Violence, girls and sports

The popular reading of violence in women’s sports is that (a) part of the growth into the big-time arena and (b) bad for women’s sports in general.

Last weekend, an article on violence in women’s sports ran in the New York Times, covering pretty much the range of issues which incidents of violence in women’s sports highlight (see Brittney Griner’s punch in a college basketball game and Elizabeth Lambert’s pony-tail pulling antics in college soccer).

There is the point that as women gain access into bigger arenas and big-time college athletics, the foibles we’ve seen on the men’s side will occur on the women’s side.

“For us to think that women would enter the big time and have it be pristine and without controversy is naive,” said Mary Jo Kane, director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport, in the New York Times story.

Then there’s the question on if there is more violence in women’s sports today than, say, 20 years ago. The answer: Probably not, but there’s more media scrutiny, more opportunity for “athletes behaving badly” to be publicized from ESPN to the Internet. Consider that the overall coverage of women’s sports makes up only about 6-8 percent of all sports coverage and the narrowness of images can become concerning — and distorting.

And finally you add in traditional gender roles, which usually rewards men for being aggressive and questions women on the same characteristic and you’ve got lots to talk about.

Which is why I was rather surprised at the discussion that occurred this week in a class I teach on sports media and techonology.

As we moved into talking about how media and technology shape our definitions of things like gender, race and ethnicity, I showed the clip of Brittney Griner’s punch. And several of the guys in the class raised interesting points.

One said he would be more likely to watch a half of women’s basketball if he knew there was a good chance of something like Griner’s punch happening again. The possibility of more violence in women’s game, it seems, would attract him to watch.

What if the situation was a guy throwing the punch? How would he be perceived?

Several of the guys in class said that he would be harshly criticized for losing control.

Interesting since violence, especially in defense of self or teammate or honor, seems to be an ethic in the male world of team sports. But these 20-somethings argued against the boys-would-be-boys ethic for such an act, saying instead the player would be suspended for the rest of the year and might never play again.

Would that happen in reality? That’s another argument.

But in the world of perception is reality this group seemed to think that (a) violence in women’s sports would increase interest and (b) men are more harshly judged for violent acts.

While I’m not sure if I agree or disagree with my students, they definitely have offered another angle to view the topic.

And different views (when presented with civility) are always welcomed.

%d bloggers like this: