Florida State University is raising eyebrows over a new campaign to promote its women's basketball team. Featuring highly stylized glamour shots of the players, it is designed to highlight the players' "beauty."
Women's sports have long been subject to rumors and innuendo that many of its participants are lesbian, or at the very least, non-feminine. The photos of the FSU players show them dolled-up in satin dresses and full make-up, sliding out of a limo, presumably about to enter a fancy party.
The campaign is aimed at potential recruits to the school, as well as fans. But according to Seattle Times basketball columnist Jayda Evans, the message is clear:
"I'm just concerned the sexualized look continues a different, damaging constant in women's hoops -- homophobia."
Evans says FSU certainly isn't alone in promoting its female, and sometimes male, athletes this way. She mentions the documentary "Training Rules," about former Penn State coach Rene Portland, who allegedly had three rules for her players: No drinking. No drugs. No lesbians.
"The film is fascinating in its inside look at how homophobia has a choke hold on women's sports in general. How it's used against each other in recruiting, tagging programs as full of lesbians, and how schools/coaches over feminize themselves to not appear lesbian. All under the 'innocent' veil of wanting to show women athletes can be 'powerful, beautiful, strong and accomplished.' Or, to put it more simply, heterosexual, too."
In a press release, FSU coach Sue Semrau defends the marketing campaign:
"We feel it is important to set ourselves apart as much as we can... We wanted to have a product that would stand out to the people we are trying to reach."
Other sports have promoted their female athletes in similar ways, and there was no cry of homophobia. Women's tennis, for example, is more popular than ever because many of its stars happen to be beautiful and are promoted like models. However, it can be argued that by the nature of the sport, tennis players are leaner and smaller, and look far more feminine than bigger, more muscular basketball players -- and thus less likely to be seen as lesbians.
Since its founding, the WNBA has had a number of lesbian fans, which the league is now starting to embrace. One of its biggest stars, Sheryl Swoopes came out a few years ago.
So maybe this is prompting schools to show their players in a different light. After all, the old saying is "sex sells." And in this money-driven world, selling and making money is all that counts to many institutions. Perhaps the quest for the green is the motivation behind this, not sexism, and certainly not homophobia.
What do you think?