Women & Athleticism: The Often-Missed Story

Women & Athleticism: The Often-Missed Story
Bonnie Thunders, center, skates a non-league bout with Chicago's Windy City Rollers star Varla Vendetta, left. Both amazing athletes if you ask me. (pic: courtesy of Jules Doyle)

Right now there are two major stories regarding women in sports. And the two stories are only trending in the blogosphere and all over the internet for little more than what could be each story's profound dumbness.

First this week we heard about a sports writer, a woman no less, named Ann-Megan Raley, who writes for for CBS Houston and covers NBA basketball among other topics. Raley clocked in some nice clicks on the CBS Houston site the other day by calling one of the Oklahoma City Thunder's cheerleaders, one Kelsey Williams, "too chunky" to be of service to the NBA team.

To top that, CBS Houston ran a fan poll, asking fans to weigh in on Ms Williams' perceived body mass as a measure of her cheer leading worthiness. While anyone who knows me probably knows my position on such issues, it's pretty clear that either the Oklahoma Thunder are so good that their games need no real reporting, or that sometimes writers (if you want to call them that) --who are tasked with the enviable job of getting to write about sports for a living-- often get distracted and go way (way, way) off topic.

Luckily, more sensible heads prevailed. Whether or the issue here is more about bogus sports news or a woman writer being a misogynist, this numb skull blogger has been relieved of her duties and has now plenty of time to contemplate how to write decent content that is actually related to sports.

The other story just popped up since last night. And this one is equally dumb.

Subsequent to an on-air flub yesterday, Comcast SportsNet Chicago reporter Susannah Collins was let go after accidentally --and in a hilarious but ultimately very human fashion-- substituting the word "sex" for "success" when trying to say that the Chicago Blackhawks had experienced a lot of success in the 2013 season. Supposedly, her misstep of the lips on television this week led to further "revelations" about previously-made gaffs and other racy comments available on video.

Sure, these are stories of interest to some people, I guess. And it is a certainty that the people who blog, tweet, retweet, and reblog these trending topics ad nauseum will gain a lot of traffic on their blogs as a reward for keeping the conversation going. But are these real stories, important stories, or just the daily regurgitation of media bile?

Read what you will, but I think the latter. Unrelated, about a month ago I got the privilege to interview and more recently write about one of the most daunting and prolific athletes on the planet.

Not only does this athlete have three championship rings unlike, say, Derrick Rose, Patrick Kane or Paul Konerko. Her talents are in demand worldwide, having just got back from Colombia and Brazil on separate trips to train new players and promote the rapid growth of her sport.

Bonnie Thunders is essentially the Michael Jordan of the game of roller derby; not that her role or talents necessitate comparison to a male athlete. But she is absolutely an outlier in her chosen sport, the best the game has ever seen with speed, strength and athleticism unmatched by any competitor.

An excerpt from the ESPN piece on Bonnie Thunders:

[In]  the 2012 WFTDA Championship final versus the Olympia (Wash.) powerhouse Oly Rollers. After helping Gotham go up 51-0 in the opening 10 minutes, Thunders scored 178 of Gotham’s 233 points to lead the New York team to a crushing 233-130 victory and its third Hydra trophy.

Thunders, 29, also skated for Team USA in roller derby’s first World Cup in December 2011, in which the U.S. routed Canada 336-33 in the final. Regarding her success, Thunders hints that she’s equal parts drive and athleticism.

Like Jordan, drive is so important that Thunders does whatever it takes to get better and make her team better. Upon seeing the post about Thunders, many of her teammates, past trainees, and fans talked about the great team player she is and her great attitude, not just her aptitude for the the sport she plays.  And perhaps --as Jordan was once in the 1980s and 1990s-- Thunders is the world's most dominant player of any team sport of all time.

While I will admit that the game of roller derby appeals to a small but  potent audience --perhaps a niche audience-- what athletes like Bonnie Thunders or basketball sensation Brittney Griner underscore is that women as athletes can be just as prolific as men, often more so. Yet so many who tell the stories within sports miss the story of the remarkable performances and power women bring; and they do so in lieu of the cheap headline or the weak punchline.

That said, there are those of us who do pay attention. So if you want to see real athleticism in Chicago this weekend it's there. Just roll by the UIC Pavilion Saturday for a local dose of top level sports, action, and world class athleticism.


Read the original story about Bonnie Thunders on ESPN Playbook here.

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