Category Archives: sports

Dear San Antonio Spurs

Dear San Antonio Spurs,

Can you please, please finish this tonight?

We have a son graduating from high school at 5:30 pm on Thursday, and a party for about 35 people at our home immediately thereafter. We need this to be settled tonight, or there will be conflicting allegiances in this home on Thursday. If we manage to wallow through the mud to get to chairs and bleachers on the high school lawn, we and our guests should be released by 7:30. We will not be watching game 7 at 9 pm, so though I feel disloyal, I have to wish for a Spurs Cinderella finish tonight.

During NBA halftime, I am back to watching the US versus Honduras qualifying match. The starter-missing Honduran players are acquitting themselves beautifully. It’s all about the goalkeeper, says keeper mom (me!) The young Honduran keeper saved a PK and its rebound. Altidore did just score an offsides goal, but the official score is still 0-0 “at the hour mark.” And the controversial hand ball call. The US beginning, unsurprisingly, to dominate, its back to the Spurs versus Heat.

In case anyone wonders why someone so apparently concerned with climate change, ethics, social justice, and world hunger cares about soccer and basketball so much, it is not only because my children played, and played very well. True, I am in mourning over my lost boy (lost only to soccer.) But I worry about world hunger, gun control, human rights, Syria, and my partially-written dissertation, and have to turn it off somehow. Fast-paced sports does it. I just want good soccer, so I can’t be thrilled at all the wealthiest nations back again. US versus Germany? Zzzz!!!

Now back to basketball! The game could not be closer. Closing now with Miller’s four fouls, as the game turns back to San Antonio. I have to confess that I am sometimes a little hazy on names and their associated places. I was really enjoying the fact that a city like Seattle was playing a team from Miami. Oh. those are the Seattle Sonics, and I confess to not knowing which players are on that team. San Antonio versus Miami, two sunbelt teams contending for the title, is a bit less dissonant.

Back to the game!

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The Raw and the Cooked: Boxers in Gym Class, Oh My!

The Raw and the Cooked, an iconic work in linguistics and anthropology by Claude Levi-Strauss, demonstrates the oppositional categories that we firmly hold in our minds. The mind/body conundrum is one with which I have wrestled a bit here. Why does this matter? Ignoring the entire grey scale, or should I say “brown and beige scale” in between black and white, is a relevant example. Categorizing people as either black or white, as either male or female, without recognizing intermediate positions, is a widespread form of social oppression.

Naked and covered, or naked and dressed, is also such a category. Why does this matter in the Western world? At a time when many of our young people are being criminalized for nonviolent, victimless crimes it does. The widespread incarceration, largely but not exclusively, of minority youth, damages the fabric of our society. No youth of any race, ethnicity or skin tone is immune to this all out for-profit war on the young. Privatized prisons profit from the captive bodies of our young people–primarily black and brown males–slavery of our times. A new book on this subject is The new Jim Crow : mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. (I am in line to borrow a copy at the local library, so have only heard parts and read reviews to date.) The facts, not just statistics, but facts, are appalling: we are the most incarcerated nation in the world. Not so many years ago, young male bodies were a commodity sent to Vietnam. Today, there is an illusion that those serving in the armed forces do so by choice: some do; some don’t. Those of low socioeconomic status may have no other option, and gamble with their very lives when they “voluntarily enlist.” The voluntary enlistment of guardsmen and women, forced to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan, is most certainly a fiction.

Today my subject is not quite as dramatic, but may, nonetheless, severely impact the future of a high school student. If hearsay is correct, a young man changing in the gymnasium of our public high school has been charged by police with sexual harassment. If these charges are upheld, he will become a registered sex offender. I know nothing about this student other than that he is 18, and will thus be charged as an adult. If he must register as a sex offender, his prospects of future employment, not to mention his reputation, are at stake.

This is the sort of overreaction to any minor infraction that makes it nearly impossible for young people to negotiate the world today. The offense this young man committed was not one of public nudity, but of changing from pants to gym shorts while wearing boxers. Boxers and men’s bathing suits cover the same areas of the body. Police involvement in a high school student’s efforts to get to class on time and be changed for PE so as not to lose credit, is yet another symptom of our societal need to control every minor nonconformist act of the young.

A recent New York Times article by Erik Eckholm reported that criminologists agree that police presence in high schools does not prevent crime, but does funnel many students into the courts (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/12/education.) Student behaviors typically brought to the attention of the principal or vice principal are now matters for law enforcement, and high school students are caught early in the dysfunctional loop of our criminal justice system.

My older son, who graduated from the local high school six years ago, reports that he routinely changed from shorts to pants in the gym, and that there was neither reaction nor repercussion. We must turn down the spotlights trained on non-violent behaviors of young people, occasionally trying to scramble over the virtual barbed-wire fence that education has become. We must save that energy to pursue corporate offenders whose actions have systemic, adverse social effects. There is no one too small to fail. Let us concern ourselves instead with the corporations above the law because they are too big to fail. Much effort is being put into anti-bullying campaigns, and rightfully so. These efforts are focused on preventing harassment and sexual assault among students. Yet adults, and a criminal justice system spiraling wildly out of control, bully an even greater number of young people.

Let us hope that the person “harassed” by the sight of a young man’s boxer shorts recovers in short order. Let us also hope that any person harassed by this sight never turns on the television, watches a movie, or opens a newspaper or magazine, wherein young men seductively attired in tight underclothing routinely appear. Let us hope that this nonsensical incident has already been laid to rest, and that this young man is able to pursue his post-graduation plans without interruption or blemish on his record.

Brandi Chastain: Role Model

Brandi Chastain IconicBrandi Chastain is, to understate the case, an accomplished soccer player. She is best known for her game-winning goal, a penalty kick, against China in the 1999 Women’s World Cup. After scoring the winning goal, Chastain whipped off her jersey and fell to her knees in a celebratory pose male soccer players often strike. The sight, not of Chastain’s bare chest, but of Chastain’s sports bra became an international subject of debate, her spontaneous act defining for a time, her career, but also opening the conversation of women as athletes. Male soccer players routinely show bare chests without commentary, so why the furor about a victorious, but not seductive, pose? Chastain’s “sports bra seen round the world” (Jere Longman, NYT, 5 July 2003) offered more coverage than does the top of many a cheerleader televised during professional sports broadcasts. The bare female body and the bare male body occupy different spaces in our communal cultural imagination. Chastain’s removal of her shirt, not to seduce or titillate, but to celebrate a victory, was outside of the norm. Once she had donned a soccer uniform, Chastain was an “athlete,” no longer a “woman,” so it was shocking to many to see the sweat-soaked bra revealed.
Authorized nudity is acceptable, but unauthorized partial nudity, not designed to pleasingly display the beauty of the female form is unacceptable. The practice of putting little girls in two-piece bathing suits that cover their nipples–at an age when girls’ nipples look no different from that of their male siblings and peers–is part of our early indoctrination into this double standard. There are no soccer or basketball games in which girls or women spontaneously play shirts and skins. Standards of dress and beauty take much spontaneity out of the lives of women.

In Germany and Sweden, and in many areas of Western and Eastern Europe, men and women, old and young, wear tops or not, as they like at the beach and at public swimming pools. Grandmothers and grandfathers’ bellies spill merrily over the tops of bikini bottoms and tiny Speedos. Let the rebellion spread West! Why should women concern themselves with stomach fat after child-bearing or from medical causes (or beer-drinking) when many men do not concern themselves with stomach fat from medical causes or beer-drinking? Public pools and beaches should be zones of tolerance, where everyone present can let it (almost all) hang out.

The higher standard of beauty applied to women in the U.S., and against which it is incredibly difficult to rebel, is costly to women in terms of time and money dedicated to the pursuit of beauty. Appearance continues to define women in the U.S. in ways which it does not define men. Though I have staged some minor rebellions–no nail polish, no makeup whatsoever when I was younger–I too am guilty. No matter how I detest the neologism “mani-pedi,” and avoid nail salons, I fall prey to other travails and delights of fashion and vanity. Painting a wall the perfect color is satisfying, and so is putting together an outfit suitable to the occasion, and in which I feel comfortable and attractive. Despite assiduously refusing to subscribe to fashion magazines, I am a person to whom appearance matters. I have internalized dubious external standards. This internal divide is a source of stress. Though I do not aspire to wearing batik muumuus, and am comfortable with my generic sporty style, I wish I just didn’t care! Circe, who is almost always nude, had more time available and became an accomplished sorceress. She may not, however, have risen to her iconic, mythological station had she not seduced Odysseus.
Of all organizations, the ultraconservative Whig-Cliosophic Society of Princeton University (don’t ask, Google, or go to the MUDD Archives for primary source material) recently featured a panel that debated “Are women limited in our society? Does Freud’s claim that “Anatomy is Destiny” hold any weight today?” What is your view?