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,