Why does Serena have to be sexy?

Earlier this week Sports Illustrated magazine announced that they had selected tennis star Serena Williams to be their Sportsperson of the Year. The SOY award is given to “the athlete or team whose performance that year most embodies the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement.” As a dad with five daughters, I was really pleased to hear the news the SI had finally chosen another female athlete as this award has been dominated by men since the award’s inception in 1954. Serena Williams’s selection was only the third time that a woman had been selected for the prestigious award without sharing it with a man. Chris Evert won it alone in 1976 and Mary Decker in 1983, several have women “shared” it with a man, and the U.S. Women’s Soccer team won it as a team in 1999. The name of the award even changed this year to be more inclusive of women. All said, it’s a pretty big deal for her to win this award. It was a topic of conversation on sports talk radio shows and was all over the internet. As a sports fan myself I would be the first to admit that I don’t follow tennis much at all. Sure, I know who the Williams sister are and knew that Serena had nearly won the Grand Slam in 2015 but fell short in the U.S. Open in September. I also knew that Serena and her sister, Venus, have been surrounded by controversy over their long careers but that they have overcome so much adversity because they’re strong, athletic and outspoken individuals who happen to also be black in a very white sport. Yet, I didn’t really know that much about either of them because, quite frankly, I didn’t really care. I don’t really watch much tennis and it’s barely on my sports radar. After hearing the few minutes of talk on the radio I was actually looking forward to reading more about Serena Williams and sharing her story with my daughters once my copy of SI arrived. My copy arrived on Wednesday and I was beyond disappointed the moment I pulled it out of my mailbox and glanced at the cover.

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SI Cover

Serena Williams graces the cover of SI sitting on a throne-like chair, wearing a lacy bodysuit, sheer stockings and heels, while staring directly into the camera. It’s a look that one might expect on the cover of the annual SI Swimsuit magazine or Cosmo. I get it that she has strong and sexy legs. But what does that have to do with this award?  What hit me the moment that I saw the cover was how the cover was the ultimate disrespect to her as an individual and to women as a gender. Why does she have to be sexy? I want my daughters to be strong, smart, confident and compassionate people. Their value as women is not at all dependent on their sex appeal. And, just as much, I want my son to respect all women because of who they are as human beings not because of their looks. Yet, this photo pretty much reduces Serena to being a sex symbol, posing provocatively on the cover under the proclamation Sportsperson of the Year. Can you imagine how ridiculous it would have looked for any of the previous 61 years’ worth of winners to have had a similar cover photo? The thought of Brett Favre or Tom Brady or Tiger Woods sitting on a chair trying to  look all sexy like Serena makes me laugh and cringe at the same time. In all of the years of this award the cover has never ever been so disrespectful. Check out the screen captures of all of the previous covers from SI’s website.

Do you notice how nearly every single previous cover was of the athletes either in their sport’s uniform or a head shot? Again, I ask, Why does Serena have to be sexy? Why couldn’t the SI cover have been an action shot of Serena from one of her matches? Or a pose of her in one of her tennis outfits? Or a head shot? The article itself is a compelling because it goes into great detail to explain why Serena Williams is and was such a deserving recipient of this award. S.L. Price really educated me (and, I’m sure, countless others) about what a wonderful person Serena is and how much she has changed and matured over the course of her prolific career. I’m now a Serena Williams fan because of what she has done with her talents off the court more than here amazing success on it.

Indeed, in 2015 Williams hit this rare sweet spot, a pinch-me patch where the exotic became the norm. She danced with Donald Trump on New Year’s Eve. She spent a night telling bedtime stories to the children of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. Growing up, Williams had devoured every Harry Potter book, marveled at the business empires of Oprah Winfrey and Martha Stewart. Now J.K. Rowling was tweeting against a critic of Williams’s body, now Oprah was hustling to watch her at the U.S. Open, now Stewart was calling Williams “the most powerful woman I know.” President Barack Obama, the most scrutinized man alive, told her how great it was to watch her.

[In 2015]…Williams, 34, won three major titles, went 53–3 and provided at least one new measure of her tyrannical three-year reign at No. 1. For six weeks this summer—and for the first time in the 40-year history of the WTA rankings—Williams amassed twice as many ranking points as the world No. 2; at one point that gap grew larger than the one between No. 2 and No. 1,000. Williams’s 21 career Grand Slam singles titles are just one short of Steffi Graf’s Open-era record. Such numbers are reason enough for Sports Illustrated to name Serena Williams its 2015 Sportsperson of the Year.

excerpt from Sports Illustrated article

I would encourage you to follow the link above (or click here) to read the entire article about Serena Williams. It’s lengthy but worth the time to begin to understand and appreciate her as a person and as a celebrity who has truly embraced her power and celebrity status to help others in real and meaningful ways. Like all of us, she has her faults (tennis pun fully intended!), but in overcoming them, it also shows her determination to make herself better; to right some of the the wrongs of her past. She is a remarkable person and a role model for young women like my daughters. Serena Williams is such a worthy recipient of the 2015 SI Sportsman of the Year award because of her many accomplishments on and off the tennis court. I only wish I wasn’t left with one nagging question, though. Why does she have to be sexy?

No Bad Blood for Taylor Swift

Dear Taylor Swift,

I never would have thought that, at age 42, I would be writing an open letter to a famous person, much less a 25 year old young lady who is one of the most popular performers in pop culture right now. Yet, here I am, trying to not sound like an anxious 13 year old who can’t figure out how to say his own name when the pretty girl at school says “hi”. I’m writing you today to tell you how much I appreciate you. You see, I have six kids who are currently 20, 16, 13, 10, 5 and 2 years old. (The 10 year old is the only boy.) They are all T. Swift fans. When we’re in the van driving somewhere and there’s nothing good playing on the radio all I have to do is ask one of my kids (or do it myself) to put on some Taylor Swift songs. Doesn’t matter which one. They’re all popular with my kids. Within seconds everyone is singing along, belting out the songs with smiles on their faces. The thing is, I’m belting it out right along with them! As a 14 year veteran Stay At Home Dad I’ve had to put up with scores of artists who are questionable in their musical talents or abilities or taste in what passes for music. Please don’t get me started on the ridiculously raunchy and revolting nature of the lyrics of many of the Top 40 songs over the years. One of the things I love about your music is that it’s not only pleasant to listen to from a musical standpoint, but the lyrics are able to tell a story without being graphic or unsafe for my children. Thank you! Being classy never goes Out of Style.

On a road trip a few months ago my youngest daughter (then 21 months old) was having a tough time and was really fussy. As soon as I asked my 15 year old to put on some Taylor Swift she stopped her fussing. Everything (has) Changed as the first measures of “22” filled the airwaves as my baby’s mood became a State of Grace. Seriously. 0708_taylor_swift_autographs_970-630x420Your tunes also provided some fun bonding with my 15 year old just a couple of weeks ago on a hour road trip from our house in Washington to Multnomah Falls in Oregon. We decided it would be fun to learn the lyrics for your current hit Bad Blood (featuring Kendrick Lamar). At first I tried to learn the rap but couldn’t quite get the rhythm down, so my daughter learned the rap while I did my best T. Swift impersonation in my falsetto. I think that we may have permanently scarred my 10 year old son who had to endure hearing us (mostly me!) singing that lovely song over and over again at least a dozen times in a row. I’m going to think of that fun car ride every time Bad Blood comes on the radio from now on.

Two years ago when you came to play your Red concert at the Tacoma Dome in Tacoma, Washington, we were lucky enough to score a pair of tickets from one of my oldest daughter’s friends. My then 14 year old daughter chose me to attend the concert with her and we both had a great time. I know that 40 year old men are not your target audience, but I’ll happily admit that it was a fantastic experience. Having attended several other concerts with my girls over the years I can say that yours was by far the most enjoyable experience for me. No offense intended to Lizzie McGuire Hillary Duff or Justin Bieber. I left the concert thinking that we had actually gotten our money’s worth and was glad that my daughter liked your music so much.

My family’s love of your music began at least 5-6 years ago when my oldest daughter, now 20, discovered you and your music. At the time she was just learning to play guitar and was also going through some of the difficulties associated with being 14 and tall. You inspired her by simply being you. You publicly embraced your own quirkiness and awkwardness and height while putting out some incredible music. She was tremendously inspired by you and recorded covers of several of your songs on her YouTube channel. swift14f-1-webBut even more inspiring than your music has been how you have used your success and stardom as one of the most popular artists in the music industry. While I can’t possibly pretend to actually know who your are, if your long list of good deeds is any indication, it appears that you have A Perfectly Good Heart. Many famous people seem to forget the rest of the “common” people once them achieve their stardom. It seems that you’ve been able to buck that trend by showering countless people with your kindness and generosity. (Click here for an article about some of Taylor Swift’s good deeds.) Sure, the monetary gifts to help people in need are nice and attract a lot of attention, but the fact that you interact with people on social media to encourage them shows just how much you care, especially because those interactions don’t receive the same fanfare. As a father of five girls I hope that they will use their lives to build others up and encourage them in whatever ways they can. Thank you for showing my daughters and my son that it’s cool to be kind.

Finally, thank you for making the transition from teenage break-out star to full-fledged superstar without going through any embarrassing public spectacles like other recent stars have done. I appreciate the fact that you’re not drinking and driving, on drugs, in and out of rehab and other stuff like a lot of stars who make that trip from teenager to adult along a very bumpy path. It’s refreshing to see someone remain true to herself. Your parents should be proud of their hard work in raising you because you seem to be comfortable in your own skin doing what you want to do, not what others think you should do. I hope that my girls will be as strong as you as they mature into young adults. Thank you also for taking the time to remember where you came from professionally. My oldest daughter has been impressed by your willingness to confront Apple and other recording industry giants over their greedy business practices which don’t hurt you as much as they do the smaller artists. Again, thanks for living your life with such integrity.

1418267354-taylor_swift_1989I know that you’re coming to Seattle in a few days to play at Century Link Field. We live 45 minutes away to the south in University Place, near Tacoma. If you have the time in between your arrival to the beautiful Pacific Northwest and your concert duties my kids and I would love to show you around. The famous flying fish at Pike Place Market or the Space Needle or eating fish ‘n chips at Ivars. Maybe my daughter and I could even regale you with our rendition of Bad Blood. Thank you for being you, Taylor Swift.

Sincerely,

Carl, a.k.a., Big Cheese Dad

PS-In 1989 I was a junior in high school. Ha!

Honestly, Do The Right Thing

While at a local park last week my three year old daughter learned the hard way why it’s best to leave her toys in the car. Not even 15 minutes into our time there she had her purse full of goodies (lip stuff, a wooden fan and some hair things) stolen. She had set it down while playing on the swings with her friend and it was gone when she looked for it again a little later on. I’m assuming that another chid took it out of curiosity or envy. That doesn’t bother me as much as the idea that her parent was willing to basically condone that behavior by allowing the child to keep the purse that didn’t belong to her. If my child had done that, you can bet that she would have returned that purse the moment I discovered what she had done. Along with an apology. I’m a good teacher when it comes to apologizing. Lots of practice. Just ask my kids. Or my mom.

A friend of mine, Adrienne, posted on Facebook last week that the cashier at the gas station accidentally put her $45 in the wrong pump. No big deal, except that the person who benefitted from that mistake gladly pumped the extra gas before taking off. $50 of gas for only $5! Merry Christmas, right? Thankfully, my friend kept her cool with the cashier (way to go!) and eventually got reimbursed, so at least her story has a happy ending. During the two and a half years that we’ve lived here in Washington my wife’s car (a small SUV) has been hit three times by hit-and-run drivers while her car was parked. And there was not even as much as a note left. Just the calling card of the hit-and-run artist. I could go on and on, as I’m sure all of you readers could as well, sharing stories of times that we’ve been wronged, victims of other people’s inability unwillingness to do the right thing.

So, what’s the big deal? Why is it important to be honest and do the right thing? Does it really matter? I would argue that it does matter if we live lives of integrity and honesty. In general, as a society we depend of the decency of others in order to make it through our daily lives. Following traffic laws is a pretty easy example. Sure, I go 27 in a 25 zone (not in Fircrest, WA or Rosendale, WI, but that’s another story!) or slightly over the posted speed limit when I’m driving. But I stop at red lights and stop signs and such. You get the idea. And, for the most part, so does everyone else. And as a result, we can get around without too many problems. But I’d rather focus on the opportunities we have, as parents, to show our children how to live and how to do the right thing. After all, they’re always watching us, whether we like it or not.

One time a few years ago while out to eat, my son took his water cup up to the soda fountain to get more water but came back with a cup full of lemonade. Instead of looking the other way, he and I went to the cashier and he explained what had happened and paid for his drink. Once we got home he paid me from his own money for the drink. He no longer swipes drinks from the soda fountain unless it’s been paid for. Lesson learned. There have been numerous times over the years that I’ve been a Stay At Home Dad when I’ve received too much change back (on the rare occasions that I pay with cash) and I always give it back. Even if that means hauling the kids back into the store if I don’t catch it right away. There was one instance, back in 2003, when I was early in my SAHD gig that I bought two items on my way to the airport to go out of town for five days. Problem was, when I got to the airport, I looked at the receipt and realized that I had only been charged for one of the items. The day after I returned, I brought the items and the receipt (along with two young kids) and explained to the customer service rep what had happened and wanted to pay for the item. She looked at me like I was crazy and told me that she didn’t know how to do that; that I should just keep the item for free for being so honest. I insisted that I rightfully should’ve paid for the item in the first place and didn’t want to contribute to price mark-ups to make up for stolen items. She shook her head and got her manager, who exclaimed that she had never seen anyone ever! return an item trying to pay for it. After several minutes of furious typing something into the computer at the checkout they finally took my money. I still think of that experience every time I wear that Packers hat or my kids toss that talking Packers football. While it did cost me a few bucks, doing the right thing wasn’t too painful or costly. But that’s not always the case.

A few months after moving here I took an out of town guest and some of our kids to play in the snow at Mount Rainier National Park. While leaving the mostly empty parking lot I managed to back into the rear quarter panel of an unoccupied car that was parked in the lot. It would’ve been easy to check it out and leave. But that thought never crossed my mind. Once I calmed my kids down I wrote a note with my contact information and left it on the person’s car. Later that evening I received an email from the car’s owner. She was very upset (understandable) and a little bit rude to me about my accident. I kindly responded that yes, I did hit her. But she should be thankful that I was raised well by loving parents who taught me good values. So, instead of leaving the scene I owned up to my mistake and did the right thing. I explained that we had been hit-and-run victims multiple times in the first four months of living in Washington, so karma clearly wasn’t working for us in that situation. While it was an expensive mistake to make, the fact that I was able to keep my composure, be honest and do the right thing in front of my children was a priceless lesson for my kids to learn.

Every day we’re faced with situations that are often unpleasant and sometimes even out of our control. I’d encourage you to try to be honest and do the right thing. Even if your kids are not there to watch you, chances are that someone else is. Besides, it feels good. So just do it. (Sorry, Nike.)