Search Google for “sports memorabilia” (with the quote marks) and you’ll get, as of today, 7,820,000 results. Obviously, there is a substantial market for sports memorabilia. How much of it, though, is dedicated to female athletes? From what I can tell, not so much.
Sportsmemorabilia.com seemed a good place to do research, inasmuch as it came up first in the search results. I was pleased to find memorabilia for Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Mia Hamm, Annika Sorenstam, Venus and Serena Williams. Not so surprisingly, Maria Sharapova and Danica Patrick were there as well. Still, many were missing. No Mary Lou Retton. No Sheryl Swoopes. No Lisa Leslie. No Jessica Mendoza. No Cat Osterman. No Candace Parker. And to be honest, there are, by my reckoning, two dozen male athletes for every one female athlete.
I’ve talked before of the lopsided, and in my view perverse, obsession our society has with male athletes, and its parallel: the marginalization of female athletes. The world of sports memorabilia, I submit, is further evidence of how skewed we have things.
Nowadays, boys and men are informed that it is “manly” to worship male athletes but somehow the opposite with female athletes. This is nonsense. The 300 Spartan men who defended the Pass of Thermopylae certainly would have understood it as such. Spartan women were expected to “exercise their bodies in running, wrestling, casting the discus, and hurling the javelin.” Strong women they were, and their men respected them for it. All of Sparta took pride in the hard physiques and athleticism of its women. The men of Sparta, nourished by physically capable sisters, wives, mothers, grew to be hard, brave men. Gorgo, Queen of Sparta and wife of Leonidas, who led the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae, articulated this best. When a foreign (probably Athenian) woman said to her, “You Spartan women are the only ones who rule their men,” Gorgo replied: “Yes, we are the only ones that give birth to men.” (Plutarch, Life of Lycurgus, 14.1-4.)
Sparta wasn’t a paradise, for women or men; it was, in fact, harsh and authoritarian. Primitive as it was, though, we could still learn something valuable from the Spartans: reverence for athletic women.
Oh, and with so much going on, this weekend would be a good time to put that lesson into practice.