Rethinking the sale of the female athlete

On-point essay by Tiffany M. Davis that discusses the way the WNBA markets itself:

The NBA is messy. With its array of reel-worthy dunks and the occasional dust-up, colorful personalities and controversial statements, it may not the best place to look for upstanding citizens or role models, the league’s community outreach efforts notwithstanding. All of the fines in the world won’t stop the player (and sometimes coach) antics that provide constant media fodder. And it’s expensive: The average price of a ticket for the 2014-15 season ranged between $30 and $124, based on the team’s location. But that’s what makes the men’s league fun.

In contrast, the WNBA has always walked a paradoxical tightrope between (female) professional athletes doing professionally athletic things, and the image of WNBA players as being too masculine in looks and deeds. Most players are not a Skylar Diggins, who has appeared in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and is perhaps known more for her model-quality looks (and perpetual crush of rapper Drake) than her award-winning skills as a guard for the Tulsa Shock. Being camera-ready while doing a lay-up is not a priority for the rest of the league’s players, and expecting them to be is hypocritical. By perpetuating antiquated notions of ladylike behavior and appearance, and superimposing them on a sport that celebrates “unladylike” behavior such as sweating profusely, cursing and aggressive play, the WNBA not only sends confusing messages to the very girls it purports to want to lift up, but also sucks the fun out of the playing atmosphere by hindering the players from fully expressing themselves.

The men’s league understands that at the end of the day, games are entertainment—no more, no less. People attend and watch games to escape their everyday drama for a few hours; there is no escape value if the game environment replicates a certain part of one’s life. Perhaps if the WNBA treated its league as such, and not as a de facto breeding ground for athletic role models and a safe haven for the traditional family unit, it may attain the media conversational level that Richie seeks.

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There have been too many instances that I can recount, whether in real life or in the movies, where a person finally started to get somewhere when she/he started being herself. The WNBA should never be afraid to let players be themselves, or to market a unique league. We need more individual expression – not less.

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