You know what kills me? As a woman writing about sports to other women, I often feel like I need to explain things. The Xs and Os of sports, the specified lexicon, the references to players past and present—I never know how familiar readers are with all of this stuff. My guess is it runs the gamut: Some of y'all would know a hook slide from a hook shot, others might not know Yao Ming from Willie Shoemaker. But my guess is more men than women would pick up on the lingo.
Writing for men about sports is easy, because then sports-oriented words and references serve as shorthand, instantly conjuring up all sorts of complicated feelings and narrative. It's efficient. It makes writing and reading about sports a rich exercise. For instance, I can mention Joe Louis, and for anyone who knows his story, that simple name brings up all sorts of issues and emotions about race, poverty, and American history. But anyone who doesn't know his story would think, Oh yeah, that old boxer guy. Or take the tale of the Rumble in the Jungle—holy crap, what an amazing American saga, again a boxing story about race, rebellion, and redemption, politics, prowess, and pride. Not to mention one of the coolest winning strategies ever employed: Muhammad Ali's Rope-A-Dope, itself a hell of a metaphor for all sorts of things.
So, yes, a sports tale involving "major" (read: men's) national sports, with all their colorful language and symbolism and touchstone allusions, can be as complex and meaningful as a David Foster Wallace novel. But from a young age, women get left out of the sports conversation. Girls are elbowed out of the discussion and pushed toward the softball field, which doesn't quite hold the same collective meaning for us as, say, Yankee Stadium. The sports page, with all its hot opinions and dramatic pictures and box scores (statistics are an special sports idiom), automatically goes to the males at the breakfast table—the females get "Home & Garden" or whatever the fuck they call the section with Dear Abby and Cathy cartoons. Women end up marginalized in Title IX sports ghettos where the more facile a woman's athletic ability is, the more it's seen as an instrument that siphons resources away from men's sports.
In the end, the conversation is closed: No one wants to talk about the women's college tennis team, even if it wins a national championship, but a winless football team still infuses everyday chatter.
So that means talking sports in an, er, arena such as this one gets tricky, because if I have to engage in a long exposition explaining the metaphor, the power of the metaphor gets taken away. And if I don't, then no one knows what I'm talking about. Either way, the story gets changed, and again we end up in a different conversation than the one society at large is having.
But screw it—I like the conversation we're having! It's fun, right, and it's our own. It's just time to make it one of many options, instead of a default. Let's work on that, shall we.
So here's an assignment: This weekend, rent When We Were Kings, the documentary about Ali and George Foreman's Rumble in the Jungle—it is an amazing, beautiful film not just about a storied boxing match but about a huge moment in American cultural history. Ditto The Fight, which is a part of PBS' American Experience collection, about the battle between African-American boxer Joe Louis and Nazi symbol Max Schmeling.
And then next week, let's talk.