Shrinking and Pinking: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

This time of year is always a big one for female athletes-- especially with the recent popularity of NCAA basketball superstars like Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins. While it's so important to celebrate these victories, it's also important to remember the ways in which we still have room to grow when it comes to female athletes. So here are some steps forward, and a few steps back from the past few weeks. Step forward: Mark Cuban announces he would give Brittney Griner a shot to try out for the NBA, and is considering drafting her in the second round. It appears a woman trying out for a NBA team hasn't happened since 1979.

Step forward: Lauren Silberman, a college soccer player, became the first woman ever to participate in an NFL Regional Scouting Combine. She tried out as a kicker (apparently you pay to compete at these events, but there are a limited number of slots).

Step back: Silberman did not perform well-- at all. Neither of her two kicks went beyond 20 yards. Some even suggested this was designed to torpedo women trying out for the NFL in the future.

Step forward: Danielle Coughlin became the first female to win a state wrestling title in Massachusetts. She won in the 106-pound final in Division 2. She also served as a captain of her high school's co-ed team. I really enjoyed this quote from the article about what her victory meant to her: "After I won, a guy in the stands actually turned to me and he said, ‘Smile, I have to send a picture to my daughter in Africa and tell her that in this country women can become anything.’ I actually started crying when he said that."

Step forward: Caroline Pia, whose family had taken their fight to the media to ensure that their twelve-year-old daughter would be able to play on her Catholic League's football team, was given the go-ahead to play in the League.

Step back: Thirteen-year-old Ella Wood in California is the reason why her team-- which won every game in their season-- actually "lost." The Foothill Sports League decided ex post that having a girl play meant a game was forfeited. To their credit, all of Ella's male teammates said they should forfeit. But as of now she won't be able to play with her teammates next year.

But let's end on a more positive note! Former Olympic swimmer Donna de Varona, who helped establish the Women's Sports Foundation and served as its president, is now helping female athletes do even more trailblazing. She recently announced a partnership with Ernst & Young to help female athletes transition to leadership roles in their careers outside of sport.

Women In Sport Press Conference- 2013 Laureus World Sports Awards

I found this statistic especially interesting: About 4800 women took part in last year's London Games and less than 30% will return to compete in Rio. While it's somewhat discouraging that this is necessary, overall it will be a huge step forward.

To more steps forward!

Shrinking and Pinking: Shifting Sports

New shifts in sport have been all over the news lately. Danica Patrick is the first woman to shift into the pole position (the top qualifier) at the Daytona 500. And while the International Olympic Committee's unexpected and shocking decision to drop wrestling from the summer Games impacts more men than women, it's telling that women's wrestling was only recently added a few years ago. Lolo Jones is another summer Olympian facing a shift in sport. The hurdler announced in the fall that she was going to try her hand (or legs, I should say) at bobsledding. After making the team as a pusher, she actually won a gold at the World Championships late last month!

Lolo Jones competing in bobseld, Martin Meissner AP

It'd be pretty amazing to see her in Sochi after London; and hopefully no fourth place this time around.

Another London Olympian just made a sport shift as well. Canadian synchronized swimmer Tracy London has retired from her sport, but picked up a new activity. What is it? Pole dancing!

Photo by Celia Lavinskas

London and her company emphasize the health and acrobatics associated with pole dancing, and de-emphasize the other connotations. At least she isn't Suzy Favor Hamilton, right?!

While I usually emphasize female athletes here who are fighting or breaking barriers, male athletes often have to deal with difficulties and tough, sexist sports connotations as well. Here where I live in Massachusetts, male gymnasts were shocked when high school gymnastics was cut from the roster of approved sports. Even more shocking was that the spokesman for the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, Paul Wetzel, spoke derisively of it as a "girls' sport." His comments provoked a backlash-- but not enough of one to help save the sport, which will likely become a club endeavor.

Just goes to show that shifting (of attitudes) still needs to happen when it comes to male sports as well. Given his thoughts on girls/boys sports, I'm guessing Wetzel won't be rooting for Danica Patrick in the Daytona though (he might like London's "pole" position better)... But I will!

Shrinking and Pinking: Skirts, Skorts, and Shorts

I must admit that as a child I was known to wear skorts. I've never been a big shorts person, so skorts were a good compromise.  Seems like they work well for some athletes as well.

Not for most female badminton players though. May brought more attention than usual to the sport of badminton after the governing body declared that all female players must wear skirts or dresses in competition.  The rule change happened in advance of the 2012 Olympics in the hopes of increasing the sports popularity (In any event, the proposed rule change certainly increased the sport's notoriety...).  I first read about the Badminton World Federation's decision in early May, in stories like this very interesting one published on May 4th; but the decision didn't get broader attention until The New York Times ran this story on May 26th (Incidentally, people ask me why I use Twitter and this is a perfect example-- you just get a lot of news faster than you do through the mainstream media).  After intense pressure from players, sports journalists, and leadership within the Federation, the rule was reversed in advance of the June 1 deadline.  It seems likely that the women's dress code will still be undergoing revision, but not all players will be forced to wear skirts-- a key victory for Muslim players who would have to wear a skirt over long pants.  Who knows what will happen to the men's dress code, but I love the sentiment expressed in this article: "'What I would really wish is to see male players in skirts,' Sertaç Sehlikoglu, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Cambridge and author of the blog Muslim Women in Sports told HuffPost. 'That would most certainly promote badminton much more than any woman's skirt can ever do.'"

But skirts--or at least skorts-- do work very well for another group of female athletes.  The talented women of Dunbar High School's Track and Field team, in Washington, D.C., have excelled at meets this year wearing new uniforms that consist of skorts.  They report that the skorts make them feel more confident as they don't worry about any wardrobe malfunctions.  It doesn't hurt that they feel "cute" in them as well. This appears to be the first high school team to use skorts and it sounds like they might just be trendsetters.

Another trendsetter (not related to skirts, skorts, or shorts though) is Kari Sickles. I came across her story today: Sickles is the first female wrestler to be recruited to wrestle at Davidson College. On the men's team. The Florida wrestler will compete in the 125-pound weight division in the NCAA. I've been fascinated by female wrestlers before, so it will be interesting to see how her collegiate career develops. I'm guessing she won't be wrestling in either skirts or skorts. Clearly shrinking and pinking continues...

Shrinking and Pinking: Stars of the Future

This edition of Shrinking and Pinking starts with the shrinking component-- though with a focus on the shrinking of athletes' ages, not the clothes they wear.

Have you heard about Baerke van der Meij? Van der Meij has become a YouTube star for his soccer skills. Based on that video the Dutch soccer club VVV-Venlo signed him to a ten-year contract. Why is this newsworthy? Because van der Meij is... eighteen months old.

This is not a joke, as I myself first thought. The contract is mainly symbolic, but the club does want first dibs on him once he hits seven and can actually start seriously playing.  Little Baerke seems to have some serious soccer talent already (check out his toy box kicks) and his grandfather played for for the club in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  It seems that the press conference where Baerke signed his contract was pretty tongue in cheek though (he scribbled his name, had some orange juice to celebrate, etc.).  But note that the Dutch do take their soccer seriously (for a fantastic piece on Dutch soccer training methods for kids read last year's New York Times Magazine piece by Michael Sokolove).  Only time will tell if Baerke van der Meij delivers on his toddler promise.

Alexis "Lexi" Thompson is a bit older than Baerke, at 16, but she still qualifies as a promising star of the future.  She's been a phenom since age 12, when she qualified for the US Women's Open.  At 15, Thompson was the youngest female golfer to turn professional, about a year ago. Last weekend she almost became the youngest LPGA winner at the Avnet LPGA Classic; Thompson stumbled at the very end, hitting two shots into the water, and she ended up 19th (though she still took home a $14,715 check).

Despite the setback, Lexi Thompson still has about two more years to become the youngest tour winner ever-- an example of shrinking age standards and higher expectations than ever for young athletes.

FYI-- seems Thompson also likes to play in pink.

Last weekend another group of female athletes were given the chance to make some history of their own.  The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association added wrestling as a girls' sport. It's the first time in eleven years that a new high school sport has been added (the last one was girls' hockey). Only 84 Massachusetts girls participated in high school wrestling last year, so there likely won't be girls' teams for some time.  However, there likely will be an individual tournament for girls (this was an idea I wrote about related to the dust-up at the Iowa state wrestling championships a few months ago).  It's great that more female athletes will get the chance to represent their high schools and compete against their peers. Hopefully more states will follow suit.

Look forward to seeing who will become the female wrestling stars of the future, when Lexi Thompson will win her first major, and how good a soccer player Baerke can der Meij will be... in eighteen years or so!

Bad*ss (Women) Athletes

After getting some feedback on my blog post on the Iowa State Wrestling Championships, I expanded it into a more complete discussion on Title IX, including a bit on boys playing on girls' field hockey teams. Check it out on The Huffington Post. Please leave comments and share by clicking through!

In related news, I am just so impressed by two female athletes getting a lot of press this week.

1) Justine Siegal- She became the first female to ever pitch batting practice in MLB this week (both for the Indians and also for the A's). Siegal has also coached all-men's baseball teams and played on them. Not only that, she chose to wear a patch to honor Christina Taylor Green, the wonderful child gunned down so horrifically in the Arizona shootings last month. And, on top of all this, Justine's daughter was there to watch her mom pitch in spring training. Like I said, bad*ss.

2) Ida Keeling- She is 95 and runs 60 meters in 29.86 seconds. I can't do that now. Like I said, bad*ss.

Do you know of any other bad*ss and stellar female athletes doing exceptional things?