Amy Donaldson: Sports is the antidote to the ugly world of reality television for young girls

Published: Sunday, May 27 2012 8:00 p.m. MDT

Timpanogos plays Skyline during the 4A girls basketball semifinal game at Salt Lake Community College in Taylorsville on Friday, Feb. 24, 2012. Timpanogos won 55-49.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Related article: Combating the negative impacts of reality TV on girls' sense of self


One of my colleagues recently wrote a fascinating story on the negative messages girls get from reality television programming and how parents might counteract them.

It was an enlightening look at the messages girls often receive when watching "real life" as television drama. While a media researcher offered some great tips in the story on how parents might help their daughters navigate these mixed media messages, I have another: Get young girls involved in sports.

I can think of no better way to help girls see past the superficial than to ask them to push themselves to their physical limits.

From mid-August until mid-June it is my job to watch girls deal with reality — physical pain, fear, disappointment, rejection, acceptance, elation, working with others and trusting that the adults around them might know something they don't.

And over and over I see these girls grow, triumph, evolve and teach. They teach each other. They teach themselves. And they teach anyone willing to stop and watch — including cynical reporters.

It is one place where action speaks louder than words. (Even when you're one of the league's best trash talkers, Kevin Garnett.)

If you are a faker, sports will eventually expose you. You can buy the latest fashions, wear the newest trends in shoes or uniforms, but if you haven't practiced, aren't prepared or don't have an intelligent strategy, somebody who did all of that will make you pay.

If you're not a team player, it will become clear when your team is tested. If you're not putting in the training, it will show at the free-throw line or on the track. If you're not listening to your coach, it will be obvious when the spotlight is hottest.

After reading the research done by the Girl Scout Research Council in my colleague's story, I began to reflect on the "real" stories I'd been witness to this spring. These girls deserve to be starring in a television show, and frankly I think the public would find it far more entertaining than any of the current offerings. (Although I admit I only watching singing and dancing shows — not any of the modeling, food, fashion or dating reality shows.)

Maybe one of the reasons I've never been inclined to watch "Bachlorette" or "Jersey Shore" is that I get plenty of drama watching Copper Hills make its first playoff berth or seeing a small-town girl overcome a mental hurdle that would cripple some professionals.

Jordan Theurer is just a junior at Bear River High. But she is so talented that she has never actually been pulled from a game. Until a game against Spanish Fork, she'd never been humiliated on the softball field.

When head coach Calvin Bingham pulled her out of the game ( the score was 11-0 in the third inning), she cried.

I saw how much failure hurt a young girl.

The team ended up losing 16-0 in three innings. It took an hour and one minute for Spanish Fork to dismantle what looked like an invincible program.

The tournament rules gave Theurer 20 minutes to recover before she had to face those same girls again.

Think of what it feels like to be humiliated — to feel like you've failed, to feel like you want to go home and go back to bed. And then think of what it would take to face that fear and frustration with the kind of resolve that would allow a team to then beat that same Spanish Fork squad 8-0 for Bear River's fifth straight title.

Theurer was humble, grateful and emotional afterward. It was so much more dramatic and inspiring than any vote off or roommate fight.

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