Sunday, June 15, 2008

Lame Journalism: Observer Story on Injury and "'Warrior' Girls"

Because newspapers are lazy, Observer readers this weekend are being served recycled slop originally dished out a few weeks ago in the New York Times ("'Warrior' Girls Run the Risk of Injury"). Like the NYT story ("The Uneven Playing Field") the Observer spins a scary - and condescending - headline from the most regressive aspects of Michael Sokolove’s book on the “injury epidemic” in women athletes.

This story is short, and so doesn’t even have the complexity of the NYT Sunday Magazine piece – its whole attitude stinks with the totally unexamined sexism of UK culture when it comes to women athletes.

For example, the story makes news of the fact that when women athletes ignore their injuries, it has a drastic effect on their health. RRRReally?! Anyone tell Wayne Rooney – hey, with all those metatarsal fractures, think you should keep playing? He's hardly alone - it's a very common injury for footballers. Man, Thierry Henry’s back wouldn’t hurt so much if he just stopped playing. Think Eduardo de Silva plans to retire from football just because Taylor broke his leg? And: Let’s remember that Ronaldo’s most recent knee injury wasn’t his first. Any stories in the sports section in which journalists breath the slightest suggestion that football is too rough to play because men get hurt??? And what's with the scare quotes around 'Warrior', and what's with the word "girl"? The Observer article doesn't focus on girls, but on adult women playing at the highest levels.

I’ve covered the ground regarding ACL/cruciate injuries and women athletes before ("Sexism Hurts"). And I agree – there is a story in the subject. Just not the story people want to tell.

But here I will just say this: Things are worse in England than in the U.S. Sure, there are people out there who support women’s sports, but the generic cultural attitude is still in the dark ages. Just look at the amount of space The Guardian/Observer gives to women’s sports, for example. Next to nothing. There shouldn’t be a single day in which their sports section excludes coverage of women’s sports. And we should not have to wait for people like David James to use his column for perspectives on women’s football (he’s the only one who does so with any intelligence). Why doesn’t the Guardian or Observer (or any other paper) have a woman columnist (and I mean a serious writer) invested in the women’s game??? (Please tell me I'm wrong and give me a link to a monthly column on women's football written by a woman in a national paper.) Is it only acceptable to write as a feminist when it comes from a Premiership and national men's team player?

An alternative view of sorts concludes the article:

Others, however, are concerned that drawing attention to the issue will backfire. 'Sex differences can easily be perceived as weakness,' said Mary Kane, director of the Tucker Centre for Research on Girls and Women in Sport. 'We need to do everything we can to prevent injuries. But it does seem that there is a disproportionate emphasis on things that are presented as signs of women's biological difference or inferiority.'

But this isn't, in my view, enough of a portrait of the concern many of us have about the presentation of the issue. Why doesn't Kane's concern lead the article? Why present it as an afterthought? Again, see "Sexism Hurts". It isn't that we don't want to discuss the issue - far from it. We want it presented in the same way that we present issues regarding male athletes. Taylor's tackle on Eduardo de Silva, for example, sparked an important conversation about the complexity of the physical side of the game. Let's allow ourselves to have that kind of conversation about women athletes, injury, injury prevention, and recovery.

That story about women athletes and injuries should be a big story in the sports section.

Why don’t journalists track down the members of the English women’s national team who’ve suffered from these injuries and talk to the doctors and physiotherapists who treat them? How about stories about how hard these women have fought to come back from these injuries? OR – perhaps more compelling: what happens to them when they can’t play? Where do they go with all that passion for and knowledge of the game?

Ask top athletes who’ve suffered career ending injuries if they regret it (who among them would say they’d rather never have played??). (The only athlete they interview is Katharine Merry - a sprinter – and runners don’t suffer the kind of knee injury that is the subject of discussion! The injuries sustained by Merry are absolutely identical to all athletes of any gender who train and compete at very high intensity from a young age.)

Cover the advances in training – I think people would be interested in learning exactly what the differences are between men & women athletes. I mean, we get stories about differences in how men and women talk, how they think about sex, how they approach raising kids and managing colleagues in the workplace. How about how men and women play the game? Like: Do women dive as much as men? Do they give referees attitude like the men do? Do women play dirty? What kind of reputation do the women’s teams have?

But jeese. Don’t give us stories about how fragile women are! I’m sorry – but I took some hard, clean tackles that sent me ass over tea-kettle in the mud last week, and it felt GREAT! There’s nothing like knowing your opponent feels you as a threat. There’s nothing quite like getting up and playing on, not just because you want to show that you can’t be scared off the field, but because they’ve just upped the ante, and you plan to take that ball back come hell or high water.

Don’t pander to the sexist attitudes of the lowest common denominator. Some people here in England have their heads really far up their asses. Many would rather their women drink until they are falling over, fatten up, and breed than get in their kit and take the field. And no one is going to change those attitudes by pandering to them! So OBSERVER: SHAME ON YOU! You made me so mad I blew off my Sunday kickabout so I could rant!!!


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  2. Excellent rant. You managed to get my blood boiling and the last time I played on a team sport Nixon was president and the idea of a woman running for the U.S. presidency was only source material for poor romantic comedy. There's doubtless some cliche that would work here, but I can't for the life of me think of it. It's odd how some hold onto these sorts of ideas (women are ill suited for sports) despite an abundance of evidence to the contrary. I hope the rest of your day (post rant) went better...


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