Have you filled out your NCAA brackets yet…for women’s basketball? Yes, girls actually play in the tournament and Texas usually has a very good representation including my alma mater the Baylor Lady Bears, a number one seed this year and former NCAA tournament champions. Bracket postings are all over the Internet and typically they’re focused on men’s basketball. I’ve learned over the years that to be a fan of women’s basketball you have to have more heart than the average basketball fan. You have to be willing to go to empty stadiums. You have to request–as I often do–for a bartender to turn ONE TV to a woman’s game on Fox Sports Southwest or whatever obscure cable channel is maybe broadcasting the game that day. At one bar in Uptown, I got stuffed in the corner with a tiny TV by the ATM machine. But that’s OK. I get why women in sports bars would rather cheer for men than stick with the girls. I’m one of a few female basketball fans among my circle of girlfriends. My own husband has made snarky comments: “They sell tickets to those games? I thought they just gave them away.” I punched him hard for that.
I wasn’t always a huge fan of women’s basketball. I played very briefly in elementary, junior high and high school, but I remember watching Michigan’s Fab 5 in the ’90s and Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, etc. play on TV. I also remember women like Sheryl Swoopes. I think because I sucked so much at basketball I gravitated toward females who could play well. I was short, stubby and prone to forget plays, but female college ball players like Swoopes were magicians. Today, they dunk like Brittney Griner of Baylor, a behemoth on the court whose fist fight at Texas Tech caught national attention last year. Girls get physical? What?!? Yes, they do. Female coaches yell, too. They also dress well and, no, not every girl on the bench is a lesbian. Let the fantasy go. I’m not a lesbian for watching, either! Stop that stereotype as well.
What I don’t get though is the fascination with mediocre men’s teams by sorta hanger on fans only interested in basketball when the NFL season is over. The UConn Huskies were one of the most successful basketball dynasties this year comparable to the famed UCLA squads of the 70s (the girl’s actually beat the guy’s record with 89 straight wins in a row, the men had 88). Thankfully, sports writers did pay attention and gave the girls’ their due. Though some called their successful season “bad for the sport” and said the Lady Huskies were “too dominant for their own good.” I wonder if they would have said that about a men’s team? Having one dominant team in any sport isn’t ideal, but for women’s basketball, it at least drew some much needed attention. Girls can play basketball. Well. And they can win. But if I asked you to name just five professional women’s basketball players could you do it? Or even teams? Or five college female basketball coaches? I’ll admit, I’d have to Google a few because I know their faces better than their names, but I know I can list male ball players without thinking.
It’s a shame now that a Bikini Basketball league is sprouting up. With teams names like the Texas Hot Sauce and Indiana Milkshake, they may threaten the already fledgling WNBA, and they do a disservice to the talented women who make up both collegiate and professional basketball. Girls bouncing around in bikinis handling balls. If that’s the only way to get more eyes focused on women’s basketball, will the WNBA sex up their players, too? Men, of course, don’t have to worry about this issue. Missing tooth, barely able to speak to a reporter on live camera, 7 feet tall, it’s all part of the allure for men’s sports. They’re praised and not ridiculed for their physique. Trust me. It’s not easy for a 6 foot girl anywhere except the runway. Yet with all this drama, this inequality (especially the broadcast time men’s basketball gets to women’s) there are dedicated fans out there who will pay the discount ticket price to sit in a near empty stadium. Moms and dads who passionately cheer their daughters on. Male ball players who will sit and watch their female counterparts play. Bands and cheerleaders still try and rev up a crowd and little girls watch in awe as women dominant the court and maybe just a few think, “I want to grow up and be like her.” On a recent trip to Waco, I was stuck in the last row at the top of the coliseum watching the Lady Bears play. It was wonderful! Yet, despite the negativity, the non attention and the stupid stereotypes that still plague women’s basketball, I’d still rather be one of a few proud female basketball fans than a face among the thousands of weak hangers-on watching another guy team play.