This post is a response to my friend Joe’s post about roller derby. I suggest you start there.
The whole "sports but also sexy" aspect of women's athletics has always bothered me. It's like women have to be objectified to participate in organized sports or it's simply too boring for anyone to bother watching (men and women alike). Look at the WNBA- they aren't trying to be sexy or cute, just really awesome at basketball, but there's no dunking and I guess it's not as exciting or something, so no one watches.
Aside: I maintain that all sports are boring because every game is essentially the same: they run up the field/court, they run down the field/court, sometimes they defend, sometimes they try to score, sometimes they win, sometimes they lose, but really, blocking is blocking and scoring is scoring and how many times can I be expected to watch blocking and scoring before I want to die?
No one liked the LPGA until there were cute women to watch. My impression of women's tennis is that it wasn't an en vogue spectator sport until people were interested in catching a glimpse of whatever was under those short skirts. Also the grunting.
Aside: I also hate the L in LPGA. I get that WPGA would take too long to say as an acronym, but the seniors tour gets to be the PGA Seniors Tour, so why not have the PGA Women's Tour?
It all bothers me. It's shameful that for women, sport and sex are so intrinsically linked. I agree with you that Roller Derby is preferable to the utterly disgusting spectacle that is lingerie football, but that’s because lingerie football isn’t a sport at all; I would argue that it’s not even a pretense of a sport. It’s an outdoor strip club minus the nudity. And it’s a distillation of everything that’s wrong with the presentation of women’s athletics. The majority of sports consumers are men, and ultimately, they would rather watch a football-themed floorshow than female athletes really playing football. In my head, I can actually hear the Western Male Psyche saying to me, “Women’s football league? Why do we need that? We’ve already got a football league.” (The more cynical part of me can also hear an ass being slapped and a demand to “get me some more beer, Sweet Cheeks.”)
My point is that I wish we were more careful, as a culture, about confounding sex and sport when it comes to women. I would agree with you that you’re a better man for being attracted to archetypes of strong, independent women, and for being generally uninterested in the assault on the women’s movement that is lingerie football. (Now, if you’re a dude who’s into it in the same way he’d be into a strip club floorshow, I think that’s an appropriate and understandable reaction.) But let’s be clear (and I think this is the point Beau was making before): you’re attracted to strong women, and roller derby is, in your experience, full of demonstrably strong women. That does not mean roller derby is an inherently sexier event. You’re also attracted to authenticity of experience. Lingerie football is a very poor football simulacrum. It’s not even a good stripper simulacrum because no one actually gets naked (I assume). And you saw real women doing real sport at the derby, so it wins on authenticity. But everytime we make a value judgement about which sport is better and include "which does a better job of turning me on" in the calculation, we're no longer talking about sports.
I don’t know if it’s possible for men to separate their enjoyment of athletic excellence from their sexual desire when it comes to women’s sports. But I do know that I don’t ever find myself thinking, “I prefer being forced to watch the Blazers over the Seahawks because they’re a better looking team and you can actually see their sexy, um… selves? …” even though that’s technically true, now that I think about it. But I do find myself thinking, every basketball season, “It could be worse. Pete could be a huge fan of the NFL, or baseball. ::shudder::” That is about sport: game length, game pace, frequency of scoring, and ability to see the action without six hundred replays. It does not occur to me that you could objectify male athletes while they’re playing because they’re too busy being, well, athletes. But it seems to occur to everyone that you not only can, but should, objectify female athletes. I assume, because they’re women. It would be dishonest of you to claim that you aren’t turned on by roller derby girls, and I applaud your honesty. But it would be nice if women's sports were as interesting to the general public on their athletic merits as men's.