Are you ready for some women’s boxing?

It’s long been a cultural fascination. Most of the recent headlines have been complaints over the supposedly demeaning and sexist attire female competitors will be wearing inside the rings at the London Games.

Women’s boxing takes a huge competitive leap starting today when the U.S. Olympic trials get underway in Spokane.

Finally, it’s about the boxing. Or will it be?

In the coming months, viewers in America and around the world will be prompted to take the sport seriously as a sport, and not just as a novelty. Sanctioned by the IOC in 2009, women’s boxing will be on our screens like it has not before.

But as befits the American media formula for coverage of some Olympic sports, there’s got to be a human interest angle to serve as an introduction. The more tragic, the better. Barry Bearak’s profile of American medal contender Quanitta Underwood in The New York Times over the weekend was less about the boxing and more about her horrific childhood at the hands of her father:

“. . . she wants to be a symbol of hope to anyone who has ever been sexually abused, though to do so requires something harder for her than a thousand hours of hitting the heavy bag. She has to talk about what happened.”

I don’t want to diminish Underwood’s ordeal. It is a harrowing tale that Bearak reveals, and her father was imprisoned for his crimes. There’s no dodging any of that. But she didn’t seem particularly thrilled for this kind of attention, which included a muted interview with her now-freed molester.

These stories are hard to resist, and we live in a society marinated in media and public voyeurism. Given the Penn State tragedy, it’s understandable why these types of stories will multiply, especially in women’s sports and other smaller niche sports. It’s an easy formula to perpetuate.

But there was precious little in Bearak’s very long piece about how Underwood developed as a boxer. How have she and other women come to putting on gloves? What stirs so deeply inside of them to do this? What does stepping in the ring really mean to them ?

“Women Box,” an ongoing series on WNYC radio that has been picked up by NPR, has answered some of those questions, with a thorough, compelling mixture of the personal and competitive stories of young women who will make us confront some deep-seated notions about the most extreme levels of physical combat females can endure.

It makes all the silly complaints about wearing skirts seem as trivial as they really are.

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  1. Bern
    Posted February 13, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    You are much too honest to be a serious women’s sports journalist. Your PC sisters will only put up with it for so long.

    I’ll reserve my comments about the general public’s appetite for watching girls and women beat on each other as a sustainable sports model. The market will speak.

    I hope you keep telling the truth as it can’t be easy. Also wanted to add that I watched a video on ESPNW with Cassidy Hubbarth & Julie Foudy concerning women’s soccer with a editorial by Jane McManus that I thought was amazingly realistic and insightful. So maybe they are starting to get it and maybe they’ve been reading your content over the past several years. I hope so. Seems like some common sense is finally seeping in.

    Good For You.

  2. Posted February 14, 2012 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Bern, there are some very good and “serious women’s sports journalists” out there. Just not many who stray from the party line on topics like this.

    I read Jane’s piece and the assessment is realistic. I wish she had linked to some of the research she cited, but the points she raises go a lot further than women watching women’s sports. It goes to what sports means to them.

    The female boxer I mentioned in the post said she was drawn to the experience for deeply personal reasons, as I suspect many females are compelled to sports. For male athletes, sports is a place to develop a masculine identity and for camaraderie.

    Obviously I’m generalizing here but across a broader spectrum, we’re starting to see that four decades after Title IX, men and women are different even in this regard.

    We’re also at a very early stage of considering women’s team sports in a spectator context — not even 20 years. I wonder what this conversation might be like in another 20 years.

  3. Bern
    Posted February 14, 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    Well Played. That said I haven’t observed much overt support for your takes on what is really going on in women’s athletics either here or on WTS, which of course is a total head scratcher. To this point very few of your sportswriting sisters seem to have your back in spite of the fact I’m sure they are reading your content.

    As you note women are likely drawn to sports for different reasons than men are. You’ve stated beautifully why you were drawn to sports which certainly was more uplifting than Underwood’s motivation, but to each their own.

    Your observation that men and women are different is basic to these issues. Probably not something that the factions in power in the women’s sports establishment will ever acknowledge.

    Given the current political situation I don’t see any way to win a discussion about how men and women are the same with academic gender feminists. So I just want to do something about women’s ACL blow outs if I can.

    I don’t know exactly what needs to be done, but someone in authority in women’s sports needs to own this issue. If you think there is a way to get traction please write on it.

    There is a recent post on ESPNW about a Kansas women’s baller that just blew out her ACL and is lost for the season. I commented there. Hope you can take a look.

  4. melissa
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    I work with survivors of rape and molestation, most from fathers, grandfathers, step-fathers, etc.. most have either repressed the memories or have told no one, or told their mothers as children and where not believed, so I would say most never talk about what their rape, often starting as young as a year or younger.. If Quanitta wanted to talk about his then it may be part of her coming to terms with the abuse and often knowing herself why she went into boxing.. It must be a great place of power for her when as a child she felt powerless.. I am sure that the boxing world is filled with similar stories, but most will never tell even their families.. So, I say, the more that comes out he better chance that it will help others come forward with their stories… Good luck Quanitta….