Believermag’s article, “Remote Control: Tonya Harding, Nancy Kerrigan and the Spectacles of Female Power and Pain” provides insight into the role media played in shaping the assault on Kerrigan’s landing leg prior to the 1994 US Figure Skating Championships and how important perceived femininity can be in figure skating and women’s sports.
I wasn’t a serious skater yet in ‘94, but I remember being 6 and absolutely scandalised at Harding’s alleged actions. I believed the media hype and declared Nancy Kerrigan a personal hero. But after reading this piece Tonya Harding is feeling surprisingly, well, relateable. My background is nothing like Harding’s detailed above, but as a Black figure skater achieving the appropriate levels of perceived femininity, grace, and poise wasn’t easy.
Whether it was my my height, my different hair (no neat skating bun for me), the fact that I couldn’t buy skating stockings that matched the color of my skin, the fact that I couldn’t order and wear the same shades of makeup as the other (white) girls on my synchonised skating team, there was always something that kept me from feeling like I was adored the same way the other skaters were.
By the time I left high school I had all my double jumps down, passed all my moves tests, and was helping to coach a local synchronised skating team, so it wasn’t for lack of talent that the familiar accolades of “you’re so graceful” or “you have such artistry” seemed to always turn to variations of “you’re so athletic/aggressive!” or “you have such a unique style”. Someone at my club in Connecticut commented that I’d probably be amazing at track and field because my skating was so fast and powerful, and had I thought about that instead? New York City tourists have politely and very complimentary (in their eyes) told me that I’m “the best Black skater they’ve ever seen, and so powerful!” Strong, powerful, aggressive, athletic; not the words you want to hear in the delicate, feminine world of figure skating.
Harding’s desire to skate programs to untraditional music choices mirror my own. The year Will Smith’s Big Willie Style came out I desperately wanted to do a competition program to Men in Black or Miami. My coach looked horrified when I played her the tape, and I ended up with a program from the musical Camelot instead that satisfied the requirements of soft, graceful, feminine skating.
That was 17 years ago, but you’re still not going to see many programs like Starr Andrews’ (to Willow Smith’s Whip My Hair) in national and international competition. Music that derives from the standard Euro-classical and instrumental should be avoided, but if it is to be presented it should be done only by an All American white girl in a bindi so as not to threaten the sport’s reputation or the judges’ sensibilities.
I don’t compete any more. I haven’t put on a pair of skating tights in years because Capezio’s "tan" is still about 5 shades lighter than I am, and Surya Bonaly was a childhood hero. I put on headphones and skate to whatever I want— almost always starting a workout with Beyonce and DMX. I have half a program to “Partition” choreographed already, not that it would ever be acceptable in competition. We can’t excuse whatever part Tonya Harding may or may not have played in the assault on Nancy Kerrigan in 1994, but I get what it’s like to not be seen as the “‘lovely,’ ‘ladylike,’ ‘elegant,’ and ‘sophisticated,’;one,” and spending the energy trying to conform to a sport standard that’s not necessarily made to fit how the world’s been trained to see you. I suspect that several other Black athletes do as well; Serena Williams comes quickly to mind.
Just something to keep in mind as we approach the Sochi Winter Games. Sometimes it’s more than expensive costs that keeps girls off the ice. - KJ
In the latest issue of Sports Illustrated, the NBA’s Jason Collins became the first active player in any of the big four sports (baseball, football, basketball, and hockey) to announce he was gay. His opening sentence: “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”
Toward the end of his must-read story, Collins, a 7-foot, 255-pounder who has played for six teams in his 11-year pro career, ponders the fallout from his announcement:
I’ve been asked how other players will respond to my announcement. The simple answer is, I have no idea. I’m a pragmatist. I hope for the best, but plan for the worst. The biggest concern seems to be that gay players will behave unprofessionally in the locker room. Believe me, I’ve taken plenty of showers in 12 seasons. My behavior wasn’t an issue before, and it won’t be one now. My conduct won’t change. I still abide by the adage, “What happens in the locker room stays in the locker room.” I’m still a model of discretion.
Here’s a look at what some people—some NBA players, some not—had to say about Collins on Monday…
Ian Gordon, “14 Awesome Reactions To Jason Collins Coming Out,” Mother Jones (mobile) 4/29/13
No, seriously. Check out the reactions and from whom!
Fatwas have caught the fancy of the people worldwide and is popularly used by media, to project Islam as a misogynist religion with impractical restrictions. Zakir Naik, in his speech on the subject, explains why Muslims or Ulemas should not be giving so much importance to Sania Mirza’s dress code. Naik speaks about the importance of “diluting” the global effect of labeling Sania Mirza’s dress code as Haraam for the sake of a positive representation of Islam in the media. He further says that she is a “lesser sinner” than Muslim male cricketers who do not offer Salah at all. However, he also mentions her world ranking is “only” 34th and doesn’t deserve all the attention it is garnering.
In another related article, Dr Mookhi Amir Ali, while stating that he has better work to do than follow Sania Mirza’s career, goes onto say that she should have used her stature, as a successful Muslim woman, to question the short skirts and bring modesty into the game. She also should have worn a wrap right after the game was over, or chose not to wear the tennis dress, in all the advertisements she was featured in–the very advertisements which chose to feature her because she was a tennis star. The only attribute which will make her a good Muslim, according to him, is if she brought about any changes in the accepted “dress codes” for women in professional tennis.
Sadly, in the Islamic world, a Muslim woman’s piety is often closely related to her dress code. If she misses a prayer or a fast, not many go berserk as they would if she doesn’t wear a hijab. Does being a good Muslim woman begin and end with a hijab? Are Muslim women defined only by their modest dress codes alone? By mentioning that she is a “lesser” sinner, and by repeatedly saying that “at least” she offers Salah, Naik, while diluting some of the hype around her clothing, still suggests there’s a sense of shame in Sania Mirza being Muslim.
I hope you understand that you follow in a long tradition of sexist institutions that have told women and girls, particularly those of color, that they are inadequate and ugly; that they are undesirable, and so disgusting that they should not even be in public. This was the message you sent to Taylor and millions of other girls. If you can’t get this idea through your thick privileged skull, head over to Sports Illustrated to read the words of Courtney Nguyen.
Maybe the USTA needs a few more women in its ranks (as suggested by Lindsey Davenport); maybe its men should check their racial and gender privilege at the locker room. You have a training program for that? Given her ample success on the court, I can’t help but think your sexist shaming has NOTHING to do with her play on the court; your claims for concern about her “health” are absurd and offensive. This all seems to reflect your desire to produce a profitable commodity. Do you think she can only be successful if she wins titles and covers of Maxim? Are you searching for a great tennis player…or a body to market to men throughout the nation? Irrespective of your intent, your methods and message are disgusting.
Is it just a coincidence that the two girls/women who have been chastised, ridiculed and demonized for their weight, for their body, for their appearance, are both African-American? Did that even cross your mind? It is hard to look at this as anything but racism and sexism, as yet another African-American tennis phenomenon dominating the White world of tennis only to face unfair criticism. Yet another Black female tennis player being reduced to her body parts, prodded, and examine as if her worth and value could be measured by your hands. To get back on the court, will you examine her, checking to see if she meets your expectations? Disgusting.
Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas saw unprecedented success at this year’s Summer Olympics, becoming the first African American to win the individual all-around competition, and the first American to win both the individual and team competition. But Gabby didn’t always feel at home at the gym. In her upcoming interview with Oprah, Gabby opens up about the bullying and racism she experienced while training at a gym in Virginia. A fewllow gymnast routinely referred to Douglas as her “slave.” From the Huffington Post: “But it hasn’t been an easy road. Douglas opened up about her time training at a gym in Virginia, where she was met with racism and ridicule. She told a story how at one point she was actually referred to by another gymnast as their ‘slave.’ ‘I definitely felt isolated. I felt, why am I deserving this?’ she said. ‘Is it because I’m black? Like, those thoughts would go through my mind.’ Douglas felt so unwelcome in Virginia that she moved to the gym in Iowa where she blossomed into the gold medalist who wowed the world in London.”