In one of my elective classes I am taking at Simon Fraser University, the theme of the course revolves around the politics of sports and more importantly- the media’s role in portraying women in sports.
Last week we read an article and watched a documentary about Jennifer Harris. She is a highly skilled basketball player (unfortunately suffered a career ending ankle injury a few years ago) who was taken off her team at Penn State because the coach simply “didn’t want lesbians on her team.”
Harris never came out during the time she was on the team and whenever the coach assumed someone was a lesbian, including having other teammates spy on them for “confirmation”, they were kicked off. No explanation. Removed immediately and were threatened to have their medical records sabotaged if they tried playing for another team and transferring schools.
Something to point out here is that, what the coach did was wrong (we also find out has done this to multiple players before for years up until 2010 when she was FINALLY removed as head coach and the sports coaches at Penn State have an ongoing history of discrimination), the documentary did not focus on the fact that Harris was also a black woman and was discriminated against- leading to her facing double oppression. When Harris came forward about the discrimination she was facing, she was ignored and dismissed as implausible.
The documentary, titled Training Rules, took more of a civil rights approach and simplified it for the audience. It’s time to start having a conversation on how women, specifically people of colour, their sexuality, and gender identity are portrayed.
Linked is a video by Kimberlè Crenshaw, who coined the term “intersectionality” and is something I believe everyone should take time to watch.
This emphasizes the idea that people don’t like to admit that intersectional discrimination is a thing and try to categorize and individualize reasons for discrimination.
The media only focused on the gender discrimination of Harris’ case and completely disregarded her race and identity. They also chose to focus on the white women who were also discriminated against because of their sexuality on the team rather than dive deeper into understanding Harris’ case.
The media and society has a long way to go in order to finally acknowledge that the way they portray sports (in some cases) is wrong.
Although the classes topic is regarding women in sports, the lack of attention they face is astounding.
It is time to hold the media accountable for their lack of care when covering women’s sport and on a more serious note, Harris’ case and the portrayal of it is an important lesson for everyone.
Thank you for coming to Miss Kimberlè’s TedTalk.
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