There has been a troubling component to the post-Imus discourse that centers on all the publicity women's basketball--and some even say, all women's sports--is now garnering. The phrase "they couldn't have paid for this publicity" has been liberally thrown about. The subtitle of this column by Bill Gloede is "Why Imus' flagrant foul may actually help women's sports." Every sentiment of this sort has the requisite, "of course, what he said was wrong" provision but then launches into the lack of publicity women's sports receive.
Gloede cites the difference in ratings between the women's championship game and the men's. Of course the men's game gets broadcast on CBS--a basic cable channel; while the women's game is on ESPN--a channel available to people who spend around $50/month on cable.
I have seen columnists rather unapologetically admit they didn't even know about the unusual road the Rutgers team took to the championship game.
And I am feeling all the more icky about this line of reasoning since receiving an email from Nike. Subject line: A Different Kind of Thank You. Nike is now capitalizing--without even naming him--on Imus's bigotry. (They call it "ignorance"--I say it was far more deliberate).
Here is the text of the email:
Thank you, ignorance.
Thank you for starting the conversation.
Thank you for making an entire nation listen to the Rutgers team's story. And for making us wonder what other great stories we've missed.
Thank you for reminding us to think before we speak.
Thank you for showing us how strong and poised 18- and 20-year-old women can be.
Thank you for reminding a sports nation that another basketball tournament goes on in March.
Thank you for showing us that sport includes more than the time spent on the court.
Thank you for unintentionally moving women's sport forward.
And thank you for making all of us realize that we still have a long way to go.
Next season starts 11.16.07
[And if you go to the website you too can spread the "empowerment" by sending this as an email to a friend.]
Here's the thing: yes, women's sports receive less publicity, (positive) media attention, television coverage, etc. But everyone knows they exist. Everyone know there's a women's tournament in March. We know women play professional tennis. We know women play golf. We know there's a US National Softball Team. People choose not to pay attention.
Don Imus--unwittingly I imagine--made people pay attention. But it's not going to change the deeply entrenched ideologies around gender and race and sexuality that produced the comments in the first place and are largely responsible for the continuing inattention to women's sports.
Additionally, the publicity this event garnered is fading fast. And despite the amazing decorum with which the women on the Rutgers team handled this situation (again something that did not surprise those of us who pay just a little bit of attention to women's basketball), I don't think it is necessarily going to generate greater ratings at next year's tournament.
I do think and hope more people will be in the stands at Rutgers' games. But I think their incredible run to the championship would have made that happen regardless. I think Rutgers and women's sports generally probably could have done without the "publicity" Don Imus generated.