Hooters Sponsorship Sparks Debate

Athletic Management, 16.2, February/March 2004, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1602/hooters.htm

The Hooters Collegiate Match Play Championship, held in early November, provided an opportunity for the country's top NCAA Division I men's and women's golf teams to compete in an NCAA certified event one coach called the best she'd seen in her 13-year coaching career. However, it also sparked a debate about the appropriateness of soliciting support from a corporation whose business model may conflict with the values of intercollegiate athletics.

The discussion made it to the Executive Committee of the NCAA this fall, when, according to The NCAA News, several member institutions raised concerns about the tournament's sponsorship. As a result, the Executive Committee released a statement urging member institutions to "determine whether the sponsor of an event depicts any student-athlete subgroup in a disrespectful, demeaning, or degrading manner before aligning with corporate entities and participating in competitive events."

Hooters, perhaps best known for waitresses clad in short shorts and tight tops, doesn't make the grade, according to Marie Tuite, Senior Associate for Sports Programs and Student Services at the University of Washington. The UW men's team was invited to the Hooters Championship, but Tuite declined.

"Our men's golf program is sponsored by the university," she told the Associated Press. "Given that factor and other factors, and given the current climate, I thought it was in the best interest to take the high road in making this decision."

DeLoss Dodds, Director of Athletics at the University of Texas, says he was unaware that Hooters sponsored the event when he approved the UT men's team to attend. "Now that I know, it will certainly be an issue from this point forward," he says. "I have big concerns about Hooters being associated in any way with the University of Texas."

Therese Hession, Head Coach of the women's team at Ohio State University and president of the National Golf Coaches Association, which organized the women's tournament, says her group put a lot of thought into the sponsorship before approving it. "There was no way I was going to get my team or the NGCA involved in something where female student-athletes would be embarrassed or degraded in any way, so there were a number of things I was very specific on," she says. "For example, the sponsor wanted to have some of their Hooters girls at the awards ceremony, and we insisted that they wore full warmup suits, not the outfits they typically wear at Hooters' restaurants."

However, focusing on how a sponsor is portrayed during an event misses the point, says Ellen Staurowsky, Professor of Sport Management and Media at Ithaca College and Former Director of Athletics at William Smith College. "The question is, what creates notoriety for Hooters of America?" Staurowsky asks. "Is it women in sweat suits? Or is it an entirely different public perception that is literally built on a reference to the female anatomy?

"The fact is that this company lives off the objectification of women," she continues. "To align with a sponsor that objectifies women and to say, on the other hand, that we're making progress in terms of women's sports shows a real disconnect."

For Hession, the athletic opportunity the tournament offered tipped the scale in favor of attending. "Number one, it was match play rather than stroke play, which is completely unique in college golf," she says. "Second, the organizers paired two players from the same team in the same group, and that made it a more team-oriented event than anything else we've ever played in. The third aspect that made it great was the competition." In addition, Hession says she was comfortable with the Hooters sponsorship because none of the female student-athletes who competed at the event voiced reservations.

Staurowsky, however, believes it's up to coaches and administrators to encourage student-athletes to take a deeper look at the issue. "It's really easy to ask, 'Hey, women, do you have a problem with this?'" she says, "and in a culture with changing sexual mores, there are many young people who would say, 'No problem.' But whether or not they have considered the implications of this issue in their larger lives is an entirely different matter. When you engage student-athletes with the broader issues, I've found that the answers you get can be very different."

The NCAA Executive Committee, in its discussions on the issue, decided against the idea of considering the appropriateness of an event's sponsorship in the decision to certify. Thus, individual schools will need to discuss the issue themselves.

"There probably will be a lot of conversations about this during the next year among athletic directors around the country who have top golf programs," says Texas' Dodds. "We will certainly be discussing it here.

"It's important to consider each sponsor your department is associated with carefully and use common sense," he continues. "We try never to do anything without asking ourselves the questions, 'Is this appropriate? Is it in good taste? Is it providing a positive association for our student-athletes?' In this case, we will likely decide that it's not."