Run like a girl. Throw like a girl. Play like a girl. These phrases might not seem harmful on the surface, but their negative connotations have followed female athletes for decades.
The implications of these statements are that women are not good at sports. It is true that there are quantitative differences in performances that can be attributed to the physical differences of various genders. However, the notion that women play sports with less intensity, passion and skill is false. These phrases are damaging for women — including nonathletes — everywhere.
Tiger Woods, the 82-time PGA Tour winner, recently reignited the conversation of what it means to be a female athlete. Woods attended the Genesis Invitational Feb. 16 at the Riviera Country Club Course in Southern California. Woods has slowly made his grand re-entrance into professional golf following a rocky few years, which included a near-fatal car accident. While Woods started off strong, Jon Rahm eventually won the tournament.
While Rahm asserted his dominance at the Riviera, I don’t think anyone remembers how the pros played because an unlikely object stole the show. No, the object was not an unknown Chinese balloon floating through the air — but instead a tampon.
On the ninth hole of the first day of the tournament, Woods slipped Thomas a tampon after Woods drove the ball farther than him down the tee. The meaning behind Woods’ joke? Thomas was a girl — since he couldn’t hit it as far.
Woods did offer an apology after the joke received backlash from sources like Sports Illustrated.
“It was supposed to be all fun and games. And obviously it hasn’t turned out that way,” Woods told reporters. “We play pranks on one another all the time and virally I think this did not come across that way, but between us it was — it’s different.”
My initial thought was to wonder what Woods was doing with a tampon in the first place, anyway. My next reaction was to take offense.
Before anyone calls me sensitive, or says “take a joke,” I must offer my thoughts. I do sympathize with Woods because his actions are closely scrutinized by the public, and at times, that must be overwhelming. We must still hold him to a high standard, however, because of all the people watching him.
Woods is especially worthy of scrutiny because he does not necessarily have a positive track record, specifically as it pertains to his character. Perhaps the public has even granted him forgiveness for actions and behaviors that would be condemned for people of non-celebrity status. Woods does not have a history of being particularly kind to women, as was seen through the media scandal regarding Woods’ divorce with his ex-wife. Woods’ actions are not isolated incidents.
It is inadequate to play Woods’ joke off as merely “fun and games.” As the saying goes, jokes are funny because they are rooted in truth — or at least perceived that way. If this incident was just a joke, it would still imply that at least some part of its meaning was true.
Since I know the title of my column is “Run Like a Girl,” I will connect this sentiment to running as proof that this tampon reference is blatantly false.
Union Athletics runner Sinclaire Johnson ran a blazing 8:37.83 over 3,000 meters at Boston University on Feb. 26. To put that in perspective, Johnson ran just under two miles in under nine minutes. Notably, Johnson is typically an 800m to 1500m runner, so for her to be running that fast over a long distance is incredible.
Likewise, Keely Hodgkinson, the 20-year-old British phenom, ran an indoor 800m in 1:57.18 at a Diamond League meet Feb. 25, matching her British record in just the indoor season. In a more fitting example, I look to Nelly Korda, a female golfer who is finding her stride in the LPGA. Korda finished tied for sixth in her most recent tournament in Thailand, and she hits with an enviable golf swing.
It’s simple: I would love to play golf like Korda, and I would love to run like Johnson and Hodgkinson.
I named this column “Run Like A Girl” because women can play sports and play them well, too, Tiger Woods. Words, even jokes, have impacts on all those who hear them. We have to make sure that women and girls feel like they belong in order to continue encouraging their participation in sport, starting at the top.
Isabella Terry is a first-year student in the School of Foreign Service. Run Like a Girl appears online and in print every three weeks.