A Simple Question: Why?
An open call to those who oppose the WNBA.
by Ben York
This isn’t a set-up or a trap. It’s not a social experiment. It’s not a trick, and it certainly isn’t an excuse to be rude or irresponsible. Rather, I’m genuinely offering a platform to those who aren’t fans or followers of the WNBA a chance to intelligently explain why.
Call me crazy. Heck, I probably am. We’ve all had this ubiquitous debate before and I’m not the first to mediate it. But I have also finally accepted that I have a compulsive need to understand the opposition as much as humanly possible. Truthfully, it’s probably a sickness.
For current WNBA fans/followers, think of it as a conduit towards a better understanding of the “other” side. For non-fans/followers, think of it as a safe and open discussion of your opinions.
I’ve shared my very personal reasons why I am WNBA fanatic and it’s never been a secret that I’m a both a huge proponent and apologist for the league. I won’t go into the reasons why that is in this post as I’ve written many other articles that go into more detail, and I’d encourage you to view those prior posts on ‘The W’ for further verification. Quite simply, I’m a staunch supporter of these ladies both on a personal and professional basis, and consider many of them friends. I don’t mean this in an arrogant way, not by a long shot. I’m certainly nothing special and I’m not the first guy to stand up for the WNBA; I’ve just been fortunate enough to have a bigger stage to express my opinions and viewpoints.
However, it’s also no secret that many people are not fans of the WNBA. Now, there isn’t anything fundamentally wrong with that per se…not on the surface at least. Maybe you’re just not a fan of basketball or only an occasional casual observer. It’s the individuals who have a misogynistic undertone when condemning the league that I take extreme offense to. It’s long been an internal struggle for me to grasp why some individuals have such a negative fervor and vendetta against the league. It’s one thing to not enjoy the beauty of the women’s game, but it’s another to have a venomous hatred for it. Again, I’m not the first to bring this up (Mechelle Voepel has addressed this topic beautifully) but I refuse to simply turn my head and gloss over the issue completely.
Hence, I’m here to offer ‘The W’ as a safe way to discuss why – in a respectful and intelligent way.
The general audience here at ‘The W’ is probably comprised of a wide range of WNBA fans, obviously. The depth of their fandom varies from individuals who have at least a minor interest in the WNBA to others who are die-hards and know more than I could ever hope to. However, I have seen quite a few “first-timers” to the site and have received mixed reactions from those individuals. Some have come in with an open mind and were eager to learn more. Others, were less than thrilled and took the time to criticize and denounce the league.
There has to be a deeper, more insightful reason why you don’t watch the WNBA other than the fact it’s women playing in it…right? Please tell me there is. I’d hate to think that I wasted time writing this and it’s still a continual losing battle. Maybe I’m naive. Maybe it’s just hard for me to accept that the reason the vast majority of people who don’t like the league is because it’s played by women. Maybe I find it hard to accept and fathom that we, as a society, are still struggling with this battle. If this is the main reason you don’t watch the league, I suppose it would be ignorant of me to say that it’s surprising. Unfortunate and unfair? Abso-freaking-lutely. Admittedly, I’m probably a bit biased with my unique personal experiences but I am willing to have an open and honest discussion about why you haven’t gotten into the WNBA.
I recently spoke with Mercury head coach Corey Gaines about the difficulties the WNBA has faced in gaining that mainstream respect and success. Gaines provided a viewpoint that I hadn’t personally thought of before which was extremely enlightening. Basically, Gaines compared basketball to baseball in that so many people play it and have a type of false confidence when they get better. There’s an aura of connectedness that exudes from basketball and baseball that isn’t necessarily there (generally speaking of course) with the larger-than-life athletes in football. For example, I don’t pretend to think that I’d last 30 seconds in a competitive football or hockey league. However, I’ve played basketball and baseball all my life and have an increased sense of confidence in my ability to play those sports. Perhaps it is this type of thinking that lead individuals to trivialize the WNBA at first glance.
One of my questions to Corey was if the lack of respect for the WNBA was a basketball issue or a societal issue? “It’s not a basketball issue,” Gaines said. “I’ll put myself into the mix and use myself as an example. When I was younger, in my teens, I went to the park to play some tennis. I saw an older woman there, probably in her 50’s, and thought I was going to beat her easily. I actually thought I needed to take it a bit easy so I won’t make her feel too bad. Well, she beat the crap out of me. She used the angles on the court and had me running everywhere. Similarly, when I was playing basketball at UCLA, I thought I could be a Defensive Back or Safety on the football team easily. Are you kidding me! One day I went out there to try it out and I guarded the slowest receiver. He had me turning every which way and there was no way I could stay with him, and I was known as being quick. Basically, it boils down to the people sitting on their couches at home that for some reason think they can play with them, which leads to a feeling that the competition is inferior. People play basketball and baseball all the time and think they could go out and play pretty well; but when they see them up close or play it’s a whole different story. I mean, people don’t look at football players or track & field stars and think they can do what they do. So I think it has a lot to do with society and how they view the WNBA. But I’ve had a lot of people come up to me, especially in the Finals, that just said, ‘wow, I had no idea they were this good.’”
That’s a fantastic point – people involuntarily compare the NBA with the WNBA and automatically think they could go out and perform just as well as a WNBA player. When they become closer to the game, they have an entirely new view. Though, this first comes with an open mind – something that has become rare in the world today.
I will leave you with this — every single person I have ever talked to that has given the WNBA a fair chance has “converted,” so to speak, and gained an illustrious respect for these ladies. And I’m not talking about just a couple individuals — I’ve received dozens and dozens of emails from people (mostly men) who have come away incredibly impressed and humbled. Take from that what you will.
So…without further adieu…let the discussion begin.