Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike.  The Stanford team, favored in the women's Division I tournament, are led by these accomplished women who distinguish themselves on the court, in the classroom, and in their dorms (I wonder if they ever had access to Stanford's alleged "easy class" list that I mentioned last week?).  It's a great read, though I must confess my favorite lines from the article had noting to do with the fact that these are female basketball players.  Their mother, Ify Ogwumike, an immigrant from Nigeria, was utterly perplexed by the competitive youth sports culture of travel teams that prevails in in the US: ""We never knew there was a world out there where people sat in gymnasiums all day long,' she says of her introduction to the AAU circuit. Upon learning from a coach that her girls' team would be playing in a tournament in Dallas, Ify said, 'Why do we have to go to Dallas; why can't we just do it here?'"

2. Check out Parade Magazine's inspiring piece on the women's basketball team at Gallaudet University.  Gallaudet, a university for the hearing impaired, made its first NCAA Division III tournament appearance in twelve years after winning the Landmark Conference championship for the first time.  The article describes how the players communicate with one another non-verbally on the court, and how they communicate with others off the court.  While Gallaudet was eliminated in the first round of the tournament, these women are clearly on the path to future success.

3. Also inspirational? Dawn Barger who became the first female coach to lead a male basketball team to a state championship in Tennessee. Not only did Lake County High School win their first ever championship, but Barger became the first woman in the history of the 90-year tournament to coach a team in the men's state tournament. It was her first year as basketball coach at Lake County... I'm guessing they'll renew her contract.

4. And, finally, two female aces made history in California last week when, reportedly for the first time, two girls were starting pitchers in a high school baseball game.  I don't agree with everything written in this article about the game (especially the somewhat disparaging tone used when describing women's basketball), but it's never bad to expand, rather than shrink, the media coverage of female athletes.

Amy Moritz put it beautifully in her fantastic piece on last week's US Collegiate Synchronized Swimming Nationals: women's athletics is sometimes full of contradictions.  But wearing pink glitter and being athletically strong aren't mutually exclusive. In other words, the pinking of women's sports can be okay sometimes, but pinking and shrinking isn't a good combination.

PS. Justine Siegal, who I wrote about last month, continues making history during baseball's spring training. She has now thrown batting practice to the Indians, A's, Rays, Cardinals, and Mets. Note, they didn't make her wear pink (no word if they had to shrink the uniform).