As women dunk more often, some having trouble adapting to change

Great piece by Ramona Shelburne (the best writer at ESPN) on Brittney Griner and other women dunking. It seems that the Baylor center’s latest dunks have been met with some uneasiness from fans. Shelburne talked to a handful of coaches and players for the story, and Lisa Leslie and Michael Cooper, in particular, nailed it.

Lisa Leslie:

She’s not surprised, however, that the reaction to Griner’s dunks has been mixed.

“People are never really satisfied,” she said. “I dunked and people said it was just one-handed. Now Brittney’s dunked two-handed and people are like, ‘Oh, there’s only one person who can do that.’

“I don’t think any of us can ever live up to the expectations or things naysayers throw at us.”

Michael Cooper:

Cooper, who has had the rare distinction of coaching both Leslie and Parker in their primes, said he thinks that Griner’s dunks are rocking the boat a bit because dunking, and doing it consistently and easily, is one of the last things most men can do that women can’t.

“The reason why some guys look at [women dunking] like it’s no big deal is because they can’t do it,” he said. “If a woman can do something better than a guy, he’s not going to make a big deal out of it because that’s something he can’t do.

I’ve had these same thoughts – and more – while contemplating the increasing commonality of women dunking.

That old saying that you need to be twice as good, if you’re of a group that faces discrimination, to prove yourself, seems true here. Because Leslie is right: people always find fault with a woman’s dunk, no matter what. Nothing is ever good enough.

Cooper is also correct in that it makes some men feel insecure that suddenly women can do something that’s always been traditionally their province.

Griner is an easy target for the non-evolved and easily-threatened, because of her size. She is 6-foot-8, with a large frame and a 7-foot-4 wing span. But despite her soft baby face, some of the most hateful people have called her “a man,” and other names. It’s one of the oldest attempts at stripping the power of female athletes in the book – along with calling all women in sports lesbians. It has always amazed me how much fear and insecurity run the world.

The entire phenomenon highlights the plight of female athletes in general: if they’re too “girly,” they are made fun of for that; if they’re super-athletic and/or “tomboys,” they’re called “men.” You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.

As far as dunking goes, Geno Auriemma has the right idea:

“I don’t know why it’s a big deal,” he said of Griner. “She didn’t seem to think it’s a big deal. It’s almost like everybody around her is making it a bigger deal than she is.

“Maybe at some point, if it happens a little more often, the novelty will wear off.”

It will.

There are numerous girls and women who are capable of dunking. One, who I coached a few years ago, is only 5-foot-11. Breanna Stewart made the finals of the McDonald’s All-American game dunk contest Monday night. Change is coming, whether some fans like it or not.

Lisa Leslie is a fan of Griner’s.

Georgeann Wells threw down the first dunk, in 1984.


  1. I really don't think it matters much to most guys if women start dunking or not nor are they particularly intimidated by the prospect.

    It's a slippery slope if people are going to start to try to objectively compare the men's and women's games based upon dunking or even the general overall improvement in the women's game over the years. The truth is they really aren't comparable sports. That doesn't mean the women's game isn't compelling to watch but people that watch women's roundball are looking for a different type of entertainment than if they watch the men's game.

    All a person has to do is flip the channel during March Madness to observe the stark difference between the contests. I’m not hating on women’s basketball. I watch it and I enjoy it, but it’s basically a horizontal game versus the men’s game, which is a more dynamic & athletic mixture of horizontal and vertical skills.

    I will say that it’s a bit difficult for many men to understand why it is so important for women generally to expect men to praise the women’s game. Men generally just don’t think that way. They are interested in watching the most talented players and teams, period and most feel they get that with the men’s game.

    A more interesting discussion might be try to understand exactly what women want from men relative to respect for their game because it isn’t clear. I think men generally understand why women think their game is cool, due to the participation thing, etc., but this concept that women voice frequently that guys should respect the women’s game “just because” really doesn’t work too well with most regular dudes because the skill sets are so glaringly different between the games.

    I’m not throwing rocks at the women’s game, I’m just sayin. GS

  2. Thanks for the detailed response, GS.

    I'm not saying – nor do I believe is LL – that women expect men to praise the women's game. I'm referring to those writers and fans who go out of their way to criticize girls and women's basketball. Every once in a while, a writer pens something that bashes women's hoops, for no apparent reason. I never read those pieces, but they're out there. I've always maintained that if you don't care for a sport, just don't watch it. Obviously some don't feel that way.

    As a male, you take many rights and privileges for granted that I can't: taking up space, what you do being considered as "the norm," things being defined in male terms. Women are "the other." Women are also judged very harshly on their looks. You wouldn't believe some of the insults that have been thrown around about Brittney Griner. When she first came out of high school, for instance, some called her a hermaphrodite.

    True basketball fans/players that happen to be male (the men I associate with) don't make comments about Griner's looks, but those males who do are out there. It's old and tired.

    It is perhaps hard to understand, unless you're a member of a group that is discriminated against, the scrutiny that one is under as a part of such a group. I became aware of sexism and racism at the young age of 12, and spent a lot of my teen years pissed off and angry at all the discrimination I saw. I eventually came to a decision that I was going to just go about my business and advocate for my causes, and not worry about the sexists and racists. That's why I don't read hater articles, and it's why I never compare the women's game and men's game, or try to justify the women's game in any way, as did Full Court last week in a press release. The games are what they are, and if you don't like it, you can change the channel. But make sure you keep your mouth closed before you do.

  3. Everyone is entitled to their respective opinions about gender and how tough (or not) it is to be either male or female in society and sports today. Suffice it to say that there are lots of theories out there, some of which have been institutionalized and others not so much.

    I’m familiar the NACWAA and their politics, which I think were pretty well summarized in the article you linked to. To the extent that the NACWAA continues to lobby for more exposure for women’s sports either directly with the TV Networks or through the NCAA when the men’s contracts are negotiated they can reasonably expect that along with greater viewership of women’s sports products, greater scrutiny of what they deliver. That means praise along with criticism. Hopefully those involved will adjust to both the positives and negatives that come with that growth. As you know, male athletes and their fans have had a love / hate relationship from the beginning of time. For female athletes or their supporters to expect otherwise if they want a male fan demographic would be wishful thinking.

    I think the real challenge for women’s sports isn’t men’s acceptance of them or lack thereof. It is why aren’t women in general supporting all of the Title IX sports that have now been in place for almost forty years? Demographically there are enough females out there to make all levels of women’s sports viable from a fan base perspective and in the case of pro sports from a revenue perspective, but it isn’t happening. Frankly I wonder sometimes why it is that organizations like the NACWAA are so eager to beat the gender drum constantly rather than try to solve important issues like specifically increasing female fan support or more importantly working to solve the female ACL injury debacle you’ve recently written about. It’s a total head scratcher to me.

    I’m afraid that the unfortunate truth may be that it is easier to continue down politically gendered path upon which they’ve trodden for the past forty years than to actually take personal and organizational responsibility to address the issues I mentioned previously. Hopefully there are enough female movers and shakers in women’s sports to appropriately adjust the approach and gain traction going forward. GS

  4. My life and my experience and other women's lives and experiences aren't theories. Racism and sexism, however, are institutionalized. If you don't see that, you're not living in reality.

    I never said don't criticize women's basketball; constructive criticism is good. I said don't diss the sport and the people in it for no particular reason. Have you not read some of these random attacks on the women's game that come after no particular event? You need to.

    I linked the above story so you could get a feel for what I'm getting at – not so you could take the NACWAA's entire piece and get us off topic. Support of women's sports is a completely different issue that deserves a post of its own.

    You commented to me last month that you thought the reason more wasn't being done to help prevent ACL injuries was because feminists have everyone convinced that all athletes should be treated the same, and women no differently than men. I was stunned by that, and still am. You give feminists and women more credit and power than they have in life. Do you really think women run the world like that? Hell, I wish, but it's not even close.

    Women still make less than men, and there are much fewer women running things in the world of athletics than other industries. It is ludicrous to blame women for all the ills that they face. It's like blaming Blacks and/or Latinos for poverty rates within their communities.

    We all could and should do more, but you have to have power and money to get things going.

    It was only 20 years ago that Chamique Holdsclaw, as a kid was voted off a park team because she was a female, though she could out-play all the boys. The WNBA has been clowned in some hip hop songs. Now we have people criticizing legitimate dunks.

    Women are still lacking the respect in sport that they so richly deserve. That's the point.

  5. Greg,

    This is a blog and not the editorial pages. If you'd like to engage in argument and debate and/or have a place to state your opinions, I suggest you start your own blog. If you don't like what is posted here, no one is forcing you to read it.


  6. Greg,

    If you hope to work with women in your endeavor, you're going to have to stop using sexist and personal insults like the one you just threw at me: "grow a pair."


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