The picture at left is taken from the website for Florida State University's women's basketball team. While it looks seems inocuous enough, these glam shots have sparked a debate about the persistent problem of homophobia in women's sports.
The sexy pictures are part of a newly-launched campaign designed to appeal to both potential FSU basketball players and fans. The new website for the FSU team features many pictures like the one above. In the "meet the team" section, each player has her own profile page, which is overwhelmingly dominated by a shot of the athlete dressed in a satin dress, exiting a limo. Although some clutch basketballs - the only nod to the fact that these are basketball players, not debutantes - others are straight up glamor shots (the most obvious example is the image of Kayli Keough, guard/forward). The main page shows the entire team in a limo, perfectly coiffed and smiling at the camera. Yes, they look great. They fully live up to their claim of "Confidence. Strength. Beauty. We've got it all." But it is hard not to wonder, what does beauty have to do with anything?
This is the question posed by Jayda Evans. In her column for the Seattle Times, Evans examines the re-designed site for the No. 15 team, ultimately coming to the conclusion that the emphasis on femininity and beauty indicates an underlying fear of being viewed as anything other than straight. She mentions the documentary Training Rules, about former Penn State coach Rene Portland, who allegedly had just three rules for her players: No drinking, no drugs, and absolutely no lesbians. Portland may have been more explicit about her homophobia, but the FSU website reveals a certain desire to move away from the actual game - where players are sweaty, strong and accomplished, perhaps frighteningly so - towards a much more polished image of female athletes as celebrities first, players second. Evans points out that attempt to make female athletes appear "powerful, beautiful, strong and accomplished" is just another way to gloss over the fact that they are being overtly feminized. For Evans, "beautiful" is translated as "attractive to men," and implicitly, heterosexual.
In a press release for the newly launched website, FSU coach Sue Semrau explains their decision to depict their players en route to some fancy shindig: "We feel it is important to set ourselves apart as much as we can... We wanted to have a product that would stand out to the people we are trying to reach." The "product" being not only the game, but the individual players. At Carnal San Francisco, editor Tim McElreavy suggests that Semrau's attempt to "sell" the game reveals a disheartening focus on the bottom line: "While it would be naïve to believe that college sports isn't or shouldn't be concerned with the bottom line, such words, especially from a coach, really seem to instrumentalize the players' achievements. Add to this business rhetoric the stereotype of the pretty woman, and women's sports marketing moves further and further away from the actual sport," he writes.
And to drive home this point, take a look at the website for the FSU men's team, where the players are portrayed in a rather different light. There is no doubt that this is about the "actual sport." Their website features pictures of the players in action. Their faces are contorted into grimaces of concentration while sweat pours off their bodies. Okay, it's not unattractive, but it's also not purposefully sexy. The emphasis is on the game, not the dolled-up players. While FSU women have to be "sold" and "appeal" to the public, the men's team can safely coast on the knowledge that people watch them play for reasons other than their sex appeal.
Women's Hoops Media Guides And Web Sites Getting Sexier [Seattle Times]
Glam Photos Show The Ugly Side Of Women's Basketball [Carnal San Francisco]
Glammed Up B'Ball Stars Spark Uproar [Newser]
Florida State University Women's Basketball [Official Site]