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So it seems as if I’ve engaged myself in a little bit of a “war” with some proponents of the College Sports Council.

To recap, I posted a few days ago on how the College Sports Council et. al. need to get their facts right before trashing Title IX and the recent Women’s Sports Foundation report on gender in college athletics.

Apparently, my opinion was not digested very well with the CSC and their community of… I don’t want to say “woman-haters,” so I guess I shall say… “Title IX-haters?”

So today, “Stone Cold Button” of the Texas Swimming Blog – whose tagline is Nuke the Whales, but Save the Males! Title IX hurts men’s swimming (& wrestling) – decided to, um, “critique” my recent blog post by writing a response titled Talk Sense to a Fool, where he proceeded to highlight and recap my conversation with a commentor.

So, here is my response to Stone Cold Button:

In your post you said, “”Sure, you have more opportunities as long as you don’t mind switching sports and being a third-string punter.”

You’re exactly right.  The problem is not Title IX, it’s football.

Listen, I agree with you in that men should have the opportunity to swim and do gymnastics and wrestle, etc. But not at the expense of Title IX. You’re pointing the finger in the wrong place.

Why are you (male swimmers) attacking women sports, when we are also on the losing end of athletic departments’ decisions about how to allocate resources and opportunities?  If you had any balls at all, you’d go after football and the fact that colleges value third string punters more than they value men’s swimming.
Also, it was the men’s sports lobby that invented proportionality prong, by the way. Back when men outnumbered women in college, it seemed like an easy way to comply without having to add a whole lot of women’s sports.

But now that the shoe is on the other foot and women outnumber men, you cry about it?

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I recently had the unique opportunity to interview a pioneer who has dedicated her career to bringing a voice to women’s sports, Jane Schonberger. Jane is the founder and “Chief Trailblazer” for Pretty Tough, a #1 site for female athletes and fans of women’s sports.

Geared toward young girls and their growing desire to play sports, Jane established the Pretty Tough (PT) brand to demonstrate that a woman’s femininity and desire to play hard can be strong and can co-exit. Not only does PT do an excellent job of conveying this message to an audience who needs to hear it the most, but the site also has some of the best comprehensive, up-to-date coverage of women’s sports available.

I am a strong supporter of this site and this company, and I wish Jane the best of luck in her future endeavors. (You might see me guest blogging for PT in the future).

Check out the below interview. I hope you enjoy her words as much as I have. Thank you, Jane, for your inspiration and taking the time to speak with me.

(MH) Tell me a little bit about yourself, your background and your role at Pretty Tough.

(JS) After a successful career as content developer and entertainment/brand marketing executive, I wanted to focus my attention on something I really cared about. I have two teenage daughters – both athletes – who are my role models.  I wanted to create a brand that spoke to them – and other girls of their generation – demonstrating that a woman’s femininity and desire to play hard and be strong can co-exist.

I teamed up with friends and colleagues that I’d worked with at Disney, Fox and other studios to develop and market the brand. I serve as the Chief Trailblazer but I have help from a talented group of writers, designers, consumer product gurus, licensing professionals, athletes and coaches.

(MH) Have you ever played sports? If so, which sports and how have they had an impact upon your current career and involvement with Pretty Tough?


(JS) As a kid I mostly played sports on a recreational level. I played tennis and swam competitively for a couple years but wasn’t a super serious athlete. The impact on my adult life comes primarily from lessons learned about goal-setting, perseverance and mental toughness.

Today I still play tennis and swim – I also love to hike and bike – and I play basketball on a Moms League at our local park.

I’m also an avid spectator – one of my daughters is an elite level soccer player, the other is a fencer – and I love going to youth sports competitions as well as college and professional sports events.

(MH) Tell me a little bit about the background of Pretty Tough (the book) and how the Web site and sports blog evolved from there. Does Liz Tigelaar have any continued impact on the site?

(JS) One of our early goals when we established Pretty Tough was to publish a series of books that featured young female athletes. We wanted stories about pushing limits and busting stereotypes – e.g. the popular jock can just as easily be a girl as a guy.

Razorbill, a division of Penguin Young Readers, shared our vision and bought the series. Pretty Tough was the first book. Playing with the Boys was the second in the series and we’re working on the third and fourth books now.

Pretty Tough novels illustrate the life of female athletes in a way that’s never been done before. We wanted to show the grittiness and sweat that athletes must endure to be the best they can be. The books also delve into the lives of the athletes—their friendships and romances—stuff that appeals to girl readers.

We created the Pretty Tough book series because we love to read, and as teens, we could never find good books with a female athletic main character. We hope readers can identify with our characters and see how they deal with a lot of the same issues teens face today.

Author/screenwriter Liz Tigelaar was brought on board because she supports girls in their quest to be both strong and tough athletes without losing their sense of girlie-ness and femininity.  She loved the idea of writing books about teenagers for teenagers that sends a positive message and she’s done a terrific job capturing the voice of our characters.

(MH) I noticed there is a PT Team. I’m curious, how did this group of people come together? How did you find so many voices to represent so many different sports?

(JS) We developed a sponsorship/ambassador program last year to recognize girls in diverse sports. We have an application process and girls on our team benefit on a variety of levels.  PT Team members get exposure on our site and via our marketing campaigns; they receive a free cap and shirt, stickers, and other promotional material. They also earn discounts on products purchased through our online store and commissions on sales generated by their efforts.


(MH) In my opinion, Pretty Tough covers sports better than many other resources out there. Who is in charge of updating and keeping track of all the latest female sports news? How do they do it?


(JS) Given our limited staff, the task of keeping the site up-to-date is my responsibility. We work with a talented group of girls and women who contribute material specific to their sport and occasionally assign articles we think will be of general interest.

We’re always looking for new writers and experts and want to provide a forum for all female athletes so hit us up if you think you have something to contribute.


(MH) I noticed there is a “Life & Style” section to the site. What is the purpose of this section, and do you think that section is important in order to attain viewers?


(JS) At our heart, we are a lifestyle brand and I think it’s important for girls to understand how sports and leading active lives are core to a healthy lifestyle. By profiling certain personalities and depicting popular culture, we are essentially connecting the dots and demonstrating how sports and sports themes impact our lives positively on a daily basis.

(MH) How does Pretty Tough profit from the site?


(JS) The site was originally established to develop brand awareness for Pretty Tough and serve as an online shopping destination for Pretty Tough products. It has since evolved into a marketing/advertising vehicle for complementary companies as well.


(MH) I was once told by a female sports blogger that a main reason women’s sports publications such as Sports Illustrated for Women have fizzled out over the years is because they can’t compete with the fashion and consumer magazines and publications, and there is limited interest in the sports news alone. What do you think about this?


(JS) I think that print publications in general are finding it difficult to compete with the internet and other content delivery options. Women’s sports magazines just happened to be at the forefront of pubs experiencing financial difficulties. The current trend is in niche content and given the targeted demographic, I think marketers will find women’s sports sites a more cost-effective way to reach their audience.


(MH) I’ve written about this a few times on my blog, but something that really is annoying to me is that male sports bloggers often only cover female sports when the participant is “hot” or attractive. Have you seen this or come across this? What are your thoughts on male sports bloggers?


(JS) Objectifying female athletes is a favorite pastime of many male bloggers. It’s obvious that “hot” or attractive personalities are going to garner more media attention (whether it’s David Beckham or Amanda Beard) but bloggers only interested in T&A are abhorrent. I love to see female athletes in the spotlight but it’s important to recognize their athletic talents and achievements as well as their physical attributes.


(MH) If you look back to the WNBA fight that happened a few months ago, why do you think that was so successful in grabbing so much attention?


(JS) Although it might not have been the kind of attention the WNBA wanted, the mini-brawl did shine the spotlight on the players momentarily. Female athletes are just as competitive as men and when pushed to the edge they are obviously capable of exhibiting the same lack of control.  The bigger question should be: Now that the women have shown they can fight like the NBA players – can they get paid the same as the guys too?:-)

(MH) Since I started covering the Olympics this year, my site traffic jumped. There seems to be a strong interest during the Olympics which fizzles out over the year. Have you seen this as well? What are your thoughts about the Olympics and its ability to generate an interest in female sports?


(JS) With all of the media hype and money spent on the Olympics, it’s no surprise that interest in all sports was heightened during the event. Athletes such as Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson, Allyson Felix, Sanya Richardson, Dara Torres, Kerri Walsh and Misty Misty May-Treanor received well deserved attention. Equally important was a focus on athletes like fencer Mariel Zagunis, pole vaulter Jenn Stuczynski and martial artist Diana Lopez. Hopefully interest in them and other female athletes will continue.

(MH) What do you think about women’s softball being eliminated for the London games? Do you think there’s a chance to bring it back?


(JS) Softball’s elimination from the 2012 Games sucks and since the basis of the IOC’s decision was nebulous at best, I think there’s a good chance they’ll reconsider for the 2016 Games.

(MH) It seems there is a large disconnect between the millions of girls and women (through college) who compete in sports on a daily basis and the few of us who cover and follow women’s sports as adults (after college). What do you think about this? Do you think there is a market out there for adult females who want to learn about and follow women’s sports?


(JS) I’m sure there is a market for adult females who want to follow women’s sports – albeit a small one compared to the male market. At PrettyTough.com we try to focus not only on the sports but also on the lifestyle aspects. Our audience is one that lives a “sports-inspired life” and is also interested in the health, beauty, and entertainment aspects of athletics.

(MH) What do you think is essential in capturing this market? What is holding it back from taking off right now? Why aren’t advertisers interested and investing (i.e., Sports Illustrated for Women got dropped a few years back)?


(JS) As mentioned before, niche content and a targeted demographic provide marketers with great opportunities. The cost of producing and distributing a magazine is significant but there are a number of alternative methods for delivering content that provide marketers and advertisers with cost-effective solutions. Companies seriously looking at the bottom line recognize that women involved in sports and living a healthy lifestyle are a valuable demographic with enormous spending power and they should be finding efficient ways to reach them.

(MH) What do you think the future of women’s sports will be? Do you think we’ll generate more attention, or do you think it has leveled off?


(JS) I believe this is just the tip of the iceberg. Just as college sports has exploded in the past 20 years, women’s sports will be the next huge growth area. College basketball games used to be played in empty arenas  – the first nationally televised game wasn’t until 1968 (UCLA vs. Univ. of Houston). Today there are entire cable networks devoted to college sports and they’re big business for all involved. Women’s sports will follow a similar trajectory.

— I’d like to thank Jane Schonberger again for taking the time to speak to me. Her words and mission at Pretty Tough are critical in our ongoing fight to bring a voice to women’s sports online.

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Dara Torres clinched the silver medal in the 50m freestyle event on Sunday, losing by 0.1 seconds to Britta Steffen of Germany. “Holy crap” is the only thing that came to mind when I saw that finish. She exited the pool with watery eyes. She deserves nothing but congratulations for her efforts this year, and she was successful in her efforts to steal earned attention internationally as the oldest woman to compete in the Olympics. She brought home three three medals from Beijing.

In the semifinals, Torres showed great sportsmanship as she held the race when Sweden’s Therese Alshammar tried to rectify her torn swimsuit. Torres warned officials to wait. I guess wisdom really does come with age and experience. I wonder how many other Olympic athletes would hold the race for a competitor.

Also, I read this morning on Women Play Sports that our U.S. Women’s soccer team is headed to the finals after beating Japan, 4-2.

The US will be facing Brazil, who beat Germany earlier today by a score of 4-1.

“The US has a chance to win their third gold medal ever in women’s soccer. They’ve had much success here in the Olympics, only losing one gold medal final. The US has a chance to show their soccer dominance to the rest of the world, once again,” Andrew said.

It’s going to be exciting to watch that game. It will be broadcast live on NBC at 9am on Thursday.

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I have to admit it – I think swimming is my favorite event of the Beijing Olympics.

I know it seems like I’m “jumping on the bandwagon,” but it was SO exciting last night to watch the women’s 200-m breaststroke event, as American Rebecca Soni came from behind to beat world record-holder Leisel (a.k.a “Lethal Jones”) and set a new world record, 2 minutes, 20.22 seconds.

She was losing up until the last 50 meters, when she “busted it” off the wall and kicked it into overdrive to beat Liesel by almost an entire body length.

What is up with the world records this year? It’s like every event someone smashes another record! Maybe it’s the new style of swimsuits?

Whatever it is, it’s awesome.

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According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, today, American Natalie Coughlin became the first woman to repeat as Olympic champion in the 100-meter backstroke. She set a USA record with 58.96 seconds.

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An exciting weekend in international sports as Beijing gets started. It’s only been just over three days and we’ve already seen some incredible performances. Below are some highlights of what’s happened for the women over the weekend, broken down by sport.

I thoroughly enjoy the positive impact that Wikipedia has made on my life, as well as to the quality and access of information available. Therefore, trusting the online contributors, I took what’s there and compiled a list of updates on women’s performances from the weekend. If you have anything to add, please do so in the comments field at the bottom of this post.

Friday, 8/8

Soccer:

Norway beat defending champion United States 2–0 in group G for soccer (women’s football).

Norwegian striker Leni Larsen Kaurin‘s second-minute goal was the fastest-ever goal in the women’s Olympic football tournament.[2] Meanwhile, reigning World Cup champion Germany drew 0–0 with Brazil in group F.[3] Host China won its opening game by beating Sweden 2–1 in group E.[4]

Saturday, 8/9

Archery:

South Korea set an Olympic record in the ranking round of women’s team archery.

Weight lifting:

Chen Xiexia of China won the Women’s 48 kilogram (that’s 105 lbs) Weightlifting competition, successfully completing all her attempts winning the gold with 95kg (209 lbs) in the snatch and 117kg (257.4 lbs) in the Clean and Jerk for a total of 212kg (466.4 lbs) a new Olympic Record.

Fencing:

The United States swept the medals in the women’s sabre event, the first U.S. podium sweep of a fencing event since 1904. Mariel Zagunis took gold.

Soccer:

Norway qualifies for the quarterfinals of the women’s football tournament with a 1–0 win over New Zealand.

Air Rifle:

Kateřina Emmons of the Czech Republic wins the first gold medal of the games, setting an Olympic record for both the qualifying (with a perfect 400) and final scores, in the women’s 10 m air rifle.

Sunday, August 10

Archery:

South Korea set a world record for a 24-arrow team match, in their victory over Italy in the quarter finals of the women’s team archery event.

Air Pistol:

Guo Wenjun of China wins gold in women’s 10 metre air pistol and sets a new Olympic record for final score with 492.3 points, after Natalia Paderina of Russia had bettered the Olympic qualification record to 391.

During the medal ceremony, Pederina and bronze medalist Nino Salukvadze of Georgia shared a symbolic embrace as their two countries continued to war; the two had been friends since they both competed for the Soviet Union. (see picture to the right)

Swimming:

Australian swimmer Stephanie Rice sets a new world record in women’s 400 m individual medley, winning Australia’s 400th Summer Olympics medal. Second place Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe also finished below the previous world record.

The Netherlands team wins women’s 4 x 100 m freestyle relay final with a new Olympic record of 3:33.76.

Darra Torres won the silver in the 400m Free Relay.

Weight lifting:

Prapawadee Jaroenrattanatarakoon of Thailand wins gold in women’s 53 kg weightlifting and sets a new Olympic record for clean and jerk. This is Thailand’s first medal in the 2008 games

Cycling:

Nicole Cooke of Great Britan took the gold medal in the Women’s Road race.

Women’s Springboard:

Guo Jingjing and Wu Minxia of China took the gold medal in the women’s synchronized springboard competition.

Judo:

Xian Dongmei of China took the women’s Judo gold medal.

Swimming:

Inge Dekker, Ranomi Kromowidjojo,Femke Heemskerk, Marleen Veldhuis of the Netherlands took the gold medal in the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay.

… and much more to come later.

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Because my most popular post thus far (recieving over 2,000 hits) is that of Dara Torres, I feel compelled to announce that she has achieved what many have deemed impossible: on Sunday, she qualified for her fifth Olympic games, beating American-record holder, Natalie Coughlin by 0.05 for a spot on the

Apparently, she rose from the pool to the sound of Lenny Kravitz’s American Woman blaring over the loudspeakers in Omaha on Sunday.

In terms of journalism, Olympic fandom and what’s deemed important in female sports, it seems middle-aged moms everywhere are stepping up to the plate in support and congratulations of this swimming heroine.

Karen Crouse of the New York Times could not say it any better,

“Michael Phelps, who lowered his world record in the 200 individual medley Friday, has a fan base supplemented by squealing girls. Torres is a big hit with their mothers. The support she received from the crowd of around 14,000, which rose to applaud her after she finished, made her teary.”

Torres is truly an inspiration to women everywhere; not only living the dream as an athlete overcoming the inevitable challenge of age, but also as a female who has successfully caught the attention of sports journalists, who are overwhelmingly preoccupied with competition among men. I hope Torres continues to draw attention, bring it all the way to Beijing, and then back home again. Lord knows we need it.

Another thing to note about Torres is her journey, which has lived through the age of acceptance of female athleticism.

The New York Times article eloquently puts her journey into words:

“It takes a person of a certain age to remember the days when female swimmers rarely competed after high school because there were no college scholarships for women to entice them to stay in the sport. That was in the early 1970s. Torres, who competed at Florida, and Thompson, who went to Stanford, were in the second wave of women to benefit from the changes brought about by the passage of Title IX.

Biondi, who was on the 1984, 1988 and 1992 Olympic teams with Torres, said, “When girls become women, when gentlemen graduated from college, it wasn’t explicitly stated, it was just an understanding there that you were to get on with your life.”

Torres, he added, “has blown the roof off that line of thinking.”

And, my friends, that is what will make her a significant part of history. That is, if she ever retires.

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