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Sports leagues want millennial support? It’s time for a new marketing strategy

A little over a week ago, Major League Baseball announced a change to the intentional walk rule. Rather than throw the four meaningless pitches, teams can now simply use a dugout signal to walk the batter. The league also announced limits to the amount of time used for instant replay reviews, as well as the implementation of pace of game warnings and fines. The decision itself wasn’t popular with pitchers, or really anyone, and seemed especially bizarre considering that intentional walks were used only every 2.6 games in the 2016 season. Ultimately, many suspected that it was part of an effort by MLB to speed up the sport, as the average game takes three hours. Other news outlets such as The New York Times seemed to suspect similar motivations, even posting an article asking for reader feedback on how to speed up the game.

But why change the game? Ultimately, Major League Baseball is facing a crisis of declining viewership among young people. Nielsen ratings report that over 50% of baseball viewers are 55 or older, up an incredible 41% from ten years ago. Their solution – more social media presence, of course, but also a concerted effort to make the game more exciting by speeding it up. Because nothing shows that you understand millennials like associating us with smartphones and short attention spans, right?

Personally, I think it’s essential that sports leagues come to terms with the notion that marketing the game to young people requires new strategies. American millennials (who we will define here as people aged 18-36) are a vastly different group of people from our predecessors. We are a formidable group, making up 24% of the population. And we are also the most ethnically and racially diverse generation – 19% Hispanic, 14% African-American, and 5% Asian. We like urban environments, 38% of us are bilingual, and we really, really dislike Donald Trump. Essentially, the majority of us are not cis white men, and if major league sports wants to win us over, they are going to have to realize that millennial values are vastly different from those of older, whiter generations.

Sports have long been an unwelcoming environment for the traditionally disenfranchised and minority communities that make up a significant portion of millennials. Changing that culture is not an easy, nor a quick, task, but sports leagues have shown no interest in even starting that conversation. Their team Twitter accounts use popular hashtags from sports websites like Barstool, whose brand seems to be built on sexualizing barely-legal young girls and posting critical articles of powerful black women like Beyoncé. The only real representation of women at Big Four sports events are the often sexualized female dance/cheer teams, who serve as a supporting sideshow to the main, male event. While leagues have been making more of an effort to reach out of LGBTQ people with events like You Can Play Nights, most of these changes are simply cosmetic, and seem more self-serving than anything. While black athletes are increasingly represented, teams continue to stamp out their ability to show any personality (think the PK Subban trade) or use their platform to advocate for causes specific to their community (see the new US Soccer rule forcing players to stand for anthem, or John Tortorella and Mike Babcock’s comments on kneeling during anthem). Athletes continually take to Twitter and other social media platforms to express their support for President Donald Trump, a man who has called Mexicans rapists and has implemented what he himself describes as a Muslim ban. The message to fans who come from these communities is clear – you are not welcome here.

It’s also important to discuss the sort of message that a culture of exclusion sends to professional athletes. From the perspective of trying to win new fans, forcing uniformity on athletes stifles the growth of the sort of colorful personalities that attract new fans in the first place. After all, you don’t need to be a devout boxing fan to recognize the name Muhammad Ali. But far more importantly, players who come from minority communities must also feel the pressure to conform by hiding essential aspects of their identity. Players who wish to show support for the LGBT community or racial and ethnic minorities may avoid doing so for fear of losing their job.

Ultimately, conformity is damaging.

Not only does exclusion prevent new fans from enjoying the game, but it also turns existing fans away. Personally, I find it difficult to watch sporting events where players accused of rape are glorified as All-Stars, and I am discouraged from spending money on teams owned by open Trump supporters. As a woman, I can’t use sports as my escape from the stress of the real world anymore. If I have the time to watch a sporting event, I’m far more inclined to choose more welcoming leagues like the CWHL and NWHL over a Big Four league. And I’m sure I’m not alone.

So, sports leagues, you want millennial support? It’s time for you and your marketing team to come to terms with the facts. To be successful, sports teams must learn to include women, people of color, the LGBT community, Muslims, and other minority groups. It’s time to make systemic changes. Encourage more diversity in management positions. Help spread the game to non-traditional markets. Help make the game accessible for people of all socioeconomic backgrounds. Take accusations of homophobia, racism, and violence against women against your players and owners seriously. Change is scary, but it’s also the only way your business will survive.

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My Depth

After many years of swimming, the word depth is the 12 feet between the surface and the bottom of the pool. I can remember when I first started swimming how much that depth terrified me. While others sailed quickly to the bottom and back, I could barely accomplish the same feat without my lungs burning, desperate to take another breath, hoping I’d make it to the surface in time. The depth was painful, it was frightening. As time passed and I grew more comfortable in the water, the depth became easier, my lungs adapted to accommodate more air. To seem my age, I voyaged down to the bottom more often, but it still made me uneasy. The water has always made me uneasy.

Depth is emotional, too.

Depth is panic. Depth is looking above you, squinting to catch a glimpse of the surface, kicking with all your might and praying to God that you’ll break the surface in time. Depth is that feeling you get when the darkness sets in and you feel like you can’t breathe in the space you’re given. Depth is desperately fleeing your apartment to wander the city, trying to catch your breath, trying to calm the beating pulse of your heart and to silence those panicked voices in your mind. Depth is drowning in your own thoughts, except these thoughts aren’t your own, but they are in your brain and you can’t control them. Depth is trying not to cry when it feels like you just can’t take it anymore, even if you’re not entirely sure what it is.

For me, depth is my depression. It’s the feeling of wanting to give up. Yet no matter how many times I find myself 12 feet under, with the weight of the world and the water on my shoulders, I still manage to find a way to kick, to pull, and to come back to the surface. I hope that every struggle, which takes mere seconds but feels like years, it making my lungs stronger so I can keep surfacing time and time again. But in the back of my mind, I worry that someday, the depth will be too deep and my legs won’t work fast enough, the kicks won’t be hard enough, and I’ll never make it to the top again. I worry that every single struggle to make it to the top will have been for nothing. I worry that I’ll finally drown. But if there is one thing that I have learned about my depth, it is that you should never give up. The feeling of taking that first breath is always worth it, as is everything and everyone who waits for me above the water. And that is why I just keep swimming.

As soon as I saw today’s Daily Post, I immediately thought of the quote that has always had so much meaning to me – Just keep swimming. Competitive swimming was the one thing that I always felt saved me from my depression, and it’s also the most useful metaphor I’ve found for explaining depression. Writing this post brought back so many emotions, but I really hope it helps someone else find the voice that being in the depth takes away from us.

To My Platonic Boyfriend’s Girlfriend: Find Your Chill

Today, I was guilty of allowing Facebook to click-bait me into reading an Elite Daily piece of garbage titled “To My Boyfriend’s Platonic Girlfriend: Thanks for your help, Okay Bye”. As the platonic girlfriend to many guys, I was intrigued as to just what a miserable site like Elite Daily had to say about me.

The article starts on a positive note – first, giving me “a whole-hearted thank you for the years you’ve invested in our boyfriends” – essentially, thanks for getting fucked over by other boys so my boyfriend can see how hurt you are and not inflict that same pain upon me. Despite the passive-aggressive language, I can empathize with the message. I do believe it is beneficial for men and women to be friends because we can see how the actions of the opposite sex both negatively and positively impact our friends, and in turn we can learn from these reactions.

Don’t get too comfortable, though! The article quickly turns sour – I guess we’re at “Okay Bye” now. All while pretending to be a holier-than-thou friend, Elite Daily promises:

I’m not breathing down his neck, placing boundaries against you in our relationship.

That, however, is false. The letter to the platonic girlfriend is an extremely problematic, sexist, and false piece of writing that I fear will negatively influence women everywhere. In response, I have crafted my own letter to any and all of my platonic boyfriend’s future girlfriends who would dare to take advice from this article. I have titled it Chill Out! Not Every Girl is Out to Get You!

In all seriousness, it is not easy to be a girl who is friends with boys. As much of I love my friends, I do not love the stereotypes associated with being “one of the boys” – I’m a slut who’s surely slept with all of them, or I have difficultly making friends with girls because I’m so awful. In fact, none of these facts are true. And while I’m never one to let the false opinions of others affect me, it really is hurtful when it comes from the girlfriend of a guy I’m friends with. While I’ve never lost a guy friend to an equivalently Elite Daily-loving girlfriend, I can say that it has damaged our friendship, largely because she views me as a threat.

In general, girls in relationships have a problem with viewing other women in their boyfriend’s life as dangerous. While that’s an issue for another article, I encourage you to keep that in mind as you read. Women need to stick together, not drive each other apart.

So let’s dispel the sexist, cruel, and downright inaccurate stereotypes about your boyfriend’s platonic girlfriend!

This isn’t a battle.
Elite Daily has told me that my friendship is essentially over once my guy friend starts dating a girl:

As much as he values your friendship, he gets enough venting girl drama from me now, and he’d rather play Xbox with his bros than dissect a female crossfire that doesn’t end in “thank-you-for-listening-to-me-complain-I-love-you-sex.”

To begin with, this statement is just so dangerously sexist. I can’t pretend I haven’t annoyed my male friends with “girl drama” before, but the idea that conversing with women in general is an annoyance is just terrible. Not to mention, this friendship between us wasn’t forced on my end – your boyfriend and I are friends because he cares about me and wants to be there for me, even when that means listening to my complaints.

But my friend dating a girl does not mean that he has to choose between us. It is possible to be an excellent boyfriend and boy friend at the same time. Listening to my “drama” does not mean he can’t be there for yours, too. Girls fight each other over boys enough, and we are better than this.

We can spend time together alone.

The Elite Daily girlfriend is terrified of me spending time alone with her boyfriend:

He’s not going to be interested in a movie night at your place, and any movie night at his place will indefinitely involve me.

Here’s the thing – this statement would never be okay if it was about a male friend. You would be labelled clingy and crazy by everyone if your presence ruined boy’s night. But because I’m a girl, it’s somehow acceptable to be concerned with us alone together.

No relationship should ever change the nature of a friendship, no matter what the gender dynamic happens to be. It is concerning that you think your existence is enough to alter years of friendship. Additionally, what sort of relationship is this if you can’t trust your boyfriend alone?

You can trust me, however. I’m a girl who knows how much it hurts to have a relationship ruined – in fact, you thanked me for this in the beginning, remember? On that same logic, I would never agree to being “the other woman”, especially with my friend.

I don’t want to be in your place.

You see, I’m not the enemy here. I know there might have been a part of you that wanted him to be single forever, so you could live out the “If we’re both single when we’re 40….” pact.

There’s a grand misconception that girls are only friends with boys, and vice versa, because we want to sleep together. It’s a classic TV trope – the two lifelong platonic friends finally reveal their deep feelings for each other and end up in love. But that’s not always reality. I don’t dream of being in your place and I haven’t secretly planned my dream wedding with your boyfriend. We are just friends, no different from any other purely platonic friendship you or I have experienced in our lives.

In fact, I’m totally okay with my friend dating, mostly because I’m not a sociopath. I, too, have seen other people. As normal, healthy friends, we support each other’s relationships. We listen to each other’s problems and share joy at each other’s successes. If you’re dating, chances are your boyfriend told me about it before, and I was incredibly happy for him. I probably look forward to making you a part of my life, and I will never try to shut you out of his.

I want this relationship to succeed.

So, realize that the time your best friend spends with me is time well spent. Don’t be catty toward me, like you were to the flames of his past. Make an effort.

Again, as a sane person, I am cool with my friend dating people. I do not actively try to destroy his relationships out of some sort of deranged, pent-up obsession with having him all to myself. Friendship means wanting to see your friend happy, and I believe that a girlfriend can have an unbelievably positive influence on his life. That excites me! I hope I can have the same! And I would never actively try to make him unhappy by taking him away from you.

There is one condition though.

I can’t promise I won’t intervene if you turn out to take relationship advice from Elite Daily.

We both love him. And he loves us. But here’s the thing: I’m the girl you wanted him to end up with all along.

 

Believe me, he can do better.

A Note to Allison Schmitt

This past week, Olympic gold medallist Allison Schmitt opened up about her struggle with depression following the 2012 Olympics. Here are my thoughts:


Dear Allison Schmitt,

I really just want to say thank you.

Any woman who wins an Olympic gold medal in swimming is a hero to me, but by opening up about your depression, you became the biggest hero of them all. It is not easy to own up to a mental illness. Too many people will brush off depression as simple sadness or apathy, as something made up in your head. It is far too easy to pretend that your suffering is the result of anything else.

I know I did.

I didn’t know it was depression at the time. In my mind, it was difficulty adjusting, a lack of real friends, a lack of support. Anything that wasn’t my fault. And when the depression started to affect my performance in the pool, it was far easier to blame it on a hurting shoulder than on my complete and utter self-hatred.

I didn’t think anyone would understand. I thought it was all in my head. I didn’t know at the time that my disastrous emotional state was the result of unbalanced chemicals in my brain. It wasn’t me. It was the depression.

Even when I knew, even years after I had reclaimed my true self, it was still hard for me to admit to friends, coaches, and teammates that my shoulder was the least of my worries. I used that minor annoyance as a crutch, a way to keep from admitting to mental illness. It was just easier. There were less questions, less judgement, less problems. Athletes are supposed to be strong. We’re not supposed to show our emotions or speak up when things are tough. It took that fight with depression to show me how destructive that line of thought can be.

It really means everything to me that a public figure like you was willing to admit to depression in such a public way. You are showing the athletic and swimming communities that mental illness is a fact of life, even for the toughest and most talented of athletes.

Thank you for letting me know that I am not alone.

Thank you for letting thousands of young girls in the swimming world know that their feelings are valid, and that it is okay to ask for help.

Thank you for showing coaches, teammates, and swim parents that depression is a real illness, and teaching them how to help.

Better yet, know that you too are not alone.

I wish I had a quick answer for how I got better, but the truth is that I do not know. I know that swimming helped – setting little goals and achieving them made me feel a little better. Devoting myself to working out helped keep my mind off the uglier things. Surrounding myself with positive coaches and teammates made a world of difference, too. I also know that devoting myself to my friends and my studies helped me to feel a stronger sense of self. So know that, much like you don’t wake up one day knowing that you have depression, you won’t wake up one day and know that you are cured. It will take weeks, months, maybe even years. There will still be days far from now when the ugly feelings will come back. Know that it is temporary and know that you are still greater than your illness.

Know that there is a huge community of swimmers out there who, whether or not they have lived through a mental illness, want nothing more than to see you happy again. Know that we will support you through the ups and downs. Know that we will stick by you.

Know that you can do it.

Know that the journey will not always be easy.

But, most importantly, know that it will always be worth it.

You’ll never walk alone… until you bite someone

I think my least favorite thing about being a sports fan is that most athletes are terrible people.

Sometimes, they bite people, elbow them, are racist, etc. And that’s just on the field.

This behavior, while terrible, really puts fans in an awful position. These are players that you love to cheer for, maybe you even own their jersey. So what are you to do when your favorite players do something disgusting and inexcusable?

This post was really in response to the actions of one of my favorites, Liverpool’s Luis Suarez. I love this guy. He’s passionate about the game, he’s clutch, and he scores amazing goals. I love his success. I love the fact that he helps my team win games. However, I don’t love the fact that he, you know, bites people. And says racist shit to them.

Personally, it’s hard for me to explain my feelings about Suarez to other people. After he bit someone today, I received tons of messages from my family and friends asking how I felt about the incident. What Suarez did was wrong, I can’t ever imagine denying it. But a part of me still remembers that league-leading goal scorer side of Suarez, and that part of me wants him to stay in a Liverpool jersey forever.

Fans should never feel obligated to defend their favorites when they do something bad, in fact, it just makes the fan look stupid. We don’t have to justify his actions or come up with a punishment. Leave that up to the league and team management. As difficult as it may be, its okay to let everyone else voice their opinions about your player. Let them be. Your player did something bad, not you.

Ultimately, I can’t tell anyone how to feel about Luis Suarez. For other fans, the feelings of anger and hatred come easily. But to those of us who cheer for Liverpool, it’s a complicated situation. I’m not going to defend Luis Suarez. I sincerely hope that FIFA, Team Uruguay, and LFC take action to correct the situation, whatever that action may be.

So, in the end, I love Luis Suarez, goal scorer. I am not a fan of Luis Suarez, people-biter. I sincerely hope that he takes the correct action to reform himself. I don’t know how many more second chances he can get, but I do know that he could be one of the best in the world if he stops being a jerk on the field.