Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Congrats to Texas A&M Women's Basketball Team/Women & Sports

As I watched the women's basketball team of Texas A&M bring an exciting win in the NCAA tournament last night, Twitter was aflutter with remarks on what an enthralling game this was and how this championship game was more exciting than the men's game the night before (though unfortunately,this year's men's game ranked as one of the more abysmal wins, with one of the lowest scoring average of a team as one of its stats).  On the flip side, Twitter was also rich in comments such as "Network TV so lame on Tuesday nights, I'm actually watching the NCAA Women's game".

So here is the question--what does it take to get women's sports elevated to the same level of interest and well, respect, as men's?  To begin with, I understand that not all sports are equally popular.  Here in the US, the NFL generates much larger revenue than the NHL.  And likewise, as much as we were glued to the "Final Four" in basketball, the NCAA Ice Hockey championships run nearly concurrently and feature a "Frozen Four" that goes comparably unnoticed unless you live where ice hockey is hugely popular, i.e., in a state that borders Canada.  So I am not wondering why each sport that women play doesn't get airtime or respect, but more on a corresponding level--why is women tourney dissed in regards to men's?

I also recognize that female athletics have more viewership, interest, and respect on an individual level. According to Forbes, in 2010 top earners for female athletes were Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Danica Patrick, Kim Yu-Na, Annika Sorenstam--all tops in individual sports such as tennis, racing, figure skating, and golf.  To that end, endorsements is one of the more objective measures of popularity--the corporate bottom line isn't interested in generating interest in a particular athlete or gender, it's meant to profit from one that is already a celebrated and in-demand winner.  On a tangential note, despite these ladies making millions in endorsements, there is still a huge gap between the female top earners and male top earners like Tiger Woods and LeBron James.

I can't help but point out a key exception of success of females in individual sports are those in the typically "male" sports that have contact. Wow, still a huge, huge uphill climb. There have been some inroads to rising above the novelty aspects of women's wrestling in the 70s and "foxy boxing" in the 80s with athletes like Laila Ali, Gina Carano, and Cris Cyborg bringing legitimacy to the ring.  The irony is that for the most part, the women participating in the sexified versions, as well as in today's Lingerie Football League, were, and are, true athletes who would rather forgo the costumes and salacious dynamic and just play the sport, but there appears to be a natural disinclination to seeing women get physically hurt without a coat of prurience to wash it down.  I had mentioned in a post a women's MMA fight that I had reckoned would almost send women's MMA back in the closet--it was such an uneven match, that it was stomach-churning to watch this one woman get literally beat-up (albeit by a woman).  To be fair, it would have been equally nauseating to view a comparably uneven male match and see a man pounded to an equivalent pulp.

Ironically, even as a woman who wants to promote women in sports, I only watch women's sports for "the big ones" like this tourney and I have yet to watch a full WNBA game (though frankly, as Paul pointed out, I haven't seen a lot of full NBA games either) or lots of other women's teams or events unless it's for a title.

I can make general guesses at the popularity of men's sports over women's (e.g., baseball over softball, mens's basketball over women's):  the men's games are faster, stronger, and more bombastic and dynamic with the home runs and slam dunks with the entertaining accompanying of chest bumps and roars.  And in a similar vein of women in full-contact sports, it seems that folks in general aren't extolling similar behavior in women, whether they are ripping off their jerseys or chest-bumping (in non-sexy ways, mind you).  But watching the women's Final Four NCAA games was just as exciting as any of the men's tourney games--with lead changes and clutch shots at the end.  I confess that the earlier rounds, however, were much less exciting with double digit point spreads winning out.

So then does it come down to depth of field?  Does women's sports simply lack the depth of field to make it more exciting, where there are a handful of dominating players divided among a handful of teams?  Does it border on becoming a joke or just plain boring that it's always Tennesse, UConn, and Stanford that is expected be crowned national champion in women's basketball?  Gary Blair, Texas A&M's coach, had it right when he said his team winning was one of the best things to happen to women's basketball.--a win by an unexpected team, specifically a team that never even made it to the Final Four before, add a much-needed shakeup to this tournament.

And I agree.  What the women's tourney needs is some more madness.  As one who was not raised in sports, I would say that one thing that has played a big part in increasing my viewership has been the gambling aspect. If I wasn't in a football pool, I highly doubt I would have watched and followed so many NFL games.  I know with the proliferation of fantasy leagues and other pools, I am not the only one.  And what makes the March Madness pool so engaging is that there are so many upsets (yes, I know, REAL upsets). If the Women's tourney ever reach that level of madness, I think the brackets would be more exciting to gamble on and watch.

I realize I kind of rambled in different directions on this (and I have more thoughts) but I'll close out for now, hope I've given some food for thought, and say this:  Congratulations to the Texas A&M Women's basketball team on their NCAA championship win.  I hope this is a sign of exciting seasons to come for women's sports.


Paul said...

Cris "Cyborg" Santos

Tom said...
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