“Open letter” thoughts

By now you’ve likely read ESPN writer Mechelle Voepel’s open letter to NBA commissioner Adam Silver, in which she takes issue with comments he made about the WNBA last Thursday. Since the piece was published Friday night, it has met with universal acclaim from women’s basketball fans.

Voepel made numerous great points, but this was the heart of the matter for me:

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As for your shout-out to The Players’ Tribune, I understand the value of a site where athletes and their agents are able to craft personal stories that represent them without the media as intermediaries. The site has had some intriguing first-person pieces, photography and videos that represent the WNBA well. (It would seem as if WNBA.com could do the same thing even more often if the site were staffed, funded and managed to that purpose).

But then there was this statement you made on the media, “Leading into the playoffs tonight, there’s virtually no coverage.”

Really? I know I’m not imagining espnW colleague Michelle Smith and I have written about the playoffs all week (here, here and here), and read and listened to the work of others. Do you know of writers like the Associated Press’ Doug Feinberg? How about newspaper reporters such as the Seattle Times’ Jayda Evans, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Kent Youngblood, the Indianapolis Star’s David Woods, the Hartford Courant’s John Altavilla, the Washington Post’s Gene Wang and the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder’s Charles Hallman, among others?

How about people such as Cheryl Coward, who runs the Hoopfeed website chronicling everything in women’s basketball. David Siegel, whose podcasts comprehensively cover the sport. Helen Wheelock, who catalogues and publicizes stories from across the country on the Women’s Hoops Blog. Lee Michaelson. Sue Favor, Mel Greenberg and many, many others — forgive me if your name is not mentioned — who own or contribute to sites such as Full Court and Swish Appeal.

Perhaps we’re all too motley a crew for you to be aware of, Mr. Silver, residing as we do in the “women’s sports ghetto.” But if you’re looking for your NBA “big-timers” from the media to cover the WNBA, good luck. They’ve virtually never covered women’s basketball, and I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for them to start.

I would advise, though, trying to get a better grasp on the network of traditional media, social media denizens, bloggers, freelancers, podcasters and “superfans” who closely follow the WNBA not just all season but all year. And then find ways to reach out more to them, to pick their brains for ideas, to realize there are some untapped opportunities in our technologically ultra-connected world now for the WNBA’s publicity needs.

The WNBA will never be anything like the NBA in popularity, wealth and scope. However, there are people not just in the United States but across the world who care passionately about the WNBA.

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I was online Friday when this column dropped, and I read it immediately. I was enthusiastic.

Enthusiastic not only because Voepel was right on the money, but because I had expressed the very same sentiments to the league one month ago: that they don’t publicize the publicity that they do get. I pointed out that there are some very dedicated journalists out there, including myself, who have been covering the WNBA thoroughly for years. But we never see our work tweeted out on the WNBA’s twitter, nor linked on their site or otherwise acknowledged.

In contrast, the NBA tweets pretty much every link of stories written about their players, whether it’s a big or small publication. Why doesn’t the WNBA do that? Great question. There is no reason I should be linking every last story I get my hands on every day on this blog when I’m not being paid to do so, and they arguably are.

I had the same thought as Voepel: I guess we’re not “big enough.” And I’m pretty sure the appeal of the Player’s Tribune – at least initially – was that it’s Derek Jeter’s site. (It’s almost like Player’s Tribune read my post last springWNBA players: we’re ready to get to know you better).

But all good player and team features and stories need to be publicized – not just first-person narratives, and not only those from celebrity publications. The press corps that Voepel named in her piece may not write for Sports Illustrated, but every one of us love the WNBA, and women’s basketball. We have a passion for the sport and those who play it, and it shows in our writing and in our determination to keep doing so.

Major women’s basketball entities have come together to grow the game at the college level and below. Each also mentioned that the stories of the athletes need to be told in moving the game forward.

So let’s tell them, and let’s get the WNBA in on it.

More later.

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