A little over a week ago, on July 18, the U.S. women’s basketball team played Great Britain in a pre-Olympic warm-up game. Fortunately for women’s basketball fans, it was televised on ESPN2. Normally, that’s a cause for celebration since that type of national coverage for the sport is few and far between.
But an intriguing argument could be made that based on the in-game “analysis” from commentators, having the game nationally televised actually did more harm than good in terms of the perception of women’s basketball. Or, rather, that it personified a disturbing microcosm of how the women’s game is treated in the U.S.
Why? Because from the opening tip, it was painfully obvious that the commentators for ESPN, most notably Mark Jones, had no idea who played for Team USA. Which, needless to say, is disappointing considering that’s their job. And I’ll go out on a limb and assume they get paid to know those things.
Not only did they pronounce the names of players wrong, they confused Tina Charles (Connecticut Sun) with Sylvia Fowles (Chicago Sky) multiple times, Maya Moore (Minnesota Lynx) with Candace Parker (Los Angeles Sparks), and even criticized Charles for not “establishing” herself in the game after mistaking her for Fowles throughout the majority of the first half. These are the best women’s basketball players in the world, and in front of a national audience the commentators couldn’t even identify them correctly.
We—women’s basketball fans and supporters—don’t ask for much. People say we do, but we really don’t. One request, outlandish and eccentric as it may be, is to know (and be able to point out) who the players are if you’re calling the game. I know, we’re crazy like that. But, hey, it’s women’s basketball. Who cares, right? They’re lucky to even be on television! It’s not that big of a deal!
Adding to the nonsense, in nearly every timeout, the commentators would compare Team USA players to their male counterparts while crediting each storyline back to the players’ fathers (or another male figure) for advancing to the position they’re at today. As if, by doing so, somehow that makes their story greater. When in doubt, talk about men. Surely, they spent an equal amount of time during the men’s exhibition game(s) discussing the depths and dominance of the women’s team over the past two decades, right?
Actually, they didn’t. Barely anyone has. If you Google “USA Basketball” and sort the results within the past week, there’s no mention of the women’s team until page six (and then not again until page 10). Without a doubt, this is a slap in the collective face of a team that has won four straight gold medals, 33 consecutive games, and are favored to win their fifth gold medal in a row at the London Olympics. Maybe you can forgive the misidentification of players. But the continual perpetuation of the myth that women’s basketball players have only male influences is illogical. That is to say, there is no shortage of storylines within the women’s national team itself should anyone spend more than two minutes doing research.
For example, why not talk about the continual passing of the torch during the current gold-medal-winning-streak (Sue Bird learning from Dawn Staley, Katrina McClain learning from Anne Donovan, etc.)? How about the rare feat of keeping the same core together over the years with superstar succession? Or, how their training window has been shrinking considerably since the 1995-96 USA Basketball Women’s National Team (a “Dream Team” in its own right) took the world by storm? For that matter, why not discuss how that ‘95-96 team spawned two U.S. professional leagues including the WNBA? You know, relevant basketball topics. It’s simple, actually; they don’t care. Or at least they don’t care enough to put in the time getting to know the team and players.
Many people say they do, but they really don’t; their actions clearly speak differently. And maybe you don’t either. But above all, the message this sends is clear: Women’s basketball isn’t as important as men’s. What a shame.
Imagine, for a moment, the uproar that would be ensue if commentators mistook LeBron James for Kobe Bryant. Or, blamed Kevin Durant for something Carmelo Anthony did. Not just one time, but several. If you think mistakes like that wouldn’t be a trending topic on Twitter, you’re crazy. Why should the outcry be any less with the women’s team?
Try this: Ignore everything I just wrote. That shouldn’t be difficult for many of you, after all, I’m a women’s basketball apologist. Instead, take it from the members of the U.S. men’s team who were in attendance when the women played Great Britain. Several players, including Chris Paul and Deron Williams, tweeted out genuine, authentic support for the women’s team to their hundreds of thousands of followers. If they (some of the best male basketball players on the planet) have no problem showing love for the women’s team, why can’t it be replicated on a national basis?
I’m sure I’ll get the same emails I always get from haters on a daily basis detailing how much of a moron I am. That women’s basketball fans complain too much. That we force the game down people’s throats. Whether we do or not is irrelevant. (We don’t, in case you were wondering.) The indisputable fact is this: The current stretch for the U.S. women’s basketball team is legendary, folks. I’m not asking you to respect it; I’m telling you to.
By Ben York (@bjyork)