The Rhetoric of Female Athletics
I don’t know how it happened; I was too far in when that question occurred to me. Maybe that is a future topic to write about, how my car radio got so lost from its home on NPR and ended up in a world of like that of the Rick and Bubba show. I just don’t know.
I moved to Birmingham, Alabama a little over a year ago. I have been pleasantly taken back by the intelligence and open-mindedness of this city, proud that my new city is not the land of ignorance and hatred that lives in the perception of those with no firsthand understanding of what Alabama culture is like. Frequently I comment on my admiration of my new home and frequently I get responses that resonate with words like “just wait.” One co-worker told me that my perception was skewed because I isolate myself into an ideal world, moving between home, work at the university, and Mass.
But back to the point. Heading south on highway 280 at 8:00am, listening to the radio, this Russ and Bubba show is discussing the recent story of a fistfight that broke out during the Alabama/Auburn women’s basketball game. You can watch the video of the event on YouTube if you are not familiar with the story. I can also summarize the story pretty quickly since it happened in less than one minute. An Alabama player threw the first punch; the Auburn woman she hit ran after her and punched her back. It took the coaches and referees to break up the fight and I think a referee got knocked down. Fights happen in sporting games, happen frequently, which is why all games have rules to follow when a fight breaks out, rules that usually lead to eviction from the game. Well, I might be wrong there, I have seen football players push each other and get no consequences, so what do I know?
What I do know a lot about is rhetoric that dismisses the equality of women in our society. I know rhetoric that is condescending and out of touch with reality. So on the Russ and Bubba show this particular morning, their story started with a sense of genuine concern for the sport of basketball, talking about the unfortunate fate of the sport in a state whose culture revolves around SEC football. The good news was that Russ and Bubba had found a way to possibly increase attendance at basketball games, and then they began their downhill descent into complete idiocy. While the two primary commentators where giving the facts of the event, the background contributor ensured that CATFIGHT was yelled out several times. Classy guy. Speaking of class, where the real descent started was when the commentators shared opinions such as, “this is not how ladies should act,” “we don’t want our ladies acting like this,” and well, you get the point I hope. Then one of the commentators chimed in that there was nothing “ladylike” about these women, nothing “ladylike” was on that court.
Those two young women have worked very hard to get where they are today, on the basketball court of a major, well-respected university. So what, they got into a fight. The obvious question is why is it normal for male sport teams to fight, but when it happens on a women’s sports team the conversation turns into a definition of what it means to be a woman. And there are deeper questions that seem obvious to me, but clearly are not to the commentators on the Russ and Bubba show:
1. Both of those women are someone’s daughters. How do they justifying to themselves and their higher power the public degradation of another person’s child?
2. When did being “ladylike” become a valuable attribute of female athletics? It didn’t. In order to be athletically intelligent, women and men alike have to be muscular. In order to succeed in the sport of basketball, height is almost a price of entry. To publicly dismiss a young athlete’s womanhood because she is good at her sport is illogical beyond ignorance.
These two girls are someone’s daughter who is simply away at college playing sports. These grown men found it completely acceptable to make fun of college girls publicly, on the radio. The young people in our universities are important and for two grown men, who bully and publicly demean young women, to be so popular well, that is the deeper issue within this story I guess. If karma is real, the commentators on this Russ and Bubba show segment are screwed. No one likes a bully.