Mack on Sexism and Sports

I miss Mack’s goofy grin. I miss her humor and her charm. I miss her joyous approach to the simple things in life. I miss her freckles. And I miss her intellect, too. Mack’s outward demeanor may have been silly and light-hearted, but she possessed a quiet intelligence, and I loved to engage her in serious conversation. At Truman State, she was blossoming into a social philosopher and a writer, and I lived for our late-night discussions about her coursework in gender studies, creative writing, and literature. I always relished our debates about social issues and pop culture. She was witty and so damn smart. I cherish the conversations we shared. I grieve for the loss of the conversations we will never have.

In the last six months without Mack, there have been untold moments when a news story, an NPR interview with a new author, a Buzz Feed quiz, or some crazy highlight on Sports Center has made me yearn to text her or call her and ask her opinion. I have even, in my head and under my breath, had discussions with her about Ferguson, about the Rolling Stone rape story, about Hillary’s emails, and about the abysmal officiating in the Indiana-Wichita State game in the opening round of this year’s NCAA tournament. In each of these moments and in so many others, I have closed my eyes and tried to hear Mack’s voice. I imagine her serving up an intuitive quip or providing an insightful reflection, because I know that is exactly what she would have done. I valued her opinion in all things, and I am now deprived of her keen insights on all things.mack and me 7

One of Mack’s most admirable traits was her fierce sense of equality and justice, and her sensible feminism always inspired me. Last week, the NFL hired eight new officials for the 2015 season; and one of those new hires is Sarah Thomas. A woman. This news is precisely illustrative of one of those times when I craved Mack’s opinion. I mean, I think it’s great that the NFL has hired a female official, but I want to know what Mack would have thought about it. I want to know how she would respond to the critics who accuse the NFL of political motivations based on a year’s worth of bad publicity. I wish I could talk to Mack about the issues of gender and violence and responsibility surrounding NFL football, a sport we both loved and enjoyed together. If Mack had come home from Spain, she would now be mid-way through her second junior semester and she would have resumed her columns for the Truman State Index. I suspect she might have written about Sarah Thomas. And I have no doubt she would have offered insights born of her intense sense of equality, informed by her personal experience as a football player and a female athlete, tempered by her deep skepticism, and infused with her wit.

In missing Mack’s intellectual voice, I have read and reread her social commentary in the form of her college newspaper columns and class essays and research papers. I have taken some comfort in reading her words, in remembering her voice, and in reflecting on that quiet intellect that I so admired. Mack was still learning and growing as a writer, but she was making an impression on her peers as well as on her momma bear. In remembering Mack, her editor at the Index noted: “She always was a lively participant during our weekly meetings, unafraid to interject her opinions. Mackenzie enjoyed writing about feminist issues, current events, and social issues. She was a skeptic at heart—an important quality for a writer and a thinker.”

I saw Mack as a budding philosopher and a blossoming writer. Mack’s editor valued her opinions and her writing. And I think many others appreciated her wisdom as well. In the absence of Mack’s analysis of the hiring of Sarah Thomas, I am honored to share the following piece of Mack’s work with you now. It is not the cleanest writing she ever did, and it reflects the casual character of a hastily written weekly column by a college kid who always waited until the last possible minute to meet a deadline. But Mack’s voice is there—strong and principled and a bit sarcastic—and I think it provides a window into her smart, feminist soul.

“Sexism is rampant in sports,” by Mackenzie McDermott, Truman State University Index, 11 April 2013

My mother subscribes to the NFL Sunday ticket and watches every game of every season. I also grew up playing almost every organized athletic sport known to man, including tackle football and Taekwondo. Because of my involvement with and knowledge of sports, I never saw or understood that most girls don’t get the same opportunities I did while growing up. It was unusual that I got the opportunity to try my hand at anything I wanted. It was lucky the boys’ teams I joined had supportive and open-minded coaches, children and parents. That’s usually not the way it works. Sexism might be waning slightly, but it certainly still is present and visible when considering sports.

Stereotypes associated with women in sports create a hostile environment. Girls have to break social norms and be subjected to scrutiny to be involved in many of the more “boyish” sports. Because of lack of interest, there might be fewer opportunities for girls to get involved with sports even if they want to. Fewer opportunities perpetuate the idea that girls don’t have a place in sports. These ideas mean NBA players out-earn WNBA players by 200 to one, according to a May 2012 USA Today article. These ideas kept the stands of my high school basketball games empty and those of our male counterparts filled to the brim.

Anyone who says sexism is a thing of the past has never been to a women’s basketball or softball game. Sports should not be dismissed as forms of sexism, but should be observed as a model of the way society regards women and men. A society willing to pay hundreds of dollars to watch a men’s football game obviously has some opinions about the status of men in society. Athletic prowess is characteristic of a strong male, but somehow it is not admirable when seen in women. Male athletes are adored and deified to a ridiculous extent while female athletes are barely recognized. When women are considered, it is with a small shrug and the thought, “She’s good, I guess, for a girl.”

Brittney Griner, a star basketball player for Baylor University, for example, is one of the best female players ever to play college basketball. This isn’t what you hear about, though. Instead, she is criticized for being “manly” by sexist fans. An amazing athlete, who would be looked upon with awe if a man, is instead subjected to discriminatory criticism because she is a woman. This blatant sexism aside, there are undertones even in the language of sports. Everything positive is related to masculinity. You want to be physically strong and emotionally tough, traits seen as positive for men but unladylike for women.

I didn’t know about this type of discrimination until later during my life and for that I’m lucky. I got to have fun the way I wanted to and define myself as an athlete without scrutiny. That opportunity should be given to every girl the way it is given to every boy. Also, boys shouldn’t feel the need to define themselves as athletes just to stick to the status quo either. More opportunities increase interest and thus more understanding about the way women too can be strong, tough and entertaining. Until the stigma about athleticism disappears, sexism will stay alive and well, thinly veiled by the excuse that the men’s game is just more fun to watch.

Sexism is sports column

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