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Uniforms in the NBA vs. WNBA

Why do most athletes wear uniforms?

The expected answer is to identify with a team. All the players on the NBA’s Miami Heat, for example, wear the same uniform at each game—allowing them to be easily identified by both fans and teammates.

However, closer inspection reveals that not all players wear the same outfit. Compare these two, for example:

Lebron James        Chris Bosh

On the left, LeBron James customizes his outfit with a compression sleeve and an extra-thick, custom-made headband. Meanwhile on the right, Chris Bosh wears no accessories with the standard Heat uniform.

Why does this matter? Because LeBron and the other NBA stars who wear accessories are distinguishing themselves from the standard “role player” uniform. They are intentionally sending a message to their fans; the message is something like: “I am different than everyone else on this court.” In essence, they are asking for fans to root for them individually, instead of just for their team.

(The accessories, by the way, cause no performance improvement. They are solely for style—and perhaps mental comfort.)

Meanwhile, I looked through over two hundred pictures of WNBA players and found not a single picture of a female basketball player wearing any accessory. All dressed exactly as their teammates did, with few embellishments. Such style of dress emphasizes the stereotype that the WNBA is more of a team sport than the NBA—that women can be lauded only for what they do as a group, instead of their individual accomplishments.

While there are real problems with the current uniform in the WNBA, I do wonder if encouraging the athletes—especially the superstars—to separate themselves from their peers stylistically might encourage fans to admire individual WNBA players more, with a possible benefit of increased viewership.

— Matthew Chen (blog post #2)

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Improving Title IX – Drew Cosgarea (2nd blog post)

By and large, the passing of Title IX has stimulated a huge shift in the direction of social equality, especially in athletics. Across all collegiate divisions, female athletic participation has grown substantially and is continuing on a upward trend. That being said, Title IX is not the end game. While it has proven to be mostly beneficial, Title IX has some empirical flaws that are having a negative effect on female athletes; that of which need to be highlighted and compensated for.

In an interview with the coach of a female team at Stanford, some of the areas for improvement of Title IX became apparent. She mentioned that she has observed a few paradoxes resulting from Title IX. The law has provided many more positions for girls on teams, but she argues that more positions don’t always equate to more opportunity. She highlighted the fact that our athletic participation has grown substantially, but we have not increased the resources at the same rate. Subsequently, these resources are being spread thin, and athletes are generally getting a more “watered down” experience. In particular, she stressed the area of sports psychology. According to a member of the athletic training staff, “an alarming number of athletes note having had suicidal thought at some point in their Stanford career. Stanford has an incredible psychology program, yet our Athletic department doesn’t have a single psychologist on staff. The coach I spoke to cited many times when her team would have benefited from such a resource. When faced with having to compromise, she said she would love to see our athletic department channeling more resources into enriching the positions that already exist.

Perhaps a good extension of Title IX would also mandate a growth in health and nutritional resources to match added positions. This might cause programs to evaluate their priorities, instead of just adding positions to meet a quota.

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The Dangers of Disordered Eating Habits for Female Rowers – Elisa Graue

Most people are aware of the dangers of eating disorders. On the other end of the spectrum, however, some athletes do not have full-blown eating disorders and the dangers are less obvious. While anorexia and bulimia are more common terms people have heard of, there is growing evidence of the destructive consequences of disordered eating. Disordered eating may consist of “food restriction, excessive avoidance of certain types of food, or consuming fewer calories than needed for basic daily functions and sports activity.” It can include bingeing and purging, abuse of medicines and supplements (such as laxatives, diuretics, stimulants, and appetite suppressants). Although an athlete may not meet the criteria for a total eating disorder, her habits and patterns can have significant negative consequences.

The Female Athlete Triad is a syndrome commonly seen in athletic women involving an interrelationship between disordered eating, menstrual irregularity (amenorrhea), and low bone mass. The exact prevalence of the Triad is unknown, but studies have reported amenorrhea—the absence of menstrual cycles—in up to 66 percent of female athletes. The common misconception that missed periods are normal for female athletes as a result of training means that most people are not familiar with the Triad and it often goes undetected. In the most extreme accounts, female athletes with the Triad have a severe eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia, have amenorrhea, and have osteoporosis (severe low bone density). However, the consequences are still present with less extreme disordered eating habits. Most lightweight rowers are unaware of the long-term effects that their cycles of weight cutting and binge eating have on their health. The Triad is mainly an energy deficit issue: if you use more energy than you consume, your body adjusts to save energy. Studies show that when our energy availability is cut, levels of metabolic and reproductive hormones are altered, disrupting the menstrual cycle (Ackerman). For females, “90 percent of adult bone mass is acquired by age 16 or younger, and peak bone mass is achieved by around age 30.” Therefore, disrupting the menstrual cycle during early adulthood (i.e. cutting weight during college lightweight rowing season) means low bone mass and easier fracturing for life—bone mass cannot be recovered. In rowing, the most common injuries are rib stress fractures, and later in life, vertebral and hip fractures.

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Why do we even care? -Lili Thompson

     As I was writing my final paper (which is on how things such as male privilege and patriarchy exclude women from sports) I found myself thinking, mostly rhetorically, “Why do we even care?” Why is it so important that we include women in sports? Why should we stop using half-naked girls to advertise sports (and other things)? The answer is because the things that we see in sports are often seen in greater society. The two are most definitely linked. Most young kids play some type of sport at least once in their lifetime, and when they learn that the exclusion and degradation of women is okay, that has the ability to stick with them when they move outside of the sporting arena. Often times, change has to come on a small scale before it can be implemented on a larger scale. One point that I made in my paper was the NBA allowed Black players to enter in 1950, fourteen years before The Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964. Now am I saying that the NBA’s actions caused The Civil Rights Act to be passed? No, of course not. But I do believe that small-scale change in an arena as integral to society as sport has the ability to effect the way people think about things such as equality and inclusion. 

     Aside from the fact that men and women should have the same opportunities in sports, the “spill-over” benefits from making changes are also very valuable. As an athlete, I never want to feel like my contribution to the world is exclusively to my sport. Being a valuable member of society means helping to implement change when you see an injustice. I think that improving athletics is a great way to get the ball rolling on improving our society as a whole. 

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Women in Control – Jordan Duval-Smith

In mens rowing, women are allowed to be on the team as coxswains.  The coxswain is the small leader of the brawn.  In charge of steering, motivation, and strategy, the coxswain is in a weird position of telling these large rowers what to do, while doing no physical work for themselves. I am a coxswain for a womens team and have been since I started coxing 7 years ago, but I’ve always been curious about the dynamic between women coxswains and male rowers. 

The original reason women were allowed to act as coxswains for mens teams is the weight requirement for coxswains.  For mens boats, the coxswain should try to weigh 120 pounds which can be hard for a man to weigh.  Today, mens coxswains are about half men, half women.  I’ve wondered if there is any difference in the sexes that shows up in their coxing style.  Also, I wonder if the rowers respond differently to men than to women coxes.  

I would imagine that men would prefer to be yelled at and motivated by men.  Men tend to be more agressive and have stronger voices. Men might command more respect from men which is a crucial part of being a coxswain.  The rowers are facing backward while the coxswain faces forward.  Therefore, the rowers must trust the cox to steer straight and call the race plan depending on where the boat is one the course.  When I was a freshman, I knew I had to gain the respect of the older girls because I would be telling them what to do in the boat, and I would need them to respond to my calls and trust my calls. I did that by working out with the girls and showing them a strong work ethic.  What would girls do on a mens team to gain respect of the guys? And is it different than something a mens coxswain would have to do?

This topic also makes me think about the topic we covered in class about women in coaching positions.  Are the reasons women are leaving coaching something that can shed light on the relationship between men and women coxswains? Women left coaching when the positions started getting paid and men started taking the positions.  Men were viewed as more knowledgeable and having more experience at the higher level. In rowing, a coxswains skill depends on natural leadership ability as well as how long they have been working as a coxswain.  In the end, it probably only comes own to which coxswain is more capable, but I still wonder if the men rowers have a preference.

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Women around the world and the importance about the discussion about women in sports. John Flacco

Throughout this quarter we have had many reasons come up to why women in sports are important, why it isn’t just a trivial matter, but rather a topic that has repercussions in the lives of women in all facets of life. Recently we had a discussion about the environment for women in countries around the world, and that is when I heard what I feel like is the most important topic come up thus far for why women in sports is important: it empowers women directly and can help change how men view women. In the world there are countries where women are perceived as lesser than males and are victims of corrective rapes and have restricted rights. To these women, playing sports is far from their minds, but what the discussion of women sports does in the U.S. effects them. It effects them because by changing the minds of how men perceive women in the U.S. using sports can be used as a model to be used in other countries to do the same. 


Conversation about the Differences in Coaching Men and Women – Drew Cosgarea

While I ended up eventually pursuing a different topic for my final research essay, I originally was set on writing about the difference in coaching men and women. Why do we some coaches have significantly more success with one gender over the other? Obviously, some considerations coaches must take into account when coaching males or females. The question then becomes, which of these considerations are necessary due biological differences, and which have been stimulated by old stereotypes? 

A little research revealed that there are some differences in the brain chemistry of men and women. The Women’s Sports and Fitness Foundation in conjunction with Sports Coach UK published a report detailing some of the psychological aspects where men and women differ.  In the report, there highlighted several categories where men and women tend to diverge. First, they suggest that women have the ability to see things from a “whole brained perspective,” while men follow a “linear perspective.” Second, men tend to respond to stressful situations with more aggressively with “fight or flight,” while women show more of a tendency to emotionally process before reacting. Third, they suggest that women are more interested emotional connections, while men are more interested in material items. Fourth, they suggest that male survival strategy is founded on “competition”, while a woman’s is founded on connections and relationships. While I’m not at liberty to confirm or deny the validity of these reported “hard wired” psychological differences, assuming they are valid, theres no doubt that coaches need to take them into consideration when optimizing the performance of an athlete who may be under stress. If the above findings are true, they would be an example of biological tendencies that coaches would need to consider.

In contrast to prior paragraph, there are also times when coaches have to compensate for differences that are not natural, but rather the negative effects of gender stereotypes. In an interview with a coach of both male and female athletes, I learned that the female athletes tended to be less confidant in their abilities than the males. While only a small sample size, this can be the result of rooted societal stereotypes that sports are intrinsically masculine. If coaches have to compensate for this confidence gap, this would be an example of stereotyped tendencies that coaches would need to consider.