"Women's sports is second-rate." This was the wisdom of the sports department where I worked in the early nineties. I was not long out of college, and I was the only woman on a sports writing staff of nearly twenty on a big-city newspaper.
To understand the departmental attitude toward women, I began a casual tally of the pictures that ran in the section. mostly, there were no pictures of women, so the count was simple: 15-0; 11-0; 12-0. A "good"day was a 9-2 day, an 11-1 day. Those were rare. As I counted, I saw that these seemingly inconsequential and repetitious pictures of able-bodied men hitting baseballs, throwing footballs, and rebounding basketballs actually had a cumulative effect on the way females saw themselves in relation to males and vice versa. When stories and pictures about women did find their way into the papera U.S. Open tennis report, an LPGA story, a column about Jackie Joyner-Kerseeesuch items about outstanding female athletes would clash on the page with the "escort" ads, always featuring women, that were relegated to the sports section.
Wanting to fit into that all-male environment, I learned to keep up with Sports Illustrated. But in 1994, when the "Swimsuit Issue" arrived, as it did every February, I worked it into my picture tally. It was, after all, the only issue each year when a woman was guaranteed to grace the cover of America's premier sports magazine. I reviewed all the covers since the previous "Swimsuit Issue" and I discovered that from the "Swimsuit Issue" of February 1993 to the one of February 1994, the only female athletes on the cover were featured at their most vulnerable: Monica Seles after being stabbed; Nancy Kerrigan after being hit; and Mary Pierce, whose father lost control at her matches.
I wrote an essay called "Cover-Girl Athletes" about the fact that women athletes were invisible in the sport media until they made news as victimsor as vixensas was the case then, in February 1994, when the Tonya Harding scandal was monopolizing the media's attention. The response to "Cover-Girl Athletes" held the seeds of Game Face. I got calls from people I hadn't spoken to in years. I got the thumbs-up from some colleagues, and I got sneers from others. I got, you could say, a calling, because for the first time I asked myself, What does a female athlete look like?
Based on my own life experience, both in sports and reporting, I had a vision of the answer. In the media and in bookstores, however, I found nothing that reflected the beautiful and complicated relationship women have to sports in a world where prescribed feminine behavior does not include the muscle, sweat, and passion that are ingrained elements of sport. I circulated my question "What does a female athlete look like?" to photographers by flyers, e-mail and word of mouth.
As I studied their responses and continued to look for more, the culture shifted. Though often misinterpreted as anti-male, Title IX, the 1972 law largely responsible for creating opportunities for females in sports, was vindicated at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. There, mean and women celebrated the gold medals U.S. women's teams won in basketball, softball, and soccer. The point was driven home two years later at the Winter Olympics in Nagano with another U.S. team victory, in women's ice hockey. Then, in 1999, in a sold-out Rose Bowl, while some forty million U.S. households tuned in, the U.S. team won the Women's World Cup. Men and boys celebrated right alongside women and girls. Some celebrated sheet athletic master; others cheered women's gains in society. Some cheered their daughter's ambitions; others cheered for the opportunity to play they never had.
"You know what this picture did? It gave a voice to the people who were voiceless." This is how Brandi Chastain decsribed for us the impact of the photograph on the cover of this book, an image that captures her famous reaction after scoring the point that clinched the Women's World Cup. We recorded some of those voicesfrom Olympics to elected officials, from coaches to corporate honchos, from schoolgirls to retirees. In these stories, which appear throughout the book, a few essential truths shine. As athletes, girls and women learn, without inhibition, the pains and joys of putting themselves on the line. As athletes, at any age, they discover the body and its gifts. Sports is a forum to gain insight into relationships with peers, family, and teachers; it is a place to discover personal and physical freedom.
Game Face's mission is big: to convey that athletics is a catalyst for girls' and women's self-creation, self-knowledge, and self-expression. It has a political mission as well: to reinforce the importance of Title IX by reflecting girls and women at play. To achieve these elaborate goals, we turned to the arc of the athletic experience as an elegantly simply organizing principe, and we divided the pictures into five sections: getting ready, start, action, finish and aftermath. The arc is organic to sports, has built in dramatic movement, and is rich metaphorically. When considered in terms of life stages, the various phases of the athletic experience symbolize determination, dedication, effort, completion and satisfaction. They represent the phases we all experience in big and small ways throughout our lives, and parallel the stages women have had to pass through to get to the level of involvement in athletics we now enjoy.
Today the sports section had twenty-three pictures of men and one small picture of women playing basketball. Game Face carves out a different space, a niche where women's athletics is firts-rate and women's abilities are the camera's delight. We hope readers see themselves in this mix and understand that they are part of the story.