This weekend marked the opening of the 11th season of the WNBA. I didn't watch any of the games because I was either playing my own sports or watching golf and softball. And frankly professional basketball has never been my sport of choice. But it's not because I think the women are slower or not as exciting--as a column I read the other day contends.
The start of the WNBA season has brought commentary that seems to fall into one of two camps: the WNBA is flailing and it may plod along for a while but it will never be as popular as men's sports because no one cares--even other women!; or please give women's sports a chance--if you watch them you may like them (as exemplified by this column).
There are problems with the arguments put forth by both camps. The first column about how women's sports will always be a niche market is irritating. First the author admits that he has never seen a WNBA game because he has never had any desire to watch. I have only ever seen one NBA game in my entire life and that's only because somehow we scored free tickets to a Celtics game when I was teenager. I have never seen a men's collegiate game. This means I really have to basis for comparison. But I also am not, unlike the above columnist, arguing that men's basketball is more interesting than women's or vice versa. I guess if you like it when men's coaches and male players throw temper tantrums that cause the veins in their necks to bulge or when players throw punches at fans in the stands then maybe it is more interesting.
Unfortunately, the WNBA powers-that-be are also worried about the lack of interest and so have changed some of the rules (4 quarters versus 2 halves, and a 24-second shot clock) to make it more interesting. And by "interesting" they mean more like the men's game. And this is the problem with even the well-intentioned "please give the WNBA another chance" pieces. They use the men's game as the basis for comparison. I do not think this is a winning strategy. The more the women's game tries to model itself on the men's game the more it invites disparaging comments from fans of men's sports who see women as wannabes.
Because liking men's sports--the the exclusion of women's sports--is more than just about which games you watch on Sunday afternoons; it is about supporting an ideology. Comments and beliefs such as "men are faster," "men jump higher," "men can dunk," all suggest that men are just better--period. Sure we cannot get away these days--well it's harder at least--with saying women are not as smart or as capable in positions of power, in business, etc. But it's still acceptable to engage in side-by-side comparisons of a sex-segregated physical activity and say "look the men are just better" without ever questioning the criteria for assessing "better than."