When women cross any threshold in men’s sports for the first time, it makes news. Still.
Call it the Mars/Venus Effect where the sexes are just different, point blank. When a person tried to invade “sacred” space, be it a locker room, a playing field, either you’ve got the required equipment, or you don’t.
Now, thirty-five years after a female reporter entered the first professional locker room post-game, women are coaching at all levels.
In 1975, New York Times reporter Robin Herman, then a 23-year-old reporter, secured entry to the N.H.L. All-Star Game after a year of persuasion. She, not the game, became the story of the day. Today, Herman is an assistant dean for research communications at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Then three decades later, Katie Hnida became the first woman to score in Division I-A football, as a kicker for the University of New Mexico. She had transferred from the University of Colorado after dressing for games but not playing. She also played in high school.
Now, Nancy Lieberman, a legend in basketball in her own right, has crossed over to the men’s space as the first female coach in the NBA for the Texas Legends, part of the NBA D-League. The team hasn’t played a game yet, but two of its back office executives have already been called up to the NBA, potentially a good sign for players with dreams.
Perhaps It Just Takes a “Trailblazing” Attitude…
Nancy Lieberman didn’t just pop on the scene. At the age of 18, she was the youngest person, male or female, to win an Olympic medal in basketball. She picked Muhammed Ali as her role model at the age of 9 and then met him 12 years later. A 30 year career with ESPN was interrupted by a stint in the WNBA–at the age of 50. It’s not that Lieberman doesn’t let the word “no” stop her–she never even considered it!
“This is normal for me,” she says. “I’m used to being the only woman or the first woman. It’s very normal. It might be strange to other people, but it’s what I do every day and I love being in that capacity to inspire women. It’s the coolest thing that can really happen to you. We all want to be respected for our effort.”
She also remembers every step of the way, which keeps her grounded and provides a basis for her philosophies. Many are very “coach-like,” but inspiring at the same time:
- It’s not being afraid of success. It’s being prepared for success.
- Nobody is harder on me than me.
Many people have memorable stories of how they met legends and role models. Lieberman is no different, with her Muhammed Ali experience extending decades, even to today. Perhaps that’s something to think about–what makes people successful is not compartmentalizing opportunities but seeing how a kernel of a moment can have long term impact.
She remembers meeting Ali at the New York Stock Exchange after she had won an Olympic medal:
“He says, ‘Come Here Kid,’ and he looks at me and he says that your mom says that you’re good. I couldn’t even look him in the eye. I said I’m not good or nothing, I’m the greatest. And he says give me a hug, there’s two greatest in the room. We spent time with him, exchanged phone numbers and stayed in touch my senior year. Eight years ago, we reconnected and it’s been incredible. Ali is writing and endorsement for [my upcoming] book. They have said they’ll be at opening night.”
Opening night is in November when she takes to the court with her team. Her goal–to lead and to teach, with successful results.
“I’m not in control of my reputation but I’m always in control of my character and that’s what I want to teach my guys,” she says.
Difference between contact and non-contact sports?
Does padding matter? It seems that women are more welcome with the men when there’s less padding. Case in point? Tennis! Mixed doubles have been played since 1888 at the US Open. That was five years before Colorado was the first state to pass an amendment granting women the right to vote!
The Women in Sports Foundation notes that while there will always be women who can compete side by side men in contact sports, specifically boxing, the majority of women have less muscle mass per unit of body tissue and therefore,
As long as competing athletes are matched by ability, muscle mass and other standardized physical variables critical to success in the sport, competition between males and females should be permitted.
Regarding other contact sports, the Foundation considers physical development in their recommendations that pre-puberty, girls should only participate in contact sports, such as football, with other girls, and after that, continuing women-only teams are fine too.
Women in their own leagues?
The WNBA has been around for 14 years. Women’s football leagues have popped up over time. While Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972 covered gender discrimination in a broader sense, the increased opportunities for women in sports have been an unexpected and lasting result. According to a 2006 study Linda Jean Carpenter and R. Vivian Acosta of Brooklyn College there are nine times more women participating in high school sports and the number of women in collegiate sports has increased by 450%!
The five most frequently offered college sports for women are, in order: (1) Basketball, 98.8% of schools have a team, (2) Volleyball, 95.7%, (3) Soccer, 92.0%, (4) Cross Country, 90.8%, and (5) Softball, 89.2%, according to a 2008 Brooklyn College study.
Perhaps league and level of play should be determined by the athlete. If a woman can hold her own with the men, who cares? In May 2010, Eri Yoshida debuted with the Chico Outlaws, of the independent Golden League of baseball. It’s not Major League Baseball, but it’s still considered professional. It’s actually often the last stop for players before they retire for good. She throws a 70 mph fastball and retired 7 of the first 10 batters she faced.
A woman hadn’t played professional baseball since 2000. But with Yoshida’s arrival, ticket sales jumped more than 50% from the day before! Her goal–to reach the majors.
No news is good news
It’s truly up for debate whether women in sports doing things “first” or even “second” is good in the news. If it’s in the news, then public consciousness raises. But if it’s not news, if it’s “ho-hum,” then it’s mainstream, hardly worthy of a blink. Maybe that’s not so bad.
June 17, 2010 Comments Off
It’s got to be one of the least sexiest winter sports around. There isn’t the grace of ice skating or the speed of downhill skiing. It’s not cool like snowboarding. It’s not quirky enough, like curling. Most of the time, enthusiasts are lost in the woods so you’re not likely to see them either. It’s big in Fairbanks, Alaska and Salem, Oregon. And even when it’s correct in print, it looks misspelled. But snowshoeing followers are there…and slowly growing in numbers.
Since 1977, the United States Snowshoe Association has existed in Upstate New York to spread the word about running through snow with tennis rackets tied to your feet. But this is not a sport for the Aspen fancy-pants ilk. Take a look at their website and then look at the US Skiing and Snowboard Association‘s. The same number of “S”s but worlds apart. There are snow shoe races and events called “invitationals.” It’s serious stuff, but there is a definite dual sense of wishing their sport was more mainstream but not wanting everyone in on the secret. As for numbers, well, they do reflect growth. But the latest stats available are from the 1990s–not exactly accurate for today, when you consider that those numbers reflect a time when Olympic snowboarder Shaun White was in elementary school.
The secret might be out soon if the exercise benefits get some press. According to the Snowsports Industry Association, snowshoers burn 45 percent more calories than walking or running at the same speed.
Nanook of the North
Snowshoeing has been around for about 6000 years. Legend has it beginning in Asia, where ancestors to Inuits and Native Americans migrated bringing snowshoes with them. Their design mimics the feet of animals who walked in the snow. If you have ever taken a step and found yourself in snow up to your knees, you’d agree that those folks were on to something.
The old wooden snowshoes you see with leather webbing and ties were, not surprisingly, hard to keep on. In the 1960s and 70s, technology and plastic were introduced, leading to designs we use today.
And for you skiers out there, the guy who invented step-in ski bindings contributed to modern snowshoe design in the 1990s. Rick Howell lent his expertise to the Vermont-based Tubbs Snowshoe Company, which grew to be a leader in the industry.
You want to start?
As far as sports equipment go, snowshoes won’t leave you broke. For around $150 you can get a set of entry level shoes and a set of poles if you’re not planning on scaling a huge mountain. Poles, which are usually telescopic, aren’t essential, but help with balance.
According to the USSSA, about 30 manufacturers market aluminum-framed snowshoes, the standard used today. Tubbs, Atlas (owned by Tubbs), Redfeather, Sherpa, and TSL are the leaders. And of course, Maine’s L.L.Bean brands their own snowshoes too.
There are three types of snowshoes: Recreational, Hikers, and Runners. The majority of shoes bought and sold are recreational–versatile, spread across wide price-points, in many sizes and styles.
Snowshoes tend to come in two sizes: 8×25 and 9×30. There are also 8x21s for smaller users too and even tinier ones for children. Size is determined by the total weig
ht of the user–including whatever gear he or she might be carrying.
The Buddy System
Like many sports whether there’s the possibility of being swallowed by a wave or a bear, traveling in a group is usually recommended.
However, part of the thrill is being able to take in the peace of the woods on a solo mission, just you and the crunch-crunch-crunch of your snowshoes in the snow.
The first place many people encounter snow shoes is when they want something other than skiing to do on a winter vacation. It’s an activity regularly offered at New England bed and breakfasts. Outdoor shops sponsor treks which might end with hot chocolate. To take a trek is usually an economical afternoon–around $30 per person, including rentals.
Don’t knock it till you try it. It’s a way to connect with nature and be outside in colder weather. That abominable snow man crossing the tundra otherwise known as a school yard on the next snowy day might just be you.
February 18, 2010 Comments Off
Been to your local yoga studio lately? You’ll probably find lots of blankets, mats and incense burning. Perhaps a statue of Patanjali, considered the founder of yoga, sits in a corner. But more befitting an ice skating rink or a boxing ring, you now might find a sign-up for a local competition.
That’s right–yoga is lobbying to be the next Olympic sport, hopefully in time for the 2016 games.
According to Dictionary.com, yoga is:
A school of Hindu philosophy advocating and prescribing a course of physical and mental disciplines for attaining liberation from the material world and union of the self with the Supreme Being or ultimate principle.
Literally, the word “Yoga” came from the Sanskrit word “yuj” which means “to unite or integrate.”
Not one word implies competition. Compare this with the definition of Summer Olympics ratings grabber, “gymnastics:”
the practice art, or competitive sport of gymnastic exercises
Or how about that Winter Games powerhouse, curling:
a game played on ice in which two teams of four players each compete in sliding large stones toward a mark in the center of a circle
If you’re wondering how a sport becomes worthy of the Olympics, we look to the Official Website of the Olympic Movement:
To make it onto the Olympic programme, a sport first has to be recognised: it must be administered by an International Federation which ensures that the sport’s activities follow the Olympic Charter. If it is widely practised around the world and meets a number of criteria established by the IOC session, a recognised sport may be added to the Olympic programme on the recommendation of the IOC’s Olympic Programme Commission.
The IOC can also taketh away, thus leading to the gold medal voids left by tug-of-war and lacrosse. Again, these both have competition built in to the sports themselves.
Take a yoga class and you hear words like, “be in the moment,” “it’s YOUR practice,” and “keep your mind quiet.” In fact, stress and competition are often discouraged.
Yoga is 5000 years old but a 2001 TIME magazine cover story effectively “outed” many who silently unrolled sticky mats on a regular basis and lauded the activity’s benefits. Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor took classes in the gym of the Supreme Court. Sting is very public about his practice as is Gwyneth Paltrow.
According to WebMD, the benefits of yoga include increased flexibility, strength, better posture, increased lung capacity, and lower blood pressure. A 2004 study by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the National Institutes of Health found that yoga can alleviate fatigue from multiple sclerosis. But like with any activity, yoga can cause injury too, if you do it wrong. Pain and discomfort from over stretching is a common complaint.
Gwen Lawrence, owner of Power Yoga for Sports, focuses on athletes and their specific sports needs. She is the Yoga Coach for the New York Giants and works with the New York Yankees including star third-baseman Alex Rodriguez. These athletes are fierce competitors in their sports. However, when it comes to yoga, it’s all about focus. “It is their absolute job to tune in and pay attention to imbalances, pain, and stress to avoid some possible injuries in the future,” says Lawrence. “Their body is their tool and it is no joke when they are working out that they stay present, [and] to aid their breathing techniques.”
Lawrence is not a fan of adding yoga to the roster of Olympic sports. “I can only believe that an Olympic version of yoga would be rooted in long hours of training, beating down, testing and pushing your body beyond its limitations not for the sake of yourself but for the goal of gold,” she says. “Yoga is about improving YOUR own body and mind and taking ego out of the equation. So it is enormously contradictory to make it competitive.”
Gwen Lawrence Teaches Yoga to New York Giants
USAYoga seeks to be the governing body for the sport and is lobbying the International Olympic Committee. In its mission statement, the organization hopes to inspire yoga participants “to improve their practices and encourage many newcomers to take up the practice of yoga and the sport of Yoga Asana.”
Yoga competitors are described as those who “will need to achieve mastery of physical strength, stamina, balance, flexibility, breath and concentration.” There is no mention of the whole spiritual element that is part of the original Hindu philosophy.
Yoga practitioners aren’t buying in either. Julie Bauch, a New York finance professional, practices at least four times per week, meditates daily, and studies various spiritual philosophies. She turned to yoga four years ago when faced with a debilitating illness. “I was weakened physically, emotionally and intellectually and I believed it could help me to heal myself,” she says. “It did, in many ways.”
But the idea of yogis on a medal stand? “It’s perfectly alright to practice yoga solely for physical benefit, however using yoga as a sport doesn’t make it a sport,” she says.
People take yoga for different reasons, but the elements of yoga that tend to always be present in varying degrees are: exercise, breathing, and meditation. There are several types of yoga, but the variety most practiced in the West is Hatha yoga, or the yoga of postures. If you’ve seen Iyengar, Integral, Astanga, Kripalu or Jiva Mukti on your gym schedules, these are all styles of Hatha.
The second place winner of the 2008 Asana New York regional championship, Courtney Mace
Yoga competition is thought to be about 100 years old. The Pondicherry Yoga Association started in 1975 in India. However, its past leader, Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani who now heads the International Centre for Yoga Education and Research, is unhappy about the current state of affairs:
“many things have changed over the years, and though I support yoga sport for the children and youth, I may not say the same for the adult competitions… unless the theoretical aspect is taken into consideration, it will be only another gymnastic competition.”
Perhaps the IOC just needs to revisit requirements for gymnastics. These uber-flexible folks could compete there. Just call it something else.
I do practice yoga. I wouldn’t say I’m a yoga fanatic. I go when I can and aim for once a week. I have my own mat but I don’t read Rumi or listen to sitar music in my car. Perhaps even my judgement of yoga as a sport is a bit antithetical to yoga being a practice of acceptance. But at the end of a yoga class, I look forward to moment when the instructor always says, “Namaste,” which means: “the spirit in me bows to the spirit in you.” It doesn’t mean: “I could kick your butt in downward dog!”
January 17, 2010 2 Comments