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Women, Sport, and Film - 2002
First Place: A Screenplay
Gail, a dark, tiny, female reporter, is given the assignment of investigating Babe, one of the most talented female athletes of the twentieth century. Suggestions have sprung up that Babe was not a woman at all. These suggestions have come from beer corporations and radical right-wing opponents of a new growing opinion that men and women's sports should equally share primetime TV slots.
Gail had never heard of Babe. Gail writes movie reviews and articles in the Arts section. Gail is a chain smoker. She used to cut gym everyday to smoke under the bleachers with her friends. She hasn't owned a pair of sneakers since the third grade. In high school she used to think there were three kinds of kids: the nerds, the jocks, and the freaks. She was some combination of the first and last group. She still held that opinion and liked to sneer at joggers in the park. She was, thus, unhappy about this assignment.
Gail visits her parents who live in the suburbs. They are bohemian types. They eat a lot of gorp, have matching pottery wheels in a shed in the back yard, and would have never owned a television, but Gail begged them to get one in her freshman year of high school. When she graduated, it was the first thing that was unplugged and packed into the car, ready for her dorm room. She asks them if they ever heard of Babe. They say they vaguely remember a golf player named Babe. But they sneer. Golf is for the bourgeoisie, they say. Gail goes up to her old room. When she was in elementary school all of her friends had horseback riding ribbons and trophies. She looks at her room now, imagines the walls covered in tiny ribbons, and they dissolve into a Picasso poster and the graffiti she used to write when she hadn't fallen asleep yet. She goes over to one section of the wall, runs her finger over a phrase: JOCKS ARE DUMB. Gail goes back down stairs and asks her father why she never wanted to play sports. "Well, honey," he says, "You're small. And artistic. You're not an athlete." And she thinks to herself, I didn't know what the word athletic meant until I was in the third grade. And then I threw out my tennis shoes.
Examining old tapes in her apartment, she guiltily admits to herself that she thinks that Babe could have been a man in drag. A beautiful, young, feminine man in drag. But she can see that she's looking at a woman, or at least convinces herself, appalled by the claims that a woman could have never had Babe's career. She starts writing.
Gail meets her friend Nate in the park. They share a sandwich and a smoke. They do a little sneering at the runners. Nate tells her he can barely remember when he used to run. "You used to run?" she asks in disbelief. He tells her how his dad used to take his boys to the high school field before bedtime in the summers and make them do a couple of laps. His father was trying to prepare them for something, basketball, football, baseball, soccer, even. The boys all ran track until one discovered pot, one discovered cigarettes, and one discovered girls. "At least you got to chose finally that you didn't like it. Did you ever write JOCKS SUCK in the locker room?" Gail asks. Nate shakes his head. "Oh," says Gail, "Me neither."
Gail watches the group Real Men for Real Sports on the news talking about Babe again. They say the reason she never had children was because SHE WAS A MAN. Gail switches the channel. She can't believe how dumb Real Men jocks are. She switches to a women's basketball game. She's never watched sports on television. Maybe the Olympics once. She watches them jet up and down the court, hurling themselves and the ball as fast as possible, then leaping up in a beautifully aggressive and balletic manner. She could watch this...or she could see what's on Bravo. She sneaks back sometimes to catch a few more plays and to see the sweat pour off the players. She calls her grandmother.
She starts writing again, but sighs because she knows this is not the assignment she was given. And she's a little bit worried about how her parents are going to react.
She brings the article to her mom, who starts to read excitedly, but by the second paragraph has pushed it aside and gone to the pottery shed. Gail follows, saying, "Don't be upset mom. I'm doing my job. And you don't own our family history."
"Your job is to tell everyone that I had a hysterectomy at the age of sixteen? That you're adopted?"
"Mother, I consider it my job to expose the ridiculous lies that you and your generation were told. You were told that you had a hysterectomy because you were too active, that you were turning into a man. A society like that also tells little girls that the greatest female athlete in the century wasn't a female, that she couldn't have been so great, and that they will never be that great. That's what you told me. I never got the choice of being athletic because you were afraid for me. Thanks for your concern, Mom, but you can keep it."
Gail throws out her cigarettes as she goes through the kitchen. She goes back upstairs, takes a pen out of her purse and crosses out the word JOCKS, replacing it with FEAR. She draws a ribbon on the wall and writes, 1st PLACE.
In her apartment she turns on a basketball and hits the mute button. She tries to emulate the swish of the hands sweeping the ball into the basket. Maybe what basketball needs is a five foot nerd. Maybe it just needs her as a fan.
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