On WNBA Progress

by Ben York

It’s no secret that popular ESPN.com columnist Bill Simmons isn’t a WNBA fan or supporter; he’s made a cognizant point to criticize the league over and over again throughout the years. This should come as a surprise to no one.

In a recent column by Simmons, he talks about the lack of “sports-hate” guys that he currently has to choose from. The players he used to have so much fun hating (Peyton Manning, Alex Rodriguez, Kobe Bryant) have all proved him wrong by winning championships or turning out to be less-hateable than he originally thought. He says that his sports-hate tank is “running on empty” and is searching for things to fill this gap. Now, I don’t want anyone to lose any sleep for Bill’s sake – he’ll always have the WNBA as a loyal vehicle of hate.

In that very article, Simmons (amazingly) doesn’t mention hating the WNBA in a general sense; it’s the commercials he dislikes so much.


Simmons joyfully hates WNBA commercials because, by viewing them, he believes the WNBA is being shoved down his throat. His hatred for the league runs so deep that he has a physical, allergic reaction and breaks out in hives every time a short 30-second commercial promoting the WNBA airs. Admittedly, I can’t confirm the hives but since it clearly pains him so much physically to simply avert his eyes or change the channel, I think it’s probably a safe assumption. Simmons, apparently, thinks WNBA commercials contain some sort of subliminal message in their broadcasting frequency that would force him to write something positive regarding the league; and since Simmons would rather gouge his own eyes out than give the WNBA props, I can see why he wouldn’t want to be subjected to 30 seconds of this sheer terror.

The issue here isn’t that Simmons dislikes WNBA commercials, it’s that he’s so smug about it. In a 2005 article, Simmons ripped the WNBA in a 2,500 word diatribe of hostility, pleading to “end the ongoing charade that this is a mainstream sport” and believes “if not for corporate nepotism, the WNBA would have pulled a WUSA and disappeared years ago.” In the same article, he compares the forceful advertising and promotion of the WNBA to a gun being held to his head. Doing so, Simmons believes “it makes me [Simmons] (and many others) root against the league a little more.”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — it’s absolutely your own individual choice to dislike the WNBA. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with that. But it’s another thing to write an entire article about how horrific a league it is, that it has been given countless chances to succeed, how it’s unwatchable, and why it isn’t worthy of mainstream attention…then begin to profess how you’d want your own daughter to grow up and dream about playing basketball professionally in America someday – Simmons does both.

This, my friends, is the definition of hypocrisy.

The problem with Simmons is that he thinks he is coming off as fair and balanced by using false analogies to bash the WNBA, as if both leagues (WNBA and NBA) have been given equally fair chances and started from the exact same spot in our culture. He believes he is ‘telling it like it is’ from a “guys-guy” perspective while throwing out pop culture references in an attempt to make his thesis and arguments correlate with each other. Quite simply, there are hundreds of years of history that Simmons continually ignores when speaking about the WNBA and it’s (perceived) lack of progress. He conveniently forgets that it wasn’t even 100 years ago that women were first allowed to vote. Or that less than 50 years ago John F. Kennedy established the President’s Commission on the Status of Women which found substantial discrimination of women in the workplace leading to the Equal Pay Act in 1963. Or that, astonishingly, just over 30 years ago the first marital rape law came into effect. Thus, here’s some correlation with actual causation, the WNBA might take longer to develop and need a bit more support. Is this really a surprise? Instead of condemning it, why not believe in the cause and help it flourish? Instead, he dreams of its demise. In Simmons mind, the hundreds of years of women being unjustly and unfairly labeled as inferior, matters not. Way to do that “thorough” research you’re known for, Bill.

Simmons, apparently, thinks that a decade or so is ample time for a brand new professional sports league to justify itself. In his 2005 article, Simmons writes…

“As for the casual fans, the Donna Orenders of the world maintain that they need more time to “come around.” Come around? Should we ignore the complete lack of progress in nine years? How far does this “come around” deadline extend to? 2010? 2020? Let’s pick a year. Give us a firm deadline. In the mean time, attendance figures and ratings keep dropping, and the timeline for us to “come around” keeps shifting. And so they keep running WNBA ads during the NBA Finals, keep flying WNBA players to NBA All-Star Weekend … they even hijacked “NBA Hardwood Classics” on NBA TV last week (which almost caused me to break my TiVo in 30 pieces).”

As is his usual charade of comparing apples to oranges, he cited the defunct XFL as an example of a similar failed league. Simmons said the only reason the WNBA hasn’t folded in a similar way is because NBA Commissioner David Stern is the WNBA’s “sugar daddy”; that Stern has an indelible desire to (gasp) show commercials promoting the WNBA! My goodness, how could he! You’re telling me he believes in the WNBA and isn’t afraid to show it? Gosh – if only Bill could turn his head 45 degrees and look in another direction when these advertisements air. Simmons believes Stern is pushing the WNBA on society like “an overboard mom pushing broccoli on her kids” and doesn’t see the point in doing so. Yet, again, Simmons wants a professional league that his daughter can play in.

He also stated that the WNBA should “accept it’s place in the Sports Fans Pecking Order.” Have we not done that? No one expects the WNBA to be as popular as the NBA, or make as much money, this early in it’s existence. What fans and followers do want, however, is an end to the conscious bashing and denouncing of the league — and to stop going out of their way to undermine it. Yes, it is still leaps and bounds below where the NBA is, but there is no denying it is in the midst of a transformation. Things like this happen in a progression. Basketball in the 50s and 60s is vastly different to where it is today, and the evolution of the game is what makes it so appealing. The WNBA is going through a similar process and it’s evident with the abundance of talent in the league today. Don’t believe me? Ask me about the 2009 WNBA season.

I received an email today that, perhaps, started me on the course of this article. It was from someone I don’t know and haven’t spoken or emailed with before. In it, the person asked, “Why don’t you just accept where the WNBA is? It will never be the NBA. And yes, the women are so much more inferior to men it’s not even funny.” Well, I can’t do that. Rather, I choose not to do that. I guess I’m choosing to stand up for these ladies and am more than happy to take the heat (still amazed that I even have to) while doing so. I don’t care if you don’t like the WNBA, but don’t pretend to sit on a soapbox or pedestal and berate these ladies after how far they’ve come. Guess what, Bill? I’ll dish it right back every time.

So, Mr. Simmons, it hasn’t exactly been an easy ride toward getting the WNBA established — and it’s come a long way since the 90s. Though, you’d know that had you done simple research regarding the evolution of women’s rights. Still, I’m so sorry you have to suffer through those terrible, uplifting WNBA commercials as I cannot imagine the agony you feel when lifting a finger to press the mute button or the up/down arrow.