Monday, January 7, 2008

Women's Sports: It's Only a Game...

Hope Solo, Cat Whitehill, Abby Wambach, and Natasha Kai all US National Women's Soccer Team players, did videos for Nike on women in sports. My thanks to Martynny, who is a great source of women's soccer videos; subscribe if you like that. For once, I'm not just posting videos for you to watch them; I'd like to discuss them. Is it me, or are the videos troubling?

It appears that the participation of women in sports is being linked to body image issues or equality issues. Even worse, it appears that women's sports can't exist without endless comparison and contrast with men's sports, even by the women themselves. Now, I understand that at first, when women were not getting access to courts and fields, it was necessary to push the equality issue to get them access to said fields. But haven't women's sports grown out of that phase? Can't we let the game be the game, without weighing down women's sports with all this talk of body image, equality, and being role models? The men don't have to bear such a burden. It seems as if the joy is being robbed out of women's sports. And quite honestly, that's a big reason I like women's sports. Their joy and enthusiasm seems so much more natural and refreshing than what I see in the men's game. Why not show that instead, Nike? Maybe there are female athletes out there who can give a better perspective on this than I have, but I don't like Nike's approach here. It seems to be building demand for women's sports on a platform of resentment, mistrust, pride, and envy rather than on the game itself.


  1. A variety of thoughts...

    As I watched, I was wondering if the players were asked a variety of questions and this was the editting done. Regardless, it is appearant that the women were edgy. To me, their tones and attitude spoke louder than the meanings. Is the tension because women's sports are still treated with inferiority or because they get asked these questions so much that it now draws out hostility. Well, it is probably caused by both and other reasons too.

    I definitely agree with you that we have passed the equality issue as far as women having the right to play sports. I'd go so far as to suggest that more people think women should still be in the kitchen than people who think women don't have a right to play sports.

    However, I think the physical issues will be called into question for quite a while. Have you ever seen a pregnant women exercise and wondered if she was doing harm? Even if it is a subtle thought, it will be there. Moreover, exercise can affect a women's cycle (but hey, can't a lot of things). I wish the body image issue (say, of becoming too muscular) were replaced with the criticism towards obesity. (No hostility meant towards individuals there, but this country does have a problem that needs addressed).

  2. First:
    Not to oversimplify, but I don't get it. If this is an advertisement to drive sales of Nike products - which, ostensibly, is always the goal of Nike (or any advertisement) - I don't see the link. These have a production sound/tone more like the commercials which you hear on the radio as being sponsored by (insert local organization) and The Ad Council.

    I think they may have been going for edgy, but the tones and words came across more as bitter sounding.

    MCB is correct. Other than Barkley's "I am not a role model" commercial, I cannot think of a male sports commercial off the top of my head with anything along that vein. Wouldn't it be much more effective to show them participating in their sports? Isn't that what the men do (aside from the humorous commercials, such as The LeBrons).

    Are we to believe there are not female athletes out there with a sense of humor who, properly packaged, couldn't show that side off?

    I am a bit cynical, but in the second clips (Cat), when the camera zoomed on the shirt, it also seemed to catch two profile shots of her breasts. The point was more to capture the word "athlete", but at the same time, if one of the goals is to discuss body image... does this help? There was a much more fleeting bit of this in the clip with Tash, which I only thought I caught after noticing it in the Cat clip.

    I still just don't see the point. If the goal is to convey a positive message about participation in sports, these certainly do not seem to be the appropriate method. There was a Propel ad earlier in 2007 - which I think is still on - using "Extraordinary" by Liz Phair in which a woman is cycling as the ground and road break beneath her, making a gigantic 45 degree like ramp. The tag is about Fit having a Feeling, and a Water. It seemed like a classic Nike-type commercial on the first viewing.

    Note: I really hope it was a Propel ad. If not, that kind of crushes my point about the effectiveness of it.

    Again, to my dollar-spending mind, this seems a more effective communication than kvetching of sharing fields with the opposite gender. Otherwise, it just comes across as "The sporting world is against you, but we understand. Buy our gear to give them the bird!"

    As always, maybe I misunderstand and do not "get it" because I am not the intended audience. It would not be the first time. But strictly from a consumer standpoint, this seems ineffective.

  3. If this were being put out there by someone other than Nike, I'd see the point. Young women still need to know that it's OK to deviate from the magazine-model image. But I really don't think Nike is interested in that so much as the appearance of being sportswoman-friendly, so they can sell some more gear.

  4. Mike, good comment about the players being asked questions. I'm suspicious now that what we watched were replies to specific questions asked by Nike staff. This is the danger of today's picture/video oriented society; what was edited out?! We'll never know.

    JB, I wonder about 4; I noticed that there was a deliberate attempt to make their names sound cute (i.e. "tash" instead of Natasha, etc.). Perhaps you are right. I wish Nike would follow the lead of the Mia/Michael Jordan commercials and show healthy play between two friends/competitors, rather than this solo stuff.

    Extra P., that's what was so annoying. I could understand if this was for a women's magazine, maybe. But even then, it would have been much more upbeat, right? This was just rather angry and taking advantage of beliefs to sell clothes. It's fine to use emotions to sell stuff. But, for example, if I would see Dwight Howard saying "The Lord makes me mighty and strong!" and then it cut out to a Nike logo...I wouldn't be proud of him. I'd be sick that his beliefs and the Almighty Dollar were being mixed that way. And then, should I feel guilty if I don't wear Nike's, because I'm deserting my fellow Christian Dwight Howard?! See, that's the unfairness of that ad; using strongly held beliefs and hate to coerce you toward product allegiance.