Friday, October 14, 2011

Some additional thoughts on the Slate gymnastics story

As I've already blogged, a few days ago an op-ed that I wrote about the women's gymnastics team selection procedures and how they seem to be misguided and ultimately work against the goals of the program was published by Slate.

Though the somewhat sensational tone of the headers were outside of my purview, I'm grateful to the editors over at Slate for leaving my main argument nuanced and intact. It was an article about strategy, not about victimization, which is not the general theme of stories about women's gymnastics.

One day later Jezebel published a story, also timed to the world championships (this and the Olympics are the only times that the sport receives more than scant coverage) that fell along the more traditional lines. It was about the recent spate of accusations of sexual abuses that have shocked many. It was written by a writer and former top notch gymnast who unbeknownst to her, had been trained by a coach that had abused other students.

(For those of you who may not have heard, famed coach Don Peters was accused of having sex with one of his pupils in the 80s, and accounts from team members seem to corroborate this awful tale. I, for one, believe the accusers and hope that USA Gymnastics investigates these complaints and examines its procedures to deal with sort of situation better in the future.)

I have no quibble with the Jezebel story, which can be read in its entirety here. Crimes should be exposed. I've always been in favor of airing one's dirty laundry in public. (Any of you who have read my criticisms of the Jewish community know that very well.)

My problem is that the author used some anecdotes to argue that abuse is more widespread in the women's gymnastics program though there is no evidence to suggest it is. While it's very tragic, this happens in all youth sports. Also, this is the sort of coverage we've come to expect when the mainstream takes an interest in our sport -- to emphasize both the femaleness and victimhood of the athletes. To these writers, they are self-directed and motivated individuals last, young girls and victims first.

It was more eloquently stated by a wonderfully intelligent and insightful friend, who read both my story and the Jezebel post. "The Jezebel piece still feels like -- innocent gymnast girls victimized by pervy authority figures. It sort of ghettoizes gymnastics."

As to my Slate story, she said -- "I like your approach of talking about gymnastics as a sport that needs to pursued strategically, not as some feminized dystopia."

She continued, "But taking a tack that's not about gender, age, sex, etc. and doing exactly what you just said is really smart and important for normalizing how we talk about all sports."

I hope that I and others who are passionate about the sport get additional opportunities to have deeper conversations about the sport that move beyond the NBC hype and sexist themes.


Sue R said...

another awesome blog

Dvora Meyers said...

Thank you! Gymnastics and feminism are two things I'm super passionate about. (Also up there -- breaking and progressive Judaism)

llstovall said...

I couldn't agree more! I'm so glad I found your blog. I'll be looking forward to more gymnastics analysis.

Dvora Meyers said...

Thanks! I've had so much fun blogging during this world championships even if it did take me away from my other site. I'll figure out a way to balance writing for both during this very important Olympic year. It should be fun.