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Women's football clinics: the reporter's cut

Megan Ryan / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 4 minutes ago

By now, hopefully y’all have read my story on women’s football clinics. Otherwise the ensuing massive blog post will make no sense to you.

I reported this story for more than a month, starting when I first heard about Penn State’s women’s clinic. I had honestly never heard of these before, as my alma mater, the University of Minnesota, didn’t have these clinics when I was on campus. I was intrigued, and will take any opportunity to explore how sports act as a microcosm of society, so here we are.

Obviously, I wasn’t allowed to attend Penn State’s, but Ohio State did let me cover its clinic, and that firsthand experience was invaluable (the epic sunburn and ensuing strange tan lines I took home as a souvenir was not). There were a lot of fun things that didn’t make my final print story, but I wanted to share them with you here.

First, the stripping! Cheryl Cooky (she’s got a great Ted Talk, too), an expert on women in sport, had a cool take on the whole undressing-of-players-for-the-sake-of-learning-how-uniforms-work scenario. She mentioned how Not OK that situation would be if it were reversed, middle-aged men at a clinic for women’s basketball, for example, undressing a 20-year-old woman. But while the age limit made this particular instance a little creepy, the bigger picture shouldn’t be completely overlooked:

“I don’t want to discount sexuality and sexual desire as an important component of many women’s fandom experience. An attraction to players, a sexual desire, I think, is a part of the fan experience for some women that gets delegitimized. … That somehow that component has to be disengaged in order for a woman to be the right kind of fan or an authentic fan.

“Sexual desire gets discounted by men and male sports fans because it brings sexuality into picture, flips the gaze. Because men usually look at women and this challenges that. If women are looking at men and think they’re hot, then men [are] also looking at these hot men.

“I think there’s ways to acknowledge the kind of pleasurable aspects of being a sports fan, in particular being a woman fan of football, whether that be Big Ten college football or NFL football, while also recognizing that there’s some aspects that we might want to raise questions or concerns about.”

That’s kind of fascinating, isn’t it? Here’s Raekwon McMillan, one of the Ohio State players to get stripped, on his first women’s clinic experience:

“Just coming out here seeing some crazy women fans and seeing how they act and seeing how much football they actually know is actually pretty cool because you really don’t think that women would know that much about it.

“It just empowers women, you know. They come out here, and they can do the same thing the men do. … It shows just the passion of women who love football and actually get to have hands-on time with the coaches and the players.

“I would say that Ohio State does it differently, man. We coach them all the same way, so they’re getting coached just as good as us all. The drills they showed you on the stage were the same drills that we actually do in practice, so they’re not going to take it easy just because they’re women because equality is real. … They are coming out here working hard just like we do.”

McMillan also said the coaches usually pick a team captain or someone with a “nice body” to do the uniform demonstration. He said he didn’t know the women were going to strip him down to his boxers, but he just rolled with it. He said it was awkward when he was first up on stage, but he just went with the flow. (Hear this quote and more on the stripping in this video.)

Something else about the uniform demo, Holly Swanson, the woman I spoke to who went to Penn State’s clinic, said she would have loved the opportunity to put on some pads and see how that all worked. So why not just let women put on pads for themselves and eliminate the cringey strip-tease? But I digress.

Swanson said her favorite part of Penn State’s clinic was, “Walking over to the cafeteria … James Franklin and I were talking about bed time routines for our kids and the best way to get your kids to go to bed on time. You were really able to connect with them on a different level than we did at any other event I had ever been to.”

That’s just a cool anecdote, I thought.

Cooky had a really interesting take on women’s clinics within the overall college and even professional football landscape. It was a little too broad for my story, but I think it’s definitely something to consider:

“I would be hard-pressed to say that this is about being more inclusive of women sport fans, that the goal of this isn’t somehow tied to a kind of public relations strategy, in terms of addressing the kind of negative press that the NFL and football in general has been receiving the past couple of years. The Sandusky scandal is one, the concussion scandal in the NFL is another. … For me, I see those as connected. Maybe not as a direct connection.

“I also am a little bit skeptical as well because when we look at the overall context of collegiate football or professional football, and in particular those big-time programs like Ohio state, like Penn State, like the professional league in general, and look at the ways in which women get treated outside of the league or outside of the sport context, in terms of I’m thinking domestic violence and sexual assault. For me, I think, it’s a kind of a contradiction that I can’t necessarily resolve or accept. Ok, so yeah, we’re going to have this space for women. We’re going to include women. We want women to be fans of the sport. We want women to feel included in our team and in this space of football. But at the same time, then when we look at the policies, when we look at the practices, when we look at the pervasive sexism within some of those sports team and how teams often cover up or look away when instances of sexual violence, sexual assault, domestic violence, even violence against athletes themselves in the form of suicide or what have you. When sport looks away from that, then I have a hard time with seeing this as simply a, ‘this is about including women in the game.’

“If it’s being framed by the teams and by the league as, ‘Let’s create an inclusive space for women fans. Let’s educate women fans so we can get more women at the games and supporting the team.’ … Then you can’t say that on the one hand and then when issues that are pertaining to women outside of the field, domestic violence, sexual assault, sexual violence, when those things happen, and you’re turning the other way or you’re victim blaming or you’re giving excuses or you’re giving very lenient penalties or you’re covering up, I’m not buying that.”

While at the camp and in talking to various people about them, I kept running into this same phrase. That women needed to be educated on the sport so they could be better moms, wives and girlfriends — so that they could better communicate with their sons, husbands and boyfriends. I found that pretty disturbing, and here’s what Cooky had to say about this idea of conventional relationships and heteronormativity:

“Women are watching sports because of the men in their lives, and they’re being taught by men for the purposes of enhancing their relationships with other men, whether that be fathers or husbands or boyfriends or sons, which I think is also problematic because it erases the woman fan of football who is generally interested in the sport because of her own pleasure and her own appreciation of the game. So where does she fit into that narrative?”

Shelley Meyer, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer’s wife, also had some more good quotes from our talk, as did Amy Nicol, Ohio State’s coordinator of football administration and special events. Both of them use that women-are-football-fans-because-of-the-men-in-their-lives language. Here’s Meyer:

“I don’t want to stereotype, but men mostly get the game of football at some level. But there’s just as many female fans that are just as passionate that go got the game and spend their money. And just to make them feel part. … It’s a, quote, man’s sport. … It’s a male-dominated sport.

“A lot of husbands get annoyed when their wives are saying, what’s that? What’s that called? What was that? What was that play? … They don’t want to teach their wives about football. So come and learn the game. Get the experience that these young men do and have a little fun doing it.

“We just feel like it’s important to embrace the female population that supports us.

“Anything we do as women, when we do it together without men involved … you feel more comfortable, and that’s what it’s for. The whole day is for women to feel comfortable asking about football, learning it, experiencing it.”

And from Nicol:

“We just found that’s really what our the Buckeye fans are looking for. They really want to be involved. They want to walk away with a piece of knowledge they didn’t have before, and sometimes, I think, they want to be able to say something that, go home and impress their husband when they’re watching TV, watching the game and drop a little bit of knowledge. But they really seem to be pretty knowledgeable and want to learn as much as they can.

“A lot of times, football is a sport that is portrayed kind of like a boys’ club. It’s all men that play and just recently women are starting to coach. But it’s kind of portrayed that way, and it’s just not true. I know, my friends know, we’re really into the game of football and appreciate it and understand a lot of it, and it’s just nice to have an event that’s geared toward women.”

So now that y’all have basically seen my entire reporting process, lmao, email or tweet me with your questions and/or opinions. As I think many of you are after reading my story, I’m conflicted about these clinics. I’d never condemn someone for having a good time and fun fan experience, and I think including women in traditionally male-dominated activities is an excellent step forward. But the way some of these clinics are carried out is problematic, to say the least.

Basically, Stay Woke, Question Everything, Don’t Take Sports For Granted Because They Are Entertainment. Thanks for reading and thinking with me!


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Trashin' the (satellite) camp

Megan Ryan / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 1 week ago

You’ve read my satellite camp story, now get ready for ... other people’ satellite camp stories.

(My headline reference is a little weak this week, lmao, but the song from Tarzan is a jam.)

Yes, this past weekend I traveled far and wide to the exotic land of northwest Ohio for the Bowling Green satellite camp. But Jourdan Rodrigue of the Centre-Daily Times and Greg Pickel of Pennlive both attended Penn State’s camp in New Jersey on Wednesday. Here are some of their stories from the trip:

Takeaways from the camp

2018 prospect Artur Stikowski talks Penn State camp experience

Could Penn State’s on-campus camps be smaller because of satellite camps?

Joe Moorhead reunites with Fordham staff

Wide receiver prospect shines at Penn State satellite camp

As a reminder, here is what Penn State’s camp schedule looks like

James Franklin and his staff are back at home today before embarking on trips to Maryland and Georgia. Then it is back the State College once again.

Stay tuned Monday for a story I’ve been working on the past few weeks. I think it’s going to be an interesting read, at least. I’ll probably be posting some extra tidbits here on the blog that don’t make the print version of that story, so look out.

As always, email or tweet with your triumphs and tribulations. See y’all post Father’s Day.


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This one time at football camp ...

Megan Ryan / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2 weeks ago

Rip my American Pie reference.

Penn State’s June is looking wild as far as football camps:

I’ll have a full story on the satellite camp lineup comin’ at y’all on Tuesday, after I road trip it through Ohio in a company Dodge Stratus. Also, another (I think very cool) story for later next week. But I’m not telling you the subject because secrets. (aka, you’ll probably see it on my Twitter this weekend anyway).

Also, something fun I saw on Twitter today. Pennlive compiled a list of the 31 highest-paid people at Penn State, and Onward State pointed out how just on of those 31 is a woman. So many white men always.

James Franklin is the highest paid of them all, though. He made $1,282,187 in the 2014-15 fiscal year. Dang.

Just a quick update for y’all to prove I haven’t forgotten about you in the midst of Riverhounds’ drama and Stanley Cup shenanigans. Feel free to email or tweet me with your hopes and dreams. Big Ten football media days are quick approaching July 25-26, and then camp, and then the season, and then so much football.


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Trace McSorley and Penn State's sick new up-tempo offense dominate Blue-White game

Megan Ryan / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2 months ago

Hey, guys. Here’s my gamer from the Blue-White game so ya’ll won’t have to wait until tomorrow’s paper to read it. I’ll have a Kevin Givens story for Monday’s paper as well, so look out for that. Hope y’all enjoyed this spring!

UNIVERSITY PARK — The winner of Penn State’s rather one-sided Blue-White game was obvious: Trace McSorley, leading the team’s new offense.

If the 37-0 winning score line for McSorley’s Blue team Saturday at Beaver Stadium wasn’t enough of an indication, White squad defensive tackle Robert Windsor threw up on the 1-yard line in the second quarter while trying to keep up with the up-tempo attack.

That wasn’t even the first time the redshirt freshman had tossed his cookies this spring — coach James Franklin relayed a similar story just days into spring practice. And for McSorley and the offense, those moments make the system overhaul completely worth it.

“It’s huge for us, knowing that we can do that to a defense just from our tempo and guys up front,” McSorley said. “Not only is it a big boost for the offense, but for our offensive line, it’s so much easier for them to block a dude that’s tired and gassed than it is for a guy that’s energized and juiced up every play.

“They see that, everyone kind of turns around and, like, high fives each other, slaps each other,” McSorley said. “It’s kind of, like, in our mind, ‘Now we’ve got them. Now we have the upper hand.’ And that’s what we want to do with this tempo.”

As soon as McSorley grabbed the ball, the Blue team’s no-huddle spread offense took off running. The first drive went 70 yards in seven plays in 2 minutes, 53 seconds. McSorley threw 15 yards to junior wide receiver Chris Godwin with 7:33 left in the first quarter for the score.

Even with the Blue team’s second drive ending in an interception, courtesy of redshirt sophomore cornerback Amani Oruwariye at the White team’s 14-yard line, five of the Blue team’s eight drives ended in touchdowns – two others ended with the halves. And the White team’s drive after the interception actually scored the Blue team two points when fifth-year senior defensive end Evan Schwan tagged redshirt freshman quarterback Tommy Stevens for a safety with 15 seconds left in the second quarter.

Franklin said despite McSorley’s miscue in the red zone, he thought the quarterback looked poised, confident and under control.

“One of the things I tried to talk to him about is when you get in that fringe area, you’ve got to be careful. Those defensive backs are going to sit on routes because you just run out of real estate,” Franklin said. “So we had a go route with a corner in front of it, the DB kind of sat between the two. And in those areas, you’ve got to be aggressive with the ball down the field or take the check down when the DB sits in the grey area. But I thought [McSorley] did some really nice things.”

McSorley finished the game 23-of-27 for 281 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. He threw a 22-yarder to junior wide receiver Saeed Blacknall and a two-yard toss to redshirt junior tight end Tom Pancoast for scores in the second quarter. He added a 35-yard pass to redshirt sophomore wide receiver DeAndre Thompkins, who switched over from the White team at halftime, for his final score in the third quarter.

The Blue team’s last score of the game was also it’s only rushing touchdown, a 28-yard run from redshirt freshman running back Andre Robinson, who also switched from the White team, in the fourth quarter.

Stevens was the quarterback for the Blue team for that touchdown, playing the final 10 minutes with the mostly first team. He went 7-of-14 for 48 yards with the White team and was sacked four times. With the Blue team, he went 3-of-3 for 52 yards.

“The next step for him is that he has so much confidence in his athletic ability and his ability to break the pocket and make plays, that he needs to be careful in certain situations,” Franklin said of Stevens, who is trying to close the gap from McSorley for the starting job. “When you’re backed up, it’s not worth the risk of scrambling. When it’s two minutes, it’s not worth it. There are times and places to use that athletic ability, and there’s times when you just have to understand – throw the ball away, and let’s live to play another down.”

Other note: Sophomore running back Saquon Barkley, last season’s leading rusher, did not play. Franklin said he already knows what Barkley has to offer and didn’t want to risk him in a live situation.

Megan Ryan: mryan@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1722 and Twitter @theothermegryan.


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Unlucky Leader gives her offensive line prediction and other Penn State notes

Megan Ryan / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2 months ago

I have no fancy rap references for you today. I’m sorry to disappoint.

Read my breaking news story on the offensive line here from today’s Big Ten conference calls. My guess for the spring game lineup? Nelson-Bates-Gaia-Dowrey-Beh. Take that for what you will.

At defensive tackle, a rebuilding area, Franklin said he fancied redshirt junior Parker Cothren and redshirt freshman Robert Windsor at the one technique or nose, adding Windsor is explosive, strong and young. Franklin said redshirt sophomore Antoine White could be a good pick at  the three technique, as could redshirt junior Curtis Cothran. Incoming junior college guys like Tyrell Chavis will also bring some needed maturity at that spot, Franklin said.

 

In his conference call, redshirt junior defensive end Garrett Sickels, the only returning starter on the D-line after all his compatriots departed for the NFL, said it’s been a change to go from the youngest on the line to the leader.

“The good thing about it is that everyone that we have back, we’re all pretty close, and we’re all in the same grade, really,” Sickels said. “We all have a really tight camaraderie, and we all know what’s expected of us.”

Sickels added that White is quick and shifty, poised to show his stuff now that Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettel are NFL bound. And on possibly lining up with redshirt sophomore defensive end Torrence Brown, Sickels said Brown “is a guy that doesn’t make any mistakes,” and has experience as well.

Back to Franklin, he said of the rising recruiting expenses that Penn State is a bit isolated and thus it costs a bit more to travel to and from campus. He said the school just wants to do everything it can to attract the best fits for the program, adding, “To be honest with you, the way things are documented now are a little bit different than the way they’ve been in the past. We’re much more detailed in keeping track of those financials. So I think it’s probably a little bit more specific. I think Penn State has realized, as well as our football program and [that has] studied other programs in the Big Ten as well as nationally, the things you need to do to be successful.”

Spinning off the isolated Penn State thing, satellite camps! Franklin commented on the death of them after practice Wednesday, saying, “From the beginning, if the rule was going to be legal in the Big Ten ... I felt like we needed to do everything in our power within the rules to give Penn State the best chance to be successful.

“The rule now is not legal. So now everybody’s back on a level playing field. So I’m OK either way.”

Franklin said on the positive side, he’s happy to spend more time on campus with his players and his family. But on the other hand, he’s certainly happy to have signed the incoming kicker and punter out of a Georgia satellite camp.

And on if the Big Ten East would be more balanced with high turnover at places like Ohio State and Michigan State, Franklin said, “I don’t think there’ll be a significant drop off. I think this will continue to be one of the more competitive conferences in college football, specifically the east side of the conference.”

I think that’s all I’ve got for y’all now. I’ll have a spring game preview in Saturday’s paper, as well as stories Sunday and Monday from the spring game. So hold on to yer britches. Email. Tweet. Find your Wu-Tang name. I’m Unlucky Leader ;)


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