The things Zuska has to say often make me uncomfortable, and the way she says them often irritates the hell out of me. But I still read her blog, because she almost always makes me think about things in ways I hadn’t before. Her post about the recent Lindsey Vonn Sports Illustrated cover is a great example of all of that.
Rudeness makes me want to stop reading. The “d00dz”, “ladybraned ladeez”, “mansplaining”, and generalized sarcasm and condescension that littered Zuska’s post irritated the hell out of me. But after spending just a small amount of time on actually looking at the issue, I’m having a very hard time figuring out why she might want to be polite about this.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but sports is supposed to be about competition, strength, skill, and determination – that’s the theory, anyway. But if that was reality, most of you would be almost as familiar with the names “Jessica Long” and “Natalie Coughlin” as you are with “Michael Phelps”. I’m willing to bet that quite a few of you know that Coughlin is an Olympic swimmer, but not much more than that. I’d be shocked if more than a handful of you have even heard of Long.
Let’s start with Jessica Long – she’s an absolutely amazing young woman. She won three medals in Athens in 2004, and six in Beijing in 2008. She’ll turn 18 at the end of the month. It’s extremely unlikely that she’ll appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated. And, no matter how good she might be as a swimmer, I’ll bet you a thousand dollars against a jelly doughnut that she’s not going to be featured in the Swimsuit Issue.
The reason that you probably haven’t heard of Long – and the reason that I’m confident she won’t be featured in the swimsuit issue – is simple. Long is not an Olympic athlete. She’s a Paralympic athlete. The fastest swimmers in the world can swim a 400 IM in about 4:30. Long takes close to 6 minutes, but she does it without legs.
Natalie Coughlin is a fantastic swimmer. During the 2008 Olympics, she became the first American woman to win six medals in a single Olympics – and that’s on top of the five she won in 2004. She became the first woman to win the gold for the 100 m backstroke in two consecutive games. Michael Phelps was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated several times. Coughlin, not once.
But there’s an even better way to see the discrepancies in the way these swimmers are seen by the public. The Google sees all, knows all, and reveals all.
Take the word “medals” out of each of those searches and replace it with “sexy”. Phelps comes back with 424,000 hits – that’s well under the total for the “medals” search. Coughlin, on the other hand, comes in with 194,000 hits – triple the attention she gets for the medals. The search for Jessica Long and sexy came in with 3,800, but after looking at the first couple of pages of hits it appears that virtually all of those are false positives related to various Jessicas with long hair.