Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

We need more differentiation, not integration.

March 2, 2015

So, over at Skepchick, Olivia has put up a post talking about women’s sports and what she sees as some bad stereotypes about them. Ultimately, her push in the post is to eliminate the distinction between men’s and women’s sports through various means, an argument that strikes me as odd because for me the best women’s sports are the ones where women aren’t trying to play the game like the men do, but instead take their natural abilities into account and play according to that. To me, every woman’s sport becomes massively less interesting and exciting the instant they start being able to play/playing the game the way the men play it, but without the attributes that the men’s game was targeted for. As soon as women start being able to win with big serves or with the big weight or with the big slapshots but while still having less powerful serves, less weight, or slapshots that are not as hard as the men typically do what you have is an inferior copy of a men’s sport, and the women’s sport loses what makes it special and interesting to watch. But let’s look at what Olivia is saying. She starts talking about stereotypes about women’s sports that annoy her:

More often than not I just hear that women aren’t as good, their bodies don’t allow them to be as powerful, as strong, or excel to the extent that men do. So it’s not interesting to watch them.

This often leads to me yelling about how women are just as athletic and impressive as men, and that we need a better system for differentiating leagues in sports than “men” and “women” …

So, I’ll (mostly) agree with her here. It isn’t the case that women’s sports aren’t as exciting as men’s sports because women are less athletic or competitive. In fact, I’d argue that in general taken in isolation when you watch a sport it is the competition level that drives the excitement of the sport, which means that your enjoyment is normalized to the competitors that you are watching. So as long as they are well-matched, the game will be interesting. The problem is that we don’t really have these things in isolation, as we have a choice of what sports and what leagues to watch. So to use a completely non-gendered example, it’s clear that in general people won’t choose to watch, say, minor league baseball instead of major league baseball because the game is the same in both cases, but the overall skill level is higher in the major league game, and so if you want to maximize your sports watching entertainment you’ll go for the equally competitive but higher skilled option. And so, in general, a woman’s sport that is the same game as the men’s league but has less skill at the elements of the men’s sport won’t be as interesting to watch as the men’s version. And vice versa (more on that later).

Because there’s no absolute value that says being bigger or stronger is always better in sports. There are sports in which female athletes do beat male athletes (equestrian events are integrated and women win medals regularly, Billie Jean King beat out Bobby Riggs in tennis, and many of the top rock climbers in the world are women), and even some sports that favor women overall, such as gymnastics and volleyball. The problem is that people don’t take those sports as seriously.

No, she’s right, there isn’t anything that says that bigger or stronger produces the better sport. However, her examples are a bit weak, because tennis, for example, is not a sport where female athletes beat male athletes. As was pointed out in the comments, her example was of a female player in her prime against a male player past his prime. If you took the top male tennis player and the top female tennis player and had them play, I don’t think that there’s any doubt that the male player would win handily. The raw power of his serve would almost certainly overwhelm his opponent, while her serve would be average at best. On the other hand, gymnastics is a sport that follows my model: the women’s sport is radically different from the men’s, focusing more on flexibility and the like while the men’s version focuses a lot on upper body strength and power. And women’s gymnastics is far more popular than men’s gymnastics, and I think it is, at least in part, because of that sharp distinction. Women’s gymnastics is not just men’s gymnastics done by people with less upper body strength, but is a sport shaped and formed by the things that women’s bodies are best at doing. I’ve also talked in the past about women’s curling and how I like it better than men’s curling because it’s a completely different game, and one that I enjoy more. My excitement with women’s hockey from the Nagano Olympics turned to massive disappointment four years later when it turned from being a different game to the same game as men’s hockey, but with players that simply weren’t up to that level.

Also, she’s a bit off in talking about how those sports aren’t taken as seriously. They all fit into a category of sports that could be considered, well, generally amateur sports, and essentially include in North America everything outside of the big professional leagues. Hockey in the United States was at least at one point in the same category, while soccer in North America generally is as well while it isn’t outside of North America. I guess the best way to describe them — instead of calling them “amateur” — is to call them “Second-Tier”. They are sports that you see on your sports shows and that are popular when there are big tournaments or at the Olympics, but are generally filler most of the rest of the time. These sports include skiing, volleyball, figure skating, gymnastics, curling (in Canada), tennis, golf and a host of others. It’s hard to explain how a sport gets into that sort of role and how it gets out of it, but it seems that right now tradition has more to do with it than anything else; the First-Tier sports tend to be the sports that have been there for ages, and perhaps more importantly have had leagues built around them for ages, as opposed to simply having tournaments week in and week out. They’re also generally strongly team sports, and sports that you can associate with geographically, and so cheer for a team rather than a person. But it is somewhat mysterious how this happens, because there are more masculine sports that are clearly Second-Tier — boxing, for example — and so contrary to Olivia’s opinion that doesn’t seem to be the driving factor. Heck, baseball and soccer aren’t anywhere near the top of the heap in terms of what you’d consider “toughness” and yet outdraw the tougher hockey pretty much everywhere except Canada. So the implication that it’s a culture of masculinity doesn’t quite seem to work.

There are many similar examples, like upper body strength in swimming, or weight in football. But the sports that take advantage of women’s abilities like gymnastics, open water swimming, figure skating, or shooting, are not pushed on the media, supported, or even really considered sports in the way that the big male sports are.

Figure skating, at least in Canada, is actually given far more attention than swimming is. So is gymnastics. Shooting seems like a pretty boring spectator sport, meaning that I can’t see it gaining more attention in areas that don’t already have it as a sport of interest than, say, darts does (which is, to my mind, amazingly popular in the U.K.). It also seems like a prime masculine sport, but has never really enjoyed a lot of attention as far as I’m aware. So I don’t think “They’re just not supported” is a good explanation here; given the success and attention paid to Canadian figure skaters over the past few decades due to their success, it would seem that in Canada at least figure skating’s more than had its shot, for example.

Ultimately, she seems to want to solve this problem and bring about a host of other benefits by integrating men’s and women’s sports. And immediately runs into a problem that she tries to solve:

It also seems entirely possible that there could be leagues with slightly altered rules to make women more competitive. Some people might whine and moan about how this would destroy the sport, but all our rules are completely arbitrary anyway and the way we set up our competitions is completely arbitrary, so why not make it more accessible to women? We have rules against using steroids or against sticking a trampoline under the basket, both of which mean that players aren’t being as outstanding in their abilities as they could be. I know you all love dunks, but imagine a league in which dunks weren’t legal and how that would change the playing field for gender equality. Ok MenBA fans, stop throwing things, you can still have a dunking league too if you want.

The issue with simply integrating them, she realizes, is that if the rules are kept the same then the elite leagues would likely end up being defacto men’s leagues anyway. So then she starts talking about changing the rules. She refers back to her example of basketball and says that one way to eliminate the height issue is to remove dunking. Except that height is beneficial beyond dunking. There’s rebounding, for example. And shot blocking. And being able to pass or shoot over a defender without having to do a fade away. And all sorts of other things. If you changed the sport to allow for that that much, you’d have a radically different game … which you could achieve in some sense by just not integrating and letting women who are generally shorter play, and not providing any rule changes to adjust it for their height.

The problem with this is that it will end up being ruined as soon as you get women into the game who are tall enough to play the game the way the men play the game, because then again if the rules haven’t changed then they will be able to dunk, rebound, and shoot and pass over the smaller women just like the men would. Except that they’ll still be shorter than the men in the men’s league, and so you’ll have a league that plays the same as the men’s league but isn’t as good as it. This is what bugged me about the Williams sisters in tennis (which I don’t really watch), the Jennifer Jones rink in curling, and essentially all of women’s hockey: becoming more like the men’s game meant that you had nothing more than an inferior men’s game, which took away what made those sports interesting in their own right.

So, could you integrate? Maybe. But to do what Olivia suggests requires taking the existing frameworks and essentially making a new game, and it’s hard to see how that could be done without turning it into the gymnastics model: two completely different games, one for men and one for women. Especially since you have the issue of competition to deal with, as already mentioned. If you radically change a sport, then you essentially end up with two — or more — completely different versions of the same sport. If they compete against each other, unless you manage to hit completely different markets, one is likely to push out the others to become the dominant one. It’s not likely that dunkless basketball will outdraw “traditional” basketball. And, even worse, you might actually splinter your market and so lose out in ratings when you compete with more unified sports. So, then, trying to build a new alternative sport that could be integrated is not all that great an idea, but trying to change the existing one by taking out skill elements in order to integrate is not that great either. I’m not sure what the solution is here, but one thing that we can do right now is stop pushing women’s sports to be men’s sports, and for women to stop treating men’s sports as the major leagues, as we saw Hayley Wickenheiser, Michelle Wie, and others who strive to compete in the men’s league and get accolades for doing it. They should instead be treated as essentially traitors, people who are trying to play a different game (and generally not doing that well at it) not as people who are making it to the big time.

Simply changing the rules to integrate women isn’t going to convince people to value different athletic traits and abilities or new ways that the games might develop if women were integrated. Too many people will simply see it as artificially lowering the playing field because they value power and sheer strength over balance, flexibility, finesse, or skill.

So even if we could find a great way to integrate sports, there’s probably a lot of work to do at retraining our brains and societal expectations to appreciate new things. We have to choose as a society to care about other sports and other skills.

Well, let’s see. Darts and poker are, in fact, relatively big draws now. Women’s gymnastics focuses on all four of the things she promotes and is far more popular than men’s gymnastics, which focus on power and sheer strength. And many sports focus on both sheer power and finesse and skill (hockey and soccer being the best examples). So I don’t see that as being the problem. I see it as being the case that power and sheer strength in a lot of sports does mean greater success and better play, and so attempts to reduce that are rightfully seen as taking away from the sport. At this point, I think all I can suggest to Olivia is that she try to invent a new sport that focuses on what she wants focused on and see how it does. At the very least, then we’d know what she means by a sport that does that and, perhaps, what criteria for “popular” she’s aiming for.

Essentially, right now in order for women’s sports to succeed and take off they have to become something more than an inferior version of the men’s sport. Rolling women into the men’s sport is not in any way going to help with this. What will help with this is acknowledging the differences and maybe deliberately biasing the women’s game towards enhancing those differences and making them really stand out. If this is done, maybe more women’s sports can achieve the lofty heights of gymnastics when compared to the men’s version of the sport. And, as I’ve said on multiple occasions, those might well be the sports that I’ll decide to watch.

Guilty Pleasures

January 8, 2015

I think all of us have some kind of guilty pleasure when it comes to what we watch on TV (if we watch TV), from reality shows to soap operas to, well, whatever. Essentially, there are shows that we watch that we wonder why in the world we watch them, and are kinda embarrassed to admit to others that we watch them.

For me, right now, I guess my guilty pleasures are … poker and darts. I did sometimes watch poker when I had cable before, mostly when there was nothing else on, and found myself wondering why I watched it at all, or why I was having such a hard time changing the channel. But this time around, I find myself actually seeing that poker is on and deciding to watch it directly, potentially even if there might be something else on. That being said, I’m not alone, as the ratings for poker on ESPN used to be higher than that of hockey.

But what I’m finding most amazing is darts. Not the ratings, necessarily, but the reception it gets in Great Britain, where it plays/broadcasts from. It’s really big business. The matches, from what I’ve been seeing, move from venue to venue … and are packed. And they don’t look like tiny clubs either; they may not be stadiums, but they certainly hold a good number of people. And there’s a lot of trappings involved in darts, too. They have intro walks, intro music, nicknames, cheerleaders, and all sorts of other things. The World Championships had a 250,000 pound top prize. It’s amazing that a sport like darts can get that much attention.

As sports, the poker that you generally see is the game that, in my opinion, requires the least skill: Texas Hold ‘Em. But it’s all about reading players, knowing the percentages of your hand, what draws you have, and what hands your opponent could have based on that hand, and how likely they are to call a bluff or bluff themselves. So there is some strategy there that makes it interesting.

As for darts, it’s a fairly interesting high-scoring sport, because you have to be the first to get to 0 from (usually) 501 … and you have to get there exactly. Which means that you do want to get as high a score on each set of throws as you can … but also want to set up easier finishes, since you have to end on a double or a bullseye to win, so it involves sometimes taking lower scores that leave you with a more even remainder.

I’m not sure how long this will last, as my interest in poker is already flagging a bit (I only really pay attention now when interesting players are on) and I think that the same will happen soon to darts. And then it will be on to the next guilty pleasure …

NHL Playoff Predictions: Summary

June 14, 2014

So, with the Los Angeles Kings winning the Stanley Cup last night, my final record is 7 – 8, just a touch under .500. A bit disappointing, but still in the same range as a coin toss.

It was a closer series than a 4 – 1 series win would make it seem, but the Kings managed to win games that were at least games that the Rangers could very well have one, if not games that they really deserved to win. 3 out of 5 games in the series went into overtime, and the Kings won all 3. Only 1 of the 5 games was settled by more than a goal. The Kings went up 2 – 0 without having led for a single second in the series. I think that you can say that the Kings were full marks for their win, but that they weren’t dominate. They just managed to come up big when they absolutely had to.

Well, that’s it for this year, and that’s it for hockey until October.

Why do I bother?

June 2, 2014

So, last night I decided to try and stay up to watch the Chicago-L.A. hockey gamewhich I obviously had a vested interest in. However, since I still do have to get up early I was able to watch to what would have been the end of the game, but it wouldn’t have been a good idea to try to watch the overtime, especially since I had no idea when it would end. So, I ended up going to bed before I knew what the final score was, ended up dozing off during the third period, and essentially only ended up being a bit tired today because I slept less than I should have. And this seems to happen to me a fair bit when I try to stay up to watch games. So, tell me again why I bother?

NHL Playoff Predictions: Finals

June 2, 2014

Well, the third round was worse, with me going 0 – 2 leaving me at 6 – 8 for the season so far. It seems that having followed the sport over the season and knowing things about the teams actually matters when making predictions. Who knew?

So, despite my being unable to get over .500 for this year, I’m not going to throw in the towel. At least I can try to make a comeback with my final prediction. And so, in the Stanley Cup finals between the L.A. Kings and the New York Rangers, I’m going with …

the L.A. Kings. Correct

Sure, they had a very hard fought series against Chicago, and so there’s a risk that they’ll run out of gas. That being said, I predicted that they’d run out of gas in almost every other series, and they didn’t, at least in part because they get more time off than you’d expect. They don’t play until Wednesday, and after that don’t play again until Saturday, which means that they get an extra day of rest in there instead of playing every other night. L.A. has come back from being down 3 – 0 and won a hard fought series when up 3 – 1. And I really do think that they’re the better team when compared to the Rangers.

Overall recprd: 7 – 8

I’ve got a bad feeling about this …

May 18, 2014

So, after deciding to back Montreal in the East because I “had a feeling” … they dropped the first game 7 – 2 and Carey Price might be injured.

Oh, what a feeling …

NHL Playoff Predictions: Round 3

May 17, 2014

Well, I had a pretty poor second round, going 1 – 3 leaving me at 6 – 6 for the year. Well, at least I’m still at .500. Of course, these are the rounds that are always harder to pick, so let’s see how I do down the stretch.

Eastern Conference:

Montreal vs Rangers Incorrect

This is a very tight series to call. Both teams have been good, both teams have great goaltending, both teams have beaten teams they shouldn’t have … really, they’ve both had great runs. So, you could really flip a coin here and be no more likely to pick the right team than a deep analysis would. So, I’m going to go with Montreal. No real overwhelming reason; it just feels right.

Western Conference:

Chicago vs L.A. Incorrect

Picking the home teams killed me in the second round; picking all the visiting teams would have had me go 3 – 1. And the Kings have showed a lot of determination in these playoffs. But Chicago are the champions and are at least as good a team, and are at least a bit rested, which should be a factor. So I think Chicago should pull it off.

Round: 0 – 2
Overall Record: 6 – 8

NHL Playoff Predictions: Round 2

May 1, 2014

So, my record in the first round was a respectable 5 – 3. At least I was over .500. The interesting thing about that was that in the East I went with all of the teams that had home ice advantage and went 3 – 1, while in the West I went with all of the teams that didn’t except for one — Colorado — and went 2 – 2. You could say that maybe I should have picked more teams with home ice advantage except that the one team that I did pick that had home ice advantage lost their series.

Anyway, moving on to Round 2:

Eastern Conference:

Boston vs Montreal Incorrect
Pittsburgh vs Rangers Incorrect

Boston is just an overall better team than Montreal, so they should be able to pull it off.

Fleury wasn’t exactly stellar in the first round, but Pittsburgh still has a lot of offense and the Rangers just came through a really tough series against what I’d at least consider to be a weaker opponent and almost lost it. Pittsburgh should be able to pull it off unless Lundqvist stones them.

Western Conference:

Chicago vs Minnesota Correct
Anaheim vs L.A. Incorrect

Chicago is an overall better team than Colorado was, so they should be able to beat Minnesota, especially since Minnesota would have just come through a tough series.

Anaheim and L.A. is a close one. L.A. won’t give up since they know they can come back from anything, and Anaheim has choked in the past. But I think that Anaheim will be able to run L.A. out of gas and win the series, although if it goes to Game 7 my money would be on L.A.

Round: 1 – 3
Overall Record: 6 – 6

NHL Playoff Predictions: Round 1

April 14, 2014

Last year, I tried to predict the outcomes of each round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and did pretty well. More interestingly, I actually did get exactly one series wrong in every round. Yes, that’s literally, not on average. This year, I’m following hockey and sports in general less, so it should be interesting to see how I do this year.

As always, my predicted winner will be in bold.

Eastern Conference

Boston vs Detroit Correct
Tampa vs Montreal Incorrect
Pittsburgh vs Columbus Correct
Rangers vs Philadelphia Correct

Detroit, as they proved last season, are a team that can surprise you. They work hard and can come up with wins when they need to. But eventually you get beaten down by sheer talent, and Boston has that, and experience. They should pull it off.

Tampa/Montreal should be close, but Montreal has not been known for doing well in recent playoff outings, and I don’t see any reason for that trend to not continue.

Barring another Fleury collapse, Pittsburgh has the talent to easily get past Columbus.

Rangers/Philly is another close series, but it’s hard to bet against Lundqvist, especially since he’ll be motivated by this maybe being his last chance at a championship.

Western Conference

Colorado vs Minnesota Incorrect
St. Louis vs Chicago Correct
Anaheim vs Dallas Incorrect
San Jose vs Los Angeles Correct

Colorado seems to have a good team, which should give them the edge in the first round, at least.

St. Louis backed into the playoffs and are struggling right now, while Chicago still has a great time and a lot of experience. The Blues will have to wake up in a hurry and even then would be in tough.

It’s a complete bias on my part, but Anaheim in the past has had a number of early exits and a few good runs. Dallas has some good experience and so might be able to give them a run for their money.

Same bias against San Jose: I know them more for choking than for succeeding. The Kings also have a lot of experience and will jump on any weakness San Jose demonstrates.

Overall record: 5-3

Take Two …

August 26, 2013

I watched and talked about the amateur Lydia Ko winning the Canadian Open last year.

Well, she came back this year and did it again. Going away. Again.

She seemed a bit more serious and to have a little less wonder this year, which is sad. But once she turns pro — and she will, eventually — she should be a force on the LPGA tour for years to come.

The most remarkable thing? Over the past two years, she’s had to forfeit almost a million dollars in prize money, because she’s an amateur. That’s a pretty large chunk of change to give up.


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