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


When my girls were growing up, we were a football family. The NFL dominated our big-screen TV during football season, and we attended several games in St. Louis, San Diego, and Indianapolis. Mack played tackle football for three years and flag football for two, and the rest of us delighted in watching her play. We participated in a Pratt family football pool, and we all owned NFL apparel. Even Savannah, who did not embrace the game with Mackenzie’s high-energy enthusiasm, requested a Miami Dolphins winter coat for Christmas one year. And although Kevin had the least amount of interest in the game, he genuinely liked cheering for the Rams after they moved to St. Louis.

In Springfield, we lived between Chicago Bear and St. Louis Ram territories, but Mack became a devoted Packers fan. She did not, I assure you, get this Packer thing from her momma, as I have been a San Diego Chargers fan for thirty-five years. I am not really sure why Mack chose Green Bay. Perhaps it was something simple; perhaps the color green tickled the Irish in her. For Halloween in kindergarten, she asked for a Packer uniform, so her interest in the team definitely started by the time she was five. Perhaps it was even earlier than that, because the Packers won the Super Bowl in 1997, and we hosted a party that year. Yes, I guess that Super Bowl was likely the start of her green and gold fandom, now that I think about it. On Sundays during football season, Mack and I would watch our respective teams, tuning to the Packers at noon and then focusing on my west-coast Chargers at 3. We wore our own team’s colors, but we always cheered for each other’s teams. I cherished those cold, winter Sundays, curled up with my knowledgeable and rabid little football fanatic.


Mack grew up loving those Packers and the indomitable Brett Favre, and as soon as she was able to choose her own number in sports, it was always number 4 for her beloved quarterback. When she got a Build-a-Bear for her birthday one year, she dressed her in a football uniform and christened her Brett. She counted a Packer winter coat in her vast collection of Packer apparel, and she wore one favorite Green Bay sweatshirt for ten years…long after she had outgrown it! She often sported a braided Green Bay necklace, possessed one of those crazy foam-cheese-wedge hats, and loudly protested whenever sports announcers failed to recognize the talents of wide receiver Donald Driver, her second favorite player. As well, my sweet little girl became an impressive, and often foul-mouthed, trash talker; and her enthusiastic celebrations following a Green Bay victory, especially when enjoyed in the company of a forlorn Chicago Bears fan, rivaled the jubilant qualities of the Lambeau Leap.

Kevin, Savannah, and I all thought it was quite adorable that our little Macko loved football so much, and I was not even a little mad that she had chosen the Packers over my Chargers. Hell, I was just thrilled she wasn’t a Raiders fan! However, the members of the Chicago McDermott clan—blinded by their love for the Bears and their sad level of comfort with games in which no touchdowns are scored—were far less accepting. At McDermott family events, especially at Christmas as the Packers were soaring into the playoffs and the Bears were struggling for their third or fourth win of the season, Mack delighted in extolling the virtues of her team’s Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks, first Brett Favre and then Aaron Rodgers. She would then ask her grandpa, her uncles, and many of her cousins how it felt to never have their own quality quarterback to love, and she would press them for answers as to why they threw away their devotion on the bad-news Bears.

When Mack reached high school, typical teenager activities and her three varsity sports crowded out football. Yet she remained a Green Bay fan for life. “Mack for the Pack,” she always said. Occasionally, she would still sit down to watch a big Packer game or an NFL playoff game with her momma bear. She also continued to keep up with her team’s roster and their wins and losses, and she never tired of poking fun at her misguided Chicago Bear kin. At summer outings at the family cabin in central Wisconsin, Mack always packed (pun intended) Green Bay apparel, happy to play the role of an annoying cheese-head. When the mischievous cabin neighbor, a fun-loving Wisconsin native, installed a large Packer logo on the way-up, tip-top peak of the McDermott cabin—far out of the reach of a common, household ladder—Mack offered him her hearty congratulations for carrying out such a fantastic, diabolical plan. Every single time Mack saw that logo on the McDermott cabin, she would laugh and laugh, acknowledging that it was, without a single doubt, one of her favorite things in all of the world.

Mack never asked that I try to find two elusive and expensive tickets to a game at Lambeau Field, and I do not recall her even suggesting that we try to see them in a visiting stadium. Once when she was very little, we visited Green Bay, Wisconsin, and the Packer Hall of Fame; and we watched a Packer practice, peering through a chain-link fence to catch of a glimpse of Brett Favre. I have some great pictures of that trip, including a blurry one in which Mack is kicking a football on a little-kid’s gridiron, surrounded by cardboard cutouts of Packer players. But despite that trip to the Packer Holy Land, I can tell you that I very much regret never taking her to see her Packers play.

No doubt, Mack would probably tell me it did not matter then, and that it does not matter now. What mattered was that football and the Packers were just two of those trivial but enjoyable things she loved. I also think she would say that embracing football was about having fun and sharing a passion with her momma bear; and that loving the Packers made her unique in our family and gave her a weapon with which to expose the angry vein on the forehead of her Grandpa Bill, whom she loved to tease but always adored.

Partly because my team failed to reach the playoffs, but mostly because Green Bay was Mack’s team, I am going to cheer my heart out for the Packers this weekend and, hopefully, in the Super Bowl as well. Rooting for Mack’s Pack, I will reflect on all of those special Sundays on the couch with her, and perhaps those sweet memories will carry me through another difficult day without her. I will close my eyes and picture Mack’s grown-up self all stuffed into that favorite little-kid Green Bay sweatshirt. I will hear her singing: “bum bum bum…bada…bum bum bum… GO…PACK…GO!” And maybe for good measure, I’ll prepare some Mack-quality trash-talking to throw at her grandpa as well.

Now come on, Aaron Rodgers, bring us two more victories this lonely football season. Go…Pack…Go!!! (

That favorite sweatshirt…

packers2  packers3

My favorite number 4ever…


Mom, We’re at the World Series

One of the things that Mack and I enjoyed together, especially when she was young, was watching sports. She would sit with me on Sundays and signal all the touchdowns we witnessed. She would get up early with me to watch Wimbledon finals over breakfast. And I was completely successful in making her a tried and true fan of the St. Louis Cardinals. As a family, we made dozens of trips to St. Louis over the years to attend games; and many times, I would pick up Mack from school and just the two of us would head down to Busch Stadium for a weekday, evening game. We watched hundreds of games on TV, listened to the Cards on the radio on long car rides, and engaged in some most excellent tag-team trash talking against our misguided family members and friends who had the misfortune of loving the Cubs.

In 2004, through a friend of mine who was a former umpire, I obtained two tickets for Game 5 of the World Series between the Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox. Mack and I were thrilled; and on the night of Game 4, I drove home early from a work trip so that we could attend our game the next day at Busch Stadium. Well for those of you who don’t remember—or who, like Mack’s dad, don’t care—the Cardinals did not win Game 4. And they really needed to win Game 4, because they had lost the first three games of the best-of-seven series. I was listening to the game on the radio in the car and had not yet reached home when the Cardinals lost. As soon as the game was over and the reality of their loss set in, I started crying and my cell phone rang. It was Mack. She was also crying (although not quite so hard as her mother), but to hear her shaky and sad little ten-year-old voice was heartbreaking to me. How cruel was I to have dangled a World Series ticket in the face of small, sweet sports fan; and how horrible of a mother was I to have purchased Game 5 tickets to a-once-in-a-lifetime event? Don’t answer that.

Oh, but wait…the Cardinals in the World Series is NOT a-once-in-a-lifetime event, now is it? And, for those of you who don’t remember—or who, like Mack’s dad, don’t care—the Cardinals made it back to the World Series just two years later. As soon as our Redbirds had won the National League pennant, my friend the former umpire insisted—actually, he demanded—that this time I purchase a ticket for a game that would most certainly be played. Of course, I took his advice, he took my $350 for two seats above right field, and Mack and I attended Game 4 against the Detroit Tigers on October 26, 2006, in the brand-new Busch Stadium. We arrived early and strolled around the stadium, taking in the festive atmosphere and clutching our bright white World Series towels we collected upon our entry at the gate. We shopped for gifts for a Card fan buddy of Mack’s in Springfield, and we ate a ton of junk food. Mack was never a big talker, but she was particularly quiet as we finally made our way to the seats. The shiny new stadium was so beautiful that night, the music was blaring, and the crowd was bustling with energy and excitement. Mack not only knew this was different from every other single baseball game she had attended, but she also appreciated the experience as it was happening. Just as I was finishing the startling calculations of our expenditures, she tapped me gently on the shoulder. I turned to look at her adorable freckled face, her big brown eyes were wide and sparkling, and she whispered in a sort-of-breathless amazement, “Mom, we’re at the World Series!

350 bucks for 2 tickets + 2 twenty-dollar-bills for parking + 150 bucks for souvenirs and food + 5-4 Cardinal victory + 1 delighted daughter = priceless.

WS 4     WS 3WS 1     WS 5