If ever there was a male taboo, it’s poking our noses into the workings of women and making criticism where we see fit. Aw, what the heck…
Hard Boundaries and the Politics of Sport
By John Weaver
Boundaries are good, in sports. They can really suck otherwise. The glass ceiling, the Berlin Wall, thinking “in the box”, receiving restraining orders and such, generally connote negativity. But in sports, we like ‘em. They tell us where to go when we are confused. In swimming and track they are essential, but not as much as say, hunting. Until recently, in women’s lacrosse, the boundary was a nebulous region swaying to and fro with the flow of the game and the objectivity of the officials.
To men, the hard boundary was a no-brainer. We need boundaries in general. We’d just walk out in the street if sidewalks weren’t white. That aside, sports are all about competitiveness and a hard boundary rule is common in most, OK, ALL sports that involve competition. Some require adherence to the boundary for self preservation, like archery or car racing. Others maintain the boundary for social purposes, like golf and bowling. In surfing, the boundary is very hard. In any case, the last hold-out, the last free-range sport, women’s lacrosse, has finally come around.
The old rule had the sideline as a fluid and variable whereabouts based on what one might run into off the field. For example, two players might chase the ball past the men’s sideline, past some fans and just before they hit the school maintenance tractor parked nearby, THAT’s the line. A whistle blows. The girl who last touched it, or in manspeak, “the girl who knocked it out of bounds” gets it back. It’s only polite. She had it and then this other girl rudely knocked it out of her stick. She tried to pick it up for twenty yards or so, each time missing and tipping the ball further from the actual field of play and just had a hard time getting control, but we’re sure she would have eventually picked it up had it not been for that nasty tractor. So we’ll let her have it back. Every man I’ve ever explained that rule to is surprised and disappointed. It goes against everything we view as competitive and fair. Our befuddlement by this rule and the idea that “women didn’t get it” would most often be attributed to and accepted as the differences, vast as they are, between women and men. Venus and Mars stuff.
I don’t think I’ve ever been to a women’s lacrosse game without hearing a dad, brother or boyfriend turn to another or to me and say, “You know what this game needs is…” or “Wouldn’t this game be better if…”. It’s just a natural reaction to seeing a sport so close to your own and yet different in so many ways. It’s just a natural reaction when men see women doing anything physical, actually. It’s our role in society, frankly. If I didn’t have complete command of the trash removal routine at my house, I would not be in complete charge of anything. It’s just metaphor for the male ruled world of athletics. It’s our last bastion of supremacy and it dies hard, very hard. But it’s not just our chauvinism and ignorance that drives this. We have some better reasons too.
Let’s face it, the thing that scares, even terrifies men in the sports world, is the non-competitiveness that comes with some (SOME) women’s vision of sport. We cringe when we hear stuff like “They’re all winners” or see stuff like not keeping score during games at a big tournament like girls’ Cup of Nations. We fear that our nature, mainly competitive, is at risk when women gain more prominence in sport, especially management. Some (SOME) might even argue that sport is sport and arts and crafts are for the non-competitive. The boundary rule in women’s lax, as of a week ago, was arts and crafts.
Well, I’ve framed men as one sided and bias toward the competitiveness of sport but, I should point out the exception – socialists. Here’s where we get political, and sports rules are generally as adherent to the rules of capitalism as say, J.K Rawling’s invented sports are to socialism. Awarding extra points for effort after a game and changing the outcome of the game based on those extra points is just plain un-American. I know she’s English. And I can’t speak for the Brits, but based on their dominance of the world for centuries and their collection of prize cannons to prove it, I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s just plain un-British too. But we all know men like the Dustin Hofmann character in “Meet the Fockers” who could build a shrine to mediocrity, hanging tenth place medals over general participation trophies on the family mantle. These men scare us more than any woman could. Fortunately, they are easily identified by their soft and limp handshakes.If we ever let these men outnumber the rest of us, we would be, well, France.
Like American politics in general, the sporting-political climate is changing. There was a time when every woman just voted as her husband did (after they COULD vote, that is). Then there was a time when every woman was a member of the democratic party. These times, both, have passed. There was a time when a lax guy could just assume that every woman agreed with the soft boundary and the non-competitive sentiment that comes with it. Like I said. The times, they are a changin’. OK, Bob Dylan said it. But, we’re both right. And women in sports are the greatest example. Tell me that Mia Hamm’s not competitive, or that Pat Summit is a lesser competitor than Rick Petino. Say that Jen Adams shouldn't be mentioned with Gary and Paul Gait and Jim Brown and Frank Urso, etc. and I’ll laugh in your face. Tell me that title IX isn’t working and I’ll question your judgment on everything. If my stock broker told me that, I'd fire him.
And it’s not just the stars that bring intense competition to women’s sports. Show me a more competitive environment than Anne Arundel County (MD) girls’ lacrosse. Texas football. OK, yes, boys and men who stick themselves with needles full of acne, basically, to improve their sports performance may seem more competitive to some (SOME). But stopping short of breaking the rules and destroying your body is competitive enough for most of us to admire. In lacrosse, women are there, now. And they proved it, changing the most basic rule of their game. This season the boundary is hard and tangible. If you step on it, you are “out of bounds.” If you throw a really bad pass, it’s likely a turnover. Welcome, ladies, to the world of risk and reward.
So I am here to herald the new era. Men in lacrosse, Fear not! Lax women get it. This rule change could, in hindsight and on a later day, be seen as a seminal moment in the relationship between the men’s and women’s game and the end of LEGITIMATE criticism of the women’s game by men. Ok, that and the free position shot. But then we’re done.
September 21, 2005
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