Tag Archives: women in sports

Women Athletes: Have a Baby, Take Your Chances with Your Career


Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams, two new moms

Debbie says:

Employers have long resented the fact that women in the work force have this inconvenient habit of having babies, which seems to take time, energy, and focus away from important things like making money for your company. No surprise: sports, which are certainly big business, have the same problem.

In February, I blogged about Serena Williams’ narrow and self-propelled escape from life-threatening complications of giving birth, and the higher risk faced by all black women.

Now that Williams is back on the courts, Lindsay Gibbs at Think Progress is shedding light on how women athletes are treated after having babies. After the tennis powers-that-be announced that Williams would have to enter the tournament unseeded (i.e., as if she had no tennis victories to her credit), critics up through and including Ivanka Trump complained:

The outrage cycle was effective. Wimbledon seeded Williams No. 25 for the Championships — not high enough for the liking of many, but far better than nothing — and the U.S. Open announced that it would change its seeding protocol to account for pregnancies. Behold, the power of Serena! Mission accomplished, right?

Well, not so fast. Because when it comes to maternity rights for professional female athletes, seeding for top players isn’t even in the top half of the list of their biggest concerns. And the outsized focus on Williams’ seeding folderol could end up distracting attention from the biggest problems that pregnant athletes face.

Gibbs acknowledges that seeding is important, after she lays out three issues which have more negative effect on more women athletes:

1) maternity leave and/or salary for women in team sports (deeply insufficient) and for women in individual sports (nearly nonexistent).

Just last week, Stacey Lewis, a two-time major champion on the Ladies’ Professional Golf Association Tour (LPGA), made a landmark announcement: One of her main sponsors, KPMG, is going to pay Lewis the full value of her contract while she is off of the LPGA Tour on maternity leave. Believe it or not, this is the first time this has happened in LPGA Tour history.

2) child care provisions: “Many individual teams have very family-friendly atmospheres, but that is not the same as actually assisting with child care.” Apparently, to cite one major inequity, men’s tennis has better child care than women’s tennis, because more men historically have travelled with their families.

3) protected ranking, which should be handled differently for maternity leave than for injury.

Women like Stacey Lewis, like tennis player Victoria Azarenka, and like Serena Williams, who are willing to compete for what’s fair off the golf course or tennis court as well as on it, have a long challenge ahead of them. Fortunately, the same competitive drive that makes for great athletes can make for great world-changers. Watch these women, and women like them, make sports a better place for new mothers.


Danica Patrick: She Races Tomorrow!

Laurie and Debbie say:

Tomorrow is the Daytona 500, and Danica Patrick stands a pretty good chance of winning it. For those who don’t follow race car driving, the Daytona 500 is a major NASCAR (stock-car driving) race, and Patrick is the first woman NASCAR driver to make the very top rank in the sport.

Patrick won the pole for Sunday’s Daytona 500 by posting a lap of 196.434 mph in her No. 10 Chevrolet. She is the first woman to claim such a position for the Daytona 500, or for any Sprint Cup Series race. She outran 44 other drivers to earn the best place to be at the start of the race.

Her performance during qualifying should make NASCAR fans proud and excited. Patrick didn’t just break a glass ceiling. She sped through it like it never existed. She and her team deserve great credit.

Patrick’s fellow drivers are intensely competitive, and all of them will try to best her Sunday. But even the drivers like the buzz that Patrick’s success is creating for their sport. Patrick the racer is now what other drivers will focus on — not her biography, her celebrity or her gender.

The other drivers may focus on her as a racer, but the world will continue to focus on her gender, her relationships, and other non-race-related things about her. It’s no accident that if you look for pictures of her in Google images, you are offered a top-rank link of “Danica Patrick no clothes,” for example.

In the feminist blogosphere, we see some commentary about Patrick’s politics. Chloe at Feministing says:

… for a lot of feminists, Patrick is a tough case; she has an endorsement deal with GoDaddy, known for its sexist advertising, in which she sometimes participates. That’s a larger conversation, one about the paucity of endorsement opportunities available to women athletes, and about choosing your battles. It’s a conversation we need to have, especially if Patrick wins at Daytona. GoDaddy commercials make me want to vomit. But Patrick’s chance to make history, and to open up racing to other women, makes me want to cheer for her this weekend.

Chloe doesn’t take this quite far enough. Patrick is competing in a sphere that is not directly political. She is breaking ground for women, and women’s ability to compete with men, in a sport that is second only to professional football in size of American TV audience. She is offering thousands of young girls something new to dream about.

What we think of her politics and her choices is not on the same axis as why we cheer for her and want her to win. In many arenas, including sports, science, art that is not directly related to gender politics, and business leadership, women’s visibility is important in a way that is unrelated to their feminism (or lack of feminism). If she was making art that demeans women or puts us at risk, her politics should be on the table. If Patrick was a politician, a litmus test for her politics would be appropriate; it’s neither reasonable nor right to be delighted that Cathrynn Brown in New Mexico is a woman, given her repulsive anti-abortion anti-women positions.

Since she’s racing, we think it’s simple: Go, Danica! Bring it home!