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A blog by a long time New York Islanders fan who stays true to the fellas wearing orange, white and blue…but thinks the Islanders organization has some shaping up to do.

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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Trouble With Pink Jerseys

What ever happened to fair play?

Here's the situation: I'm in my room flipping through the Sports section of a summer Sunday's edition of the Daily News. I love the Sunday paper because the Sports part is even bigger than usual. As I get to Part 2: The Score, I do a double take at their Gratuitous Photo of the Week. Usually, I ignore this section, but on this day they have a picture of some tennis player named Ashley Harkleroad, which would be unremarkable were it not for the fact that she is wearing a towel on her neck, a skirt exactly three inches long, and "tennis" heels, balanced on her tennis racquet in a suggestive pose. That is all. Later, when interviewed about it, she seemed to be completely comfortable with leaving nothing to the imagination.

And, not for the first time, I found myself thinking, Great. Another role model for women's sports bites the dust.

It's shameful to say that this is going on, that barely anyone outside the tennis world probably even knew Harkleroad's name before she decided to pose for Playboy. That this poor girl thinks she's doing right by herself when she really isn't. That she hasn't been the first to do so, and she likely will not be the last, unfortunately. But most of all, that American society still can't grasp the idea of female athletes being simply athletes, and nothing more, even in the 21st century.

Thirty-six years ago, in 1972, Title IX of the Education Amendments was passed, giving women the chance to be equal to men in educational activities including but not limited to participation in sports. Now, in 2008, scores of women play sports on some level. However, you would barely know it if you'd been living under a rock and never realized it.

Why? Because sports networks are either barely skimming the surface of coverage of women's sports, or they're hypersexualizing the culture.

Face it, sex sells in this world of media. It's become an unspoken pact- men are best when they're strong, tough, uber-men, and women are best when they're hyperfeminine, graceful, beautiful and (at least half) naked. Talk about Title IX and feminism if you want, but even in the sports world, women have been pushed to accept this way of the world. Those who have, have the privilege of being noticed (Danica Patrick, Amanda Beard). Those who haven't- and there are many, aren't quite so lucky.

I won't lie- there are plenty of female athletes who haven't embraced the "sex sells" mentality. Krissy Wendell, Vonzetta Flowers, and other athletes have bucked the trend and become noticed for what they do best. However, even their names don't roll off the tongue as easily as IndyCar driver Danica Patrick, who does racy spreads for FHM and commercials for GoDaddy.com, or swimmer Amanda Beard, who takes her clothes off for practically anything. No doubt Ashley Harkleroad will join this legion, as nudged by her boyfriend and her agent, who obviously have no qualms about exploitation of women. (Because of course, men could care less if their female counterparts were stripped of their self-respect.)

All I ask of these women is this: Think of what you're giving up here. Money is nice and all, but when it comes to yourself, your self-respect, your dignity, is it really worth baring everything but your soul just for a paycheck? You wouldn't go into a job you hated for the money; why would you be so willing to throw away the respect you get from playing a sport for it? You're no porn stars. You're athletes. You represent your sport, and your family, and your community and your country. You set the examples for scores of young women and girls who wish to one day follow in your footsteps. And if these are the images you are to leave behind, you'll only make it worse for future generations. It's like those hideous pink and baby blue jerseys sports organizations sell to females; the more we buy into the concept, the more we become degraded. I will never wear those jerseys, and I refuse, without a doubt, to let myself fall into the trap that the others willingly dwell into.

There's a ton of money out there, girls. There's only one you. You can leave your mark on the world in a better way than through a centerfold.

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