Monday, August 25, 2014

What Does Mo'ne Davis Say About Women's Athletics?

TigerBlog ate at the Olive Garden Saturday night.

It's not his usual first choice of a place to eat. He's not a big fan of chain restaurants.

Still, in fairness, it was better than he thought it would be. The salad and breadsticks are the draw, of course, and his meal was pretty good too - a grilled chicken with vegetables and cannellini beans.

Miss TigerBlog wanted to go there to celebrate her recent birthday, and she brought six of her friends with her. TigerBlog was not invited to eat with them, though he was invited to pay the bill.

About the only permissible conversation that TB was allowed to have involved television. One of the girls - Nell - is binge-watching "Grey's Anatomy."

Oh, and the coming of the school year. All seven girls are a few days away from the start of their freshman years of high school, and they have the usual anxiety that would be expected from 14 year old girls who are about to go to high school. You know, what to wear, where to sit for lunch, that sort of stuff.

Nell, a bit more low-key than the average ninth-grade girl, said it's just the next year of education, in an effort to downplay things. Amy, speaking for the rest of the group, said that she was okay with the education but would prefer that it started two hours later each day.

Five of the seven girls are already fall sport athletes, even before their first class. Nell and Amy are field hockey teammates of MTB's, and oh, by the way, in the interest of being factually correct, MTB has scored all three of her team's goals in its two scrimmages.

One subject TB tried to engage them in was the recent success of Mo'ne Davis at the Little League World Series and what if anything they as young female athletes took from it. TB got nothing back from them.

Maybe it's because it's not something they were focused on. Maybe it's because they didn't watch or really care. Maybe they did have strong opinions but didn't really feel like sharing them with TB. Who knows.

TigerBlog is fascinated by the whole Mo'Ne Davis story. First of all, she was a dominant pitcher, that's for sure. Whether she can or wants to continue in baseball is not the point. As a 13-year-old on the Little League level, she was at times untouchable.

And she has great poise. Think about what she became in a short time. She went from just wanting to play baseball to being the biggest story in the country, with her every move chronicled by ESPN and her picture on the cover of "Sports Illustrated."

TigerBlog hates the Little League World Series, precisely because of where all those kids are right now. It's possible that the highlight of all of their lives is already behind them, and it shouldn't be that way when you're 12 or 13.

And TB hates what television does to the event. Year after year, kids who are not ready to handle that kind of spotlight are thrown into and then discarded when their team loses or when it ends, thrown back into the word of middle school, some having to face their classmates after last being seen crying and breaking down on national television after an error or strikeout or a loss.

This year was different though, and it was because of Davis. When TB was in Conte's last week, the game that Davis pitched and lost to Nevada was on the television. The group of late teenagers - mostly males - was watching intently.

So was TB. Maybe not intently, but it was the only part of the LLWS he watched. And it was because of Davis. And he wasn't alone: Davis drew record ratings to ESPN.

And it begged the question - was it because she was a girl?

TB isn't sure.

He's read a lot about the gender issue and Davis, including a column from Sally Jenkins in the Washington Post that seemed to TB to miss the point of everything and have an incredibly silly thesis. Her point seemed to be "neanderthal men continue to keep women's sports from being relevant," which TB can't disagree with more.

She also wrote about a marathon in Minneapolis in which the top woman finished 45th overall and therefore beat thousands of men, but the men of the world deemed it unworthy to mention that fact, only that she was first among women. Is she trying to say that women should compete directly against men, without any separation by sex? In that case, who would ever care who finished 45th in a marathon?

If anything, it's the separation by sex that makes women athletes relevant, not the other way around. Yes, maybe there are a handful of Mo'nes out there who can compete with their male counterparts head-to-head, but there aren't many.

Niveen Rasheed is one of the most exciting athletes TigerBlog has seen at Princeton. Had there just been one basketball team here, instead of a men's and women's teams, she never would have had the chance to show how exciting she could be.

TigerBlog has never understood the logic that says that women's sports won't be truly accepted until the male audience agrees that the women's athletes are as good as the men's athletes or that women can compete head-to-head with men. Why would that matter in the least?

A column like the one that Jenkins wrote downplays how far women's athletics have come in the last 40 years or so. Go to a Princeton women's basketball game this fall and see for yourself. Count the number of men and boys in the stands.

For that matter, women's basketball here outdraws 16 of Princeton's 20 male sports (football, hockey, basketball and lacrosse all outdraw women's basketball). What does that tell you?

It tells you how far women's athletics have come in the consciousness of the sporting public. That they're not 100 percent equal with men's sports in terms of national interest? Feminists can drive themselves nuts bemoaning that aspect of it, in much the same way that TigerBlog can tell Major League Baseball fans that lacrosse is a much better sport to watch and not have it matter to them. 

If anything, Mo'ne Davis shows how rare it is that a female athlete can compete head-to-head and beat her male counterparts, and that's a big part of why it became such an event. But so what.

It's not about that. It's about opportunity.

There are so many women athletes who didn't have the opportunities that MTB and her friends take for granted, and the ones who competed here decades ago who paved the way for the girls who play today are real heroes.

TigerBlog was at MTB's scrimmage the other day. The game was scoreless in the second half, and the play was down in front of her team's goal. Someone whacked in down the field, and MTB outran two defenders on the other team to get to the ball first. She pushed it ahead a few times and got it into the circle. Then she drove it past the goalie, with the resulting crack of the field hockey ball against the back of the cage.

It required speed, coordination, strength and determination to pull it off. Does it matter that boys her age are faster and stronger? Not in the least.

TB has watched way more girls' and women's sports than most people - probably, he'd guess, than Sally Jenkins even. You know what's missing from them?


If Mo'ne Davis is better than most boys her age, that's great. If a small percentage of women's athletes are the same, great.

It doesn't take anything away from the rest of them that they're not, anymore than it takes away from the fact that more people watch baseball than men's lacrosse.

So stop whining about it. Go play. 

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