Thursday, August 11, 2016

Pursuing Their Passions

I don't own a television, or rather, the television we do own has been living in the back of a closet for six years, which means I should have a very nice, hardly used set for sale. If I were home, however, instead of traveling in Australia for five weeks, I might have been tempted to turn it on to watch the Olympics. I like this every four year ritual (ignoring its social and economic challenges) of the world's nations coming together for this festival of athletics and unity. And I am particularly fond of seeing the world class athletes compete in sports I don't normally get to see.

One nice thing about traveling right now is I've been able to switch on my hotel room TV each night to watch badminton or rowing or cycling or equestrian events, all of which show me a glimpse of world class hard work and dedication of which I was previously ignorant. When I sit down to dine alone in a restaurant, I tend to chose one where I can do so in the company of those table tennis players and divers and kayakers and water polo players who have worked their entire lives for this moment. For a brief time, I feel that I become enough of an expert on their endeavors to become a fan, to root for this or that athlete or team. And because I'm not watching on American soil I'm free from the jingoistic coverage that focuses all the time on "U-S-A! U-S-A!" which frees me to really enjoy the individual and team effort regardless of the color of the uniforms.

I am particularly a fan of women's athletics. I always have been. In fact, the photo at the top of this post is of the cap I brought with me on my travels: a souvenir leftover from the days of the Seattle Reign, a member of the old ABL, the professional women's basketball league that pre-dated and proved the concept for today's WNBA, a league that was, incidentally, owned by the players themselves. I can't really explain it, but I find myself more inspired by watching women compete at a high level. It's a prejudice, I know, but it just feels like there is something more "pure" about it. Being in Australia, I've seen a lot of rugby over the last few weeks, but I've been absolutely thrilled by the speed and athleticism of the women's game (a version called 7's). The US women's gymnastics team has been stunning; Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hozzu dominating; and I was genuinely moved by the Egyptian beach volleyball team showing up with their arms and legs covered, and wearing hijabs instead of those skimpy two-piece suits in honor of their religion.

And I've been watching the Olympics with the sound off. I don't need the commentary because even while I don't always understand everything I'm watching, I'm tired of hearing the sexism. I don't need to hear about the physical appearance of these accomplished, powerful women. I don't need to hear a man (and its mostly men, although women do it too) categorize their emotions into tidy feminine boxes. I don't need to hear these female athletes being compared to better known male athletes. If these women are an inspiration to me, I can't even imagine how much of an inspiration they are to girls around the world, but it's simply wrong that so much of what is said and written about them undermines what makes them great. 

To be honest, I think that's what appeals to me the most about women's athletics. Sure, I enjoy the sport, the power, the speed, the skill, and the strategy, but most of all I think of all those little girls who are watching along with me, and planning for their own futures as women pursuing their passions. We just need to turn off the sound and let them do their own thinking about what it means.

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