In the midst of the US women’s soccer hype (as well as pride in my alma mater, being represented by two alums on the team…go Pilots!), I was spending a little time on the internet reading about the women and the team. As I typed in “Megan Rapinoe” (one of the aforementioned UP alums) into Google, I was provided with the following as my first three options to conclude my search: “megan rapinoe abby wambach,” “megan rapinoe girlfriend,” and “megan rapinoe dating abby wambach.” A little surprised but definitely curious, I stuck with some of Google’s suggestions, and within seconds, after clicking on “abby wambach girlfriend,” “abbywambach girlfriend megan rapinoe,” abby wambach gay,” and “megan rapnioe gay,” I was looking at websites dedicated entirely to determining whether each member of the US women’s soccer team is gay or straight and whether or not they’re single.
Continuing in my curiosity, I typed “Landon Donovan” into Google, and what were the first three options? “landon donovan twitter,” “landon donovan goal,” and “landon donovan goal vs algeria.” I kept reading, just to see how far I would get before I got to something that doesn’t relate to the fact that Landon Donovan is an athlete. Number four? “landon donovan salary.” Five? “landon donovan jersey.” Six? “landon donovan biography.” Seven? “landon donovan everton.” And finally, search option number eight brings us to something that looks less at Donovan’s career and more at his personal life: “landon donovan divorce.”
At this point, you may be wondering, “So what? What’s your point?” I’ll spell this out more clearly. When looking at a female athlete, Google’s search predictor, which Google is able to provide by linking your search items to the most frequent searches conducted by users containing similar words, first draws up multiple options that are unrelated to her athletic career, in contrast to a male athlete, which (appropriately, in my opinion) first draws up even more sports-related options before ever getting to anything related to his personal life, assuming his personal life comes up at all. What people’s search habits indicate is that, when it comes to athletes, people are far more interested in male athletes as athletes and female athletes as sex symbols, and if not sex symbols, it’s at least fair to say that they aren’t as interested in them as athletes. (And lest you think it’s just soccer, try “Picabo Street,” “Cheryl Miller,” “Nadia Comaneci,” and “Anna Kournikova” on for size and see what you get.)
Now, no need to get up in arms here. I do understand that curiosity in a female athlete’s sexual orientation is not entirely unfounded, as being a gay male athlete is still pretty taboo (John Amaechi, anyone?), while female sports tend to have a thriving homosexual community that is well-supported by other athletes, gay and straight alike. In addition, men, don’t think I’m pointing the finger at you. I’m fairly certain that it is largely women who are driving the interest in female athletes’ sexual orientations. But regardless of whether the interest in female athletes’ sexual orientations or relationship statuses make sense, it doesn’t change the fact that although these women are famous because they are athletes, we are not as interested in them as athletes as we are interested in pretty much everything else about them.
Which brings me back to my original point, that female athletes get more attention for the sex appeal or their female sports photos than they do their athleticism. Whether it’s an issue of a cap on female athletic accomplishments, the lack of revenue in female sports, or a handful of other explanations, the fact of the matter is that we are far more interested in female athletes as sex symbols than as athletes. But, more importantly, it’s not just the illusive “they” that are sitting in the plush corner offices making it happen. Like I said before, Google’s search predictor is driven by the searches that you and I make every day, so when “megan rapinoe dating abby wambach” pops up, it’s not because Google somehow masterminded a manipulation of female sports to make it more racy, but because thousands of people sitting at their home computers were curious about the relationship between Rapinoe and Wambach, whether Megan Rapinoe is gay, and if Abby Wambach is daating, and they typed it in. We can’t control how the Women’s Tennis Association chooses to market their athletes, but we can cut the crap and spend less time wondering about what female athletes look like naked and more time appreciating what they dedicate the majority of their time to: being excellent athletes.