March 2010 Jill Ewert
Really, they were just beautiful women in dresses. But the fact that they were basketball players seemed to make all the difference in the world. Last fall, when Florida State University launched its new women’s basketball Web site, seminolehoops.com, they sparked a blaze of unpredicted controversy. It seemed that the concept of women athletes in glamorous attire was a touchy subject. Radio shows received calls, FSU’s media relations phone lines lit up, and Head Coach Sue Semrau found herself facing and responding to tough questions about beauty, identity and femininity in sports.
“Most people will say that any press is good press, and this definitely drove a lot of people to our site,” said Semrau, the head coach of the Seminoles since 1997. “God knew what would happen, so we’ve used it as an opportunity to teach life lessons to our players.”
Some of those lessons caused Semrau and her staff to evaluate their personal beliefs on issues including femininity and beauty—topics that could have, depending on how they were addressed, had dramatic impacts on the lives of their athletes.
Good thing Semrau had a go-to source of Truth. With a strong personal faith and a belief in the validity of God’s Word, she was able to face the issues with a priceless weapon of wisdom—one that guided her through difficult discussions not only with her team but also in the media.
“As long as we know the truth, then that’s what we’re going to continue speaking,” Semrau said. “So many people don’t think you can be strong and feminine at the same time, but these girls are, and that’s the truth. This whole thing has shown that, so often, femininity is defined by what we wear, but I don’t believe that’s the case at all. I believe that all women have a feminine side that is always present. It’s part of who God created us as women. And that’s our whole tagline with this Web site—that you can be both strong and beautiful as a woman. You can have a power about you that is also a grace.”
Power. grace. beauty. strength.
When it comes to the topics of femininity and beauty among women athletes, it seems like there is much to be said and plenty of people willing to talk. But how do we discern truth from lies and false words spoken in ignorance?
As athletes, we don’t look like most women in the media—the ones we’re told are examples of beauty. Does having strong arms and powerful legs mean we are less attractive?
As athletes, we are competitive and bold. Does that mean we’re not modeling biblical womanhood?
As athletes, we are often stereotyped and labeled with “manly” characteristics. Does that mean we should submit to those opinions and surrender our femininity?
No. No. And no.
While there may not be a concise way of defining true beauty or what it means to be feminine, there is clarity in the Bible regarding what it means to be a strong and beautiful woman of God.
Proverbs 31 paints a clear picture of God’s ultimate leading lady. She sets a high standard of grace, humility, diligence and love for all of God’s daughters. But female athletes will do well to note one verse in particular—one that runs right alongside those about being clothed in dignity, adorned in fine linen and teaching lessons of kindness. It is verse 17, which states that she “girds herself with strength and makes her arms strong” (NASB).
According to Scripture—the very Word of God—even physical strength is part of our feminine identity and calling. But it’s only part of the package.
This month, STV assembled a panel of some of today’s top Christian competitors who offered their wisdom on what it means for female athletes and coaches to be beautiful and strong women of God. We pray that their words will inspire you to understand and embrace your identity as a woman—a thing of true beauty in the eyes of your Father.
Q: What does it mean to be a strong woman of the Lord?
A: Courtney Paris: “It’s being strong in your faith and in who God has called you to be. Women in general can get caught up in what society thinks we should be or what our environment is trying to persuade us to be. But a strong woman of the Lord has confidence and faith in who and how God made her.”
Ruth Riley: “Being a strong woman of the Lord is twofold. First, it is a description of the depth of my relationship with God—how I gain strength. For that, gender doesn’t come into play. But there is a gender-specific part that differentiates the plan and purpose for me as a woman from that of godly men. And, in that, we must keep in mind that not all godly women will look alike.”
Allyson Felix: “Being a strong woman of the Lord means putting Him first in all that you do and making sure that He receives the glory. It is an ever-growing process, but it is having a strong and close relationship with God.”
Charlotte Smith: “Being a strong woman is embracing the purpose for which God called you despite circumstances or challenges. It is the constant awareness that trials are temporary and that, whatever life hands you, God delivers you from it all. It’s just a matter of standing strong and trusting that His Word will never fail.
“Being a strong woman involves the belief that, no matter how hard times may be or how weak we may feel, we know that God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. The strength that others see in us is really just our weakness being overshadowed by His strength. When others look at us and think that we are strong, we acknowledge Him as the source so that others will be drawn to Him.”
| The Panel:
||Courtney Paris: Currently a member of the WNBA’s Chicago Sky, Paris is one of the most decorated college basketball players of all time. The first four-time female First-Team NCAA All-American, Paris left the University of Oklahoma with many distinctions, including becoming the first sophomore to be named AP Player of the Year (2007).|
||Ruth Riley: The only woman to be named MVP of both an NCAA and a WNBA championship basketball team, Riley competed at the University of Notre Dame before being drafted by the Miami Sol in 2001. Now a member of the San Antonio Silver Stars, Riley is also the owner of an Olympic gold medal, which she won with Team USA in 2004.|
||Charlotte Smith: One of only two women’s basketball players with retired jerseys at the University of North Carolina, Smith took the Tar Heels to a national championship in 1994 before playing in the WNBA from 1996-2006. The 1995 ESPY Award winner for Best Female College Basketball Player, Smith now serves as an assistant coach at UNC under Sylvia Hatchell.|
||Taber Spani: The first Missourian to play for the University of Tennessee Lady Vols, freshman Taber Spani was a 2009 McDonald’s High School All-American, a 2009 WBCA High School All-American and was selected to the 2009 Parade Magazine All-America second team. In 2008, she was given the Pete Maravich Award as the top home-schooled athlete in the nation.|
||Allison Whitworth: In January 2009, Whitworth became the first soccer player from Auburn University to be drafted into a professional soccer league after collecting a school-record 132 saves in 23 games as a goalie. With an Auburnbest 356 stops in her collegiate career, Whitworth spent her first professional season with the FC Gold Pride before being traded to her current team, the Atlanta Beat.|
||Shalee Lehning: After an All-American college basketball career at Kansas State University, Lehning spent the 2009 WNBA season as a rookie with the Atlanta Dream, helping the team set a franchise record in wins and individually ranking among the WNBA’s top 10 in total assists. While continuing to play for the Dream, Lehning also serves as an assistant coach at K-State under Head Coach Deb Patterson.|
||Sue Semrau: As the all-time winningest women’s basketball coach at Florida State University, Semrau has three times been named the ACC Coach of the Year. In 2009, she led the Seminoles to a regular season conference co-championship and their fifth consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament.|
||Andrea Robertson: In 1996, Robertson became a member of the inaugural women’s soccer team at the University of Missouri, which she captained for two years. Now a competitive endurance athlete, Robertson was crowned the 2009 Mrs. America in September and went on to become the first runner-up at the same year’s Mrs. World pageant in Vietnam.|
||Angie Bjorklund: Now a junior forward/guard at the University of Tennessee, in 2007 Bjorklund became only the tenth rookie to start her very first game for the Lady Vols. That same season, she also was named the SEC Rookie of the Year.|
||Allyson Felix: A two-time Olympic silver medalist in the 200 meters, Felix is the only woman ever to win three Athletics World Championship gold medals in that distance. She also helped the U.S. 4-x-400 meter relay team to Olympic gold in 2008.|
Taber Spani: “A strong woman of the Lord is someone who surrenders all of her life to Jesus Christ and chooses daily to pick up her cross and follow Him.”
Allison Whitworth: “A strong woman of the Lord is beautiful. She exhibits a beauty from within that the world may not see. Her beauty is strength in the Lord in the face of adversity, humility before God and others, depth of wisdom through following Jesus, unshakable resolve and the conviction to live a godly life in the midst of a world far from Him.”
Shalee Lehning: “A strong woman of the Lord walks in faith every day. She gives of herself and takes the abilities God gave her and uses them to glorify Him. In my case, it’s basketball. And for me, being a woman of the Lord is using that to impact the lives of others.”
Sue Semrau: “Our strength is in Christ, and I’m not strong unless I’m in Him. Being in Christ means that I humble myself and become a servant, and in doing those things and being what He asks me to be, He’s going to bring out whatever strength He wants to.”
Andrea Robertson: “A strong woman of the Lord has immovable faith and is focused on being influential for the glory of God. She isn’t afraid to show that she loves the Lord and is certainly not afraid to rely on His strength for guidance. The strongest women I know turn everything over to the Lord in prayer and diligently act on what He reveals to them.”
Angie Bjorklund: “For me, being a strong woman of the Lord means allowing God to be my strength and depending on Him in every situation. In sports, when we allow Him
to be our strength as we compete, He will give us an unbelievable amount of strength and confidence.”
Q:Describe the ultimate godly woman:
A: Courtney Paris: “A godly woman’s heart is lost in God. I believe she should be who God has it in her heart to be, and people who know her should be able to discover Him because of the way she carries herself.”
Ruth Riley: “A godly woman places her relationship with the Lord above all else. She is strong, yet submissive; confident, yet humble. The examples of godly women in the Bible were faithful and obedient. They utilized the position that God gave them and went confidently in the direction God gave them. They submitted to authority, demonstrated self-control and were caring, generous and wise.
“As athletes, we must maintain a certain level of confidence in ourselves in order to perform up to our potential. We must submit to the demands of our coaches and trust in the roles they have for us and in their system. We also must constantly train our bodies and minds by exhibiting self-control and humbly put the needs of our team above our own.”
Allyson Felix: “It would definitely be the Proverbs 31 woman. She is a woman who desires to please God in every aspect of her life. She has a heart for God’s people and cares for her family. Even though I’m not a wife or mother yet like this woman, it gives me something to strive for.”
Charlotte Smith: “The ultimate godly woman is full of wisdom, which comes from constant communion with the Heavenly Father. She knows who she is in Christ and refuses to be defined by the world’s standards because she knows that she is perfectly and wonderfully made in God’s image. She knows where she is headed in life because she knows who leads her in the path of righteousness, and that is God Almighty. She is patient. She glows when she enters a room. Her beauty secret is spending time in His presence. She carries the fragrance of God’s anointing, which has an invigorating aroma.”
Taber Spani: “The ultimate godly woman does not consider herself to be her own, but God’s. She is God’s creation and was made to bring Him glory in everything she does.”
Allison Whitworth: “Proverbs 31 gives the description of a godly wife, but it can apply to all women. It’s filled with practical, real-life wisdom. The woman is trustworthy, meaning she will do what she says and what is given to her will be done well, even the things she doesn’t enjoy. She works...hard. She is intelligent, analytical, practical, talented, generous, fearless and wise. I want to be this woman! Everything she does is successful. She gives to others out of her blessings; is wellloved by her family, friends and neighbors; and she enjoys the life God has given her to live.”
Shalee Lehning: “She’s a woman with a glow about her. The moment she walks into a room, it lights up because there is something different about her. Some people may not know what that difference is, but those who share her faith understand that she’s walking the walk. Her actions speak louder than her words, and she doesn’t even have to say a thing. She just lives every day and loves people and is caring and compassionate.”
Sue Semrau: “I believe a godly woman is characterized from the inside out. A woman, or an individual for that matter, who seeks to be in the center of God’s will has the best chance at being the ultimate. It flows from that desire and that seeking of who God is and what He wants for your life.”
Andrea Robertson: “The ultimate godly women are servants at heart. Yes, we have a responsibility to keep our outward beauty alive, but when it comes to most of the Christian women I spend time with, I don’t even notice how they look on the outside because they are so beautiful on the inside. Their great hearts are outwardly visible, and the fruit of the Spirit come alive in them. And I think God created women to be that way. When you stay true to your faith and work on cultivating a heart for Him, outward beauty just happens.”
Angie Bjorklund: “The ultimate godly woman is one who is completely surrendered to the Lord’s will.”
Q: What is beautiful about sports?
A: Courtney Paris: “Many things, including relationships, people, being part of a team, competition and the challenge itself. But I really love how sports are a platform to impact the world. We have an opportunity to play a sport, compete, be active and do something we love while helping people at the same time.”
Ruth Riley: “The beauty of sports is that it is universal at its core. The Olympics are a wonderful illustration of the purity that exists in competition despite age, race or sex. And that is beautiful.”
Allyson Felix: “To me, I find the ability to be strong and graceful a beautiful thing. Women have the unique ability to bring a sense of style and gentleness when they compete. Sports are beautiful because they display a unique skill in motion. They require a woman to put her heart on the line, and that can be expressed with great emotion and ability, which results in beauty.”
Charlotte Smith: “I think the beauty of sports is teamwork. There is nothing like unity and people who are in one accord sharing a common vision and dream.”
Taber Spani: “What is beautiful about sports is simply that we can use them to reach others for Christ while being in situations that build and expose our character and make us more like Him.”
Allison Whitworth: “Sports bring out real life in people. They reflect life, many times in an intense setting. If we are short-tempered on the field, then many times we will be quickly angered with family and friends or in school and work. If we can learn in sports to live in a godly way, to live as a beautiful, treasured woman of God, then we can carry that into our schools, homes and families.
“Like no other place, sports provide an environment for testing, triumph, hard work, strength, humility, grace, failure, endurance and joy. Women of God can worship their Savior by competing for His glory because of His great love for them.”
Shalee Lehning: “The beauty of sports is in the relationships and teamwork. We get to work together and give of ourselves for a greater purpose. One of the most beautiful things is being a part of something that is bigger than ourselves. When you’ve sweat together, cried together and worked together, you are able to form a bond that can last a lifetime.”
Sue Semrau: “I think it’s really the movement of sports, the synergy, the camaraderie, the teamwork. All of those things flow together to create, not necessarily what always looks like a beautiful performance, but that builds something inside of everybody involved, whether they are on the court or in the stands. There’s something that draws people together because of the movement, action and emotion that goes with it.”
Andrea Robertson: “Outwardly, the physics of sports are beautiful. And any time you do something to challenge yourself or challenge the gifts you’ve been given it’s a beautiful thing to watch. Women who really challenge themselves on the field are beautiful.”
Angie Bjorklund: “Any athletic ability is definitely beautiful! Displaying the power, strength, quickness and agility that God gave us and using those gifts to their fullest potential is a beautiful thing to see.”
|For additional resources, check out:|
• Do You Think I’m Beautiful? by Angela Thomas
• Beautiful in God’s Eyes by Elizabeth George
• Strong Women, Soft Hearts by Paula Rinehart
• Any study by Beth Moore
Q: Thoughts on femininity in sports:
A: Courtney Paris: “Being an athlete doesn’t mean we have to compromise our faith or our femininity. Neither does being a woman have to compromise how hard we compete on the court or field. It’s about how we represent our faith, our families and our teams. There don’t have to be compromises; that is a misconception. A strong woman continues to be who she is called to be no matter what the environment or situation.”
Ruth Riley: “A woman should never feel the need to prove her femininity while competing. It can be revealed naturally in the way she carries herself on the field of play. Feminine is what I am as a woman; it’s not something I am compelled to prove.”
Allyson Felix: “Being feminine is a great quality. For me, it comes naturally. I love being able to be graceful in my sport. It’s very important to me to embrace my femininity because I’m very proud of who I am.”
Charlotte Smith: “Femininity is sometimes viewed as weak in the eyes of the athletic community, which is verbalized when someone is not playing up to physical standards and they’re told that they’re ‘playing like a girl.’ That phrase has been used in the past with a negative connotation to define weakness or deficiency in the ability to operate at a certain level. For me, though, it never bothered me to hear it because I never let people’s ignorance define who I was and what I was capable of achieving.”
Taber Spani: “A woman who is able to be feminine while competing is not weak, but inspiring. She can be feminine and also be the ultimate tough competitor by realizing that she competes for Jesus Christ and that He is the one who has given her the platform to use sports to make an impact for Him. If we realize that the Lord created us to be women and also gave us athletic gifts, we can compete passionately and in total release for Christ.”
Allison Whitworth: “Femininity is more than clothing, physical appearance, language or action. It is the true character of a woman’s heart. It is being like the godly women in Scripture who sought wisdom, good works, modesty, humility and courage. Being a tough competitor and clothing yourself with the things of God will shine out your feminine qualities.”
Shalee Lehning: “There’s no need for us to prove who or what we are. If we are true to who God created us to be as women, then our femininity will speak for itself. There’s no need to compromise; just being who God created us to be is beautiful. And that can be hard to do sometimes. You can get to where you feel like
you have to be a certain way in order to fit in on the court or field. But just be who you are. Be the woman God created you to be, and the rest will speak for itself.”
Sue Semrau: “I believe that all of us women have a feminine side that is always present. It’s those traits that God put in women versus what He put in men. Do I find it hard to live that out in athletic arenas? No, because it’s part of who I am. It’s part of who all women are and who they were created to be.”
Andrea Robertson: “It is sometimes glorified to be masculine on the field, and it can be hard to turn that off. So much of our identity can get wrapped up in our roles as athletes. There can be an implied responsibility to stay that way—to stay ‘athletic’ off the field, to stay in the sweats and in that rough-and-tough mentality.
It can become a bit of an identity crisis. But we have to look at the Bible and to how God created us to find our identity. Being beautiful and being a woman is something to be celebrated. It’s not sinful or negative. In the Bible, God describes beautiful women, and we have to know how He made us and that He considers us all beautiful.”
Angie Bjorklund: “Sometimes, people look at someone who is highly feminine as weaker or not as tough of an athlete. But we have to realize that God made each woman to be beautiful, and, despite our society’s view, every woman is beautiful through the eyes of the Lord simply by being who God made her to be.”
Encouraging words from FCA field staff to further challenge you as you learn what it means to be bold and beauitful for Him!
Sue Kelly, FCA Area Director
Central Pennsylvania FCA
To Athletes: “To quote the great Olympic champion Eric Liddel: ‘I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.’ When God made me, He made me for a purpose, but He also made me taller and stronger than most other gals I know. When I kill a volleyball, grab a rebound or hit a double, I feel His pleasure.
“Ladies, don’t worry about looking like a model or a TV star. God designed you to use the platform of sports for His glory. He doesn’t want you to be someone else. He loves you like crazy just the way He made you!
To Coaches: “Girls need female coaches who love them and love the Lord! Be the salt and light, and coach in a way that honors Christ!
“Every new season provides another opportunity to impact your world for Jesus Christ. I’ve coached at every level from Division-I volleyball to my niece’s summer basketball team. Every season is worth the time and headaches that come along with it. Be a role model to other competitive young ladies and show them that being feminine doesn’t mean you can’t be athletic also. There are always ways for coaches who love kids to make a difference.”
Sarah Roberts, FCA Area Representative
Central Oklahoma FCA
“As women, we need to know that Jesus came in both truth and grace. John 1:17 says, “…for although the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” So many girls today don’t know the truth. They don’t know who God is and who God says they are; only what the world tells them.
“The world tells us we aren’t pretty enough, but God says we are wonderfully and fearfully made (Psalm 139:14). The world tells us there are things we can’t do, but God says we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength (Philippians 4:13). The world tells us that if we mess up, we’re no good, but God says His grace is sufficient for us (2 Corinthians 12:9). “Jesus came to show us girls the truth about Him and His grace, and it is time we experience both!”
Marilou Braswell, National Director
“This journey called life is made up of a series of choices. There are rewards and consequences for our choices. We must always remember this: Sin will take you places you never meant to go, keep you longer than you ever wanted to stay, and cost you more than you ever wanted to spend. But with Christ in our hearts and the Holy Spirit guiding us, we have hope. We may not always choose correctly, but God will never let go of our hand while we’re on the journey.”
Karla Jordan, Campus Director
Greater Kansas City FCA
“One lie that is difficult to spot is that in order for a woman to be better, she has to be like a man—especially in sports. Christian women, reject this lie! The truth is that the greatest display of God’s glory is living as He intends for us to live. So often we buy into a culture that says male attributes are more valuable than female attributes, but the truth is that God created both genders uniquely and in His image, and with equal delight and pleasure. You will find His glory and your satisfaction in living within His intentions and refusing to conform to the patterns of this world.
“The things we look for outside of ourselves—love, acceptance, approval, respect, affection, value, etc.—can’t be found in sports, jobs, spouses/boyfriends or even church. The Lord is the ultimate, sovereign Giver of all these good gifts, and He gives without condition and from an inexhaustible wellspring of resources. As Jesus said in John 14:27, ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.’ Instead of seeking to have our deepest needs met from sources that are fallen and fleeting, let’s depend on God and live lives that are whole, holy, pleasing and pure.”
--For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. To subscribe to STV, click here.
Photos courtesy of Erik van Leeuwen, Rocky Widmer/NBAE Getty Images, FC Gold Pride/Pattricia Giobetti, Clarke Evans, Scott Cunningham/NBAE Getty Images, Eckhard Pecher, Ryals Lee, UNC Athletic Communications, Andrea Robertson, Tennessee Athletic Media Relations, Dave Barfield/Ron Sachs Communications