Am I Proud to be an American?

In late June, many weeks before Obama’s and the Democrats’ total capitulation to the lunatic Republican Party’s actions on the debt limit and budget (i.e., no taxes for the rich, just spending cuts that harm the middle and lower classes), I was driving my car when I saw a car in front of me with two bumper stickers.  My thinking about the stickers was very telling and leads me to wonder if I am proud to be an American.

The first sticker said “Proud to be an American.”  As stereotyping as it was, my immediate reaction was to think that the driver was a right-wing “Patriot,” the type of person who, contrary to the self-described title, thinks only of his or herself and how the country can be made to serve their specific classes of (usually) white males and reactionary females who think like the white males.  I am going to do some exaggerated, inordinate generalizations from here on out, but, in other words, I think of “Patriots” as people who care nothing about anyone other than people like themselves.  They care nothing about the United States itself and, thus, cannot even be true “patriots” whether or not that is even a good thing to be.  So, I had a deeply negative feeling about the driver of the car simply because he or she had a “Proud to be an American” bumper sticker.  In addition, I wondered if it even made any sense for someone to proclaim that she or he is proud to be an American.

But . . . then I read the second bumper sticker.  This one said: “Proud to be a Union Sheet Metal Worker.”  Seeing this, my impression of the driver changed completely.  I thought that this was something that a person could really feel proud about.  I now had a good feeling about the driver, even though I didn’t really know why.

After I got home,  I wondered about what definitions of “pride” the bumper stickers were meant to convey.  In dictionary.com, there are five meanings:

1. a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct, etc.
2. the state or feeling of being proud.
3. a becoming or dignified sense of what is due to oneself or one’s position or character; self-respect; self-esteem.
4. pleasure or satisfaction taken in something done by or belonging to oneself or believed to reflect credit upon oneself: civic pride.
5. something that causes a person or persons to be proud: His art collection was the pride of the family.

For the “Proud to be an American” sticker, my negative, stereotyping thoughts led me to generalize that a person espousing that sentiment has “a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority” and “a becoming or dignified sense of what is due to oneself or one’s position or character.”  In other words, it is all about the person’s feelings of superiority over others.  It has nothing to do with whether the person has actually accomplished anything.

In contrast, the “Proud to be a Union Sheet Metal Worker” sticker led me to believe that a person espousing that sentiment has “pleasure or satisfaction taken in something done by or belonging to oneself or believed to reflect credit upon oneself.”  In other words, that person takes pride in something actually accomplished.

Those generalized feelings can’t be right, can they?  A requirement for legitimate pride can’t really be that the source of the pride has to have been something actually accomplished, can it?  For instance, can a person have pride in one’s college?  I think the answer to that is clearly yes since there is personal accomplishment involved.  But what about rooting for the college’s sports teams or for some professional or national team?  Can a person have pride in those teams?  According to the definitions above, I guess that the part of number four about civic pride is the one that would apply, although it seems rather conclusory.  One can have civic pride, but why?  What is it about a team that “reflects credit upon oneself”?

I think the answer is that it is not pride that is involved when you live in a country or when you root for a team.  Rather, I think that it is simply “identity.”  In other words, a person can identify with a team or identify with a sports team.  By coincidence, just yesterday I read an article by Sherry Wolf in The Nation about sports teams and identity.  (The article is about how the sports world remains “fiercely hostile to open participation by LGBT athletes.”  It’s a very good read.)  This is what she said about sports teams and identity:

As American society evolved from agrarianism to industrialism, a huge influx of immigrants settled in growing cities.  Sports were consciously used to win them over to a fabricated national identity. . . . In an increasingly mechanized world where the ethos of competition came to dominate, the rules, teams and nationalism of sports became part of the new “American way.”

And, so, let’s leave “pride” for some actual accomplishment like pride in a daughter or son, pride in putting together an art collection, pride in playing the guitar, pride in a job, or pride in one’s beliefs.  Let’s not say that a person is proud to be an American or proud to be a fan of some sports team, just that she or he identifies with it.

How would this work for an American when traveling or living in a foreign country?  If someone asks where you are from, do you say “I’m from America and proud to be an American”?  I certainly hope not.  Isn’t it good enough to just say that you are from America and, if a discussion about the pros and cons ensues, talk about the things you like and the things you don’t like.

And how does this work for me?  I’m an American.  That’s good enough for me.  And there are currently a LOT of things I don’t like about America.

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Where Can I Find Good Coverage of Women’s Sports?

You might know from some of my posts that I’m a fan of women’s (and men’s) sports.  But it’s always been frustrating for me to find the results of women’s events.  CNN.com is my primary source for sports but there is almost no women’s coverage there.  On its main sports page, CNN has these tab headings: NFL, College Football, Major Leage Baseball, NBA, College Basketball, Golf, NHL, Racing, Soccer, Mixed Martial Arts and Boxing, Tennis, and “More.”  Under College Basketball, there is no coverage of women’s NCAA basketball or of the WNBA.  Under Golf, there is no coverage of the LPGA.  Under Soccer, there is no coverage of the WPS.  Tennis is the only specific sport tab that has a subheading (the WTA) for a women’s sport.

And so, other than for tennis, you have to go to “More” in CNN.com to find anything about women’s sports, where it lists Olympics, Track and Field, Figure Skating, Women’s College Basketball, and the WNBA.  Pretty pathetic, isn’t it?  Don’t you think that CNN could at least have a main heading of Women’s Sports, even though that would still be woefully inadequate compared to the men’s headings.  (The coverage within those “More” women’s headings is still inadequate, of course, but I’m only talking about the headings for now.)

ESPN.com is my secondary source for sports news and it is not much better than CNN.com.  ESPN’s main headings are NFL, Major League Baseball, NBA, NHL, NCAA Football, NCAA Basketball, NASCAR, Soccer, and “More Sports.”  But it at least has a heading for women’s basketball under NCAA Basketball.  Again, almost the sole coverage of women’s sports is under “More Sports,” where it lists Women’s Basketball, but nothing else specific at that level other than “espnW.”

Somehow I had never known of espnW until this morning when I read a short comment about it in the sports pages of my local newspaper.  The comment said it is where ESPN focuses on women’s sports.  That sounded good–I thought–a single site where I could go to get coverage of all women’s sports.  Alas, it was not to be.  When I went to espnW, the tag said: “Online Destination for Female Sports Fans and Athletes.”  In other words, this is not a site in which to find total coverage of women’s sports.  Instead, it is a site for females to go to read about sports-related things that (according to ESPN) interest females.  My take on this meaning was confirmed by the main categories on the site.  They were WNBA, Tennis, Golf, Women’s World Cup, and Major Leage Baseball.  Major League Baseball has no female players, of course, and many of the articles about other sports are about male athletes.  And, so, this site is as I suspected–a site that writes about what it thinks females are interested in.  Being a male and feminist, I feel somewhat bad about not being in the target audience, but, if it gave me the game and competition results that I’m looking for, that wouldn’t matter.

Then the stereotyping of espnW really kicks in.  Seemingly a majority of the articles are not about the results of games and competitions, but about what the old ABC TV coverage of the Olympic games would call “Up Close and Personal.”  This has been the long-held stereotypical view of women that they don’t care about sports per se but only about the personal side of sports.  A little of that is fine, but, to me, it has to be secondary to the actual results.

And, so, I will not be adding espnW to my bookmarks.  I guess it’s a step in the right direction, but, really, it’s only continuing stereotypical thinking about women’s sports.  But I encourage you to look at the site and let me know if you think it’s a good step.  And, if you know of any good sites, please, please, let me know that too.  I want to go to a main site that has coverage of all sports, men and women.  I don’t want to have to go to one site for the WNBA, another for the WPS, etc.

Iranian Women’s Soccer Team Banned from Chance to Compete in Olympics because of the Wearing of Headscarves

Politics and sports and women. Again we have the intermingling of the powerful men in a world sports organization with women athletes and politics. Last week, in an Olympic qualifying round in Amman, Jordan, FIFA (the world soccer governing body) officials refused to allow the Iranian national women’s team to compete in a match with Jordan because they were wearing headscarves that covered their necks.  Thus, Iran forfeited the game and lost out on any chance its women players would have to compete in the Olympics.

Iranian Women's Soccer Team with the "unsafe" head scarves

According to FIFA, the reason for the ban on wearing headscarves was “safety.” FIFA had implemented a new rule last year that allows women to wear “a cap that covers their head to the hairline, but which does not extend below the ears to cover the neck.” Of course, there is no logical reason why a cap that goes to the hairline is safe but a headscarf that goes to the neck is unsafe. And, so, why has FIFA implemented this rule? Well, as frequently happens with FIFA, no one seems to know the real reason. For example, FIFA supposedly has a rule that prohibits players from wearing clothing that has religious or political symbols.  However, as an exception to that rule, FIFA accommodates Muslim women and gives them the choice of wearing long pants instead of shorts.

Iran is certainly complicit in what has occurred. For example, it previously accepted the rule on headscarves when, last summer in Singapore, it had the players on one of its youth teams cover their heads but not their ears or necks.  Interestingly, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a soccer fan and has previously interjected himself into soccer disputes. He even, in 2006, lifted a ban on women watching soccer matches in Iranian stadia, but was overruled by “Supreme Leader” Ali Khamenei. Now, Ahmadinejad has vowed to “seriously confront” FIFA about the ban on headscarves.

The losers in all of this, of course, are the female athletes.  (Isn’t it always?)  They want to play soccer on the world stage and now cannot. According to Shahrzad Mozafar, the team’s former head coach, “This ruling means that women soccer in Iran is over. . . . Headscarves are simply what we wear in Iran.” She said that if FIFA no longer allows Iranian women to wear scarves, the Iranian government will no longer send them abroad for competitions.

Almost certainly, if you ask the players, they would say that it was their choice to forfeit the game because they cannot violate their religious tenets. But can anyone really believe that?  After all, the youth team competed without wearing regular head scarves. No, this is simply another case of patriarchal officials imposing religiosity on its citizens.

I have written previously that I concur with France’s decision to ban the burqa.  But wearing a head scarf is far less dehumanizing than wearing a burqa. It is tempting to think that forcing the women’s team out of international existence will cause Iran to change its patriarchal beliefs. Maybe some additional compromise can be reached. But I think the only realistic move that will allow these women to compete will be for FIFA to eliminate the rule.

Esther Vergeer Wins Fifth U.S. Open Tennis Title and Has a Winning Streak of 396 Matches

Many people have been following the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York.  Kim Clijsters won the women’s single title and Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are playing for the men’s title today.  But there was another singles title awarded yesterday.  It was to Esther Vergeer of the Netherlands, who won her fifth U.S Open wheelchair title.  It is her 16th major title, the same number as Roger Federer. 

Even more grandly, Vergeer has now won 396 matches in a row.  No wonder one writer calls her the “most dominant athlete in the world.”

Woman Convicted of Attempting to Extort Money from University of Louisville Men’s Basketball Coach Rick Pitino

Karen Cunagin Sypher was found guilty of attempting to extort money from University of Louisville men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino after the two had a sexual encounter in a Louisville restaurant in 2003.  Although Sypher had claimed that Pitino raped her, no charges were ever brought against Pitino.

Rick Pitino when making his "public apology" last year (AP/ Photo by Gary Jones)

Pitino is married and the father of five.  During the trial, he admitted to a consensual encounter with Sypher and admitted that he later gave her $3,000 for an abortion after she told him she was pregnant.  (Pitino claimed the money was for “health insurance.”)

The thing that surprised me most about the entire situation was the lack of concern about Pitino providing money for Sypher’s abortion.  One year ago, when the allegations first came to light, I wrote that:

Apparently, Rick Pitino’s contract with the University of Louisaville has a “morals clause” (“acts of moral depravity“) that, arguably, will allow the University to claim that he has breached the contract and therefore provide easy ground for firing him if it wishes.  In addition, Pitino has cultivated his image  as a “deeply religious Catholic husband and father of five who often brings along a priest on road trips for his Louisville men’s basketball team.”   Therefore, the University of Louisville will feel extra pressure to fire Pitino simply because he has not lived up to his religious image.  But, I think the one huge difference in the Pitino story is that abortion is involved.  Depending on whether you listen to the police or Pitino’s lawyer, he paid $3,000 to Karen Sypher to either have an abortion or to pay for health insurance.  Surely, everyone will believe that he paid her the money to have an abortion.

Therefore, the loud pressure from the anti-choice zealots will add to the pressure in most of these cases.  For example, one article, in talking about whether John Edwards fathered Rielle Hunter’s 18-month-old daughter, says that “While John Edwards is no saint, at least he never paid for Rielle Hunter to have an under-the-table abortion.”  I suspect that, ultimately, the University of Louisville will yield to the zealots and will fire Pitino.

The strange thing is that, as far as I know, no one ever was concerned about Pitino paying for an abortion (or Sypher having an abortion, for that matter).  And the University of Louisville apparently will take no action against Pitino.  Its athletic director even supported Pitino, saying, “I feel very proud in the fact that he did own up to everything.  . . . He knew his name would be dragged through the mud but he also wanted the facts out there because the only thing that would vindicate him in this case were the facts.”  So, apparently, success trumps morals.  A blogger in the Louisville Courier-Journal wrote yesterday that “[p]robably nowhere else would Pitino  have survived this scandal than in this state — maybe only in this city” and that “[i]n America, success is the ultimate penance.”  I have no doubt that is a major factor in Pitino getting off with nothing more than minor damage to his reputation.

But what about the anti-abortion people?  You would have thought that, since Pitino is a national figure, they would have raised an uproar and that Pitino would have suffered the consequences.  But none of them appeared to care.  Is this hypocrisy in that they pull out all of their rhetoric when a woman has an abortion or a doctor performs an abortion, but turn their backs when a man is accused of funding an abortion?  Or does it show that even the anti-abortion people accept abortion in certain circumstances?  In either case, this seems to me to be pure hyprocrisy and shows that the anti-abortion people do not have a principled position.

Anti-Rape Condom Distributed at World Cup

What I’m about to say will fall into the “typical feminist buzzkill” stereotype– but, hey, it wouldn’t be the first time:

While most of you are undoubtedly watching the World Cup US v. Ghana game, think about the following: During one typical 90 minute game, 317 women in South Africa will be raped. It isn’t fun to think about, but one South African doctor is taking action against this sobering statistic. Sonette Ehlers has invented Rape-axe, a female condom-like device that painfully attaches itself to the perpetrator’s penis.

Rape-ax can be worn inconspicuously, but upon penetration, a man will experience teeth-like hooks that do not break the skin, but are very painful. Rape-axe can only be removed by a doctor, which Ehlers hopes will increase the sexual assault arrests in her country. Currently, only 7% of reported rapes result in a conviction in South Africa.

It’s an interesting idea, but there are two things that concern me:

  1. This is being marketed as an “anti-rape” condom, but the fact is, once the rapist becomes attached to the device, rape has already occurred. It may shorten the assault, but it certainly doesn’t prevent it.
  2. It’s generally considered fact that rape is about power and aggression, not sexual pleasure. If an already-aggressive rapist comes into contact with Rape-Axe, I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume he could become more violent. Amidst intense pain and a foiled assault, he could likely take his rage out on the victim. In this case, the attack has the potential to become more traumatizing, more deadly.

Perhaps if it were widely distributed, the condom could have a deterring effect. But I’d be cautious about predicting the positive effects of Rape-Axe thus far. Solving Africa’s sexual assault and HIV/AIDS crises isn’t going to be accomplished through a toothed condom, because it’s much too linked with social attitudes, corrupt legal systems, hypermasculinity and war. Still, in a country where women are resorting to inserting razor blades wrapped in sponges, maybe this device can empower some women to protect themselves in a safer way.

ESPN’s Sports Center Shows Almost No Highlights of Women’s Sports

As I’m sure you know, ESPN sets the tone for sports highlights with its daily Sports Center program.  In fact, you could probably say that Sports Center is ESPN since each day the show runs for 14 hours (live and reruns) and the catch-calls of its announcers become famous.  You would think that it could find time to show highlights of women’s sports.  Unfortunately, it can’t find the time.  With miniscule exceptions, you can’t find highlights and you can’t even find scores.

Sally Jenkins’ column in Friday’s Washington Post tells the sad story.  And even worse than the current miniscule figures is the fact that Sports Center has drastically cut back in recent years.  A study released this week entitled “Gender in Televised Sports: News and Highlight Shows, 1989-2009,” sampled the content of highlight shows and found that they devote barely 1.5% of airtime to women’s sports.  According to the study, Sports Center spent 1.4% of its airtime on women.  Yes, that’s right, 1.4%.  This is the lowest figure recorded in two decades, a period in which women’s sports participation has exploded.  (In 1971, the year before Title IX was enacted, 294,000 U.S. high school girls played a varsity sport. In 2009, the number was 3.1 million.)  Even five years ago,  Sports Center was showing 2.1%, still anemic but larger than today.

In addition, the study looked at the “crawl” figures at the bottom of the screen that give scores and short text messages.  2.7% of ESPN’s crawl line went to women’s news or scores in 2009, down from 8.5% five years ago.

As Jenkins says, ESPN should get credit for the amount of women’s college sports it shows on its ESPNU channel (1,300 hours this year).  However, even when ESPN was showing women’s NCAA basketball games on its main ESPN and ESPN2 channels, Sports Center hardly mentioned the games.  During the two-week period in March 2009, when both the men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments were in full swing, Sports Center aired 40 reports on the men and 4 on the women.  On the ticker crawl, the men got 56 references and the women 7.

This is a big deal since it means that fans—and, probably even more importantly, potential fans—are not exposed to the sports and athletic ability of the participants.  So, no exposure for the WNBA, LPGA, WPS, NCAA basketball, NCAA softball tournament, etc.  As the person who wrote the study says:

These [highlight] shows have a centrality.  They tell us what’s happening out there, and they are important in telling us what matters and what we should be paying attention to. It becomes part of what either builds or contracts the public sensibility for what to watch, what’s exciting, or even what’s available.

Unfortunately, as usually happens when I read one of Jenkins’ columns, I find something to disagree with her about.  She says:

There’s no easy answer to the question of why women’s sports don’t get more traction with mass audiences. The issue is not just that men aren’t watching women’s sports, but that huge numbers of women aren’t watching either. Personally, a pack of mules couldn’t drag me to an LPGA telecast.

Why is it that Jenkins can’t be “dragged” to an LPGA telecast.  I certainly don’t expect that she should like to see every televised women’s event.  After all, every sports fan likes certain sports and could care less about others.  (My interests have changed over the years.  I grew up with baseball and also was a big fan of professional ice hockey.  Now, I don’t even know the teams, the standings, or the star players.  I can’t even remember the last time I looked at a game on TV.  (But I did watch the final women’s ice hockey game in the Olympics between the U.S. and Canadian women.))

But I would like to know why Jenkins is so much against watching the LPGA.  Is it because she also doesn’t like to watch men’s golf matches?  I could accept that.  But if she watches men’s events but not women’s, why is that?  Does she think that the ability of women golfers is inferior to men?  That would be a poor excuse for Jenkins to use.  Does averaging less yardage off the tee mean that the competition is any less exciting?  To me, the answer is obvious: No.  In all sports, excitement and interest in a sport is about far more things than just ability.  For example, the ability of basketball players in the NBA is superior to the ability of male college players.  But college basketball—in particular the NCAA tournament—is more popular than the NBA.  And think about the people who follow boy’s high school basketball games.  Obviously, the relative inferior play of high school players does not take away from the excitement.  The same goes for women’s sports compared to men’s sports.  If an LPGA player cannot drive a ball as far as a male PGA player, it simply doesn’t matter.  And, if almost all NBA players can dunk a basketball but only a few WNBA players can, it simply doesn’t matter.  I would like Jenkins to explain her statement about the LPGA.

It will be interesting to see if Sports Center increases its coverage of women’s sports because of the study.  Don’t count on it.