Elevate Difference

Women and Sports in the United States

As the rather generic title would suggest, this collection is intended as an introduction to a broad field, perhaps a reader useful for a college-level Exercise Science or Physical Education seminar. There are nods to some of the pioneers of sport, essays on gender and athleticism—most of them more journalistic than scholarly—an all too brief treatment of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League of A League of Their Own fame.

There is a rehash of Brandi Chastain’s exuberant celebration after the 1999 Women’s World Cup and the sexualizing of athletes’ bodies in the media. There is coverage of Title IX, including a reproduction of the law itself, that revolutionized women’s sports in the 1970s. Lamentably, George Will, the notorious global warming-denier, is permitted space to spew his tiresome resentment against “the codification of feminism”—shocking, indeed!

What is missing, here, is the power of story: narratives of compelling individualism and achievement against odds that do much more to explain and account for the cultural pervasiveness of sport than essays such as are presented here. The book mentions that in 1974 Little League Baseball began to allow girls to participate after losing a lawsuit. That may well be of historical consequence, but there are powerful baseball stories that the editors overlook: the story of Pam Postema, minor league umpire from 1977 to 1988—and major league umpire in the spring of 1988, who was victimized by discrimination of the Jackie Robinson variety and was driven from the sport. Or Illa Borders, a pitcher who in 1998 proved that women could succeed in competition with men in professional baseball.

As an introduction to a burgeoning field, this collection is useful, but it may fall short of contributing to the growing excitement, building story by story, achievement by achievement, that surrounds women’s athletics.

Written by: Rick Taylor, March 7th 2007