ESPN Does UConn Women a Dissservice

Cecil HarrisCorrespondent IDecember 20, 2010

President Obama hosting the UConn Lady Huskies at the White House
President Obama hosting the UConn Lady Huskies at the White HouseMark Wilson/Getty Images

ESPN has been around since 1979. I still remember when the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network used its flagship program, SportsCenter, to report news, not to try to create news or shape public opinion.

I remember when a credible SportsCenter anchor like Bob Ley or the late Tom Mees would have reported the story of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team this way:

"The UConn Lady Huskies extended the longest winning streak in women’s college basketball history to 88 games with a victory over Ohio State at Madison Square Garden yesterday."

That’s it. Concise and, above all, accurate.

But that’s not the ESPN of today. The S in ESPN now stands for Selling hyperbole.

The ESPN of today wants you to believe that any significant athletic accomplishment in this era is better than anything that happened before. If ESPN can convince you of that, then the network believes you will be more willing to buy whatever it wants to sell.

And the ESPN of today is always selling.

Here is how ESPN anchor Hannah Storm—a middle-aged broadcaster who should know better—breathlessly reported the Connecticut women’s story on SportsCenter this morning:

"The UConn women won their 88th consecutive basketball game yesterday, tying the record set by John Wooden’s legendary UCLA Bruins from 1971 to 1974. The Lady Huskies can set the all-time record with a victory at home tomorrow night against Florida State."

It is asinine to compare women’s basketball to men’s basketball. They are completely different sports.

ESPN does a disservice to the Connecticut women by trying to force a comparison between their winning streak in a sport that has not yet evolved into a game played above the rim to the achievement of the Wooden-coached, Bill Walton-led UCLA teams of the 1970s.

Such a bogus comparison insults the intelligence of the ESPN audience.

It also gives people license to dismiss women’s basketball, for that sport will never be on a par with the men’s game, given the stark differences in athleticism and physicality between male and female players.

It does not matter if the Connecticut women win 150 consecutive games. Their streak will never be better than, or comparable to, the UCLA streak.

The streaks are different, because the sports are different.

Unless Maya Moore or any other member of the Connecticut women’s team is capable of stepping onto the court and performing creditably against today’s male players—and we know that would not be the case—there should be no attempt to equate women’s basketball, past or present, to men’s basketball.

Yet ESPN insists on forging an apples-and-oranges comparison between the UConn women and the UCLA men, apparently after arriving at the simplistic conclusion that apples and oranges are both fruits.

ESPN did the same nonsense several years ago when Tennessee women’s hoops coach Pat Summit got close to winning as many games as Dean Smith and Bob Knight won in men’s college basketball.

For weeks, we heard babbling from SportsCenter anchors about Summit’s bid to "break Smith’s record" or "pass Knight."

The Summit hyperbole became so unrelenting that I switched channels whenever ESPN aired a story about her. Many viewers did likewise, not because of any harsh feelings about Summit, a marvelous coach and teacher, but because of the contrived nature of ESPN’s reporting.

I sent ESPN a letter at the time, urging the network to stop doing a disservice to Summit. That she has won the most games in women’s basketball history is enough. Just report it that way. Don’t try to force down our throats a comparison between her and Dean Smith, or her and Bob Knight, as if their sports are exactly the same.

Since ESPN has ignored my advice, I will have no choice but to respond this way during Wednesday morning’s SportsCenter:

"Last night, the UConn Lady Huskies broke UCLA’s record with their 89th..."