Every week in her Good Form column, Natalie Weiner explores the ways in which the sports world’s structural inequalities and injustices illuminate those outside it — and the ways in which they’re inextricably connected. You can read previous columns here.
Trying to sum up a year as brutal as 2021 is nearly as daunting a task as facing down another one. Yet a little reflection seems warranted given that this is my first full year writing this column — a trivial concern compared to the overwhelming death and discord we’ve all witnessed to get to this point, but one I am nevertheless quite grateful for.
Your readership and your feedback has been deeply meaningful to me. This is a fairly personal project, the loosest and most opinionated writing of my career, and when you find something compelling within it, I feel like I’ve done my job. Sometimes, writing about all the injustices and inequalities of the (sports) world can feel like the silliest and most Sisyphean task — the core issues rarely change, after all. We’ve seen some movement, though, and I’ve tried my best to temper all the overwhelming issues with explanations of some things that genuinely make me optimistic. Hopefully, next year there will be even more of those.
Here are ten pieces that were satisfying to write from this year (in no particular order) — a kind of beginner’s guide to the column, if you’re just tuning in now.
“The salt on the wound of the highlight reel approach to women’s history is that many of those people editing the highlights celebrate women who made history by overcoming barriers — while ignoring the fact that they have the power to remove those barriers entirely.”
“This has been the missing piece for the W since its last major expansion to 16 teams in 2000. They don’t actually believe in the product; why should any potential investors?”
“But it also means that instead of being a sometimes safe (or safer) space, women’s sports will mirror the world around them more directly; as that process unfolds, the persistence of that hideous hierarchy of physical beauty becomes more clear.”
“The bigger picture on this issue is that Title IX does get violated, and girls’ and women’s sports do need protection — and trans people have little to do with either of those realities, except as they pertain to their own intentional exclusion. The core assumption underlying all of these bills and arguments is proof positive of that larger concern, as it’s ultimately a sexist one: that people assigned male at birth are naturally better at sports.”
“The corporations, markets, and governing bodies around you are immovable realities to be overcome, not changed. To fully realize your own liberation, you must be extraordinary, and the only proof of that status is in the money you’ve earned attaining it.”
“They could have easily “stuck to sports.” But they decided, again, to take a stand instead — a stand about an issue that couldn’t be more vital or controversial, a stand that hinges on a word many people aren’t even comfortable saying. In a moment when the league was in the spotlight, they said it loudly and — to use a term that has become hackneyed but here feels accurate — unapologetically.”
“The very idea of ‘female empowerment’ is patriarchal, insisting on replicating the toxic hierarchy of a broken system; it is fitting, then, that it has become such a convenient rallying cry for the establishment.”
“Anecdotally, sports betting is both more addictive and more socially and culturally accepted than cannabis use — yet its legalization is happening both more rapidly and with far fewer restrictions. Massive corporations, not people, are the ones profiting off of the end of this particular prohibition, as evidenced by the inescapable FanDuel and DraftKings advertising.”
“Like many protests, it is symbolic; unlike most protests, it is being made by people with the power to do much more to create change than offer symbols. In that sense, it is well-suited to the Olympics — a wholly corrupt enterprise preserved by the elevated ideals it purports to promote and protect: International cooperation. That evergreen pageant response, world peace.”