|Cary Leibowitz, Misery Pennants (1989)|
I thought following the women's game would reconnect me with the pleasures of fandom, but I am afraid it's having the opposite effect. At the moment I am demoralized by the media's apathy regarding the fact that the Nigerian national team coach conducted an anti-lesbian purge. (She gave a talk about this at a Nigerian conference on women's football, this was reported in Nigerian media, but has yet to raise interest from the football community at large.)
FIFA recently featured the team on the front page for its website for the 2011 Women's World Cup. In that article the coach made statements regarding the "fitness" of notable players absent from her squad. Who can believe such statements? Isn't it wrong for FIFA to feature that kind of discourse from someone who has so obviously discriminated against her athletes? What does "fitness" mean in that context? This kind of "press" is not just irresponsible, it actually collaborates with the original discrimination. (Latest from Nigera: The team just failed to qualify for the All-Africa tournament. This does not bode well for the summer.)
Why isn't overt discrimination news when it's practiced in the women's game? Why aren't we talking about the impact of homophobia on the women's game? Perhaps because it would require sports media to confront its own homophobia.
Anti-homophobia activists in football seem primarily concerned with the men's game. One could argue, however, that homophobia has a much more global impact on the women's game. I mean "global" here in every sense - internationally, and holistically - from the lowest levels of the game to its highest, as the media and FIFA maintain a scrupulously polite silence about the fact that some of the most gifted athletes in the game identify as lesbian - some have girlfriends, some resist gender normativity in body and attitude (muscled, boyish, mannish, aggro, full of bravado), and these women have huge impacts on fans through what they achieve and represent.
For every story we encounter about a female athlete's marriage, or a baby born within a straight couple, there are more stories regarding momentous events in the lives of gay players that are not represented, because the mainstream media considers such stories unrepresentable. This is old news in women's sports - fans are fluent in reading the silence, the biographical editing which mediates their relationships to the players they cheer from the stands. NEVER seen a reference to a player's life beyond, say, her experiences playing as a kid with the boys? Well... A gay man in the sports world lives with a powerful, awful pressure demanding that he stay in the closet. A lesbian can live freely and relatively openly and we can trust the media do the closeting for her, on "our" behalf.
This leaves the marketing of women's soccer in the US particularly ineffective - claustrophobic and "old" or childish (and so "old" in its conceptualization of the consumer's relationship to childhood). It has yet to rise about the closeted mentality of another age. I just don't get it.
My mood is perhaps lifted by recent excellent coverage of homophobia in men's sports - most recently via the coming out of Rick Welts, owner of the Phoenix Suns. This is such a good story, a real chance to educate people.
The sexism of the world of sports is related to its homophobia; the feminism of women's sports spaces is related to the queerness of those space - which, given the sexism and homophopia of mainstream sports spaces, leaves little room for representing the specificity of the athletes in women's sports at all.
High time for change all around.
|Cary Leibowitz, Homo State (1989)|