Why the WNBA is disrespected: one view

Last week I was having a twit-versation with my new friend Kevin Watson. He asked me why I thought women’s basketball doesn’t get the respect it deserves. I said: 1. Because men don’t like to think women can do something they can’t in sports. 2. Female basketball players play rough and don’t run around half naked, like they do in some other sports. 3. The NBA has become more about showmanship and stunts than the fundamentals of basketball, so the average sports fan now sees fundamental basketball as “boring.”

Kevin agreed with all of that, and he had an additional spin on the issue. I told him that if he wanted to write something, I’d print it. Unlike dozens of others who I’ve made the same offer to, Kevin produced a column. Below is his view of the American perspective on the WNBA. These opinions don’t necessarily reflect mine.

– Sue Favor

Hello, I am Kevin Watson. I’m a 25-year-old male who happens to be Black, and I’m an avid lover and player of the beautiful game of basketball.

For the last five years of my life I have grown very frustrated and upset at how mainstream America treats the WNBA. I have asked around and gotten many different perspectives as to why there is a strong dislike for the women’s game in some circles. My experience may not be the same as others’, but I can only go by what I have heard, seen and personally experienced.

I believe that the dislike for women’s sports is more than a surface-level issue. I believe part of it stems from things that were engrained in our culture at its founding time. The Declaration of Independence states that “all men are created equal.” I find this ironic since at that time, slaves were counted as a half a person. Also, the only people who were allowed to vote were white men who owned property.

Has America came far since its inception? Yes I believe we have. But I feel we must not ignore the division that is still within our country now, which I believe started hundreds of years ago as our nation was founded.

You may ask, “How is this relevant in women’s sports today?” It is relevant in many ways. First I believe that our nation has always been taught to view women as second-class citizens. Also, our country has a famed history of its unbelievably bad treatments of Blacks. These things, added in with ignorance, contributed to people’s views on women’s athletics today.

Throughout American history for Blacks, women have had to play an incredibly large role in the family unit. During slavery, the master would often find the biggest male he had and would tar and feather him, whip him to near death, and ultimately kill him. This was done to teach two things: first, that the man could not be relied upon to to take care of the family, and secondly, so that slave women would teach their sons to be submissive to the master so as not to receive the same treatment. This created a generational norm in which Black women have to essentially play a superhuman role to the family. This to me shows, that women have the strength now do anything a man can do. They have had to play this role, so I believe to ignore this strength is an injustice.

The WNBA is made up of mostly Black American females. There are some superstar players who are not Black, such as Elena Delle Donne, Lindsay Whalen, Diana Taurasi, Lauren Jackson, Sue Bird and Katie Douglas just to name a few. But when it comes to basketball, for both men and women, Black people typically dominate it. I believe this is where a major disconnect lies with regard to discrimination against women in sports. This is not a new found revelation, but one that American history has shown us to be true.

In the Black community sports is often an outlet, and it is seen as a means to a better life. When it comes to Black athletes, I believe the stakes are greater when it comes to playing and pursuing a sports career. Often in our poor neighborhoods, nothing is made of education or a pursuit of things better. But sports and music are viewed as a possible way out of the ‘hood. Unfortunately it is viewed, at times, as the only way out of poverty. Black people also view sports as our way to level the playing field. The highest-up people in our society are white males. So when it comes to athletics, this is a place where we can rub it in, where whites aren’t dominating completely.

Because sports are so important to my community, we often rally around anyone who has the potential to become a great player. There is rarely a division between men and women’s sports to Black people. To us one person winning or making it, is all of us making it. I find this to be amazing since the culture of our history as a nation, has always been one that promotes division.

In my experience, Black people love the WNBA. I have grown up with the league. As I traveled all over the nation to play basketball myself, I have asked people’s thoughts and opinions of the league. I have never – and I will repeat NEVER – heard a black person who is a basketball fan say anything negative about women’s basketball. But I have seen completely grown men get excited! I have seen men try to even emulate some of the moves that they have seen professional women players do!

My experience with the White culture has been very different, though. I played basketball myself at very small, almost all-white school. When I asked them how they liked the WNBA, some of the answers I heard were: “It’s too slow,” “they miss too many layups,” “there are not enough dunks,” “those women are gay,” and “I can do the things she can do.” My response was, “have you watched a game?” They would always say no, and I would fire back, “Angel McCoughtry is your height and she is stronger than you, quicker than you, can dunk, and she would beat you one on one.” They were always shocked.

The most interesting story I have is this: one time at an open gym, our local sports writer for the newspaper attended. It was during the 2011 WNBA finals, and all of me and my Black friends were stoked! Seimone Augustus and Angel McCoughtry were playing out of their minds! The reporter asked “why the hell are you guys talking about that boring shit?” We obliged him to watch a game so he would understand the excitement. The next game, McCughtry scored 38 points and Augustus had 36. At our next open gym, his outlook was completely different because he had watched the game. He admitted to us that he had never watched the WNBA before, but now he had to change his prior opinions.

A white friend and I were arguing about basketball in March. He said that you couldn’t call a women player elite because she can’t do what the Kobe’s, Lebron’s, and Durant’s of the world do. I rebutted that elite is a category that classifies an athlete or person who has achieved incredible success at a high level in their field or sport. Elite is not regulated to one or two people who are the absolute best in their field. After much debating, he agreed he would say they were elite, but only for a women.

So I decided to end the argument with this: I told him to guess the player I was describing, and I would only describe them using their credentials. I said: two-time gold medalist, multi-all star, and has won two championships. He went through many names, and the conclusion was that I was describing Dwayne Wade of the Miami Heat. That was a great answer, but I was talking about Delisha Milton-Jones – a WNBA legend who has accomplished am incredible amount in her career. I had to show him that women do accomplish just as much as men do when it comes to basketball at it’s highest level.

The last reason I can’t take disrespect for the WNBA, is because of how much is expected from these women. Female professional players play ALL YEAR ROUND. Most casual fans of basketball do not understand this. These women rarely get a break from basketball. As soon as their overseas seasons end, the WNBA training camp starts. Sometimes their seasons overlap! These women compete at the highest level ALL the time, with no breaks. This is incredible.

Many NBA players miss significant time during the season with injuries. The ones who don’t and play through injuries get praised mightily by fans and the media. Almost every professional basketball-playing women deals with this their year-round reality daily, and nothing is made of it. They are ironwomen in their own right. I believe there needs to be more praise given to women for their incredible committment.

Ultimately I believe that women are capable of doing what men can do. Does this mean the product will always look the same? No, it does not. But that does not make one product any less valuable than the other.

To recap, I believe the WNBA is disrespected because culturally and historically, Black women have been undervalued. The WNBA is mainly made up of black women, and mainstream white America doesn’t give it a fair chance. No I do not believe that White people are blatantly racist. But I do believe there are apparent racial undertones that we must not ignore. If you feel I’m crazy get on twitter and look at how Britney Griner is treated. Look at comments made about the WNBA and it’s product. I am guaranteeing you they will be offensive. I am also guaranteeing that most of those individuals have never seen a game.

I am passionate about the game of basketball, no matter the gender, race, age, or height of the individual playing it. I ask that others take their personal blinders off so they can as well grow to appreciate all aspects of the game. I hope you take this journey with me in the future, so that the WNBA and it’s product can be seen for what it is, which is an amazing assortment of athletes from all over the world, playing the game they love with passion.

Kevin Watson lives in Illinois. He played college basketball and currently works as a basketball trainer with youth. His twitter handle is: @ba11islife24.