Women’s Wednesday: A Culture of Silence

A Culture of Silence

By Lisa Ingarfield

Two weeks ago, the Southern California News Group and OC Register broke the story of rampant sexual abuse in USA Swimming (USAS). The sexual abuse, largely perpetrated by coaches, was overlooked and/or covered up time and again by USAS and occurred over decades. Over this time period, there are over 590 alleged victims. Many coaches were held accountable through the criminal justice system, but were not banned from coaching by the USAS, or USAS was aware of the behavior (and didn’t do anything) decades before any criminal investigation was initiated. This, of course, comes on the heels of former USA Gymnastic (USAG) coach Larry Nassar finally being held accountable for the sexual abuse of over 200 young girls while serving as USAG’s medical doctor. In both cases, athletes came forward to their national governing body (NGB), law enforcement was involved at different points, and still victims weren’t believed and coaches weren’t held accountable.

And then today, this headline pops up in my news feed: Top Volleyball Coach Raped Girls Hundreds Of Times, Lawsuit Alleges.

       

       

We just finished the Winter Olympics, and many of you may have rejoiced in Shaun White’s gold medal. But did you know he was accused of sexual harassment by a former member of his band? He allegedly sent her explicit images of himself, asked her to wear sexually provocative clothing, and forced her to watch sexually disturbing videos, among other problematic and hostile behaviors. After his win, when asked about the allegations by the press, he referred to them as “gossip.”

While he later apologized for this comment, it is another example of how violence against women in sport is routinely minimized, erased, and covered up. White settled the lawsuit against him in 2017. His behavior apparently wasn’t severe (relevant?) enough for the USA Olympic Committee (USOC) to ban White from PyeongChang. When money and medals are at stake, pushing the sexual harassment of girls and women off to the sidelines is acceptable, right? After several months of pressure from senators and former Olympians, Scott Blackmun, the head of the USOC, just stepped down. Under his leadership, the USOC failed to intervene in numerous cases of sexual abuse that came to its attention.

Brett Sutton, a well known triathlon coach was also convicted of sexually assaulting a minor, a minor he coached. He was given a two year suspended sentence and was suspended from Triathlon Australia and ITU and is barred from coaching in Australia. Yet, he is still a successful coach, and his criminal act — because, yes, it was criminal — is hotly debated in triathlon circles, although generally receives very little attention overall.

Nancy Hogshead-Makar, former Olympic swimmer, runs Champion Women, an organization dedicated to supporting women and girls in sport. She is also a civil rights attorney and regularly represents college athletes with Title IX claims against their schools. She was integral in pushing for the resignation of USOC chief executive Blackmun. She shares: “The [fight against the] issue of sexual abuse in club and Olympic sports has been going on for about twenty years.” In 2014, she represented 19 victims of sexual abuse in the sport of swimming, and nothing really changed in US Swimming. In fact, USAS chief executive Chuck Wielgus was shortly thereafter honored by the USOC. But now, something is different, Hogshead-Makar laments. The #MeToo campaign and the women who came forward in the Nassar case “showed the depth of the emotional harm that occurs as a result of sexual abuse,” says Hogshead-Makar. This helped people understand, rather than dismiss, women’s repeated complaints of sexual abuse.

Last month, the U.S. Congress voted to pass the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act. This act, championed by Hogshead-Makar and many others, was signed into law on February 14th. The law does a few things including making NGBs, including the USOC, mandatory reporters of child and sexual abuse. They must report to law enforcement within 24 hours complaints alleging abuse. Prior to the law, NGBs and in the case of USAG, Michigan State University, argued they did not have a duty to protect if made aware of Nassar’s sexual abuse. And this is largely true. Olympic or professional athletes are not employees or students, and so Title XII and Title IX of the federal Civil Rights Act do not apply to them. With the passage of the recent Safe Sport law, this will no longer be a legitimate legal argument. The law also extends the statute of limitations to 10 years from the point a person realizes they were sexually abused, and entitles victims to statutory and punitive damages. The U.S. Center for Safe Sport, based here in Denver, is also designated as the investigatory body for all sexual abuse complaints reported. If you are a USA Triathlon coach, you will have taken its sexual abuse module as part of your certification requirements.

The prevailing thread through the examples in this article, as well as many others, is the culture of silence surrounding the behavior of coaches and high profile athletes. There has been barely a peep about White’s sexual harassment case during NBC’s coverage of the Olympics, and we know for decades leaders at Michigan State University, USAG, and the USOC did nothing about Nassar’s repeated sexual assaults on the gymnasts he was supposed to be caring for. USAS seems to be the same way. We will have to wait to see what happens with the Chicago area volleyball coach accused of sexually assaulting a number of his athletes. As a culture, we are routinely willing to look the other way and make excuses for perpetrators (who are almost always men). We need to ask ourselves why one girl’s or woman’s complaint is not enough to take seriously. Why does a coach’s word hold more sway? Why does it need to tip past 100 complaints for any substantive public action to be taken? How does power, money, and winning play into all of this? The decisions made time and again would lead many of us to believe a girl’s life is of less value than a coach’s reputation and winning gold.

Leaders in USAG and USAS covered up, failed to report, settled cases, and in some cases paid damages, while trying to desperately to keep the information out of the news. This takes effort. These are not isolated incidents of one bad apple. They are representative of a long term pattern of behavior that continually excuses incidences of sexual abuse. There has to be a network of people ensuring perpetrator behavior continues unchecked or to blame the victim and explain it away when a report does make the light of day. This is the problem and it is widespread. Silence is complicity. We must demand more from our NGBs, from the USOC, and from our fellow coaches. We must believe victims, and we must ensure the scores of coaches entering triathlon (or any sport) understand abuse of any kind will not be tolerated in the sport, will not be ignored, covered up, or hidden. There will be consequences. Each of us has an individual and collective responsibility to make sure this happens.

Hogshead-Makar urges: “When a victim and/or witnesses to sexual abuse is ready, please have them file a complaint with the U.S. Center for SafeSport. [They can also] call directly at: 720-531-0340.”

Women’s Wednesday: Lisa Ingarfield – equality in sport

Story by Lisa Ingarfield

Equality Delayed is Inequality Accepted

During a drive to Boulder recently to meet up with fellow cyclists for a ride, I learned that the USA national women’s ice hockey team is in negotiations with their national organization, USA Hockey, to ensure their equitable treatment in pay, resources, and coverage. It is 2017, and still, industries and organizations struggle with treating and paying women and men equally. One of the most persistent issues facing women today continues to be pay equity, spanning women’s hourly wages to prize winnings to professional sports teams. Women continue to earn less than men for the same work, with women of color receiving even less than white women. According to a study recently released by the American Association of University Women, if pay rates continue to progress at the pace they are today, then women will not reach parity with men until 2152. 1 Let’s just pause and digest that. Twenty-One- Fifty-Two. One hundred and eighteen years from now.

The women’s hockey team’s requests to USA Hockey go beyond pay equity: “The women say there are pervasive, possibly illegal inequities in how USA Hockey treats male and female players — in terms of equipment, meals, hotel accommodations, staffing, marketing and PR, among other things.” 2 The women’s team (two time World Championship winners and Olympic gold medalists by the way) refused to defend their title and play in the upcoming World Championships unless USA Hockey compensated them equitably. In response to the boycott, instead of addressing what appear to be fairly blatant inequalities between the men’s and women’s teams, USA Hockey decided to ask alternate women hockey players to stand in when the World Championships start this Friday, March 31st in Michigan. 3 Satisfyingly, many of their requests were rebuffed, as the alternates stood in solidarity with the women of Team USA. 4 Fourteen senators, 5 the National Hockey League Players Association, and other major sports players’ unions have also come out in support of the women’s requests for equity, urging USA Hockey to do the right thing. 6 7 After months of negotiation, and 14 days since the team announced their boycott, an agreement was finally reached yesterday.

The experience of the USA women’s hockey team is not unique. We have seen equality requests emerge in other sports such as tennis and soccer. Serena Williams earned over $200,000 less than Roger Federer when they both won a major U.S. tennis tournament, the Western & Southern Open in Mason, Ohio, a few weeks before the U.S. Open in 2015. 8 And while U.S. Tennis is doing marginally better than other sports in terms of addressing gender equity (all Grand Slam tournaments have equal prize purses), comments from players such as Novak Djokovic, that men deserve to be paid more, 9 represent a pervasive, yet unspoken, perspective across many professionals sports.

After the U.S. women’s soccer team won the World Cup in 2015, it was widely publicized that the pay they received was far less than what the men received for not reaching the World Cup final. Justifications abound as to why this was, many resting on how “complicated10 these things are. Couple that with their pay overall, and the picture of gender inequality in sport comes into focus. According to ESPN: “Much of the disparity in wages between the men’s and women’s [soccer] teams stem from the different ways the players are paid. The women earn salaries while the men are paid based on national team appearances, results and other factors.” 11 These “other factors” include the heightened level of air time and sponsorships that men’s soccer receives over women’s; a systemic problem that justifies (for some) the lesser position of women’s sports to men’s across many disciplines.

Several women’s U.S. soccer team members filed a suit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in March 2016, alleging disparate pay and treatment after losing a case in federal court. The EEOC complaint is still pending. The women’s team is paid about one fourth of what the men’s team receives despite their tremendous success. 12 They have four Olympic gold medals under their belt and three World Cup titles, far more than the men’s team. In fact, the 2015 World Cup final between Japan and the USA was the most watched soccer game ever in U.S. history across both the women and men’s teams. 13 Any argument that women’s soccer is not as “exciting” as men’s is ludicrous given their success. Such an argument rests on false, and sexist, assumptions that women’s sport carte blanche is not as good, entertaining, or captivating as men’s. Frankly, viewer excitement bears no relevancy to the pay the players receive because it does not correlate to the level of work women invest in training and competing at that level. Equal pay for equal work, not equal pay for equal viewership.

Equitable treatment, recognition, and pay has lagged behind for many more women’s teams and athletes. And sadly, the trajectory has been similar for triathlon. Ironman only provides 35 slots to women elites at Kona, versus 50 for men. The hashtag #50womentokona has become a social media rallying cry. Tri Equal, a non-profit organization committed to advocating for equitable treatment and representation of women, has attempted to work with Ironman to rectify this discrepancy. Sadly, efforts have been unsuccessful. This past week, the new Super League Triathlon competition series was launched absent a women’s race. Chris McCormack, an Ironman World Champion who spear-headed the TV friendly initiative shared as justification for the lack of a women’s race that many of the pro-women were off this year because of pregnancy, and that they just had to get going with the event instead of simply talking about it. 14 An unnamed woman Olympian and Ironman podium finisher stated: “there’s enough depth in women’s triathlon that we could have some racing that’s equally compelling to the men’s…I know that I’m not alone in my disappointment in the lack of transparency.” 15

Liz Blatchford, a two time Ironman World Championship podium finisher, shared her frustration on Instagram: “While we have been told women’s racing is coming, I can’t really accept that their SHOWCASE event should have gone ahead without women…I strongly feel that having a women’s event should never have been a negotiable factor.” She rounds out her critique with: “Equality delayed is inequality accepted.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

We have much work to do. Onwards.

 

Lisa Ingarfield, PhD is a runner, triathlete, and RRCA certified coach. She owns Tri to Defi Coaching and Consulting and provides organizational communication evaluation and consulting services. She is a freelance writer specializing in issues affecting women, particularly in sport and is a member of Vixxen Racing’s 2017 women’s triathlon team.

 

 

  1. http://www.aauw.org/resource/the-simple- truth-about- the-gender- pay-gap/
  2. http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/03/15/520301416/u- s-womens- hockey-team- boycotting-world- championships-to- protest-low- pay
  3. http://www.local10.com/sports/usa-hockey- gave-more- benefits-to- mens-team- than-womens
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/mar/25/usa-hockey- world-championships- dispute-boycott
  5. http://thehill.com/homenews/senate/325954-senators- call-for- pay-equity- for-us- womens-hockey- team
  6. http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nhl/2017/03/26/american-nhl- players-could- skip-iihl- world- championships/99672342/
  7. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/27/sports/hockey/usahockey-womens- team-boycott.html
  8. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/13/sports/tennis/equal-pay- gender-gap- grand-slam- majors-wta- atp.html
  9. https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2016/mar/22/serena-williams- andy-murray- novak-djokovic- equal-pay- row- indian-wells
  10. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/22/sports/soccer/usmnt-uswnt- soccer-equal- pay.html
  11. http://www.espn.com/espnw/sports/article/18082886/talks-ongoing- us-soccer- women-team
  12. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/22/sports/soccer/usmnt-uswnt- soccer-equal- pay.html
  13. http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/07/06/420514899/what- people-are- saying-about- the-u- s- women-s- world-cup- win
  14. http://www.triathlete.com/2017/03/lifestyle/super-league- triathlon-awesome- theory-will- work_299827
  15. Ibid.

Women’s Wednesday: Adaptation: The #1 Skill Every Triathlete Needs

by Lisa Ingarfield

Our dog Chester has been struggling lately with walking and supporting his back half. He wobbles, and trips, as his legs aren’t quite sure where to land. However, he hasn’t let these new limits on his abilities change his spirit. He is still exuberant, happy, and full of life. His illness has coincided with my own bout of injuries including a suspected stress fracture. We are both hobbling around the house together. At least I have a partner in injury.

There really is no eloquent way to say this: injuries suck. They just do. Everyone who has been injured knows the drill. There is a moment when you start to notice the pain or soreness, and then there is the negotiation that happens. The ‘is it or isn’t it something serious’ conversation in your head. Sprinkle in some denial when the pain gets stronger and many of us continue to swim, bike, and/or run through it until we really wish we hadn’t. While I hobble around in my protective boot frustrated and annoyed, Chester is still wagging his tail a 1000 times a minute. I am supposed to help him outside when he needs to pee, and yet I struggle to keep up with him. I am stumbling over myself and he is dragging me through the lounge, unfazed that he can no longer move as deftly as before.

I have so much to learn from Chester. While his refusal to do what is needed to heal his back is not unlike the runner or triathlete mentality of powering through an injury, he is just so darn happy about it. He has adapted to his new mobility status without as much as a blink. I know that dogs can experience depression and I would have expected to see some sadness from him as he realized that he couldn’t do what he used to. But it has not manifested. For me on the other hand, I am battling the blues and trying to stay motivated to trainer ride and swim, since I can’t do my favorite of the three. While I generally try to find the lessons in my training, and learn from the challenges and barriers I encounter, it is really hard. When our lives are full, motivation isn’t always available by the bucketful. And an injury drills a hole in the bottom of that bucket.

While we can’t all take injuries in our stride like my furry best pal Chester, we can absorb some of our canine friend’s love and zest for life regardless of our temporary limits. We are all temporarily able bodied, yet our world is designed assuming our able bodiedness is permanent. That message is internalized and so when our abilities change, the feelings of inferiority or brokenness can come flooding in. Adaptation is perhaps one of the most important skills a triathlete or any athlete can have. Chester has adapted (for the most part) and is still super happy about everything. As a teammate who herself has spent a lot of time injured shared with me, this is an opportunity for me to increase my skill in the other two disciplines. And she is right, of course, but I am still annoyed to be in a boot. Yet her advice and watching Chester, is pushing me to work on adapting. In life as in a race, we should try to adapt to the circumstances we find ourselves in. Hone this skill, and we can traverse great distances.

Lisa Ingarfield, Ph.D.

Learn more about Lisa at
Tri to Defi Coaching and Consulting
www.tritodefi.com

Women’s Wednesday: Love Letter to Ourselves

By Lisa Ingarfield

Let’s Write a Love Letter to Ourselves
“I’m slow”
“I am not as fast as you”
“Don’t wait for me, I will take forever”
“Why can’t I be _, like that triathlete?”

These are phrases I have said to myself many times over, and I suspect many of you have done the same. We exist in a culture of comparison, and it leads us down a windy path of self-defeat. Age group placements, national USAT rankings, and world championship qualification places. All of these categorizations encourage us to focus on how we stack up to other athletes. Even the best and the brightest in the sport of triathlon can be haunted by self-doubt. It is insidious, but it doesn’t need to win.

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Competition and comparison can manifest in positive and negative ways. Positive competition and comparison energizes us and spurs us forward, giving us goals to strive for. It builds us up instead of breaking us down. Negative competition is rooted in comparisons that almost always conclude with a laundry list of our deficiencies. We must resist the lure of self-criticism which begins when we hold our abilities up to others. Each of us, at one point or another, has felt deficient in our abilities as a triathlete because we compare ourselves to others. The yard sticks to measure ourselves against exist all around us, pulling us to focus externally instead of internally. This self-defeating behavior serves only to hurt us, not propel us forward into new adventures.

“Talk to yourself like you would to someone you love.” – Brené Brown

I am certainly not immune from this self-criticism and do battle with it often. I was honored to be accepted onto an all-women’s triathlon team this season, and yet as I learn about my strong and powerful women teammates, the annoying voice of comparison starts to echo in my head. I have whispered to myself and to others that I don’t know how I got onto the team given the caliber of the other members. My partner, who raises his eyebrow, tells me regularly that I have earned the spot and should believe in myself more. And so, I write this love letter to all the triathletes out there who stumble over comparison, and find themselves looking up at “better” athletes from the bottom of the self and culturally created pile. This love letter is a call for us to believe in ourselves with fervor. Let’s agree to turn our backs on self-doubt and the half-joking, half-serious rhetoric of “I’m slow” that I hear so often from fellow athletes.

“Defining myself, as opposed to being defined by others, is one of the most difficult challenges I face.” – Carol Moseley-Braun

Central to turning our back on damaging comparisons is the question: who do we race for? Many of us will likely answer that we race primarily for ourselves. Perhaps, we also race for someone close to us, or in memory of someone we lost. We derive our fuel and passion for triathlon from an internal source. Extrinsic rewards such as the feeling of achievement, a personal record, or reaching the podium, certainly have influence. However, these external rewards are really only the icing on the cake. When you peel back the layers of why we do what we do, extrinsic rewards are not what ultimately drives the vast majority of us. Therefore, a disconnection exists between the internal and the external: racing for ourselves versus our compulsion to compare ourselves to others. Who is that comparison really for? Who or what does it serve? When we truly race and train for ourselves, whether we measure up to our fellow age groupers ceases to have any power or relevance.

“When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.” – African Proverb

This February, I want us all to pause and remind ourselves that we are not deficient because we don’t look, swim, bike or run like the pros, elites or other age-groupers in our communities. In fact, we are not deficient at all, no matter where each of us falls on the spectrum of abilities and skills. As we think about expressing our feelings of love, adoration, and commitment to others this valentine’s month, shine some of that love inwards. Write a love letter to yourself. Own your awesomeness. Move away from the comparisons that get you down and hold you back. The only opinion that ultimately matters is your own.

Tri Women’s Wed: Reso-LOSE-Tions

by Lisa Ingarfield, 303 Contributor

January. The start of a new year. The promise of a new you. Many of us are filled to the brim with optimism about the year to come and the goals we hope to achieve during our triathlon racing season. The days are getting longer and as we inch toward spring, each minute extra of daylight fuels our engines with excitement at what’s to come.

Embedded in the exuberance of a new year and new opportunities is the Resolution Industry. I say industry because that is what it has become. It is an industry predicated upon “change” providers’ (gyms, diet programs etc.,) desire to cash in on the fervor for change. What better time to enact change in your life, so the commercials go, than when the Gregorian calendar ticks over to 1/1. One. First. New. However, the adage that change is as good as a rest may not always ring true.

The Resolution Industry’s push for change is troubling and sometimes even damaging. Its inherent message that there is always something in our lives that needs changing can undermine our sense of self. Whether the suggested changes are about our bodies, our clothes, our jobs, our friends, or our attitudes, what we can take away from the bonanza of offers in January is that something must be wrong. And to fix that obvious wrong, there are three hundred (discounted) ways to do so. Don’t delay, buy, subscribe, and join!

I have certainly forayed into the land of resolutions with varying success. Most notably, and I think this is likely true for many women in particular, my resolutions have centered on resolving to change my body, directly or indirectly. What I hear from our culture and from advertising is that my body is never good enough, and that my fitness level is determined by my body size and shape. This is especially true after the holidays. Enjoying good food is an indulgence and something that must be purged in the New Year.

Companies are knocking at my door in January with the next best thing for shedding those extra pounds I must have gained in December. The assumption is always that those extra pounds were gained and that they are bad for me. I rarely hear the refrain that I am good just the way I am. Indulgence (which connotes taking in more than you need) is encouraged in December, but shamed in January. The Resolution Industry tells me to do it better this year. If I want to be a better athlete, or just better overall, I will resolve to indulge less and live a healthier life. But, healthy is defined in only one way (primarily for women): thin.

resolutions - women's wednesdayAs with many resolutions, proclamations of change may well be short lived. As time meanders on, our pace slows, and by March, we may find our resolutions have faded from sight. Inevitably, failing to maintain the “new you” in light of all those messages about the need to change, can be painful. For many women athletes, despite our amazing achievements and training commitment, we still struggle with what it means to have the perfect body. Sometimes the expectations we have of ourselves and our body fall behind the larger cultural messages we receive. This can spur us to train harder and longer. Ultimately though, this behavior can be damaging to our bodies, our relationships, and our sense of self.

The Resolution Industry simultaneously encourages us to make important life changes and targets our doubts about our value and worth. If we look beneath its shiny exterior of persuasive messaging and buy one, get one offers, its underbelly reveals an industry interested in exploiting our insecurities regardless of our fitness level. We are too this, or too that. Being just right doesn’t make money. Corporations profit from our insecurities. Does this reality mean we should eschew the deals at our local gym or refuse to sign up for a training group to help us get out the door? No, I don’t think it does.

Shifting our training patterns or taking on something new at the start of a new year is not universally negative. Rather, I think we need to be cautious about what we agree to in January and in particular, why we agree to it. What are the expectations we set for ourselves, as athletes, as women, as consumers in a relentlessly critical culture? The resolutions we make, whether we keep them or throw them away, should not define our worth. Who really benefits from a failed resolution? Not me, that’s for sure.