Monday, February 24, 2014

In Praise of Skylar Diggins

Watching the Notre Dame women's basketball team play ACC rival Duke this past Sunday confirmed something I have been thinking about over the course of the last year: Skylar Diggins' is an increasingly impressive spokeswoman for the University. 
As tasteful as this issue will allow....
Diggins was on campus to not only cheer for her former teammates, she also worked out with them the day before—simulating the Blue Devil's star point guard, Alexis Jones. Captain of the Irish women's team, Diggins played in three Final Four tournament games and twice in the championship round. She graduated with a degree in management-entrepreneurship and in her final season, led the Irish to their first and only Big East Championship. 

I enjoyed seeing her development as a leader and a player. For example, as I wrote in Sportsmanship 101: Fundamental of the Game, "I hated seeing the Notre Dame Women’s basketball team lose the National Championship to Texas A&M. But, I am more upset that Skylar Diggins, sophomore guard of the Lady Irish left the floor without shaking hands with the Aggies." Last year, however, when the Irish were defeated by archival UConn in the Final Four, Diggins, now a senior, imparted emotional words of gratitude for the team she had played with all year; her affection for them and her coach was undeniable. Drafted third overall in the WNBA to the Tulsa Shock, I think her 441,000 followers on Twitter would agree, she has poise, class, intelligence and insight on and off the hardwood. But, what's most fascinating to me is that she has managed to extend this to the 2014 Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issue.

Why is this ok?
I don't have a whole lot of positive things to say about the 50th Anniversary edition of this money making issue. We are told to never judge a book by its cover, but I'm afraid in this case it's hard not to; I fail to see how a photograph that puts three women in thong-like bikini bottoms (without a bikini top) front and center as appropriate for what it claims to be. I could give other examples and raise more questions (maybe I will in a future posting) but there are a few exceptions in the 250-page magazine. The one that reigns supreme is the the photo shoot of Skylar Diggins. Equally impressive to me is the athlete herself.

Diggins is a natural leader. As a point guard, you should be. But I believe her approach to the swimsuit issue, is one that other women and  female athletes in particular, can learn from. In the South Bend Tribune's Skylar Diggins in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, she said:
“I didn’t really know how I was going to approach modeling swimsuits,” Diggins said in a video on “I had never modeled in a swimsuit before."

“I loved the pictures. I think this was a great change of pace for me, speaking as an athlete, now, to show my femininity. I think that every woman is beautiful in her own way. It’s great to be a part of this magazine that celebrates not only models, but athletes as well, and puts it into perspective that all women are beautiful.”
She maintains her femininity on the court.
I do not believe Diggins' femininity is compromised on the court; I see her natural beauty in concert with her athleticism and confidence as quite striking. But, I recognize that others might find that hard to believe amidst the hard hitting fouls, sweat and aggression that basketball demands. We live in a world that makes it very hard for women to believe they are beautiful in their own way, and too often this includes beauty as an athlete. I appreciate what she has to say; I think she's right.

Furthermore, no photo is unrealistic or distasteful. My friend said "that bathing suit looks like one you could buy at J. Crew." In other words, what Diggins sports is one that many women can and do wear. Maybe that's because she consulted her parents before she consented to the opportunity. Her step-father Maurice Clark admitted, “I told her the only thing is, Mom is going to have to go on the set and make sure the swimsuits she puts on have some taste, and make sure it wasn’t anything too bad for Dad’s sake.”
Evidence of a commitment to physical fitness.
I don't want to be unrealistic about the criticism that I am sure many may find but fellow women in the basketball community have been quite supportive. “I don’t see it as a bad thing in any way,” Rebecca Lobo said. “I’ve always liked the ESPN body issue, because it’s a good example to show young girls what a healthy, athletic body looks like. This is the same situation here. Skylar has worked really hard in the weight room and on the track, on the basketball court, to have the physique that she has. “I’m sure people will be critical, because some people like to criticize. Personally, as a mother of three young daughters, I have four children, I think it’s good for them to see strong, confident women, instead of the waist-thin models. Skylar Diggins is a woman who works hard and has a very healthy body. I’ve seen most of the pictures that she’s in, and they all look very tasteful to me. She’s beautiful.”

In this way, I believe Skylar is a worthy role model. Although she may have been disposed with some athletic genes, she has as an incredible body because she works at it. Not only does she look undeniably fit and athletic, she is also strong and thin. To me, she looks healthy and happy. 
Since watching Skylar Diggins Toughest Workout on espnW, I know I have never approached the gym in the same way. For example, the "Hour of Power" class I attend on Mondays and Fridays includes a circuit with battling ropes. During my 60-second interval, I do what I can to channel my inner-Skylar. I am the type of athlete who benefits from having a visual example. I recall her competitive edge and attitude, especially when I feel tired or weak. In that sense, Diggins' work ethic is invaluable to me! And her teammates agree.

“I think it’s very cool,” McBride said. “Skylar is already such a great figure for women’s basketball, and for her to be able to switch it over and use the beauty side of it is outstanding. Our images change so many times as basketball players. For her to go out there and express it in a different way, as beautiful of a girl as she is, it’s really cool.

“Skylar is so comfortable in her skin, and she’s so confident, on and off the court. I’m really proud of her. She’s really stepped up.” Notre Dame women’s basketball head coach Muffet McGraw also supported Diggins’ appearance as a swimsuit model. “Skylar has always represented Notre Dame well, and continues to,” McGraw said. 

Coach McGraw, one of my heroes, is right. And the publicity Diggins has garnered from what may be a controversial decision has only illuminated for me why I appreciate Skylar Diggins. It should be obvious, it should be a given: she is so much more than a basketball player. We are always more than what meets the eye. As she mentions in the video, she is "a daughter and a sister." She is a self-promoter and an entrepreneur. She is a friend and someday she might be a wife and mother. She is undeniably blessed and I feel fortunate to share a connection with her that started with Notre Dame, but has extended far beyond in our shared principles and values. Thank you Sky! By the way, can we workout sometime? Go Irish.

Photo Credits
Play Calling
Swimsuit Issue
Sky in SI

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