Today the WNBA unveiled their latest “Watch Me Work” promo spot, which features star NBA players proclaiming their love for the league and its athletes:
This afternoon ESPN posted a story by Michelle Smith called “The pros and cons of male athletes lending support, appreciation to their female counterparts.”
The problem is when appreciation of the women’s game from an NBA superstar, or an NFL quarterback, is interpreted as validation for the sport. Or when a male athlete becomes a centerpiece in a women’s space — during a game broadcast, a draft telecast or a postgame interview — so that he becomes the focus rather than a fan.
Kelsey Plum made an amazing comment:
“At first, it was so cool because people had noticed me, and James Harden noticed me, and it’s great, and for that I was very appreciative,” Plum said. “But it continued to go further, and I think people struggled to find a woman to compare me with, so they went to men as the default. And that’s fine, but I also want to be compared with Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird and players like that. And for those comparisons to never shift over to that, it’s a little disheartening. It started out as a huge compliment and then it just got redundant.
“For people to come out to watch me and expect that I’m going to be like James Harden, or any current NBA player, it’s not realistic. I don’t want to emulate them. That’s not the goal. I want to play like me.”
That last sentence – “I want to play like me” is the main reason I’m against female comparisons to male players.
This is also beautiful from Plum:
“A lot of girls grow up watching guys, and that’s all they see. We watched Misty May and Kerri Walsh. Diana Taurasi was the one who always stood out for me,” Plum said. “I walked up to Monique Currie at practice today and told her my dad and I used to sit on the couch and watch her play in college. It’s crazy for me to be playing with her now.”
Sue Bird also nails an important point:
“It is a huge disconnect,” Bird said. “I was the same way when I was a young player, so I don’t want to make it sound like I wasn’t. Now, more so than ever, you hear stories about young players who talk about wanting to play in the WNBA since they were 10 or 11 years ago, but a large percentage of them don’t follow the league. Yet they strive for it.”
Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb brings it home:
“But we also need to do a better job of promoting our stars. We want people to see that Diana Taurasi and Elena Delle Donne are great players, and not just because Kobe said so. Right now, more girls in Seattle want to be Kelsey Plum. And we’ve got to continue to push, to get the exposure and the branding and the media coverage.”
I’ve made the same point as Gottlieb over the years. I’ve encouraged the WNBA to step up their offseason marketing efforts. The NCAA tries hard to grow the game; we all should. And both entities – especially the W – need to do a better job of putting out information and publicizing the legitimate press that they do get.
What we really need is more education about female athletes.