My research is called obsolete, and I don’t even mind

Posted on Dec 29, 2011

Last night, The Star Tribune named Seimone Augustus “Sportsperson of the Year” and my partner told me, “I guess now your research is totally obsolete.”  It really wasn’t meant to be a cut on my research on media, gender and sport. Instead, it was meant as a tribute to of two aspects of this piece by sports journalist and long-time Tucker Center supporter, Rachel Blount. Here are the details from this piece that make me pause (and smile):

  • The importance of person: Female athletes are constantly compared to male athletes, “she’s nearly as quick as one of the boys” or “that move would almost work in the NBA.” These comparisons are back-handed compliments, always accompanied by an adverb (nearly, almost, not quite, about), and serve as subtle reminder of the male power steeped in sport. For Augustus to be named “Sportsperson”, not “Sportswoman” and for there to be no male foil, no Twin or Timberwolf (and how could there?!), points to the power of great performances and a season that brings home some bling.
  • The significance of significant other:Hidden below the fold, and on page 2 and 3 of the internet version of this story, Augustus’ fiancée is mentioned followed by the casual mention of a 2013 wedding. There are only a handful of female professional athletes that are publicly gay. For a long time, Sheryl Swoopes was touted as the only active and out WNBA player in the league (Swoopes is now married to a man). Now, Augustus seems to be holding the torch, or perhaps it’s just a candle, that flickers with the hope that you don’t have to come out in an exclusive interview with ESPN the Magazine. That being a gay athlete doesn’t cause a three-ring media circus. That you can just come out with some personal text tucked in the middle of article about being great athlete.

These points are what cause my research to be called “obsolete” and they are more than valid, they inspire me to thing that change is possible. However, my research on organizationally-authorized biographies requires a little more change. Below is Augustus’ biography from the WNBA website:

Born on Apr. 30, 1984, in Baton Rouge, La…. The daughter of Kim and Seymore Augustus… Ranked 6th among 214 student in the senior class at Capitol H.S. in Baton Rouge, carrying a 3.71 GPA in accelerated classes… Volunteered at the Gus Young Center in Baton Rouge… Received the “Community Service Award” during the 2001 NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet… Enjoys video games, fashion and classic cars, including Chevy Impalas from the 1960s.

There is no mention of Augustus’ significant other in this biography, compared to teammate Lindsey Whalen’s biography where her husband and wedding date are noted. It may be that this kind of personal text isn’t mentioned because Augustus isn’t married.

In my research of personal text in 1,800 organizationally-authored online intercollegiate coaching biographies, just two coaches with same-sex partners were found. Following the takeaways of this research, the “no mention” of significant other in Augustus’ online biographies is more likely due to institutionalized heterosexism and homophobia, than the fact that wedding isn’t until 2013.

However, because it’s almost a new year, and because I feel hopeful and inspired, I won’t make those charges just yet. I won’t call the WNBA afraid of the lesbian boogeyman and I won’t call on Augustus to demand her personal text be equal to Whalen’s.  I’ll wait for Augustus to officially tie the knot and see if a line is added to her biography. I’ll wait for that line before I draw my own.

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