Lauren Jackson, women and sport - an interview with Lauren Jackson I have just read Lauren Jackson’s recently published memoir Lauren Jackson: A life in basketball and beyond and you can find a review of the book below. But I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to speak to Lauren about some of the topics that she talks about in the book.
I started by asking her why she wrote it. She thought that it was important to share her story particularly because she wanted to impart some messages about women in sport. “People don’t realise the sacrifices that women need to make to play,” she said.
Source: Wikipedia It’s easy to give a knee-jerk reaction to this comment: why is it any different for men than for women? One answer to that question is money; women need to make the same investment in achieving excellence, but they receive less reward. But Jackson says it goes deeper than this. “There’s an underlying bias in sport against women,” she says, “and it’s particularly difficult when you’re not given the same opportunities as men.” The problem, she says, lies largely with the sports’ governing bodies. The challenges for basketball are no different than AFL or NRL or any other sport, and they are certainly cultural. The problem with cultural barriers is that people do not always know they are constrained by them until it is pointed out. Jackson’s book tells a story of how the Australian male athletes were flown to the London Olympics (2012) in business class. The women were expected to suffer at the back of the bus. Did anyone even think about this? I was interested in what the job of a professional basketball player looked like. Pre-season. she says, she would be training for 6 or 7 hours a day. There’s little life outside the game and as time went on the wear and tear on her body meant she would collapse into bed at the end of the day or after a game. With the benefit of hindsight, she would not perhaps have “played through the pain”. “I did it,” she said, “but it wasn’t good.” Yet it is not clear how one would find a happy medium. Transition to retirement before one is 40 is an odd concept, not because retirement before 40 would be bad thing but because in Jackson’s case it’s probably not the right word, though it is the one she uses in the book. Rather she is transitioning to life after being a professional athlete. “I’ve finished university,” she says, “and I am doing my MBA.” Then she adds, almost as an afterthought, “and I’m pregnant again.” Mmmm. Pregnant and an MBA; I have a daughter-in-law with those things on her agenda. Perhaps that’s another difference between the sexes: even if I could contemplate being pregnant I certainly couldn’t contemplate children and an MBA. But as she says: “I’m so competitive.” She will continue to give back to basketball and to other sports. “Life is good,” she says, “and basketball has put me in a position to be successful.” I am sure she will be successful. Lauren Jackson: A life in basketball and beyond Lauren Jackson, Allen & Unwin, 2018, ISBN 978-1-76029-487-8, 316pp
Any regular reader of my musings will be intrigued about why I am reviewing (and have, therefore, presumably read) a book about the life (at least the life so far) of a sportswoman. You may think it is because her parents lived hereabouts for a while, but I didn’t know that when I decided to read Jackson’s book. You may even know that I lived for 11 years in the North East of England in a town called Guisborough and you may know that Guisborough is home to the Laurence Jackson Sports Village. You are less likely to know that my best pal in the UK managed this illustrious athletic establishment in the days before the marketing people took over and renamed “sports centre” to “sports village’. If you thought any of these things you would be wrong but I do like coincidences. I read it because over the years I have been subjected to, as possibly many of you have, motivational talks at sales conferences by former rugby players or cricketers or (even in one case I recall) bell ringers. These motivational talks instil in their audiences that sense of teamwork that will improve sales, customer satisfaction and shareholder value. I am not sure how effective these oratorical encouragements are, but they are usually entertaining and enjoyable, and they make you think. My days of thrusting and driving to meet my quarterly targets are long gone. But my days of interest in what motivates people to deliver superior performance are certainly not past. I still work with small businesses, and the occasional large one, to help them achieve whatever it is they want to achieve. For a small business the basic advice is very simple. Send your invoices immediately and then collect them … ruthlessly. But if we set this to one side, there are three things that are important to success in business. Firstly, it’s all in the numbers. The numbers do not lie: if something that should be going up is going down then you need to ﬁx it. The second is to be focussed; decide what you want to do and do just that. Do not get waylaid. And the third is that time kills deals. Whatever it is that needs to be done, do it now. Procrastination is not a strategy. I was delighted to ﬁnd that all three of these things come out in Jackson’s book. And not surprisingly, for sport is business and it’s pretty big business. Its stars are the athletes, like Jackson. They are its sales people. And Jackson is clear what business she is in when she says “Sport is entertainment, [and] for athletes it is everything, that’s why we’re here. It’s serious for us, we don’t know anything else, that’s all we’ve done in our whole lives.” While it is not true for most of us that our profession is all we’ve done in our lives, we can still carry that analogy into the world of business where sales growth and meeting targets are critical to success. Jackson’s career is a remarkable one: the numbers bear this out. She lists them at the back of the book. Were she less of a private sort of person she might have listed them at the front. Playing for the Opals she won 3 Olympic silvers and a bronze, she won a FIBA (Fédération internationale de basket-ball) world championship gold and two bronzes and a Commonwealth Games gold. These are of course the results of team efforts but her individual performances are no less impressive. Being named Most Valuable Player (MVP) in the Australian league (several times by the way) is impressive enough but she was also named MVP three times while playing for the Seattle Storm. And she’s an Australian to boot. The thing that stands out for me about the life of a professional athlete is dedication and commitment. Because sport is entertainment, all we see is the performance on the ﬁeld, or on Jackson’s case, the court. You can watch her in action on Youtube. It’s pretty impressive. I am not quite sure how one can leap into the air and turn around and throw a ball and get that ball into a small hoop some distance away all in a single ﬂuid action. But that’s what she does. Now, she’s not alone in that. It’s what basketball players do. But that fact is, and the numbers do not lie, she was bloody good at it. It helps of course if you are tall and she is tall at 195cm (which is 6’ 5” in old money) but there are plenty of tall people who couldn’t shoot a hoop if their lives depended upon it. The downside of being a bloody good athlete is dealing with injury and this is the bit that sorts out the wheat from the chaff. She recounts stories of her injuries in a remarkably matter of fact manner. I am sure they were not matter of fact. I read the book just after I had turned my ankle while running (being impatient to get back on the road too soon after a ham string and medial gastrocnemius (calf) problems). At one point Jackson turned her ankle and was worried that it wasn’t getting better. So, she “had X-rays to … understand my ongoing perineal pain, only to ﬁnd out that rather than just rolling my ankle … six months earlier, I’d actually fractured it.” This is not the only story of injury. Reading about her hip injury in 2011 (she tore the cartilage on the outer ring of her left hip socket) almost makes one wince. A few pages later she writes “In the last game of the Spanish ﬁnals … my other hip, my right hip, went. I had three months to go until the London Olympics.” She made it to the London games, but the Opals lost to the US (86 – 73) taking the bronze from Russia by 83 – 74.
No doubt that elusive Olympic gold galls her but it does not detract from a brilliant career. Few of us can be unaware of the #metoo movement and neither should we be, so I was interested in Jackson’s observations on gender bias in sport. We know, because there is plenty of evidence, that women athletes are paid less than men. Jackson is more muted on gender disparity than I might have expected though she tells a story that, frankly, got me well bent out of shape. For the London Olympics “there was a big gender equality issue … and it involved travel. The male athletes were ﬂown over in business class, and we weren’t, we had economy tickets booked.” Now this is just plain bloody unbelievable on any level but if you are 6’ 5” you do not want to be ﬂying at the back of the bus. Which thoughtless idiot came up with that idea? I should like to meet him (and it would be a “him”) and tell him what I thought of him. As it happens she was upgraded though not all her female colleagues were. She notes that “in Australia, there is still some talk about women not being equal to men, particularly in sports, because we aren’t as strong or as athletic or as big [as men].” The other week I watched the NRL women's ﬁnal: to anyone who said those women were not as athletic or as strong as men I would say “bollocks!”
Above: I bet you don’t have a building named after you We all tell the stories of our lives through a lens that we are comfortable with. Jackson is comfortable with basketball. She is less comfortable with the narrative of her life that is not basketball though she is not silent about it. She is pretty open about her battles with depression. This is signiﬁcant for a couple of reasons. One is that being open about mental health issues is really important and the second is that physical ﬁtness depends upon mental and emotional ﬁtness. If one of these is not there then it all falls apart. When you are travelling around the world, as Mick Jagger sings in Satisfaction, “doin’ this and signing’ that” it’s really hard to stay focussed. I have lived out of a suitcase: I have thought “it’s Friday, it must be San Francisco” when all you want to do is to go home. It ain’t easy. It’s harder when you have to get out and look happy in front of several thousand Seattle Storm fans who think that the sun shines out of you. I am not surprised that a well-known person would want to keep some things in the background. It must be hard enough to be recognised in the supermarket and put up with the whispers and the stares. You need to keep something to yourself. But I was surprised, and amused, when about halfway through the book she suddenly tells the reader that she’s pregnant. Where did that come from? Was it immaculate conception? She never talked about any man. I found that a bit strange, but it didn’t get in the way of the story. But she doesn’t talk deeply about relationships other than with her mother (with whom she is clearly very close) and, to a lesser extent, her father although she does recognise that she has achieved what she has achieved through the help of many people. There’s plenty more in this book about injury, about the business of sport, about her time playing in Russia for a team owned by a fascinating and shady character (typically Russian!), about her fear of ﬂying and, at the end of the book, about the decision to retire. Her history of injuries possibly does not offer her a comfortable prognosis in terms of physical activity but she’s unlikely to be a woman who will sit around. In the last paragraph of the book she starts with a sentence that reads “I’ve realised my dreams, been there for my teams, experienced so many highs and lows.” If I were talking to her I might say (because I have been 37 and she has never been 68) that she has realised some of her dreams, not all of them. There are plenty more I am sure.
AUDIO: Lauren Jackson speaking with Simon Lauder of ABC South East Radio October 8th, 2018 Recorded under Fair Dealing for the purpose of news All audio copyright remains with ABC Cover image copyright to Allen & Unwin