Hi, friends, and welcome to Power Plays, a no-bullshit newsletter about sexism in sports, written by me, Lindsay Gibbs.
Here we are, back in March. I have absolutely no clue how to feel about that, do you? I’m trying not to think too much about what the passage of time means, and instead just enjoying the improving weather when I can, and feeling hopeful that vaccine distribution is gaining steam, and I might be able to hug my loved ones at some point this summer, and maybe even see some of you in person and watch women’s sports together!
Today’s newsletter we’re trying something a bit new. Usually, these newsletters are very deep dives into one serious subject. But every once in a while, I want to zoom out and give a quick overview of what is going on throughout the women’s sports world. Also, sometimes I just want to rant.
So, today we’re going to do both. First, I’m going to debut an “Around our world” segment, which, if you all enjoy it, I will bring back in the first public newsletter of each month. I’m going to fill you in on things happening throughout the women’s sports world, but only give myself one sentence to describe each topic, in the hopes that this doesn’t become yet another project that I propose and then flake out on because it becomes so overwhelming I don’t know where to begin (thanks, ADHD!)
Will these sentences be run-ons? Almost always. But still. This is my version of brief.
Then, we’re going to talk about a new show on Disney Plus that I can’t stop thinking about for all the wrong reasons.
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Okay, friends. Let’s do this.
Around our world in single sentences
Having a hard time keeping up with everything going on in the women’s sports universe? Extremely same.
I’m definitely going to miss a few things, but here are some stories I’m following, as well as a few recommendations for what to read and watch.
Athletes Unlimited Volleyball — which is a sister league to Athletes Unlimited Softball, which I covered in Power Plays last September, and the first pro women’s volleyball league in the United States in almost 20 years — began its innovative five-week season last week, and the play has been absolutely thrilling so far, and an all-female skydiving team jumped from a plane in celebration, and here is the schedule, which includes broadcast information, so that you can watch and support!
BIG THINGS are happening in women’s hockey, with the Professional Women's Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) launching its 2021 Dream Gap Tour with exciting new sponsors and the first-ever women’s hockey game at Madison Square Garden, and the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) trying to find a way to safely execute its playoffs after a coronavirus outbreak abruptly ended its “bubble” season in Lake Placid last month.
I will have more on this in Power Plays soon, but the anti-trans bills that aim to ban trans girls and women from girls’ and women’s sports continue to get proposed and passed in legislatures across the country, and I recommend following ACLU lawyer Chase Strangio for more information, and also listening to the latest episode of the feminist sports podcast I co-host, Burn It All Down, because we take a deep dive into the topic.
We absolutely love to see women’s sports get the official Cover Story treatment, so be sure to check out this phenomenal piece by our friend, ESPN writer Katie Barnes, on future UConn phenom Azzi Fudd.
Crystal Dunn was mic’d up during USWNT practice at the She Believes Cup, so yeah, you’re going to want to listen to that right away.
Speaking of the fact that it’s MARCH again, this year the NCAA women’s basketball tournament is going to attempt to get in on the madness, with a 64-team tournament taking place fully in and around San Antonio, Texas — if, that is, Texas doesn’t turn back into a pandemic-palooza now that Governor Greg Abbott has announced that mask mandates are over and all businesses are 100% open — and you should follow our friends at The Next to stay up-to-date with all of the happenings in NCAAW, including this week’s loaded conference tournament schedule.
This A’ja Wilson piece addressed to Black women on The Players’ Tribune is a candid look at how anxiety and depression can hit us even at our highest points, and I really hope you all take a few minutes to read it.
At the U.S. Soccer Annual General Meeting last week, the floor was open for comments regarding on the federation’s recent repeal of a rule requiring athletes to stand during the national anthem, and Athlete Council member Seth Jahn went on a horrifyingly racist seven-minute diatribe — stating, among other things, that there is no such thing as police brutality and that slavery wasn’t actually that bad — and while it is good that the Athlete Council removed Jahn from its ranks the next day, it is bad that he was given such a big platform and elected to such an important position in the first place.
To end with the absolute BEST news, Kelly Loeffler is finally gone from both the Senate AND the Atlanta Dream ownership group, and former Dream player and two-time WNBA champion Renee Montgomery is part of the new ownership group AND is the team’s new vice president, and the WNBA Players Association released an absolutely scathing statement about Loeffler’s reign, and I recommend you read every word.
Hey, Disney. We need to talk.
When I first saw the above image come across my twitter timeline last week, I assumed it was a poster from a straight-to-Blockbuster 1990s movie that I had, thankfully, missed.
But then it kept popping up on my timeline, over and over again, and I realized, NOPE. This wasn’t old. This is brand spankin new!
It’s an ad promoting “Big Shot,” a television series debuting next month on Disney’s streaming service, Disney Plus, a television series the New York Post has dubbed one of the hottest shows coming out this spring.
In that case, we need to discuss.
Let’s talk solely about the promotional image, first, since that’s our introduction to this mess. It features an older white man, front and center, CLEARLY displaying how unhappy he is to be in his current situation. And that current situation is represented by a group of seven very unhappy women, looking at him with expressions of all-out exasperation.
Five of these female figures appear to be teenage basketball players, and two are women around his own age who appear to be teachers or assistants of some kind. The majority of these women — and, not by coincidence, the ones who look the angriest in the image — are women of color.
The tagline? “He’s got one last shot. They’re it.”
The message it’s sending is not subtle: This is a story about a white man who is forced to coach a girls’ basketball team because his life has NOT gone according to plan, and these ladies — females, am I right??? — are making his already miserable life exponentially worse.
But, I figured, that couldn’t possibly be the premise of the show. I mean, clearly this must be a case where the promotional image is giving a completely incorrect impression, because nobody in the year of 2021 would put out something that tone deaf!
Well, friends, a quick trip to Uncle Jesse’s Instagram answered that question.
“I play a hot headed basketball coach who gets kicked out of the NCAA. On his road to redemption, he is forced to coach at an all girls private high school in Laguna - nothing could go wrong there, right? I love this show and I hope you will too,” Stamos wrote.
Disney is really using a girls’ basketball team, made up primarily of girls of color, to tell the story of a white man.
Disney is really treating women’s sports as punishment.
Disney is really pushing a redemption arc on a “hot headed” (read: abusive) coach.
Disney is really using WOMEN’S SPORTS as the setting for a white man’s redemption story.
WHOSE IDEA WAS THIS?
Well, actually, it turns out the idea for the series came from Brad Garrett. You know, the guy who played Raymond’s older brother, Robert, in Everybody Loves Raymond? Yeah. That guy.
Of course I headed straight to social media to see if I could figure out what expertise Garret had that made him the person to drive this project, and you’ll be happy to know that while I found zero evidence that he has ever watched a women’s sport in his life, the man has a daughter, so clearly there’s nothing to worry about!
Now, look, with so many serious things going on in the world right now, you might think that this entire thing is frivolous, that I was seeking out a reason to rant, that I enjoy being a killjoy, that nothing is ever good enough for me, that I take *everything* too seriously. And, I mean, I guess I can see where those thoughts come from.
But I promise, I take no pleasure in this bullshit. In fact, it’s downright depressing
I went to film school and dreamed (sometimes not in the past tense!) of being a writer for film and television shows. I want, more than anything, to see women’s sports represented across the pop culture spectrum. I talk to people almost daily about how great a series centered around a women’s basketball team could be. I mean, those of us who follow women’s sports closely know that there is no shortage of drama!
But it matters how these stories are told, even the fictional ones. It matters who is telling these stories and how they’re framed. It matters who gets the redemption arc, and who is just a side show. Every detail matters.
It’s the difference between perpetuating dangerous stereotypes and breaking new ground, between solidifying the status quo and changing the game. Right now, I don’t have a lot of hope that this show is going to be a vehicle for anything other than cheap shots, lazy tropes, and many, many jokes about the quality of Stamos’s hair.
And that pisses me off. But what pisses me off even more is the fact that I’m likely to tune in and give the show a chance to prove me wrong.
If this show fails, it’s unlikely to impact the career of Stamos or Garrett or any of the Disney Plus executives in a negative manner. But it will likely keep studios from greenlighting any more projects about women’s basketball.
Some days, it feels like things are changing for the better at a rapid pace. And some days, we realize that in so many ways, we’re stuck in plots written by white men in the 1990s.
Thanks so much for reading Power Plays, friends! Remember, if you like it here, please consider sharing or subscribing. It all helps make this work possible.