Category: Sport

Too Close to Home: Thoughts on Domestic Violence, the NFL & Much More…

I am a survivor of domestic violence.

What follows are my thoughts based on such an identity, position, and worldview.

While the physical scars have long faded, it’s undeniable that the emotional and psychological scars that remain. Specifically, I know all too well what fear feels like on a regular basis. The out of your control ambiguity causing you to be hyper-aware and make decisions of your every word and action to not set the other person off, which can be a constant moving target. As a child growing up in this environment it often felt like a carousel of highs, lows, and so-so moments all in one day or week. Now after various forms of therapy (I cannot emphasize enough the importance of mental health and how addressing my own has aided in my intentional-driven life that I now frame as a lovelution.), this cycle of violence felt more like a hamster wheel that I could never get off until it came time for me to leave for college when I finally felt in control, free, and safe.

While this is the first time I have written publicly about this dimension of my identity, I can no longer remain silent about a topic—domestic violence—that is too close to home. I was hopeful when our country was highlighting (though in a sensationalized way) the intersection of entertainment, masculinity, and violence just a few weeks ago. However, in the time that it has taken me to gather my thoughts, it seems the gravity of the various situations that have surfaced have since faded with the official start of the NFL season.

Ultraviolet_Response to Ceelo GreenEven though the emphasis has been placed on the microcosm of sport and specifically, the NFL; about a month ago, the focus was on Singer-songwriter CeeLo Green and his outrageous tweets justifying rape. Since I will not give space for the misogyny of women here on this blog, I will instead share the UltraViolet info-graphic to continue to raise awareness.

The point is that women (and girls) are under attack not just in the U.S., yet sadly, worldwide. Thank goodness there are intelligent and powerful women (e.g. Oprah, Lisa Ling, Alicia Keys, Beyonce, Chimanada Adiche, and the list could go on…) that have and continue to bring voice to this continued cultural and societal norm. All of this is to say, I feel uniquely positioned to weigh in on this current scenario involving sport and domestic violence.

For those unfamiliar with the series of events that have led to Ray Rice’s indefinite suspension, I recommend viewing this timeline.

Janay Rice Instagram Statement_140910

Click to read

First off, my hats off to Jason Whitlock*, who’s commentary—Airing Rice video assaults wife again—got it right in terms of the media’s role in creating the nightmare that Janay Rice (wife and then fiancé of Ray Rice) mentions in her recent Instagram post. I start here because reading his words and in particular, those shared by a friend of his, who also identifies as a survivor, finally put into words what I struggled to name days or even months ago when the first video of the incident was released.

Although I cannot begin to understand the experience of why as women we often choose to stay in these scenarios for indefinitely or far too long [see #WhyIStayed for further insight], I recognize without judgment that the complexity of self-esteem, shame, control, guilt, trust, blame, and love is difficult to untangle. This is what I see when I read Janay’s statement. I feel a deep sadness for her, not just in what she and so many experience, yet that it’s all playing out publicly.

Seeing these videos triggered for me a replay of my own experiences of observing and experiencing violence at the hands of my father. I know all too well that the system is full of red-tape and that a formal charge is not needed to validate or end the experience of violence. In fact, often from my experience involving the police just fueled the fire for the cycle of shame, guilt, and control to continue. While I’m still undecided if it’s our employer’s responsibility to hold us accountable for our personal actions resulting in disciplinary actions, I can’t help but pause knowing that San Francisco 49ers player Ray McDonald will be able to continue to play with no consequences until charges are made for allegedly beating his pregnant wife (see the latest here).

What?! Sigh…

I recognize I have mentioned only two of the prominent incidents that have recently surfaced and that such cases are not mutually exclusive with professional football players. The truth is that I’ve been feeling quite ambivalent about football (and professional sports in general) even prior to these recent events. And now, I have even more reason to not spend my precious time watching football and showing my support of the NFL, which is the same sentiment I shared when the Oakland Raiders called me about purchasing tickets this season.

Instead I advocate for the NFL (as well as ALL while, male and economically-privileged professional sport organizations and owners) to use their social position and economic power to assist in shifting the public’s thinking to create a form of restorative justice—that focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders/perpetrators (guilty or alleged) through reconciliation with victims and the community at large—versus turning a blind eye on the topic (see article). I share the sentiments of my friend Sheneka Williams, who recently posted the following comment on Facebook:

I will advocate for the NFL to examine the correlation between aggression and their players. I will also advocate for therapy for NFL players who have deep rooted issues. These issues are prevalent in childhood, but they are ignored because of the individual’s athletic skills. We see this every day in Little League. So, let’s take this back to K-12…

That said, I WILL choose to boycott the NFL this season, who in my mind has made a clear stance of protecting women’s breasts (just think about their clearly visible support of breast cancer) over the physical safety of women (and those who are associated with their organization, yet fail to bring them a profit). I recognize this might seem like an oversimplification, yet the point is we all have a choice as citizens and consumers of the world what and who we will support in our everyday action.

 Click 2 Tweet:
In the end, there’s always a choice. ~ Unknown

What will you choose?

Please share your comments below and TAKE ACTION: Sign UltraViolet’s petition asking for key NFL Sponsors to drop their support!

In solidarity,

Jillian Sig with Heart

 

 

Back 2 School: The Link between Sport + Education

With Labor Day behind us, summer is officially over and kids, teachers, administrators, and parents alike have begun a new school year. For sport fans, this means the return of both the interscholastic and intercollegiate sport season. Everyone from youth leagues to high school teams to collegiate athletes are preparing for their respective season in some capacity, which also means the return of balancing between life as an athlete and a student. This got me thinking about the connection between education and sport, and in particular, should one identity take precedence over the other?

I’m of the belief that one should not come before the other nor should they be prioritized as if one is more important. In fact, I know it’s possible to do both well since I am who and where I am today because of my experiences as a student, an athlete, and as a student-athlete. With both requiring practice, discipline, commitment, persistence, and support from others, there is no doubt I gained these life skills and much more, which continue to serve me in both my personal and professional life.

My interest on this subject and the binary it creates was reignited by my current reading of Mahiri & Van Rheenen’s (2010) new book, Out of Bounds: When Scholarship Athletes Become Academic Scholars. In the opening page of the book, they quote how Wideman (1992) “suggested, ‘Our current popular culture would be incomprehensible to an outsider unless he or she understood basketball as a key to deciphering speech styles, clothing styles, and metaphors employed by kids, politicians, and housewives’” (p. 1). They go on to argue that with “the pervasiveness of sport in our lives and imaginations […] spear-headed by athletic icons that inspire us to ‘be like Mike’” (p. 1) or to ‘Go, Girl, Go!,’

The athletic body [becomes] a cultural text [that] is also subjected to particular kinds of readings in the context of schools, readings that invoke coded and often contradictory conceptions of mental and physical divides, of masculinity and femininity, of pleasure and pain, of agency and identity, of race and social class. (p. 2)

In order words, as athletes, and especially as student-athletes, we are subjects who are often treated as objects that are stereotyped and expected to fit a mold. What’s more, these expectations play out based on context, ability, gender, sexuality, power, race, and economic status. It’s clear from what I have read thus far that the book will discuss both the “constraints and possibilities of athletes moving beyond boundaries and trajectories of sporting practice to become professional scholars,” yet that is not what I want to discuss here. Instead, I would rather illuminate how the capacity of individuals, leaders, and institutions needs to operate better to support a student-athlete’s “intellectual and physical growth and development” (p. 2).

On the individual level, I must give a shout out to the physical education teachers—my partner being one of them—who teach our youth that physical activity and fitness is not only fun and can be shared with family and friends but also can be experienced for a lifetime. These are the same teachers who don’t use students as targets (yep, that’s right…no dodge ball) and aim towards teachings a standards-based curriculum during a time when programs are being cut left and right due to funding and/or a steadfast focus on standardized tests. Furthermore, coaches and physical education teachers are not necessarily interchangeable and it must be stated that knowing a sport or having a love for sports doesn’t automatically make one a teacher. I argue we must hold those who educate our youth whether in the classroom, playing field, or court to a higher standard that ensures the kind of growth and development mentioned above.

In terms of leadership, I wish I had a tangible example to share as none are coming to mind. Yet, I believe that developing leaders for social justice in both physical education and sport is one answer. What’s more, I think using literacy as a tool to do so could be critical to creating holistic human beings who also happen to be students and athletes. Sport teaches us so much about ourselves; why not also improve our intellect? Or why not use our intellect and skills of reading and writing to instead name and understand the sporting world? This level of analysis is something I’m particularly interested in and hope to explore further as a future research endeavor.

One institution that has taken note of the student-athlete intersection is my alma mater, Vanderbilt University. Who in 2003 went against the dominant narrative of intercollegiate athletics by restructuring the athletic department into the resource-rich university which in turn dissolved the underfunded department. This allowed athletics to be treated like any other department, similar to physics or English. Although there were and continue to be many skeptics to this change, the results are clear. Off the field, the average GPA for student-athletes in the Spring of 2008 rose to 3.1, narrowing the gap with other students, while Vanderbilt’s NCAA graduation success rate was a Southeastern Conference (SEC) best—94%. From a financial perspective, the Commodores no longer operate at a deficit. When the changed happen in 2003, Vanderbilt athletics were running at a $4 million-a-year deficit, yet in 2006-07, it posted a surplus of $27,000. Vanderbilt’s restructuring is symbolic of the University’s desire to make every athlete a student, which is the goal, right?!? That said, the question in my mind is why aren’t more institutions willing to make this their focus? I mean the NCAA does state in their PSAs that there are “380,000 NCAA student-athletes and just about all of them will be going pro something other than sports.”

So I ask, what are our intersecting experiences as athletes and students either past or present? And, how did they form who you are today?

Just something to think about with the start of a new school year…

~ In solidarity

CALL 2 ACTION: I posed a lot of questions in this post, so hit me up with a comment below or on Facebook to share YOUR answers and thoughts!

Victory!

Almost six months ago, I started on this journey of blogging and have quickly come to realize how the news, perspectives, and my own feelings can constantly change and with such change comes the challenge of focusing on just one topic to share with you. Based on the title of this post, you might think I’m going to talk about some historic sport achievement or amazing feat that has occurred in the last month but instead I take a step away from sport for a moment to peel back the layers and expose a little    more about myself.

Today was a historic day that has a real impact on my future. Today in California (where I reside), Chief Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that Prop 8 is unconstitutional on both Equal Protection and Due Process grounds. In other words, he struck down California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage. Although the decision will not immediately lead to any new same-sex marriages being performed in California, it does provide a foundation to build upon for full marriage equality, which many suspect will result in a decision from the Supreme Court. As Judge Walker wrote in his decision, “Proposition 8 cannot withstand any level of scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause. […] Excluding same-sex couples from marriage is simply not rationally related to a legitimate state interest.” Thus, today marks not just a victory for California but also for the additional 45 states who do not allow same-sex couples to marry.

So, you might be thinking what does this have to do with sport? Well, on personal level, nothing. Wait…I take that back, I can make a personal connection to sport…

I have been an out athlete—loosely defined as me staying active outdoors and at my local Y while always being up for a little competition—since the summer after my freshman year of college nearly a decade ago. Although the coming out process never truly ends, through the years I have come to cherish the comfort in my own skin to be and express who I truly am and most importantly, who I love. That lucky woman is Stephanie Roth—my DP (domestic partner), partner in crime, and best friend—who is in the picture with me. She makes me laugh, she loves me unconditionally, and she makes me step up to the plate as we go through this journey called life together. My life has not been the same since the day I meet her and I can’t imagine my life without her. In fact, we are currently planning what opposite-sex couples would call a wedding while we prefer to call it a celebration of our love and commitment, especially since we don’t have the right to marry. After almost seven years together, there is no doubt that we are committed to one another and want to share the rest of our life together. And, for us, it’s also time to share that love and commitment with our closest friends and family as we prepare for the next chapter in our life—kids.

All this is to say that my partner and I are no different than most of our friends, which interestingly are mainly straight, in that we want to expand our family and live our life for more than just ourselves. When I think about the possibility of brining another human being into the world, I’m brought back to reality about the world we currently live in. A country that provides us with so many freedoms yet still continues to discriminate the same people it claims to protect. I’m one of those individuals.

My parents broke the model as an interracial couple just less than a decade after the 1967 Loving v. Virginia decision that outlawed anti-miscegenation laws in America. I’m proud that I and many others I know have the strength to continue to break the mold as open and out lesbian couples. However, I say it’s time for my sisters in uniform—sports uniforms that is—stand up and share their stories. And, in those stores including the ones they love, regardless of their gender. It’s time to break the silence and cloak of invisibility that raids women’s sports on this topic. Although this is just one piece of the puzzle, it also requires an end to the fear-mongering about strong women athletes being stereotyped as lesbians. As Pat Griffin states in her 1998 groundbreaking book, Strong Women, Deep Closets:

The closets in sport are so deep because so many women are hiding there. These deep closets are full of not only lesbians, but also heterosexual women who fear that women’s sport is always one lesbian scandal away from ruin. These strong women coach and compete in the shadow of a demonized stereotype so reviled that all women in sport are held hostage by the threat of being called a lesbian (p. x).

As I celebrate today’s victory, I’m reminded of the women I interviewed for my thesis and think of the handful of women athletes who have publically come out, which are listed on Outsports list of “Out Athletes.” I hope that one day that list is so long it’s not necessary anymore. Until then, its clear there is more work that needs to be done. So, I leave you with this to ponder, “Does everything have to be the same for things to be equal” (hooks, 2007, p. 147) with thoughts of “At Last” sung by Beyoncé (originally recorded by Etta James) playing in the background.

CALL 2 ACTION: It’s time for the Women’s Rugby World Cup and to support the USA Women Eagles! Didn’t know the US even had a women’s rugby team?!? Well then, find out more about the Women’s National Rugby Team as they prepare for the Women’s Rugby World Cup in London!