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FSU Photos Show the Many Dimensions of Female Athletes

fsu-womenEditorial by LEE NESSEL, Florida Today

Putting young women in dresses and makeup for a photo shoot is not out of the ordinary.

But put female athletes - in this case, Florida State women basketball players - in dresses and makeup for photos that appear on their team's Web site and hold on, because the opinions are flying.

An e-mail from the National Organization for Women popped into my inbox last week, with this subject line: "Former NOW president defends FSU Women's Basketball Team."

What could they possibly have done that needs defending?

I clicked through to the team Web site and saw beautiful photos of the women, some in evening gowns, some in their jerseys.

My first impression: These are strong women who had some fun showing the lighter side of being a female athlete. What an artistic approach.

OK, so back to the press release from a very miffed former NOW President Patricia Ireland.

"More and more women student athletes have emerged this new millennium as strong young women who are becoming leaders in sports, academics and life - slashing insidious stereotypes that insinuated women who compete in sports somehow forfeit their womanhood," Ireland was quoted as saying.

"This encouraging record of progress is why I am so disappointed that a modern, edgy Web site celebrating the Florida State University women's basketball team - and their dynamic and diverse lives in the classroom, on the court and in society - has generated shallow, knee-jerk criticism in the mold of Don Imus's disgusting comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team."

I won't name the entities that criticized the FSU women, but I am shocked that one of them is a female sportswriter who went so far as to call the images objectionable, and questioned the message it was sending younger girls.

Only positives come from showcasing female athletes in multiple dimensions. Go look at the Web site, www.seminolehoops.com, which was created independent of the FSU sports information department. The homepage cycles through photos of the players in uniform, all sweaty and then all cleaned up.

We at Florida Today are just one newspaper to employ a similar style of highlighting athletes. Both we and our sister paper, The News-Press in Fort Myers, do seasonal photo shoots of our high school athletes of the year all dressed up.

The All-Space Coast presentations stand out as something special and different from everyday coverage thanks to the artistry of staff photographer Christina Stuart.

"They love it. It makes them feel extra special," Stuart said about the athletes wearing formal attire in her photo shoots.

"The dressing up part of it shows them as people, and not just athletes. They are students, friends, daughters, so they have other parts of their lives other than just being athletes. By having them dress up, it puts them on a higher level as people and not just athletes."

Ashley Paterson, the 2007 All-Space Coast swimmer of the year from Satellite High came out of her photo shoot exclaiming: "That was the best experience I've ever had," loudly in front of quite a few people.

Stuart reports that she even got this year's swimmer of the year to jump in the pool wearing her prom gown. Stay tuned for those photos debuting next week.

OK, critics, so you wouldn't put the FSU basketball players in swimsuits for their media photos, but what do you do with the swimmers or gymnasts, whose uniforms leave little to the imagination?

One of the columns critical of all this artistry was entitled, "FSU: All dressed up and nowhere to go."

Well, even if these girls were not ranked No. 9 by ESPN/USA TODAY and No. 12 by the Associated Press, they still have great places to go in the future. Be it in a jersey or a dress.

The team Web site says: "Meet the team. Confidence. Strength. Beauty. We've got it all."

Yes, you do. You go, girls.

Your photos epitomize to me what it means to be a woman and an athlete.

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