A new sport order

Misha Jones. Photo courtesy of William and Mary Athletics.
William & Mary’s Misha Jones is a team captain. Photo courtesy of William and Mary Athletics.

Ever since I can remember, women’s basketball has taken a backseat to men’s basketball in the basketball world.

If I were to ask the average person if they’ve heard of Kobe Bryant, they’d likely say yes, but, If I were to ask the same person if they’ve heard of Diana Taurasi, they’d have no idea who I’m referring to. More fans go to NBA games on average than WNBA games. Men’s college teams are often the main breadwinners, while women’s teams have to fight and claw for the same support, even if a school’s women’s program is more successful.

If you’re reading this, you probably (hopefully) think this is absurd, just like I do. But the absurdity reveals itself even further when considering some of the reasons why such discrepancies exist.

To me, the most mind-boggling reason why so many people prefer men’s basketball to women’s basketball is that they think men’s basketball is more “exciting.” To clarify, based on my own personal inquiries into the matter, this usually means that a game’s excitement is contingent upon the amount of acrobatics and high-flying dunks on display; the “shiny objects,” my dad calls them.

In my humble opinion, the beauty of the game of basketball is in the details. Basketball played at the highest level requires an array of finely-tuned skills that go underappreciated all too often. I get more excited about a player threading the needle on a great look to a cutting teammate than I do an uncontested dunk on a fast break. Or, I’ll go nuts over a well-executed play at the end of the shot clock. I’d rather watch a chess match of a game on television than a track meet between teams who play a one-on-one brand of basketball. However, I understand that not everyone watches for or cares about the smaller nuances of what makes teams and players great, and that is why when there aren’t as many “shiny objects” to pull them in, a lot of spectators lose interest.

I also recognize the unfortunate reality of deeply-rooted sexism in the world at large and the lasting effect it has had on basketball culture. Female players deal with all sorts of insulting jabs at their profession; the most popular lines seem to revolve around the idea that women belong in the kitchen and not on the court. But, I’ll refrain from delving much deeper into the relationship between sexism and basketball. You can easily find plenty of Twitter trolls fostering that connection if you so choose, and quite frankly, it’s exhausting to write about.

Perhaps what saddens me the most is that female players aren’t immune to negative feelings or indifference about women’s basketball either. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked a teammate who their favorite WNBA team is just to have them tell me they don’t really follow the WNBA. Or, how many times I’ve seen a young girl at a basketball camp and asked who her favorite player was, only to hear the name of an NBA star in response.

I suppose that is why I wanted to play college basketball in the first place. So many young women are exposed to a male-dominated basketball landscape, and I wanted to be a part of changing that. I’m not a superstar by any means, but when I go home, I talk to the young girls from my area about the game just like the players who came before me did. I try to teach them what was taught to me. I try to help them realize that they can go just as far as any of the boys in our area, and even further if they work hard enough. Girls are allowed to be just as ambitious as the boys are, to set goals just as high, because if we don’t then who will?

I look forward to the day that female players are lauded for their abilities just as heavily as male athletes are, and that we no longer have to debate our abilities to anyone with half an interest in the game. But until then, all of us who see the absurdity of inequality for what it is must boldly speak up and out to the younger generations, to help foster a climate where a basketball player is allowed to be simply and extraordinarily that.