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How Ignoring our History Holds Us Back: Female Athlete Behavior

The famous debate cycle described in three words.

History repeats itself.

This phrase and its application is found in just about every corner of our history as a society. While stock market, civil rights, social movements, politics and fashion are all guilty of this, sports are included in this list.

Don't get me wrong, for fashion I don't mind that all my old crew neck sweatshirts and neon-colored clothing boxed in the attic are once again relevant because it does help me avoid shopping and assists in my attempts to stay fashionably relevant.

However, what is less amusing and convenient than previous fashion statements re-introducing themselves to this generation, is the idea that the struggles women have faced all throughout history in sports can be so conveniently forgotten or omitted by some. Worse than these intentional omissions is the familiar feeling and response I receive when I attempt to remind both men and women alike that gripes over women breaking glass ceilings in sports are only going to intensify. Women are going to keep moving forward but very few people I debate or discuss this with are interested in truly understanding where we have been in terms of inequality. Most appear to be more than satisfied with their response that says, "Women have every opportunity men do now, so what's the problem?".

As a woman, I am here to tell you, no, no we do not.

Whether this coping mechanism of denial is specifically orchestrated for comfort or to assist people in convincing themselves that things have always been just and fair for women in order to ignore the ugly parts, I do not know. What I do know is that this is the same culprit that holds many female coaches and athletes back in my network from deciphering whether or not they are in a situation that is less than equitable and many times, downright egregious.

While history repeating itself will do just fine for my crew neck sweatshirt, no one should be ok remaining blind to the fact that we are consistently recycling the same narratives from 20 years ago, without acknowledging how detrimental this is to our progress.

Oklahoma State Softball pitcher, Samantha Show has been lighting up not only the Women's College World Series with her incredible athleticism and versatile talent, but has shined an even brighter light on college softball fans' and critics' discomfort with raw emotion. Show's now famous bat-flip has evolved over a season from a frowned upon no-no to suddenly hearing Beth Mowins voiceover fawn over each clip as if the bat flip has always been cool. Meanwhile, not less than two months ago, USA softball player Sam Fischer couldn't help herself on social media and had to express how insulted she felt the softball gods were over Sam Show's display of behavior. Fischer's tweet rallied the softball police and even lamented in tweets to follow just how her father himself taught her to respect the game of softball and felt that Show was doing the opposite.

Loyal protectors of the game of softball echoed Fischer in calling Show "disrespectful to the game" and that she was "dishonoring softball", all while ignoring just how quickly their response was joining the ranks in repeating history.

Those who attempted to produce any evidence of contrast of treatment between men in baseball and women in softball where the bat flip was concerned, were met with resistance as many claimed this had nothing to do with gender.

However, Fischer's martyred tweet played only a small part in extending the life of the debate as Show paid it no mind and responded by changing absolutely nothing about her post-home run bat celebration. I have watched the series of Show's bat flips over and over both live and on social media. While I have never spoken to Show personally, this kind of behavior appears as though it began as celebratory and passionate, but when it struck a nerve with the bandwagon of critics and nay-sayers, it likely fueled this talented female athlete to do nothing more than keep being herself simply because well - she can.

Show's deliberate continuation of the bat-flip in later home runs basically flipped the critics the proverbial bird as the narrative began to change and suddenly the dialogue of those commentating from the regular season debating whether this is ok, eventually began regarding the flip as a signature Show move that was marketable and exciting.

Show then opened up the 2019 WCWS by going yard against Florida and eventually belted a second over the fence earning the Cowgirls their only two runs needed to win game 1. The 6'0 senior pitcher would then take her place officially as the one who changed the narrative from skeptical to acceptable and she did it without anyone's help. This bugs the critics to no end and I love it.

This refusal by Show to change to fit what the critics deem appropriate is not too far of a cry from every female who has been judged for daring to perform in ways so many say we should not. These are the same critics in nature who are salty over Serena Williams' post press conference honesty. The very same critics who dislike her on-court demeanor that evokes a response that the African-American female champion should just be quiet because she is simply too emotional and disrespectful for the majority-white sport of pro tennis's comfort.

Demanding that Show curb her emotion and passion after sending a ball 200+ feet over the fence twice, is a bold and ridiculous demand seeking to do nothing more than comfort an audience who is more familiar with the silent trot and occasional fist pump that has been rendered acceptable. Show and countless other female athletes in history who have dared to do something as trivial yet as upsetting as flip a bat, were far from infused into this game to make you feel comfortable, so we can either get over it or keep repeating the same old debates.

As I scrubbed the social media threads, I noted the number of both men and women hating on Samantha Show in April of 2019. This was not only alarming but also very telling that we have all but completely lost our recognition of history and the long list we have accrued as a gender that keeps track of all the behaviors and tasks we are taught to steer clear of. Meanwhile, everyday, there are still girls and women ready and willing to burn that list and I am personally willing and able to help pour the gasoline if athletes like Sam Show want to light the match.

While the internet argued and debated over Show's series of bat flips being good or bad for the game, the critics successfully managed to completely disregard the home runs she smashed that were responsible for producing those bat flips. We become so consumed by judging the behavior of our female athletes that we are even willing to dismiss the incredible feats that evoked these passionated responses in the first place.

As most seem to have forgotten for those of us who lived through it, not too long ago, many (mostly dudes) in America were tormented and outraged by soccer athlete Brandi Chastain removing her shirt after her 1999 winning penalty kick that brought gold to Team USA.

In response to the Sam Show bat-flip debate, my good friend and leadership guru Molly Grisham of Influence LLC posted this tweet, as yet another reminder of the history we have somehow misplaced in our memories.

The number of likes and engagements in a matter of hours on social media showed at least some measure of recognition in supporting women in these scenarios but what intrigued me were the number of people completely baffled and/or were committed to refuting that Chastain was ever scrutinized at all for this moment in history. Google isn't difficult to navigate and typing in "Brandi Chastain sports bra controversy", hardly takes up much research time for those so willing to selectively forget how the iconic action and photo was originally seen as intentional market placement, inappropriate exposure or an overly-feminist gesture.

Back in 1999, the shirt removal heard round the world brought plenty of debate and scrutiny. Chastain was accused in many forums of, "staging a cultural coup for her gender". Language used also accused her of pushing a female agenda as she was scrutinized for exposing her sports bra despite the fact that men had been removing their shirts in celebration for as long as pro soccer has existed.

So, what is the true benefit really for those unwilling to admit that things simply are not currently fair and equal? Ignorance is bliss yes, but is such rapid adoption and unwavering commitment to the idea that all is fair and women have the exact same rights and societal expectations than men just easier to swallow for some? To those of you who would prefer to look away from the battle rather than be part of it because it does not affect you, perhaps it's just easier to attack Sam Show and fall on the sword in the name of "protecting softball". However, no one owns softball, just like no one owns a game or a sport. I can throw a ball around in the back yard today or go gather friends for a pick-game freely and no softball police or protectors will arrive to tell me how I should act while doing it.

As girls, women, advocates and sports fans, in order to see this journey more clearly for what it is, we must discipline ourselves in educating on where we have been in order to stop the cycle. We have forgotten so much of our history and as a result, we continue to repeat it using the same narratives to describe these antiquated debates over our behavior, our worth and our participation.

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