Thursday, July 28, 2011

Are We Coddling Women in Sports?

Bryant Gumbel of Real Sports took a gamble recently when he said women in sports are coddled. After the #1 ranked US women’s soccer team lost to Japan in the World Cup Final, he took issue with the heroes welcome they received upon returning home – and perhaps felt they didn’t earn their places in congratulatory skits on The Late Show with David Letterman or The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, since in Gumbel’s eyes, ‘they choked’. The US Men’s team he felt, would, under similar circumstances, be subjected to much harsher comments, instead of empathy in defeat.

That dude has balls.

Not a lot of men would make a comment like that. This is his best line from the show: "If the definition of true equality is treating folks honestly -- without regard for race and gender -- then it's time to start critiquing women athletes the same way we do the men," he said. "I'm sure women won't like it, but blind praise is worthless in the absence of fair criticism."

Now, I don’t entirely agree with Gumbel, for two minor reasons, although I think he makes an excellent point. Where does my opinion differ? First of all, from what I watched, the US team played amazingly well. (The headers I saw Abbie Wambach get are some of the best goals I have ever seen in men’s or women’s soccer.) They definitely had control of the ball for the better part of the final, and even though they screwed up on their penalty kicks, no World Cup final should ever be decided by five meagre kicks of the ball. Secondly: why is Gumbel so “sure women won’t like it” when we are criticized fairly? No one likes to be patronized.

Besides, I’ve found on the playing field it doesn’t happen much anyway. I’ve played mostly with men for years and they never seem to hold back in telling me when I screw up. (And I screw up a lot.) A few years ago in my indoor league when I took a turn in goal and let in a few quick ones, Adrian, one of our better players, came racing back to take my place, smiling and saying “Oh my god, Cathy, get the hell out of there. We might as well have a wooden plank in net. ”My reaction? I was thrilled. (Although that might have mostly been because I didn’t have to play goalie anymore.) I laughed. I certainly wasn’t going to cry. Other times, when I’ve received a perfect pass about five feet in front of an open net and still somehow manage to mess up the shot I’ve heard almost everything from the guys: “Christ, Cathy, what was that!?” or once, at the pub after the game, over beers: “Cathy, that was such a perfect pass that if you had done any other thing with that ball besides what you did, it couldn’t have helped going in the net.” These guys aren't being jerks. I'd say the same things right back to them if the situation were reversed. Unless that makes me a jerk too? Wait, don't answer that.

What bothers me is not what Gumbel says or what the guys I play with say to me, but the internet comment streams surrounding this story. Haven’t we heard enough unfunny jokes about how the talented female soccer players must all be lesbians, or how it’s fun to watch girls boobies bounce around in tight jerseys when they run? Come on boys, be like Gumbel-- grow up and grow a pair.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Jon Stewart: "Soccer is like Nutella."

Recognize anyone you know?

Yup, this is Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart in the eighties when he played collegiate varsity soccer for William and Mary University. (Coincidentally, I also played collegiate varsity soccer in the eighties, wore number 11 on my jersey, and had this same haircut. {I had less chest hair though.} Mercifully, no soccer pictures of me exist from that time.) Back then, he was Jon Liebowitz and although short, he was a successful striker. The W&M soccer team still has an award they give out every year named after him, the ‘Leibo’, which is given to the player who makes everyone laugh the most.

Check out his leg muscles in this shot:

Who knew that behind his desk on the Daily Show, he had legs like that? (This picture makes me marginally less embarrassed that Stewart is my one permissible celebrity cheat. Steve wisely chose Salma Hayek for his. Look at Stewart’s hair. What was I thinking? )

Along with the pictures, I found an interview with Sports Illustrated that Stewart did five years ago in which he talks about soccer. Here are some quotes:

On soccer’s popularity:

“[Soccer is] Nutella. The rest of the world clearly loves it and puts it on everything, but here in America we’re like “I don’t know, man, it tastes like almonds.”

On whether or not he still plays:

“Dude, I’m 43 and smoked for 20 years. I’m just happy to go out of the house without an inhaler.”

On his style of playing:

“Even Pele would agree I was not playing the beautiful game. I was playing the annoying game.”

On if he would be willing to go head to head with bowtie wearing Tucker Carlson in a UFC battle if Sports Illustrated sponsored it:

“Let me explain something about the frailness of my physical condition. You could put big dollars on the line there and I wouldn’t do it.”

Sigh. Isn’t he dreamy?

Yeah, maybe no. Funny though. I’m going to keep watching his show but I can't say for sure that I'm not going to switch to Salma Hayek too.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Harper Seven Beckham

The nursery has been done in pink
Becks will likely get new ink
Have you not heard? Give this a whirl:
Posh and Becks now have a girl.
With three big brothers, it's truly nice
That there's a different baby spice
The only thing that I find lame
is Harper Seven Beckham's name.
Why did they need to name her that?
For our PM is such a twat.
Yes Harper with his helmet hair,
his wet-lipped face, his vacant stare
Has made asbestos sales turn brisk
(Ignoring pesky cancer risks).
Her middle name is not much better
For it's a number, spelled in letters
That once was on his soccer kit
And George Costanza wanted it.
Guess rules of naming all need bending
To make a name that's twitter trending.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Forest for the Trees

I was raised on a steady diet of hot dogs, kool-aid, tv dinners, and reruns. As kids, our summer days were spent loafing in front of the tube watching game shows while the sun blazed outside: the Price is Right, Family Feud, and whatever the one was where you yelled ‘no whammies!’ Our exercise was strolling to the kitchen to get a bag of Oreos. We also raised our heart rates by complaining vehemently when our siblings stole the good spot on the couch while we were in the bathroom. Sure, at night, sometimes we practiced cartwheels in the front yard, or played hide and seek with the neighbour kids. (Why did our parents let us use the fire hydrant as home base? Ewwww!) And, we did organized sports. Like soccer.

My husband Steve’s family, although he was also brought up in the same era, might as well have been raised on another planet. They had a cottage at the lake--with no tv. He spent his free time swimming, hiking, paddling the canoe and playing cards, and creating an elaborate pinecone fort in the woods behind his house in which the pinecones were people. As far as I can tell, very few of the seven kids ever did any organized sports. I once asked my mother-in-law if Doug, Steve’s dad, had ever been a sporty guy. “Well, when he was younger, he did some gymnastics. You know, tumbling.”

Tumbling? As in....falling down? (I think I showed admirable restraint and respect for my in-laws when I only thought this and did not say it out loud.) Of course, my father-in-law was one of the fittest men I’d ever seen, who canoed down the Yukon river in his late 70s, portaging the canoe and sleeping outside every night for weeks. Once, when we were all at the lake and Doug was maybe 80, he took his shirt off and Steve cringed, whispering to me “Look, my dad is more buff than me.” Meanwhile everyone in my family who has done years of playing on sports teams ages badly, our pathetic knees disintegrating like the weak legs of the crappy TV trays we used so often.

I’m telling you this because the other day, while my kids were at swimming lessons, I went for a walk in the woods. Now, this wasn’t the first time, of course. I was in Brownies as a kid, and I seem to remember going on walks sometimes with them. Most of the time I’d be needling the kid beside me to try to get a reaction while we were supposed to be learning about slugs or something. But as an adult? By choice? As a form of exercise? Bah. But it was......nice. It was quiet and green and I could hear birds chirping. It was cool in the forest and even I’ll admit, smelled much nicer than the chlorine-y pool we all endure while we watch swimming lessons. It looked like there were berries and stuff growing in there and I wondered when they would ripen. I was just starting to see the whole up-side to this nature thing when I tripped on a tree root and twisted my ankle. Damn! Shouldn’t they pave this and smooth it all out like a turf field? Someone could get really hurt in here!

As I limped back I began to imagine the conversation I would have about this with Steve:

“I went for a walk in the woods while the kids were at swimming lessons,” (me to him, while he only half listens and reads a book on Greek philosophy.)

“Who did? You?”

“I know, right?”

Steve is now actually paying attention and looking at me. “What happened, did a soccer ball accidently roll in there or something?”

“Har Har.” But then I started to think. You know what? It would probably be really good practice to dribble a soccer ball through that forest path. Hmm...

Now I’m starting to get this weird rash on my arm. Do you think it’s poison ivy? Also, does poison ivy just float around in the air, or do you have to actually touch the plant? Can it tell when you’re scared, like a horse, and pick on you? It’s all Greek to me.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Confessions of a Jeter Cheater

Derek Jeter cheats.

Yes, the 37 year old, future hall-of-fame baseball player, the Yankees shortstop who just signed a 51 million dollar contract to stay with the team another three years, was called out for cheating in the New York Times Magazine last weekend. I’m not talking about his tax dispute with New York State from 2008. I’m talking about the way he plays.

Cheating, in baseball, is what older players do when they make slight adjustments to their playing style to cope with their diminishing skills. It’s perfectly legal. They swing a little earlier at bat, since their eyesight might not be as good as it once was, or perhaps they try to hit without a stride to add precious seconds to their time at the plate. Since baseball is a game of statistics, people notice. (This year Jeter came dead last amongst shortstops in a couple of defensive statistics.) And aging as an athlete in front of millions of fans cannot be an easy experience.

Even though I’m a soccer player and not a professional ball player, I cheat too. Now Jeter and I make marginally different salaries (I don’t own a 30,000 square foot home nicknamed ‘St. Jetersburg’), I may have slightly less fans, and I have not been romantically linked with anyone with a title that includes the words ‘sexiest’ or ‘universe’, but otherwise, we’re identical. My soccer game, since my ACL repair, is more passing and less shooting. When it’s time for my team to take a corner kick, I often find it’s time for me to concentrate on tying something on my shoelace so that someone else will take it. It makes me glad no one is keeping track of my statistics, or writing national magazine articles about my cheating.

Can you spot the difference?

(Large aside: The more you think about it of course, the more you realize that almost everything we do in life as adults is a form of cheating-- sometimes to make up for our diminished capabilites, and sometimes because we run out of time. For example:
- Recently I bought one of those supermarket roast chickens and served it to my family as though I had prepared it myself. Cheating? Sort of. Although it is a bit of work to cut the meat off of there.
- When I put on makeup, I’ve noticed in the last year or so I don’t bother looking in the normal side of the round mirror- I always flip over to the magnified side. Cheating? Yup. Sometimes I even start out of the magnified side and don’t realize it, and then try to flip the mirror over to the magnified side only to find that everything has miraculously shrunk. What’s going on?
- I wear black almost all the time. This is double cheating, really. We all know black is slimming, so that’s a cheat for sure, but another reason I wear black is that I am filthy (and not in a good way.) Black hides almost all dirt. The other day as I was just about to leave the house, I dropped half a cup of coffee and splashed it all over myself. I swore, grabbed a towel and dabbed at the coffee on my black clothes, then said ‘meh’, and left the house without changing. Total cheat.)

Overall, the New York Times Magazine article about Jeter was totally depressing. Do I need to be reminded that aging sucks and that we all adjust to cope with it? But there were a couple of sweet spots in the article, and I will share them with you: the first is that the Dallas Mavericks, an aging basketball team, beat the much younger and much more hyped Miami Heat in the NBA finals recently. How? According to the article, “Crafty older players find ways to compensate for their loss of quickness. Cleverness matters.” I love it that sometimes, experience trumps youth.

Secondly, I love this: “...(the modern thinking is that) today’s players, who condition themselves year-round – often with the help of private trainers, the most up-to-date scientific methods, nutritionists and massage therapists- play longer and have more years of peak performance. It makes sense. It’s also not true.” Wait, WHAT?! Yup. Babe Ruth, who they lovingly call ‘rotund’ and ‘hard-living’, played longer professionally than many current ball players and is largely considered to be the greatest baseball player of all time. Do you think he had a nutritionist? Pfft.

To celebrate these small victories for us middle aged folks, I am going to have a milkshake. Don’t worry, I will wear black, in case I spill anything. Then maybe I'll play some soccer. Care to join me?