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Thai women grab volleyball title; find focus on their looks

September 30, 2013 – 3:57 PM

By Mariah Philips

The elation of a surprise victory is universal – and infectious.

The emotion is so powerful that it doesn’t matter where in the world you are, what team it is – or the sex of the players.

Everyone loves a come-from-behind winner on the international sports stage, whether it’s America’s Cup or, as I discovered, the Thai women’s volleyball team grabbing victory by beating the Chinese and the Japanese.

When I pulled open the door of the cafeteria at Khon Kaen University in Thailand (I’m studying here for four months), the Thai women had just earned the surprise win and students, eyes riveted to the TV broadcast of the Asian Women’s Volleyball tournament, erupted in celebration.

I soon discovered that the mania was not just here. The tournament coverage seemed to overtake every TV screen throughout Isaan or the northeast region of Thailand.  Even in the most rural villages, I learned, families tuned in to watch the games. My host family in the small village of Huay Ra Hong in the Chaiyaphum province watched intently while my host father bragged about the team. Even in my limited understanding of the Thai language, I could feel his deep national pride – pride that was symbolized by these talented women.

Back on campus, it felt almost surreal seeing so much energy and enthusiasm toward a women’s team (check out the Bangkok Post: “Thailand Gripped by Volleyball Fever”) I’ll admit I even I felt little envy: Why wasn’t there this kind of excitement for women’s sports in the U.S.?

But as I followed the post-play coverage, my heart sank: Everyone was talking about how attractive the players were. Men joked in interviews that they were dating a player, wanted to date a player (or in some cases, had the audacity to ask a player out in the interview).

They weren’t intentionally malicious, but focusing so much on the physical attractiveness, the sex appeal, shifted attention from their gritty victory to their feminine appearance. (My Thai roommate said Facebook was ablaze with statuses focusing on how cute the players were).

It’s a tired — but annoyingly persistent — theme in women’s sports: Are the athletes being watched for their athletic skill or their sporting good looks?

It’s one thing to note an athlete is easy on the eyes — and another to see it dominate the post-victory discussion.

But what jarred me most was seeing the Thai women’s team, after their victory, drop to the floor and bow (or “wai” as it is referred to in Thai) as a sign of respect to their fans.

I don’t want to diminish the country’s support for this team, but how incredible would it be to see citizens mirror these players’ elegant respect?

Thai women's volleyball team wai (bow) after victory -- as caught on TV

Thai women’s volleyball team wai (bow) after victory — as caught on TV


Battle of the Sexes Puzzler: Throw the match to pay a debt? If Riggs had won, he would have gotten $100K in prize money

September 20, 2013 – 5:04 PM

By Laura Pappano

Exactly 40 years ago, over 30,000 spectators filled the Houston Astrodome and 50 million more tuned in on TV to watch “The Battle of the Sexes.”

Billie Jean King, a 29-year-old who would be #1 in the world for five years (winning six Wimbledon Championships and four U.S. Open titles), took on Bobby Riggs, a 55-year-old former tennis champion (he won Wimbledon in 1939), dispatching him in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

The question swirling around this anniversary: Was the match real?

Last month an ESPN report featured Hal Shaw, a 79-year-old former assistant pro at the Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club in Tampa, Fla. who came forward for the first time to share a big secret.  Shaw says that one night while he was working – a few months after the match – he overheard mobsters talking. His claim? Bobby Riggs owed $100,000 – so he threw the match against King to pay it off.

King has doubted this scenario, Riggs in 1995 took a lie detector test (and passed), and Gail Collins last month argued the absurdity of the claim.

One little focused-on fact: The match was a $100,000 winner-take-all contest. If Riggs had won, he would have walked away with the cash. (OK – Uncle Sam would take a cut, but still….)

Yet, the revived debate about what happened (we may never really know) is more interesting for what it says about gender equity and power.

In 1973, the match drew attention because of the context. Bobby Riggs had made a male chauvinist pig of himself to promote the event. “Women,” he insisted at the time, “belong in the kitchen and the bedroom and not on the tennis court.”

And you could replace “tennis court” with “boardroom,” “executive suite,” “corner office,” “high elected office,” “Supreme Court” – any number of positions of power. The contest was a big deal because women themselves weren’t so sure that Riggs wasn’t right.

When Billie Jean King won it awakened possibilities. (In 1975 when Seventeen magazine polled readers Billie Jean King was the most admired women in the world.) The win also surprised people – not that a tennis player in her prime beat a retired champion who may not have been in his best shape – but that a woman beat a man. No matter the contest (or position of power) men were always supposed to win. This disrupted the order.

Claiming that the match wasn’t “real” today sounds desperate.

Sure, it has sparked debate, but the lasting legacy of the anniversary may be that the meaning attached to that moment cannot be overturned. Billie Jean King changed people’s minds — and they are not about to be changed back.

Mom on son’s concussion: “It really affected him mentally”

August 10, 2013 – 7:39 AM

By Katie Culver

The risk of getting hurt is part of playing sports. We parents of athletic children understand that. But rising awareness of concussions presents a new avenue of worry. How can we spot a concussion and what can we expect if our child suffers one? I spoke recently with a mom I’ll call Kathy about her 12-year-old son, whom I’ll call Jack, who suffered a concussion last year.

FGN: How did you know that Jack had a concussion?

K: He came home from playing pick-up football the Friday after Thanksgiving and 20 minutes later started crying hysterically saying his head hurt. He had fallen backwards and hit his head after a two-hand-touch game turned into tackle. I called our pediatrician who told me to check for vomiting or pain in his eyes. He had none of these symptoms; just a bad headache. On Monday when I picked him up from school he was white as a ghost and complained that his eyes hurt, he had a terrible headache and could not concentrate in school. I took him directly to Bryn Mawr Hospital. They gave him a balance and memory test. The result: He had sustained a concussion.


FGN: What was the treatment? How long did it take?

K: We would go to duPont [Hospital for Children in Wilmington, DE] every two weeks for balance, cognitive and visual/memory tests. Because we didn’t have base-line testing done, his scores were compared to other 12-year old boys with similar grades in school [duPont required academic records to determine this]. Jack’s performance was very erratic until March, when he fell within the range of his peers. Then he had to complete a final three-hour test with a physical therapist to clear him to resume normal activity.


FGN: How did the concussion affect Jack in school?

K: Jack missed almost the whole month of December. He would go for two hours here and there and then I would have to pick him up. He could not read, couldn’t concentrate and had constant headaches. He missed his entire basketball season, which was heartbreaking for him. Once he returned to school in January, he had to check in with the nurse 2-3 times a day and often would lay down to rest. [NOTE: The symptoms and treatment are consistent with the Academic Accommodations for Concussion suggested by Premier Orthopedics and Sports Medicine].


FGN: What was the most difficult part of this experience?

K: The concussion affected him mentally. Jack is an outgoing, happy kid who is always on the go. The headaches made him not want to do anything and he couldn’t play video games with his friends, watch T.V.  or have sleep-overs. He was exhausted all the time. It really affected his psyche—he became depressed and actually had this really scary episode one night were he became hysterical and said he had this thought that he wanted to kill himself. He was mostly scared by the thought and didn’t actually feel like he was going to do it but was just totally out of whack mentally. When we spoke to the concussion doctor she said that was a really normal symptom—that she had 19-year old-guys bawling in her office and expressing the same desperation after concussions.


FGN: What advice would you give parents of a child with a concussion?

K: To have the base-line testing performed. And to wear any protective gear they have. I feel like I want to have Jack in a bike helmet at all times, which of course isn’t possible. But I am reminding him as soccer season begins what he can’t do and that he absolutely cannot head the ball. We went to an amusement park the other day and Jack had a scare in bumping his head while on a roller coaster. You don’t think about all of the possible situations. I hope we never have to go through this again.


Start of football, soccer = Concussion Season

August 9, 2013 – 7:38 AM

By Katie Culver

For many, the start of football and soccer season evokes the excitement of uniforms, new teammates, practices, and games. But doctors and parents endure another sort of anticipation: The arrival of Concussion Season.

Concussions happen in athletics year round, but with the greatest frequency in football, followed by girl’s soccer, according to a 2011 report in the American Journal of Sports Medicine (next are boy’s ice hockey and boys lacrosse).

Research is mixed, but some experts suggest girls are at a greater risk for sustaining a concussion possibly due to weaker neck muscles, smaller head mass — or higher levels of reporting in girls. What is clear: those who suffer a concussion are 3-6 times more likely to sustain another one. And those treated in a hospital are more then twice as likely to have another head injury within 12 months of the first.

This is obviously troubling and there is growing concern about the impact of multiple head injuries on children whose brains are not fully developed. Yes, equipment can be – and is – getting better. Football helmets can have monitoring systems that signal a too-hard hit. Some schools have begun doing “baseline concussion testing” that offers a snapshot of cognitive function for comparison in the event of a head injury.

I sat down to talk concussions with Stephanie Natalie, Certified Athletic Trainer at Premier Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Bryn Mawr, PA. Here’s what she had to say (responses edited for brevity and clarity):


FGN:  Has the number of concussions you treat changed in recent years?

SN:  The number of concussions treated has absolutely increased. The research is so much better and awareness is so much more widespread. The phrases “getting your bell rung” or a “ding to the head” has been deflected by the sports medicine world as people take the injury more seriously. Hearing  “concussion” or “mild traumatic brain injury,” which is how a concussion is classified, changes people’s perspective. The media has increased awareness especially around professional sports like football and ice hockey. Kids are also more willing to report symptoms because they are concerned about the long-term implications of having a head injury.


FGN: Which sports are the big ones for children getting concussions?

SN: An article published in 2007 in the Journal of Athletic Training compared data from the High School Reporting Information Online and the NCAA Injury Surveillance System across nine sports from 2005-2006. Football far overshadowed the eight other sports studied: boys’ and girls’ soccer, boys’ and girls’ basketball, volleyball, wrestling, baseball, and softball. The next closest sport was girls’ soccer. It’s certainly more likely for kids to sustain concussions in sports classified as “collision” and “contact” sports. But the risk of concussion is present in all activities to varying degrees.

FGN: Does gender factor into concussions?

SN: That same study pointed out that because of the size of the football team and the nature of the game, that boys may look like they are at a higher risk for concussions – but that is based on the game, the players, and their exposure to athletic participation. If you look at sports where both genders participation – like soccer and basketball – girls have a higher rate of injury than boys.

When it comes to treatment, every concussion is unique but the general plan for how athletes are returned to play is the same for males and females. In my experience, I do not see any differences in how we treat concussions based on gender. I also have not seen a huge difference in gender when it comes to reporting — I think the desire to report is more a function of mentality than gender. Unfortunately, the culture of sport encourages kids to play through injuries so many think the same way about a concussion.

TOMORROW: Q&A with mother whose 12-year-old suffered a concussion



New grad says “Lean In” lessons come with playing ball

June 21, 2013 – 3:29 PM

By Ashleigh Sargent

Of course we’re all talking about Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. There’s the public conversation about the gender gap in leadership in the U.S. (and controversy about some messages in Lean In) but as a recent college graduate and a female athlete, Sandberg has me thinking about how tools I gained on the basketball court and in class and can translate to the workplace.

Lesson #1: Don’t be afraid.

Sandberg says fear is often the biggest barrier to women’s success. Women tend to be more risk averse at work and reluctant to take on challenging tasks. As a result, they never gain key skills to advance – and lead. It doesn’t help that women internalize failure and externalize success — and so may not grab hold of chances they are given. This is where being an athlete helps. I have been coached my whole life to take chances, to push myself, and to be confident in my abilities. We learn to not be afraid to fail – to be proud of our wins, tuned to our weaknesses, and confident in our potential.

Lesson #2: Sit at the table and speak up.

Women must be present in the discussions, debates, or decisions made around them. (Sandberg uses “sitting at the table” to encourage women share their opinions in important decisions.) Speaking makes some worry that they will be perceived critically, but Sandberg argues that we must correct for this by encouraging and promoting more women. I know that as entry-level employees, recent graduates like me struggle with feelings of incompetence, but we must take any opportunity we can to sit at the table. As college athletes, we are trained to be assertive and confident – and to apply our skills to the challenge. We are used to speaking up as part of the team.

Lesson #3: Work together.

Sandberg reminds us of a popular Madeleine Albright quote: “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” Yes, limited opportunities for leadership look like they should create competition among women for positions. But, she argues, let’s break down stereotypes and barriers so that we increase leadership posts for women – not fight over the few that exist now.  I have a competitive drive as an athlete and want to be my best, but my own success doesn’t mean others can’t be successful, too. I dedicated myself to my college basketball team so that we could together improve and reach our goals. That team-focused mindset is what I hope that I – and my fellow new grads – can bring to the workplace and to the women who are already there.

Mortarboard moment: Sharing advice I got from Gail Marquis, Olympic superstar and Wall Street success

May 10, 2013 – 5:24 AM

By Ashleigh Sargent

Gail Marquis is a powerful woman in sports, business, and volunteer foundation work.  She won a silver medal as a part of the 1976 U.S. Women’s Basketball Olympic Team and played basketball professionally in Europe, before taking her competitive drive and spirit to Wall Street where she worked for 25 years. Marquis was recently invited to be on the Council of Advisors for the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) and this year attended the Commission on the Status of Women meetings at the United Nations as one of the Centers’ representatives.

I had the chance to talk to Gail Marquis during her most recent trip to Wellesley about her experiences as an athlete, a businesswoman, and a representative to the United Nations.  I will be graduating from college soon, and she gave me advice about how to take the skills I have gained as a collegiate athlete and apply them.  Here are some of her tips about building connections, expanding your influence, and figuring out where you want to go.

 Network: Let people know who you are and what you want. Don’t just observe what goes on around you. Ask good questions and don’t be afraid to speak up to give your opinion. Share your name when you speak in meetings so that people learn who you are.

Get related: While getting your name out there is helpful, you also have to get related. Don’t just learn people’s names. Figure out their story, their background, and their interests. Find ways that you are somehow related to them because then they will remember you.

Use your platform: Anything can be used as a platform. Nobody is one-dimensional, especially not athletes, so use your voice. The generation of people graduating right now has already started pushing the envelope about social issues and equality. We need to continue to do that.

Hear other viewpoints: Before you can understand your own views about any issue, you have to hear what other people think. Learn why they think differently than you do. This again involves asking good questions to figure out where they come from and what is important to people who are different from you.

Ask for help: Nobody is in a vacuum. You can’t do it on your own. Use the resources around you and don’t be afraid to ask other people to help you. Use the advice you receive and the connections you make to get where you want to go.

Get involved:  Take the experiences you have had and apply them. For athletes, take the desire, dedication, and discipline that you have developed throughout your life and apply it to your future – career, school, family, friends, etc. More women need to get involved in sports as coaches, administrators, or managers.  Women need to speak up for themselves and be proud of their accomplishments.

Good surprise: Final Four basketball not just for top seeds anymore

April 7, 2013 – 8:56 AM











By Ashleigh Sargent and Mariah Philips

What does it mean for a #5 seed team like Louisville to be in the Final Four? That favorite Baylor was out early?

Women’s college basketball fans seldom get to watch a regional seed lower than #3 make it to the Final Four. Sure, on the men’s side it’s fun, but not unheard of for teams like Florida Gulf Coast and Harvard, to have surprising success. The women’s side has been more – well – predictable. But that’s changing. It speaks to a deeper pool of talent, to the end of an era in which the same few teams were the only real national contenders.

It may not be exactly a wide-open field, but who saw either California or Louisville coming? Not many. That can only be a good thing for women’s college hoops.

That said, here are our predictions for the two Sunday match-ups.

#5 Louisville v. #2 Cal Berkeley

First of all, a team that beat defending champion Baylor demands immediate respect.  Louisville is a major contender, and given their momentum, we expect them to have yet another upset against the Bears of Cal.  Led by senior Shoni Schimmel, the team is incredibly invested in their own system with unrivalled team chemistry.  However, Cal is a team who has recently come out of the woodwork and is riding the tails of an impressive win-streak.  Led by senior Layshia Clarendon, a Wade Watch Trophy finalist who is averaging 22.5 points this tournament, Cal will not go down without a fight against the Cardinals.

Key Players Louisville: Shoni Schimmel, Sara Hammond, Monique Reid

Key Players Cal: Layshia Clarendon, Gennifer Brandon, Brittany Boyd


#1 UConn v. #1 Notre Dame

UConn and Notre Dame have already faced off three times this year, each one resulting in a win for the Fighting Irish.  History suggests that Notre Dame will take this game, but beating a strong team like UConn four times in a row is a herculean feat.  If all of UConn’s key players meet their potential, they are too strong to be silenced a fourth time.  The Huskies will look to Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Stefanie Dolson, and Bria Hartley to lead the way to victory.  This does not mean the Fighting Irish senior Skylar Diggins will give up her shot at a championship title for her last year at Notre Dame.  We expect this to be a close match-up, the winner of which we also predict to win the tournament as a whole.

Key Players UConn: Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Stefanie Dolson, Bria Hartley, Breanna Stewart

Key Players Notre Dame: Skylar Diggins, Kayla McBride, Natalie Achonwa

Our pick to win it all: UConn’s experience combined with their desire to avenge their losses to Notre Dame make UConn our choice to win the national championship. If UConn can overcome the fighting Irish, neither Louisville or Cal will be able to outmatch the Huskies.

Women’s NCAA Bracket: Vote with your pen and then talk about it

March 22, 2013 – 5:31 PM

By Laura Pappano

It’s March Madness and that means one thing: Time to vote with your pen, and rehearse your friendly trash-talking zingers.

The brackets are not just about the games, of course, but about the culture we create around the games. They are about the notice we give to female athletes, the ratings we create when we watch on TV or online, the status we convey when we bother to talk  about the drama in the final seconds of play.

This exercise is about knowing the names and the faces of the women because we certainly will hear about the men. This is about seeing and recognizing the display of moxie by female athletes in big moments. It’s a picture worthy of sharing with children and CEOs.

The women’s game may seem to hardly exist amid the explosion of attention given the men’s tournament.

Yes, many things are getting better. Media sources like The Bleacher Report now handicap the women’s tournament as well as the men’s. President Obama — famous for  his passion for the men’s game — has his women’s brackets all filled out.

But let’s do this — not for charity, but because it’s good play.

I don’t want to hear about problems with “parity” on the women’s side. So what if the same handful of teams are serious Final Four contenders? Look down the rankings be find the comers. There are strong players up and emerging teams worth our attention. Who will spot them first?

So, if you don’t have a bracket — get it here. Fill it out. And then tune in and talk it up.

In quest for equity, sports and combat are sisters

February 4, 2013 – 5:50 AM

By Laura Pappano

How perfect that National Girls and Women in Sports Day (who invented this cumbersome name?) arrives as the military prepares to lift it’s ban on women serving in combat.

The barriers that women have faced to such service sound like the battle for equal access and treatment in sport.

How so?

Just step back and consider that the barriers, the arguments against women have focused on three central ideas (the three “I’s”): the presumption of women’s physical inferiority, the perceived immorality of women serving alongside men, and worry that women would be injured.

Drop those three I’s onto sport and those arguments – inferiority, immorality, and injury – have been the rhetoric used to limit and bar women from equal access to competition, whether it was 1970s Little League or ski jumping (finally to be included in the 2014 Olympic games).

In many countries, girls and women still do not have access to regular sports participation. In many urban areas, strapped families do not value or can’t afford to let daughters play sports.

This is not merely a problem of fitness, but of political, social, and economic equity. Sport is not just about play, but about parity.

When President Roosevelt signed the G.I. Bill of Rights on June 22, 1944, the official text of his public statement recognized “service men and women” in the opportunity to resume training and education. Reality looked different. Even women who flew B-26 Marauder medium bombers on service missions could be declared “nonveterans” and made ineligible for benefits. Many in that generation of women didn’t get the government-funded college education they earned.

Women have been serving on the front lines. As the battlefield has become less clearly defined with danger available at most pay grades, it is  time for women to have the same access to assignments and the economic and career benefits that come with combat-level commissions.

There is grumbling. Worries about sexual harassment (immorality) fail to recognize that half  of the assaults are against men. That’s a problem of unacceptable behavior, not of gender. Injury? Unfortunately, women are already getting injured and even dying — alongside men.

The physical inferiority piece is more interesting. It raises questions of physiological differences and the relevant question: What do you really need to be able to do, physically, to perform?

In a recent NYTimes story exploring how military fitness tests will change with the new admission of women, we learn that those are all under review.  But Greg Jacob, former commander of the training school for enlisted Marines at Camp Geiger, N.C. points out that he saw women who couldn’t complete two pull-ups be able to pump out eight in a matter of months, “because they were training to that standard.”

Females have never before trained for combat. Just imagine what it will mean to have women push themselves physically to a new level. Remember the surge in performance following women being allowed to run the marathon?

Come to think of it, equal access to combat may be just the thing to bring women’s athletics to new heights.


Women’s Review of Books is 30 (and more relevant than ever)

January 30, 2013 – 12:15 PM

By Laura Pappano

wrobcover01_01_13In the introduction to the 30th anniversary issue of The Women’s Review of Books, editor Amy Hoffman makes that point that — yes — this many  years later we still need a forum for thoughtful, intellectual, political and passionate conversation about the meaning of gender in the printed, published, word.

As she writes in her message, which is cleverly headlined Now We are Thirty:

Disgracefully, even after forty years of the contemporary women’s movement, feminist scholarship and critical analysis, and women’s creative writing, receive little more attention in the mainstream media in 2013 than they did in 1983. Unlike in 1983, when WRB and our sister publications could cover just about every feminist work that appeared, these days university, small, and even trade publishers are releasing an outpouring of interesting, challenging, original books by women. Yet most of this is ignored by daily newspapers, glossy magazines, and book review publications like the New York Review of Books. When it’s not ignored, it’s often treated fleetingly or dismissively: and the well-deserved prizes and recognition [of] writers like Joan Didion (an NYRB regular), Adrienne Rich (lauded more enthusiastically after her death last year than she often was in life), or Louise Erdrich (winner of this year’s National Book Award) do not mitigate the situation.

I feel lucky to be a contributor to this anniversary issue with a piece, Gym Class Blues, which considers the new book, Active Bodies: A History of Women’s Physical Education in Twentieth-Century America (Oxford 2012) by Bucknell history professor Martha H. Verbrugge.

Feminist scholarship may not be the hot topic of the moment – either in universities or cocktail conversation — but there is no escaping its importance and, yes, relevance. How else do we come to make sense of the past and present?