God knows I’ve cracked a couple jokes (at least) at the expense of the WNBA (mostly due to comical mismanagement by the NBA), but I think in mentioning the victory of the Phoenix Mercury in this year’s finals, we’ve kind of gone off the rails with the apathy wisecracks, and it’s time to lay off the lesbian and trans-gender jokes that invariably crop up whenever any site of note mentions the league.
I admit I don’t watch much, if at all — that’s in the middle of the baseball days, and the finals occur as college and pro football get started. So, maybe I’m part of the problem. Thing is, I remember going to catch a couple of ABL games when I lived in Denver — remember the Colorado Xplosion? I thought not. Anyway, the worst thing that could have happened to women’s pro basketball was when the NBA decided to get in on it — the ABL was more than prepped to grow organically, it seemed, and even though the NBA put its muscle behind the new WNBA, which eventually took the players when the ABL folded, it’s been nothing but a comical screw-up. The NBA doesn’t know how to market the women’s game at all. Some would argue it can’t be marketed, but anything can be sold if you’re smart enough, and selling a competitive sport with quality players shouldn’t be too hard.
The League has basically decided to attach the fortunes of the WNBA too much to the NBA with its silly All-Star weekend inclusion events, placing most of the teams as “sister” squads to NBA teams, and removing any impetus of individual teams for their own design flair with the league-wide uniform template. That’s not even getting into how little the athletes are paid, sending the top talent like Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, and Lauren Jackson overseas come off-season time.
The rumor is that the WNBA will be expanding into markets that don’t have NBA teams, or aren’t located too closely to them. This is what they should have done long ago. But, while lamenting the bad stewardship of the league and its cheapskate attitude, let’s lay off the athletes themselves. Female athletes have a hard enough time trying to survive playing sports for a living, with our cultural stigmas. This isn’t even limited to women’s basketball: half of the content about Venus and Serena Williams in blogging has to do with their supposed lack of attractiveness.
But wait, you might think: we all crack jokes about certain athletes being secretly gay (Jeff Garcia, Brady Quinn, Alex Rodriguez, Eli Manning), and we don’t take it that seriously. Sure. The difference here is that we’re more than willing to acknowledge the athletic talent behind the male jocks we rag on while we take our potshots; it’s a given. When it comes to female athletes, more often than not, we crack wise first and brush aside the talent because we won’t watch it; it’s not on our radar. We’re doing our own Don Imus act, when many found it distasteful to begin with — the race angle was what we focused on with his comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team, while the sexism was forgotten.
So, I’m going to try not to do any more of that for women’s college and pro sports. The competitors have enough on their plates.
Photo: AP/Jerry S. Mendoza