A chastening time for women’s sports?

For those who lament the supposed dearth of media coverage about women’s sports, what follows is a rather extensive collection of links from just the last week or so.

They generally deal with various levels of discontent/anxiety/concern, which can be read as negative coverage. But because this is coming primarily from mainstream outlets, the status of women’s sports across the board can also be seen as increasingly worthy of some serious, and respectful, media attention:

• The U.S. Open is underway, and even the exalted terrain of women’s tennis appears well-worn and uninspiring. The absence of an injured Serena Williams is a leading factor. Then John McEnroe kicked up a storm by suggesting that women can’t handle the physical duress of a demanding global tour. He can’t be serious! ESPN New York‘s Johnette Howard rounds up the array of backhand return winners from Billie Jean King, Chris Evert and Mary Carrillo, his New York City childhood chum.

The New York Times spiced up the lead-in to Flushing Meadow with a provocative video (alas, not embeddable) on the “Beauty of the Power Game” that accompanies Sunday’s fascinating magazine piece on the same subject. When I first saw the video, I wondered how long it would take for feminist howls of protest to spring forth. Not surprisingly, Nicole LaVoi of the University of Minnesota took the bait first, accusing the Times of peddling “soft-core pornography.”

She calls it a “blatantly sexist, disgusting and marginalizing example of sexualizing female athletes,” which is the standard fare argument made by some women’s sports advocates who foolishly believe the body can be separated from the erotic.

There’s nothing tasteless in this presentation; if anything it demonstrates the aesthetic appeal of women’s tennis that makes it, along with figure skating and gymnastics, enduringly popular, especially with female fans and viewers. The unbeatable combination of athletic power and “traditional” femininity on display will always have leave some in The Sisterhood in a perpetual snit, but even one of Dr. LaVoi’s readers took issue with this narrow point of view:

“I think women’s bodies are beautiful to the degree that they’re like artwork, and I don’t think there’s a problem with showing beautiful bodies as art. It was not diminishing their athleticism in that endeavor, in my view.”

That was from a female reader, by the way.

• It’s no surprise that tennis players head the most recent Forbes list of top-earning female athletes. No team sport athletes here though.

• The issue of women golfers and glamor also arises on the LPGA Tour from time to time, and American star Paula Creamer is unbothered by what drives the likes of Dr. LaVoi up the wall:

“I’m an athlete. I’m 24 years old. I like to wear skirts . . . You’ve got what you’re born with, I guess.”

• Michelle Wie won the Canadian Open, just her second victory on the LPGA Tour, which could use her marquée name in headlines. She’s got one more tournament to play before heading to Stanford for her final year of college.

• Karen Crouse of The New York Times profiles former tennis pro Gigi Fernandez, who struggled for years to bear children before finally becoming the mother of twins at the age of 45. The ordeal of Fernandez and her partner, former U.S. Open golf champion Jane Geddes, was further complicated by the physical effects of Fernandez’ tennis career and Florida’s legal ban on adoptions by gay couples.

• Is Danica Patrick‘s act wearing thin? Wilmington News-Journal auto racing writer Mike Finney thinks so, saying her attention-grabbing takes away from other drivers, male and female.

• Another glamor girl finally calls it quits: Softball icon Jennie Finch has played in her last event. MLB.com offers a fond farewell to a superstar who elevated her sport while earning the ire of The Sisterhood for her attractiveness to men.

• One reason for Finch’s departure is the lack of Olympic softball, and women’s ice hockey is facing a similar existential crisis. Discussions are underway in NHL circles to start a women’s pro league, along the lines of the WNBA. IOC boss Jacques Rogge hinted after the Vancouver Games the sport could get dropped because of a lack of competition. But I’m not sure a WNHL would cut into U.S. and Canadian dominance unless top players from other nations come over to play.

• The WNBA playoffs are in full swing, and the defending champion Phoenix Mercury have advanced to the Western Conference finals. But the team is breathing a huge sigh of relief because star guard Diana Taurasi, who was talking about not playing next season, has signed a contract extension. While that threat wasn’t good PR for the league, it’s a bit much to declare it “narrowly avoided doom” when she re-upped. Taurasi’s former teammate, New York Liberty guard Cappie Pondexter, is a candidate for MVP, but also is busy developing some entrepreneurial chops in the fashion industry.

• Women’s Professional Soccer has made cuts in its front office and marketing staff in an effort to save on expenses and devote more resources at the franchise level. The two-year-old league is talking about expansion.

Caster Semenya has returned to the track, but her rivals are not thrilled, with some seeking a little more transparency from the International Association of Athletics Federations about how the South African runner was cleared to compete with women. They’re not alone with their questions.

• When The Big Lead is asking a pertinent question about the coverage of women’s sports — without the celebrities, bimbos or snark — listen up:

“There are a number of prominent women reporting, writing columns, editing, hosting and producing shows. They are seemingly in position to set agendas, yet focus predominately on male sports. Are they doing enough to promote women in professional sports? Should they be obligated to?”

An excellent question. My best answer: They’re much more pragmatic than me, who took the risk of being pigeon-holed by carving out a quasi-women’s sports beat at my former newspaper. I don’t regret what I’ve done at all, but for the few women who’ve made sports media their profession, going down such a narrow path is not regarded as a good career move.

No woman sports journalist should feel obligated to take up the cause, although one serves as a de facto stenographer of The Sisterhood from time to time, without having all that much to say.

There won’t be any “title-nining” of coverage, but judging from the links above, that’s probably not all that necessary.

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