Book Trailer for Pilikia

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Ballsy, Kick-ass Babes

Women's Rugby, Texas A&M University, September 27.

That's right, Rugby.  This is the sport that was the violent precursor to American Football.  It was deemed so dangerous that American players needed pads and helmets.  My image of the typical rugby player is a large, loutish fellow with broken nose and missing teeth, whose breath smells like the floor behind a bar.  Most girls would cringe at the thought of bringing a rugby player home to meet the parents.

What if the player IS a girl?

The blonde on the right, putting the hurt to the other girl is a student worker in my office.  Her name is Lanae.  She is a junior marketing major and when she graduates she will be wearing tailored suits, carrying a leather briefcase and leading focus groups.  Maybe that's what she's doing now.  Focus, group!

Lanae is attractive.  Most people would say she's cute.  The male student workers say she's a babe, a chick, a hottie.  But those are words you normally wouldn't use for people who play a sport such as rugby, a sport even most men are too chicken to play.

Monday morning conversation in our office sometimes goes like this:
How was your weekend?
Good.  I broke a girl's nose.

Lanae is a product of Title IX, the Federal Education Act that leveled the playing field for men and women.  She played soccer and basketball as a kid, even hoped to get a basketball scholarship.  When that didn't work out, she came to A&M where she joined the Rugby team.  

Rugby is a non-varsity sport.  There are no scholarships, no locker rooms, no training facilities, no team bus or plane.  They don't play in front of 85,000 screaming fans.  In fact, there are hardly any fans at all.  Unlike football, there is no future full of signing bonuses and ESPN highlights.  No Madden 2009, no fantasy leagues.  

The players practice just as hard, play just as hard, but when they get hurt they have a team mate drive them to the emergency room.  No team physicians for them.  They have to come back to class on Monday and they are still expected to keep up their grades.  

So why do women play sports like this?  Why put your body at risk for so little extrinsic reward?  Lanae likes the excitement, the competition and the other players.  The team is like family, she says.

Billie Jean King, in an interview about Title IX, said that the best thing about the act was the effect it had on team sports.  There had been plenty of women athletes before Title IX, but they were mainly individual sports like tennis, golf, swimming and figure skating.  They were certainly not contact sports.  The picture above is exactly what a lot of opponents of Title IX feared--women engaging in acts of violence, delivering pain, and enjoying it.

It is no surprise that women can deliver violence, but the traditional view of women is that they are violent in defending their family.  Men, on the other hand, can be violent in defense of the group.  Thus, women stayed home while men went to war.  Title IX and the opening of team sports to women, changed that.  Now women could be violent and could sacrifice themselves for the group, not just the family.  Or, as Lanae says, the team becomes the family.

Title IX was important to me because most of my stories have a woman protagonist.  I admit that I had a hard time understanding my characters until I gave them a team sport background.  Val Lyon was a college and pro basketball player.  Ava Rome, my newest detective, plays volleyball and paddles.  Playing a team sport adds a dimension to their character and motivation that I can readily understand.  I think a lot of recent women detectives have had some background in team sports and that makes them believable protagonists when the story demands that they put their bodies on the line for someone who is not family.  The intrinsic motivation of playing for pure pleasure and comradeship makes a character much more likable. It's hard to like an over-paid professional athlete, but easy to root for someone who plays for the love of the game.

When I began writing Val Lyon, I drew inspiration from Jennifer Rizzotti, a point guard for the U Conn Huskies who played in knee pads because she wasn't afraid to throw herself on the floor after a loose ball.  Another source of inspiration was Sheila Tighe, who, at 35 years of age tried out for the WNBA after having been a star in college years before.  Tighe worked so hard that she painted her toenails black to match the bruises on her toes.  More recent inspiration came from Stacy Sykora, the US Olympic volleyball player who chest-butted her team mates when she came on court and kept them fired up.  

Lanae, putting the hurt to an opponent on the rugby pitch, is now my inspiration.  I hope Ava is ready for some rugby


  1. Helen Ginger said...

    Did you take the picture? Good Shot.