This morning I woke up to a very interesting article, about a female volleyball player who was being criticized for “being too beautiful to play”. Sabina Altynbekova of the the women’s under-19 volleyball team of Khazakstan, has come under fire recently because her looks are too distracting. At a tournament in Taiwan, fans becae infatuated with her, and caused an Internet sensation that’s spread to the rest of the globe, with videos of her doing the simplest things gaining hundreds of thousands of views. As her coach, Nurlan Sadikov*, said to the press, “It is impossible to work like this. The crowd behaves like there is only one player in the championship.”

Sabina Altynbekova before a game.

*Just in case you can’t figure it out from the name, Sadikov is male.

If the photo I’ve attached to this post doesn’t make it obvious, Ms. Altynbekova is a very beautiful young lady. in fact, if I were standing right in front of her right now and I thought I had even a sliver of a chance, I’d ask her out. However, what irritates me isn’t that she’s pretty. It’s that she’s being criticized for it.

For years, female athletes have been held to a much different standard to their male counterparts. Males athletes have to be able to stay athletic and be good at the games they play. At the same time, the female players are expected to be athletic, good at their sport of choice, and feminine. In intervies, men are asked about what they do to stay good at the game, where they see themselves and their teams going this year, and what they hope to do if and when they retire. Heck they might even get a question about politics or religion. The women get asked about how they stay fit or what they look like in a bikini or if they have boyfriends or plans to marry and have kids.

And when a man has huge legions of screaming fans, regardless of sex, it’s considered a plus, that they’re the epitome of manhood and that’s just something that comes with the game. Apparently when women like Ms. Altynbekova have that problem, it’s considered a distraction and takes awa from the game and the players. To a female athlete, her status as woman means she must be held to a different standard. She must be pretty, but not too pretty, good at the game but not too good and let it not be suggested that how good she is should be the thing we focus on, lest we give women the idea they are just as good as their male compatriots. Otherwise, she is neither an athlete nor a woman.

Even a guy who is unable to care about sports outside of Buckeye football like me finds this treatment appalling. And you know what else? This attitude isn’t anything new. In fact, one could even say this attitude that the sports industry has towards women–that they are inferior, and only as good as their ovaries and what they must do to get men and children–has been going on since the ancient Greeks, when women were barred from the Olympics and all participating were required to play naked to make sure this was an all-boys club.

It’s no coincidence these figures are male.

And this is just the tip of the problem. There is all sorts of denigration of women in the sports industry, from constant jokes about women’s sports teams being wastes of times unless someone flashes a side boob or that they should waitress instead to the emphasis that women can never be as good as men at sports (considering my stepmom taught me how to play soccer and softball in our backyard, I’ll disagree on that one), and moreover, they shouldn’t.

Occasionally this spills over to the realms of domestic abuse. In May, Ravens’ running back plead not guilty to aggravated assault after being arrested for beating his fiancee and dragging her unconscious body out of an elevator by the armpits three months previously. What did the NFL do about this? They gave him a two game suspension from playing football. You read that right. He’s not allowed to play for the Ravens for two games.

Stephen A. Smith, whose comments have caused a huge storm among viewers.

The suspension, as expected, has caused a flurry of controversy. Unfortunately, some of that controversy has been less than helpful. Stephen Smith, a commentator from ESPN’s “First Take”, said last Friday on the show that women should be aware of “the elements of provocation”, basically saying that women are partly to cause for the abuse they suffer, which is what their abusers would want them to believe. He apologized for it on Monday, saying that it was the most “egregious error of his career”, but the fact is, when he said that women were partly to blame for their abuse, he said it to millions of men across the nation. Some of whom may see it as justification for their own abusive ways and would have shrugged off the apology as something Smith’s bosses or the liberal media or whatever wanted him to say.

At least Keith Olbermann over on ESPN2 had the right idea of it. As he said on a recent segment of his show:

“By some tiny amount each one of those things lowers the level of basic human respect for women in sports. And sooner or later, there are so many tiny amounts that the level of basic human respect is gone altogether…Eventually after all the b-words and ho comments and penis remarks and nudity demands and waitress jokes, the most powerful national sports league in the world can then get away with suspending a wife-beater for just two games.”

Olbermann speaks the truth. And luckily there are ways to fight against this sexist attitude in the sports industry, and in other places as well where sexism pervades. First, we can stop with the comments that put women down, saying that they’re inferior or bad athletes or that they focus on being pretty. At the same time, we should focus on not giving power to the myth that men, in order to be men, have to be strong, dominant, and sometimes even violent. This idea turns men into monsters, not men, and we should work to stop it.

And the best way to do that is to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. One of the ways we can show that is to be an example to other men and women. Show that you are not that kind of guy by being respectful to women, by outright saying that these harmful jokes and stereotypes aren’t funny or okay and also teach those who can be changed and taught the right way to go about things. It’s not much, but it’s a start.

What do you think of these problems in the sports industries and other places? What do you recommend to fix them?

  1. I just heard about all this the other day, It was truly awe-inspiring, in the sense that it seemed too stupid to be real.

    • And yet it is. I hope things turn around for the girl so that she doesn’t feel self-conscious or anything because of the attention on her. And I hope stricter measures are brought against that Rice guy. I mean, what he did was inexcusable.

  2. J.R. LeMar says:

    Very well said, man. Excellent post.

    • Thanks, JR. I just wish I could have remembered to add in before I published the post this bit:

      The best thing women can do is understand the situation they’re in, and not let it stop them. Fight, prove all others wrong, and never stop demanding that they be treated as equals to men, and not as second-class citizens.

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