The first time I walked into a rink to cover a women's hockey game, my life changed forever. I fell in love with the sport. Seven years later, though, I am still trying to pick back up on that thread of initial joy. "Women's sports" often feel like a puzzle ball this way. There's a nugget of something at the center (equity? togetherness? really fucking good sports games?), but it is surrounded by an interlocking contraption made of subjugation and capitalism. Each piece you peel back seems to reveal another horrible layer of the problem, and occasionally you are teased with a tantalizing glimpse of something good – sometimes something really good. But your next move obscures it again.
Turning it over and looking at it from every side doesn't make it easier for me to see how the whole thing comes together, but it does illuminate the fact that the people who designed the puzzle have very different priorities. To them, the design is elegant and to spec, a protective shield for the essence of "women's sports", to allow it to "grow" within these constraints. But to me (and I suspect to many others) it feels like a strange combination of a cage and a Rube Goldberg machine. It's a confinement and a distraction.
The problem, of course, is capitalism – a patriarchal and imperialist capitalism built on a foundation of endless suffering for women, trans people, people of color, and queer people. The pandemic has exacerbated the contradictions of capitalism to a breaking point, and yet culturally, especially in the United States, people have been willing to look past it all in the name of profit and exploitation. It has become harder and harder for me personally to engage with sports. I used to structure my life around hockey because it brought me excitement and joy. Now, every time I hear about it, I am faced with dread and avoidance. I am just afraid and frustrated. Afraid about the future and about COVID and climate change and fascism and frustrated that I can't crack the puzzle ball I've been observing closely for the last seven years. Afraid and frustrated with myself, too, that maybe I'm taking it too seriously and it's not that deep and I should just shut up about it.
But I think it's important to try to envision what sports look like if we could actually make them better. It's a project I've stopped and started a few times over the years, and something I've alluded to a lot in my own work. It comes up a lot at Victory Press in our complete body of work, especially when talking about things like "growing the game", labor, anti-imperialism, and re-framing sports outside of gender essentialism. What does the post-capitalist sports future look like? If we take it as a given that abolishing capitalism and redistributing resources would improve the well-being of billions of people, how does sport as we know it fit into all of that? I think it would no longer be sport as we know it – and it would be something even more incredible.
So, we will be embarking on a larger series of articles in 2022 that attempts to envision that future. This series, The Post-Capitalist Sports Future, will be written not just by me, but (hopefully) by you. I'm interested in hearing from people at every facet of sports about what they envision for sports in a future that is more equitable, kind, and sustainable. I also want to take deeper dives into the ways that capitalism functions in sports, talking with experts about things like intellectual property, cryptocurrency, sports media, and labor.
Later this month, look for Part 1, which will be about digital sports media and NFTs (a rather grim and joyless topic that mostly makes me think about climate catastrophe). But Part 2 will be more optimistic, where we take a close look at what "women's sports" are and how they might operate once we remove gender essentialist categories from sport. I will try to space out upsetting topics with more optimistic topics and will try not to cover extremely upsetting things back-to-back.
This series will have at least 10 parts. Some of these topics have already been planned and are in progress, but others are very much up to our readers and writers. If you have a topic suggestion, please reach out. Topic suggestions from subscribers will get priority in terms of evaluating whether we can turn them into a longform article or another piece of media. Let's envision what sports can become, what they have the potential to be, and identify what is standing in the way of that. Let's do it together.
Oh, and if you subscribe at $5 or more a month, I will send you a thank you card and a sticker. Premium subscribers will get early access to this series and extra content.
You can also send pitches or topic suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or just reach out to talk. I really do want to hear from you!
Despair is normal under the circumstances. But maybe we can heal a bit and do some good by talking about what comes next.