I had an interesting experience at the course this morning that got me thinking about my Team, our role here at Worlds, women’s athletics, and the delicate balance of dignity, privacy, and professionalism that we all have to accommodate when we compete. I’ve been thinking about it for part of this afternoon and I haven’t come up with any definitive answers, but certainly have come up with some questions.

Every morning before we go for our row, my teammates and I do a land warmup that includes some cardio and a short body circuit. We do this as a large group, and when we all wear matching kit, it’s hard to miss us. This morning was business as usual until I went to begin my body circuit, and noticed someone sitting comfortably in the shade a few feet away from the Team with a video camera, filming us. We were quite a ways off from the water, with the parking lot behind us, and no other teams around so there was no mistaking that the camera was most definitely meant for us. It caught me off guard, because if there’s ever anyone sitting around catching candid footage of my teammates and me jumping up and down or doing pushups–it’s me.
In this case, it happened to not be me, or any member of the USA delegation. And my immediate gut reaction was to question this person’s intentions–I uncomfortably blurted out: “Are you filming us? That’s creepy. And weird.” and then went about my warm up. Filming continued off and on until we were finished.
I cautiously mentioned it to my coach before we got ready to launch, and then I was approached by another coach who wondered why I was so concerned–why did I assume the worst?

And this got me thinking: why did I assume the worst? Why should I care if someone wants to film my teammates and me while we are training and preparing for the World Championships? Is it their right to film us candidly without our permission or our coaches’ permission?

I think a lot of my feelings on this particular experience stem from a belief that has always been strongly impressed on me–which is that as women, we need to take care of ourselves, be aware of our surroundings, and always err on the side of caution. Even (or especially) strong women. Perhaps it’s a mildly paranoid cultural practice, but it is how I have grown up nonetheless, and to this point have been the better for it. We are never encouraged to invite vulnerability.

These things are easy for female athletes to overlook as younger competitors. But as we move into collegiate competition and beyond, things begin to change. Results achieve more attention, often on a national level, and it’s more likely that collegians will appear on fans’ and others’ radars both in and out of competition. I can recall an incident where a college teammate of mine received several emails from an unidentified individual placing her at different locations around Seattle. This was unsettling for a lot of us, because I think before that it never occurred to us that as young female athletes competing for a large, successful DI program we could be targets for unwanted attention of that sort. Operating within the bubble of a highly structured athletic department offered some sense of security. There were fairly rigid media standards about when we could be interviewed, photographed or filmed–and by whom–and it was always standardized or regulated by the University.
After making the transition from collegiate athlete to international competitor, the rules change in that there are none. We don’t operate under the same type of blanket system for media permissions that we did in college. As United States athletes, we are given media training and coaching, but our response to media coverage and requests is almost entirely at our own liberty. In a low profile sport like rowing, it’s rare that athletes hire publicists or agents. We have media liaisons on staff at USRowing, but individually, we’re on our own. Requests for interviews aren’t uncommon, but they aren’t exactly regular either. Even less common is video coverage–but in all instances this sort of attention is premeditated and done with some sort of permission.
So how should we react when it’s not?

The truth is that at this level, we are competing publicly and on a global scale. What we do and how we do it at the very highest level is out there and available to an enormous audience. At a big international competition like the World Championships it’s not possible to always be discreet or to make preparations privately. But where is the line between accepting that certain parts of the competitive experience will be shared with our immediate community (athletes and rowing coaches and staff present at the regatta), and parts will be taken away from the regatta and used for some other purpose? Should baseline be privacy, or do we submit to any and all exposure when we arrive at regatta grounds, simply because we want to compete?
I was uncomfortable with someone I didn’t know filming me without asking me first. I reacted. Maybe I shouldn’t have assumed the worst.

At any rate, I know I haven’t solved this life mystery today. If any female athletes out there have any thoughts on on this, I’d love to hear them. Guys, I guess you can comment too.

Tomorrow: more Worlds talk, less philosophy!

Long Live the Dream,


4 thoughts on “Smile, You’re on Camera

  1. Here’s my take on it, for whatever it’s worth…

    One of my part time gigs in LA was working as a private valet. That meant that when celebrities had parties at their homes, went to hotels, etc, we were the ones you saw running around parking their cars — our schtick was that it was an all-girl operation, so it was cute, etc. So we ended up in tabloids & stuff every so often — somewhere, there’s a London tabloid that shows myself & my coworkers dressed in Sexy Santa dresses at Kate Hudson’s house for a Christmas party, not gonna lie. (I’m also not posting the link. *g*)

    That’s part of the gig — being “on” in public. But you also have to be okay with drawing a line of where the responsibility of a public persona ends and where respect for yourself as a person begins, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

    As part of being a valet, I worked at the W near UCLA for a while on Fri & Sat nights, and in that particular gig I was the only girl there. I wore black pants, black mens’ t-shirt, hair pulled back, and yet the hours of 1:30 – 2:45am were the most annoying hours of every night for me. Why? Because every drunk guy that didn’t get a girl in the bar that night would try to hit on me once they realized that the person that just brought up their car was the last female they would see before they went home alone.
    So you had to learn when to dance the line of celebrity-level customer service to the clients while still creating those boundaries of what was & wasn’t okay, and being willing to enforce that certain things weren’t okay if someone went over that line.

    I get out of the car, guy’s face lights up with that look and he says, “Hey, you’re a GIRL!”
    Me: “Only since the operation – have a nice night!”
    the boys I worked with loved it when I said that. heh.

    While there is something to be said for being in the public eye, you get to decide how you want that to happen, and set those parameters. We always knew that if Paris Hilton showed up, there would be paparazzi, that was her thing, she wanted them there, whatever. But when George Clooney was inside & there was a lone guy with a long lens hanging out in the shadows one night, I put on a non-hotel jacket, walked over, played stupid & asked, “oh my god, like, who are you waiting for?” (survival rule in LA: no one ever suspects a slightly vapid girl)
    PhotoBoy admitted that it was Clooney, so I told him that was great, then moseyed over to security & narc’d him out, because we all knew that that’s not who Clooney was as a person, so security bounced him out of range.
    (I still maintain that Clooney owes me a drink for that one. George, call me!)

    The point being, if you set the rules for how you want to interact, people will respect that, and if they don’t, there are ways of dealing with that in turn.

    General rule that I abide by from having had to deal with paparazzi duty — if someone is filming & they are legit, they won’t mind a bit if you walk up, ask who they are, & request their contact info so that you can get a copy of the footage/photos later, and they should be able to supply a business card for who they’re working for, even if they’re freelance. I work as a freelance designer/programmer, and I’ve almost always got my card on me just in case.

    There’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing this — legally speaking you are your own intellectual property, so you have every right to protect your name/image/reputation, especially as an athlete who could theoretically make money off endorsements at a later date. (the actuality of earning potential via sponsorships for rowers isn’t something that the law discounts — however large or small, the business opportunity exists, thus it’s legally protected.)

    If that person acts suspicious, won’t give you their contact info, generally behaves skeezy, then yes, there’s a problem. In the meantime, there’s nothing wrong with sussing out which way the wind blows, especially in today’s open-market style of internet entertainment.

    If it’s a coach from another team, well maybe they should spend more time with their own rowers & less with you, and they’d get a result that wouldn’t require them to film you. I’m just sayin’.

    ~ K

  2. You’d be surprise to see how many coaches are awake late at night checking for opponents’ boats and oars rigging, even at local regattas…
    So maybe you’re at the center of new espionnage movie: the next Bond girl?

  3. Interesting. As a spectator, I would say that anything you do in the public arena while representing your country is fair game. consider the ‘celebrity paparazzi’ – they make a living photographing folks looking Not-Their-Best. The same rules apply to you.

    You don’t say whether the filmer was inside the boat park – but I’m guessing he was. It’s a coach from a rival nation looking to improve his skills and find out what one of the component parts of the successful crew you are in uses to win races. In this case, your warm-up.
    So it’s espionage of the professional type rather than a sexual / stalker situation.

    How do you feel about that?

  4. Saw this from you on twitter… I think you’re right that while people do have the right to take photos and videos and things like that, if the area is off a ways, the person should at least mention why they’re there, particularly for the opposite gender.

    It would be just as weird if a woman was standing there video taping the guys, if maybe not quite so threatening.

    Definitely think that the person doing it failed to following the golden rule and do unto others as they’d have others do unto them.

    I guess in terms of what to do dealing with the public… just remember that every single member of your team is powerful, intelligent, and a ridiculously intimidating person should you get on their bad side. If someone’s making you uncomfortable, don’t hesitate to go up and say something; either they’ll clarify who they are and what they’re doing, or they’ll do something suspicious and voyeuristic and you’ll actually have a case to take to the authorities.


    That article is kind of similar. It wasn’t the fact that he was taking pictures; it was the motivation behind the pictures. Sounds like in this case you had every right to say something, and being in a foreign country at a high profile event, trust your gut.

    Good luck this week!

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