"Katie Was Not Only a Girl, She Was Terrible": Katie Hnida, Body Rhetoric, and Football at the University of Colorado

By Butterworth, Michael L. | Communication Studies, July-September 2008 | Go to article overview

"Katie Was Not Only a Girl, She Was Terrible": Katie Hnida, Body Rhetoric, and Football at the University of Colorado


Butterworth, Michael L., Communication Studies


In their review of scholarship on the body, Patterson and Corning (1997) argue that from the perspective of rhetoric, we must "read the body as the site of cultural inscription, self-regulation, and resistance" (p. 7). In the subsequent decade, rhetorical scholars increasingly have attended to the rhetoricity of the body. DeLuca (1999), for example, contends that the body may serve "as a pivotal resource for the crucial practice of public argumentation" (p. 10). Pezzullo (2003), meanwhile, suggests that bodies motivate political transformation when we are willing "to expose our physical, emotional, and political scars" (p. 356). From such a perspective, embodied arguments are productive sites of rhetorical invention and judgment because they have the capacity to contest the assumed values too often taken for granted when bodies are visible and observed.

Yet even as we are invited to reconsider the boundaries of rhetoric, we are all too often reminded of the ways in which bodies are rhetorically disciplined and regulated. In particular, the rhetorical construction of "bodies that matter" (Butler, 1993) commonly occurs through the negotiation of "proper" definitions of sex and gender. As Crowley (1999) notes, "Our culture seems to do its most rigorous policing around the boundaries of the sexed body in an effort to maintain a rigid distinction between male and female" (p. 361). Moreover, the spatial distinction between male and female extends to the spaces that are accessible to male and female bodies. This is not an equal spatial relationship, as men have long benefited from a privilege that carries an "implicit (and often unconscious) ownership of public space and its definitions and values" (Bordo, 1999, pp. 271-272).

Among the most prominent sites for the regulation of bodies and space in our culture is sport. As Miller (2001) points out, "Women's restricted access to sports has been sustained via biologistic claims that their bodies are unsuited to athletic activities." This justification is extended, he explains, through "social politics in terms of access to facilities, training, and prestige" (p. 24). Divisions between men's and women's sports, therefore, are clearly marked and regulated. Accordingly, men's sports receive the overwhelming majority of resources, media coverage, and public acclaim, while women are celebrated as athletic exemplars most commonly when they participate in "sex appropriate" sports such as skating or gymnastics (Shugart, 2003).

What is true of sport generally is especially true of football, arguably the most "masculine" of American sports. Football promotes masculinity through rituals of homosocial bonding and controlled violence. Moreover, by relegating women to the roles of spectators or cheerleaders, football contributes to the objectification of female bodies as passive and/or sexually available. Dutiful wives and provocatively dressed cheerleaders are prominently featured during football broadcasts, for example, and their second-rate status is punctuated by the presence of token (attractive) females who serve as sideline reporters. Meanwhile, the considerable efforts of women athletes remain largely neglected by a masculine sports culture. Ironically, this hegemonic male space has been constituted rhetorically as under siege by athletic department officials who view Title IX legislation as a symbolic and financial threat to the dominance of major college football. In a climate where football is both beloved and believed to be vulnerable to the increased presence of female athletes, "sportswomen who challenge gender norms usually face formidable resistance" (Miller, 2001, p. 108).

The subject of this essay presented one such challenge. Katie Hnida joined the University of Colorado (CU) football team in 1999 as a walk-on place kicker. [1] When Colorado played in the Insight.com Bowl that December, she became the first woman to be in uniform for a college bowl game. …

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