I’ve never really been into sports. I have a petite frame. I’m not athletic. The other day I went on a hike and my legs are still burning a solid two days later.
I did gymnastics and swimming when I was younger, then tried on track during middle school. That was about the extent of my athletic “career.” I still run occasionally, but only for the sake of saying that I’m still active in some way.
Sports have never really interested me, and sports not interesting me has never been perplexing. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have a strong male figure, the typical sports fanatic, in my life growing up. Maybe because I didn’t really like spending hours upon hours watching other people move and have fun. Maybe because I go to an MU football game, or three, or 70, and it’s all the same war-chants and “kill the other team” mentality (in which case I’m just like what?).
However, when Braden Leap came in and guest-lectured about sociology and sport, my interest levels started jolting back to positive levels.
I like that we started off determining a common definition for the word sport: a social interaction with competition, rules and physical activity. Then I knew his next part was a trick question: what are a few sports?
The usual came up — football, basketball, hockey, soccer. Typical male-centric displays of athleticism. This was at the time that I was still working on a story about competitive dance, so I threw that one out there. But then came one that even I had to step back and think about. Can beauty pageants be considered a sport?
Welp. If we’re going with the definitions that we’ve outline previously, yeah, beauty pageants are most definitely a sport. But gosh darn if I didn’t feel a little woozy after having to admit that.
I think my initial reaction was that beauty pageants and other sports valued polar opposite things. On the one hand, you have physical appearance; on the other, you have physical ability. I’ve always been of the belief that engulfing obsessions with one’s physical appearance is self-indulgent and superficial. But then I began to think, well, isn’t athleticism in today’s world also the glorification of one’s body?
But maybe the latter is okay, because as we discussed time and time again during that hour-long period, typically athletic and aggressive sports are generally played and watched by men. So somehow their displays of physical appearance, matched with the war-like competition status of the game, make the sport all right. Hmm.
I found it especially interesting to learn that back in the day before the Industrial Revolution, sports were considered a frivolity. And yet, they still didn’t let women play. Double hmm. I couldn’t help stifle my laughter at the archaic belief that a woman’s uterus could fall out if she moved around too aggressively, or that engaging in rigorous physical activity would expend a dangerous amount of her energy, which was of course limited in the first place. What a world that must have been.
But then again, things might not be so different today, unfortunately. This week, there was a pretty big hubbub about NBA player Jason Collins being the first gay athlete to come out during his career. The Sports Illustrated article is, I have to say, a pretty inspiring and authentic account of why the man wants to come out here and now: for acceptance, for individuality, for just doing away with all the ignorance and prejudice. The fact that this is 2013 and this individual’s public announcement of sexuality is big news goes to show that in the world of sport, the masculine ideals are still going strong.
Even though I’m not a sports enthusiast, I’m an equal rights enthusiast, and this came as great news. I’m happy for Jason and hope that many will follow, to a point that determining a major athlete’s sexual orientation isn’t actually news anymore. It has absolutely nothing to do with how he or she actually performs, so why is it a big deal? It’s a big deal because sport is a hyper masculine institution, and that generalization marginalizes entire populations that are unable to demonstrate their own physical abilities because of the masculine barriers.
This news is bittersweet in more ways than one.
I think near the end of lecture that day, someone mentioned that Nike was trying to procure a deal to sponsor its first openly gay athlete in order to foster a more inclusive institution. Announcement was made that the sports apparel company signed with WNBA star Brittney Griner. The Jason Collins news came shortly after, with much more press attention, and some saying that he was, in fact, the first openly gay athlete in a North American sports association. A Mother Jones article points out the inaccuracy and says that proclaiming this rejects women’s leagues as part of the sports world.
This made me think about the issues revolving around female athletes and the assumption of homosexuality, and thus the push-back they might use to distance themselves from the stereotype. Was this piece of news not as noteworthy because a lesbian athlete is not surprising? Is her athleticism, which currently equates to masculinity, supposed to be tied to her sexual orientation? Am I the only one perplexed by this? Hell no. But I wonder if that line of thinking might be what’s at play here.
In any case, kudos and sincere applause for anyone — celebrity or simpleton, athletic or lanky — who has the gusto to face what is currently an exclusive society of heterosexuality. I’m excited to see what comes of all this, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll give sports another shot.