Women's Hoops Blog

Inane commentary on a game that deserves far better

Monday, June 02, 2003

In April, Stacey Pressman wrote this article for the Weekly Standard explaining why women's basketball sucks. She has now essentially reproduced the same article and published it on ESPN Page 2.

Stacey does occasional sports reporting on ESPN Page 2. Well, not exactly sports reporting -- here she tells about a date, here she talks about being single, etc.

Her writing style is kind of like blogging: lots of quotation marks and rhetorical questions and parentheticals and exclamation points. Occasionally clever, if a bit too cute.

At times, her grammar slips: "To his credit, he's a very nice guy, whom, upon reading this column, will no doubt come after me . . ." (Stacey, when who introduces a subordinate clause, its case depends on the function in the clause. In the clause "[who] will no doubt come after me," use the nominative pronoun. Buy a copy of Fowler, Strunk & White, or Garner. And avoid hypercorrections -- those are the most annoying mistakes to read.)

Stacey, who apparently has been to one WNBA game (the Sun's opener against LA), thinks that women's hoops is boring.

There are a few obvious reasons to question her judgment. Given her earlier article, it's a little disingenuous of her to suggest that she went to Mohegan to see what it's like, as if she had an open mind about the whole thing. Her suggestion that she's generally a big women's sports fan also seems dubious. I won't hold my breath waiting to see an article in the Weekly Standard by Stacey explaining why women's soccer or gymnastics are terrific, entertaining, and popular.

Even if she did pay some attention to the Sun-Sparks contest (doubtful), it would be silly to make an assessment of all of women's basketball based on that one game. I doubt she's watched more than a few women's games in her whole life, and she isn't exactly inundated with women's hoops highlights watching SportsCenter. The game she went to was Connecticut's first game ever, and it was a bad one -- the teams combined shot about 35%. Watching an early season game like that can be painful, but play isn't always so sloppy.

To be sure, basketball is pretty boring sometimes -- actually, much of the time. When you just watch the highlights on the news, you receive the false impression of a beautiful contest among godlike creatures. Most games, however, are filled crap, sloppy play, laziness, and mistakes. But this is just as true for the men as it is for the women. Early season NBA games are notoriously terrible. And, if field goal percentage is any indication, then the NBA overall is just about as boring as the WNBA.

That said, we shouldn't put the WNBA or its players beyond criticism. The quality of play does need improvement, and the league's marketing is occasionally silly -- see, e.g., the hype about Lisa's dunk last year.

Moreover, there are real reasons why reasonable people might like the men's game better than the women's. If your favorite things in basketball are the super-human individual athletic feats -- the sick dunks, the oops, the air time -- you might, like Stacey, prefer the NBA. But at least try to appreciate that not all great plays are above the rim, and that there are some individual plays in the women's game that defy words. Sometimes watching Taurasi evokes the same feeling as watching Kobe -- see, e.g., her left-handed baseline fadeaway in the championship.

It would be one thing if Stacey merely expressed some preference for men's ball. But her point isn't just that she doesn't like women's hoops -- she suggests that no one really does ("virtually no one watches women's basketball").

She says: "Like a portion of the WNBA's fans, I'm finally coming out of the closet."

(Let's pause for a moment to appreciate Stacey's sly double-entendre. Oh yes, her use of the closet metaphor would make Eve Sedgwick proud! You see, one of Stacey's astute observations is that many WNBA fans are lesbians. Exactly how that's relevant to her arguments about women's hoops is not immediately clear -- but we'll see in a minute.)

Stacey says that if we'd all just be honest, we'd admit that we don't really like women's ball. Really? Am I lying, or have I been brain-washed? Stacey says that no one cares about players like Sue Bird and Chamique Holdsclaw once they leave college. Really? As I've been saying for the last few days, the bigger problem is that people care too much about Sue Bird. Stacey say that TV ratings aren't good. True, but does that prove that "women's basketball sucks"? The ratings for the NBA finals will be down this year, but it might be the most exciting championship in years.

Stacey says that she's not going to pretend to like women's hoops just because she's a woman. Congratulations. But why assume that everyone else is pretending? It is, after all, possible to both enjoy the quality of the play and have a special appreciation because it's women playing. Is it unreasonable for parents of girls (basketball players or not) to want their kids to see women play? Are those people "pretending"?

But what really annoys Stacey isn't so much basketball as gender politics. Once you get past the first few paragraphs of her articles, you see that she doesn't have much substantive to say about the game.

Rather, she's fed up with "political correctness." She doesn't like it that you're labeled a "sexist pig" if you don't like women's hoops. She's pissed that the "gender wars" have invaded sports programming. She hates how the vast left-wing conspiracy has taken over the television networks, even sports networks like ESPN (not usually known for its left-wing politics). She's tired of those academic feminists trying to jam women's basketball down her throat.

Now we see the relevance of the lesbian references. Probably those lesbians in the crowd are also part of the secret compact among Ivy League women's studies departments, Title IX advocates, ESPN, and Val Ackerman to take over the world.

There's not much to say in response to Stacey's middle-brow political rants. Some people, like me, love women's hoops, perhaps in part for political reasons. Some people, like Stacey, hate it, in part for political reasons. Politics, to some extent, suffuses sports and our preferences related to sports. We shouldn't be surprised about that.

Stacey interned at the National Review, a conservative magazine. She's written for the Weekly Standard, another conservative magazine. Stacey is conservative. She uses criticism of women's hoops as a vehicle for conservative politics. How original. At least she's up front about it -- lots of sports writers do the same thing unwittingly.

Ultimately, though she has a touch of wit, Stacey's work doesn't contribute much to the debate in either sports or politics. She's an opportunistic young writer who's just trying to get published -- who can blame her for that? -- but her anti-women's hoops arguments are vacuous and banal.