Coach Geno Auriemma after his UConn team won its record-setting 89th straight game.
Looking back at 2010, I did two things I never thought I would do. The first was I watched and thoroughly enjoyed World Cup soccer. The second was I went to more than one WNBA game, and I-gasp-enjoyed every minute of them.
Our society has a set of norms like any society. However, for all of our freedoms as Americans, our society is not as progressive as some would have us believe. Look no further than to the world of sports for proof.
I grew up in the St. Louis Metro-East area and was one of very few Black people I went to school with. I still remember laughing at our sweet elementary school PE teacher who could not tell the handful of us Black boys apart.
Despite my teacher's inablity to tell us apart, I loved all the sports we played in class, and Iooked forward to playing them outside of class as well. I'd play basketball, football, soccer, hockey (I just ran because I didn't have rollerblades), baseball, whatever. I just loved sports. As I got older I found out soccer and hockey are "for White people." Obviously not being White, I grew away from those sports. Make no mistake, it wasn't White people telling me I couldn't play with them. It was other Black kids telling me those sports weren't for "us."
It was bad enough people told me I "talked White" (Heaven forbid a young Black man speak with big words and have his subject and verb agree). I didn't want to play a White sport too. I stuck with just basketball and football because that's what society dictated.
Fast forward to this past spring. I watched the soccer team at my school where I work play a few games en route to them winning the championship. It was ok for me to watch them though because the majority of the kids on my school's team were Mexican, so it was a part of their culture. After watching enough, I began to understand the game beyond just running around kicking the ball as a kid.
Later when the World Cup rolled around, I was excited. Culture and society be damned. I'm a grown man, and if I wanted to watch soccer, so be it! It helped that there are other Black men on our US National team, but it wasn't about them. It was about me doing something I enjoyed. I even surprised myself one match when I blurted out my best soccer lingo, "mark up!"
The story was much the same for women's basketball, I helped coach the girls at my school to a championship over the winter and went to a few Mercury games during the summer, and loved them. Are the individual athletes the same as I'd see watching the Suns play? Of course not. Is the game itself as enjoyable? Yes. At times, perhaps even more so.
Therein lies the problem. If as a Black kid, I wasn't supposed to play soccer or hockey, as a heterosexual man I'm certainly not supposed to like WNBA basketball, right? Wrong. It's almost 2011. We can put a freaking man on the moon. Perhaps we could evolve a little as a species.
When I mentioned to someone I went to a WNBA game, the first thing they asked me was, "What about the lesbians?" Uh...what about them? To be 100% honest, I hadn't noticed the rest of the crowd other than the fact there was a line for the women's restroom, but not the men's.
After that encounter with my homophobic friend, I noticed a larger number of women I assumed to be lesbians than the game prior because it had been brought to my attention. I guess I noticed some baffoonery, but no more than any other sporting event I had ever been to, and certainly none of it had anything to do with the sexual orientation of the fans. All the same, I enjoyed the basketball game because that was why I was there.
The point being, our accepting, progressive society is still backwards in many areas. Coach Auriemma said some people feel women belong "in the kitchen." To take it a step further, I believe our society wants these young ladies to be sexual objects more than we expect them in the kitchen.
Why do most men know who Jenni Finch and Anna Kournakova are? It's not because they're good at softball or tennis. It's because they're good looking. Many men are ok to applaud women's accomplishment as long as they can add, "She's hot," at the end of the accolade, but to truly appreciate women's accomplishments simply based on merit is much tougher for all too many to do.
Sexism? Homophobia? Chauvinism? These are a few taboo subjects that are at play when comparing Auriemma's UConn teams and Wooden's UCLA teams. Soon the storm will blow over and we'll be back arguing over more manly things like why TCU's undefeated season isn't good enough to play for the national championship.
For the sake of women's sports we need to keep talking about it. For the sake of society as a whole we need to keep talking about it.