Last week’s record-setting performance by the UConn Huskies women’s basketball team did more than establish a new record for the most consecutive wins in modern college basketball history.
Equally impressive was the remarkable amount of disdain, vitriol and blatant sexism stirred up by their historic accomplishment.
Indeed, what should’ve been a celebration turned into a referendum about the appeal and legitimacy of women’s basketball and—by extension—women’s sports in general.
The dust up began when Geno Auriemma, the UConn women’s head basketball coach, said (the obvious): if the longest winning streak was previously held by a women’s team instead of a famed John Wooden (men’s) team at UCLA, the UConn women would’ve been little more than a footnote in the ESPN news ticker trolling at the bottom of your television screen.
Yeah, he went there. And he’s right.
Before I go any further, I’d like to point out that I fully agree with critics who say that the women’s game is not as deep as the men’s game. It’s not. Obviously.
Maybe that’s partly (or largely) because we prefer our girls to play with dolls, not basketballs, but that’s another column.
I also agree that watching the women play is not as interesting as watching the guys. Sorry, ladies, I just don’t think it is.
That’s not to say, however, that because women aren’t Phi Slama Jama, women’s basketball is any less demanding of a sport, mentally or physically. It still requires exceptional athleticism, hard work, focus and drive to rise to the top and stay there.
So what if the ball is smaller? It’s called being relative. Women are smaller. If we grew to nearly seven feet tall and sported “man hands” and were still using a smaller ball then critics would have a point.
Winning 89 straight games is hard. Even in hopscotch.
Think about it: when was the last time you did 89 of anything in a row by yourself, let alone with a group of people?
Wondering if men and women can break one another’s records is a perfectly legitimate question with valid points on both sides.
But why the anger and disrespect at the suggestion that women can break a men’s record? Would we have witnessed such poor sportsmanship if men were breaking a women’s record?
The men have their records, the women have theirs. In college basketball the women’s record happens to be longer than the men’s. Deal with it.
The history of sports is filled with comparing apples to oranges.
For example, the modern game of football is nothing like the one played even a few decades ago. But that won’t stop us from retiring old records when they’re surpassed.
Brett Farve now holds the record for most consecutive starts in the NFL. The previous champ was another Minnesota Viking, Jim Marshall, who played in the 1960s and 1970s, when conditioning and sports medicine were light years behind where they are today.
Not to mention he was a defensive end who, by the very nature of his position, took more punishment in the trenches than a (yeah, okay, defenseless) quarterback.
Even though Marshall’s achievement is arguably more impressive, we still considered Farve the record-holder without hesitation.
Home runs are another example. They’re the biggest baloney statistic in baseball and not just because of all the asterisks next to the juiced long balls.
But because ball parks are different dimensions. No other sport allows variations in its playing surface. It may make your trip to the ballpark a little more interesting but it makes a serious comparison of hitting (and pitching) records very suspect. But that doesn’t stop baseball or the sports writers from making the comparisons anyway.
Some, like me, may not clear our schedules to watch a women’s basketball game. But it doesn’t mean the UConn women’s accomplishment isn’t significant because women can’t dunk like Blake Griffin. Give me a break.
What that point of view really says is that women’s sports are fundamentally inferior because they’re played by women who are not as athletic as men.
Tell that to Serena Williams. Or Lindsay Vonn. Or Martina Navratilova. Or, or, or.
Maybe they can’t defeat their male competitors in head-to-head competition but it doesn’t mean their downhill runs or finals matches were any less compelling to watch—or difficult to achieve.
Of course, not everyone slammed the UConn women and their sport like Dwight Howard in a Superman costume. But enough did to serve as a reminder that women (athletes) are judged by different rules. Not that any of us forgot but a splash of cold water in the face is always refreshing.
In an age where the news is filled with stories of (male) athletes getting caught in the crosshairs of the law, cheating on tests and accepting or soliciting illegal benefits (or all three if you’re the Heisman Trophy winner), it’s refreshing to celebrate a group of (female) athletes for their historic performance.
Ladies, you done good.