As the weather heats up, the NCAA gets ready for next week’s Softball World Series, and the baseball season starts to hit its stride, I’m thinking of a TV commercial that regularly got air time throughout New England last summer, and lamenting the fact that I’ve yet to see such a promising ad so far this year.
A beer-gutted bunch of guys are getting ready for a softball game, when a young woman runs up to the huddle, hoping to join in the competition. “We already have someone who throws like a girl, right Murph?” one of them quips, as the rest join in with laughter at “Murph’s” expense.
And I’m reaching for my remote. To change the channel. To hit the mute button. Waiting for the televised production of that night’s Sox game to return from the all-too-familiar land of sexism in sports programming.
But then the commercial takes an unusual turn. The young woman returns (from the sports gear store, it is a commercial after all), shoves the man off the mound, and proceeds to strike out every one of the poor-swinging men. Turns out, she is Jennie Finch, US Softball Olympian and Gold Medalist. As the commercial ends, one of the men sighs dejectedly, “I wish I could throw like a girl.”
As a devoted follower of sports, I am witness to far too much commercialized machismo, homophobia and drive-by sexism. So it was refreshing to see this take on one of the more common phrases used to distinguish supposedly real athletes (men) from supposedly fake ones (women, referred to as girls).
The commercial is also notable for its lack of overt sexualization. Jennie Finch is young, athletic, white, and blond. All of which are physical characteristics that fit perfectly with the media preferences of our hyper-sexualized culture. But in this commercial, she is not portrayed in a sexualized mode at all. In a society where women are appreciated (or criticized) for their bodies first, then (possibly) for their talents and attributes and abilities, that common viewpoint was, thankfully, missing from this piece.
Hopefully, there will be more commercials like this one, which attempt to transform the sports world into a non- (or at least less) sexist environment.