Elayne Riggs' Journal (for Leah)

Saturday, May 24, 2003

On Leagues of Their Own

Robin informed me today that Annika Sorenstam missed the halfway cut at the PGA Colonia tournament. Depending on your choice of bias, she either leaves a hero having proven her personal goal of gender integration, however briefly; or she breaks just like a little girl. Says the latter site, "She shrugged, smiled and threw the ball to the fans. She knew the race was over. So she turned the stroll up the 18th fairway into a victory parade, as applause, cheers and wolf-whistles provided the percusssion." Cheers and wolf-whistles? We've come a long way, baby.

Now, I've professed in past entries (see April 5 and 6) to be in favor of gender integration in sports, not just at the beginning levels (like Little League, where it's already happened) but right on up to the pros. And I still do think that the lack of experience and encouragement at all these levels help keeps major sports from being gender-integrated. There's just something that strikes me as horribly biologically-deterministic about the argument that even the best female pro at some sport is only going to be as good as an average male pro, even with the continuing evidence in support of it. Because male pro sports are by and large still considered the Big Time, the only "real" sports - as opposed to "they just do it for the fun of it" sports, which usually translate into "you're not going to make a living doing this, girly!" And that's a lot of it for me, wanting to see women compete for big purses and green jackets and championship jewelry without, you know, having to buy them at Macy's.

On the other hand, if women's sports is starting to attract attention on its own at the professional level, I don't see any conflict between supporting those efforts and still hoping for more gender integration. Integrated leagues aren't for every woman; there's something cool about having a female safe space on the field and in the dugout and in the broadcast booth. Today I watched ESNP2's coverage of a game in the 2003 Women's College World Series that, looking at the website, was actually played yesterday. The site supposedly lets you follow the live games, but I can't seem to call one up even though they're presumably playing right now at the ASA (Amateur Softball Association) Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City. Anyway, I really got a kick out of it, there was the slugger named Veronica who has the same body type as me, and the phenom pitcher named Kari who pitched sixteen innings in one day (I didn't see the first game, I guess it must have been extra innings because softball only has 7), and the avid fans in the bleachers (the stadium draws over 45,000 spectators to watch this tournament every year) and just the pure heart and triumph and tragedy and all the wonderful things played out on those young and eager and real-looking and not-in-it-for-the-money faces. And as much as I think women's sports deserve and merit attention and live coverage and the wherewithall to afford players a way to make a living, I also found something very attractive about the lack of pretense. The whole thing had a very community feel to it. The women didn't even wear hats in the field. Don't get me wrong, they were fierce and edgy competitors and all, but they weren't there for the endorsements or the airtime or anything else that smacked of over-commercialization. And if that's the kind of feel that women's sports can engender, as much as I believe it ought to be blindingly obvious that talented women deserve to make a living at it, I also like the idea of leaguing it out on one's own. We've already seen it happen with basketball and golf and a few other big-money deals, let's hope it continues into sports I actually care about. :)

Oh, and after 40 years I finally came up with the only possible answer that would ever have made sense every time my father saw a talented woman Olympian or opera singer or pianist on television and asked me somewhat accusingly, "Why can't you do that?" Ladies and gents, if this ever happens to you, the proper one-word comeback is "Genetics."