During the commercial breaks of ESPN2's coverage of the LPGA tournament yesterday were promos for the upcoming season of the WNBA. (How many acronyms can you fit in one sentence?) The promo showed the stars of course including some of the newcomers. I didn't really pay too much attention to the actual people because I was appalled by the presentation--not the visual--the verbal. The women were all in their uniforms and some actually appeared to be playing basketball though there was a lot of posing; but again, in uniform and not in any kind of overt sexual way. But alas the voiceover which was simply a list of names was problematic. Only first names were given. "Sue, Diana, Swin..." This is a noted problem in women's sports. Commentators frequently refer to women by their first names whereas men are almost always (with some notable exceptions of course) by their last. The problem of course transcends sport too. In academia there are debates over whether female professors should insist on being called Dr. _____ rather than their first names which many opt for in an attempt to break down the hierarchical structure of the academy and create a more open learning environment.
But back to the promo. It seems like a little thing, I know. But I caught it immediately. I didn't even have to think for longer than 5 seconds about whether this mode of address for these athletes was ok. Because it's not. I cannot fathom an NBA promo where male athletes are addressed by their first names only. The promo signals the fear the WNBA (and NBA by extension as the owner of the league) have over the perceptions of women's basketball. There appears to be a need to make women's basketball a little more palatable--i.e. a little less aggressive and threatening. Maybe it was Sheryl Swoopes's recent coming out or Candace Wiggins's "dunks" in the NCAA tournament this year, I don't know. But I do know that first names only lessens the athletic impact these women have. Diana and Sue and Monique can be read as just the "girls next door"--like you wouldn't even know that they are superb athletes.
[Interesting note: I was looking for a downloadable version of the promo to link to and went to google to find it. I typed in "ESPN WNBA promo" and Google replied: did you mean ESPN NBA promo"? Um, no, I did not.]