Books Women and sports: two sharply divergent views

October 01, 2000

Chamique: On Family, Focus and Basketball
by Chamique Holdsclaw with Jennifer Frey
Scribner, $18

"It's incredible how things have changed when it comes to girls
and sports," says Washington Mystics star Holdsclaw in her
autobiography. "I love how people accept women as athletes, women
with muscles, and that's what even guys want--for women to be fit,
to be strong." Holdsclaw lives in a world of invigorating
challenges: There are rebounds to grab, degrees to finish,
friends to make.

Not that Holdsclaw's sunny optimism was never challenged by the
cruelties of the real world. Throughout her childhood, boys
groaned when she followed them onto the blacktop. She shrugged
off their taunts, partly because she was such a terrific player
and partly because she had bigger problems: Her parents drank,
fought and neglected Chamique and her younger brother, Davon.
It's horrifying to read of 10-year-old Chamique hustling
seven-year-old Davon into the night and onto a New York City
subway to escape their mother's rantings. Chamique found refuge
in the home of her strict but nurturing grandmother and at
school, where, with the help of strict but nurturing coaches
(including Tennessee's Pat Summitt), she blossomed.

Holdsclaw's financial rewards have been spectacular. "There was
no appreciable difference between the treatment Tim Duncan
received [from] Nike and the treatment Chamique received,"
reports agent Lon Babby, who secured lucrative endorsement deals
for both. But to Holdsclaw, an even sweeter reward comes from
returning to her old neighborhood in Queens, where, she writes,
"I see girls on the court...and no one is teasing them."

The Frailty Myth
by Colette Dowling
Random House, $24.95

It is a surreal experience to read feminist scholar Dowling's
book after Holdsclaw's. Dowling does little to explain the social
reasons for the emergence of Holdsclaw and other female sports
heroes. Instead, she declares flatly that "men don't like women's
bold new intrusion into the insular, comforting, historically
antifemale world of sport." In Dowling's world, men still "do
everything they can to prevent women from appearing equally
capable, physically."

Why is Dowling's view so different? Partly because she relies
heavily on gender studies from the 1980s and early '90s, well
before the explosion in women's athletics at the end of the
century. She is also paranoid. She complains, for instance, that
sportscasters praise women "ambivalently" by referring to one
player's "little jump hook" or saying that another is "small, but
so effective under the boards." But the book's biggest flaw is
that it's boring. For 266 pages Dowling drones on, asserting what
almost everyone knows: that "the difference between boys' and
girls' performance levels may be greatly influenced by societal
expectations."

Chamique says it better. To say someone "plays like a girl,"
Holdsclaw writes, "is so old-school." Anyone who doubts it hasn't
seen her game.

COLOR PHOTO: SCRIBNER COLOR PHOTO: RANDOM HOUSE

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)