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Jewish World Review Sept. 3, 1999 /22 Elul, 5759

Debbie Schlussel

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WNBA “players” are the female firefighters of pro sports

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- DO YOU KNOW who Chamique Holdsclaw is? Or how about, Yolanda Griffith? I wouldn’t know, either. Except that in the place of the real professional sports that I usually watch, they’ve been foisted upon me.

You see, these women play for the WNBA.

What’s the WNBA? Will Never Be Accepted? Could be. Weird Nuisance Brought on America? Close. Will Net Bupkus Association? Pretty accurate. But, actually the WNBA purportedly stands for ... Women’s National Basketball Association.

For me and most true sports fans, however, it’s really the Wannabe — and Will Never Be— NBA. And it’s not real pro sports, but rather, another insidious affirmative action program.

If you’re not "into" sports, don’t stop reading here. This article isn’t really about sports. It’s about the ludicrous notion that mandates equal rights for women in every arena, including those where they are clearly not equal. Not because of "patriarchal standards" --- but because immutable physical constraints make it so.

The WNBA is just another attempt to land women into a profession where men are clearly, infinitely more qualified. WNBA “players” are the female firefighters of pro sports. They’re too weak to carry you out of a burning building, but who cares about a life, when you have the moral highground on the equal rights front. Who cares about real basketball, when you can have the WNBA?

The WNBA, just like other women’s professional sports, is a result of the unworthy natural progression of Title IX, the law enacted in the 70’s ostensibly to give women equal rights in education in all aspects, including high school and college sports.

This weekend, the WNBA is in the midst of its Championship Finals, a monumental event in any other sports league. But not in this one, because no one cares. Holdsclaw is the WNBA Rookie of the Year, and Griffith is its MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. But no one knows who they are, and no one cares.

As basketball —or even entertainment— it’s below substandard. It’s the lite beer version of basketball. Perhaps, then, it’s no coincidence that Bud Lite is a WNBA sponsor. The only difference is nobody’s saying, “Tastes great, less filling” about this sad excuse for basketball.

Unlike the NBA, the WNBA owns the teams, and they are “operated” by the front offices of the NBA teams in their respective cities. Probably because pro sports is now a business, not a charity, and no business-minded NBA team owner would own a WNBA team, unless he wanted a sure anti-investment or was mentally unstable. (The L.A. and Charlotte teams want to discontinue WNBA operations, permanently.)

In the Detroit area, where I live, our “hometown” WNBA team is the “Detroit Shock.” They played the Charlotte Sting in the first “round” of the Playoffs, playoffs in which half the leagues 12 teams make it — no stellar achievement, especially with a losing season record of 15-17, in the Shock’s case.

Most sports teams include the game attendance in the stats they release to the press. Not the Shock, which strangely forgot to include those numbers at each regular season game. Wonder why? The Shock announced a paltry attendance of just below 7,000 for the playoff game.

Perhaps they've lifted a page from the "playbook" of the “Million Man March” organizers (where there were actually, at most, only 300,000 men).

Basketball babe?: Griffith
I forced myself to suffer through this “game,” and, in reality, they were lucky if they had 2,000 in attendance. What an embarrassment for a “sports” team.

And what’s an even bigger joke, is that this first round of WNBA Playoffs consisted of a series of one game. That’s a Playoff series?

(The Semifinals and Finals are only the best of three games.)

Well, considering both teams at the Shock-Sting game, missed 26 of the first 29 shots —akin to the Keystone Kops version of basketball — they probably wanted to get the torture of watching this pathetic display overwith quickly.

Making sports fans suffer is not only cruel. It's dumb. Especially in a time when we can enjoy watching a more exciting old hoops game from the ‘70s on ESPN Classic. Though the final score is already known, it’s still a far more productive use of time.

Last season, the WNBA slogan was “We Got Next,” but I’m not sure anyone even cared who got first.

Leaguewide, this season -- its third -- only 5 teams had average attendance over 10,000. Some teams averaged about 5,000 in attendance. And, again, these figures probably included people buried in the cemetery down the street. In the real free market of sports, this league, too, would have been dead and buried long ago, just like the other recently failed women’s basketball league, the ABL.

But don’t delude yourself into believing this is the free market. Women’s sports, professionally and at the collegiate level, generally can’t compete on the true free market, and are usually heavily subsidized and losing money, a la the WNBA.

Through lawsuits, the NOW Gang have achieved an interpretation of Title IX that mandates an equal number of scholarships for male and female athletes, even though many more men than women show interest in pursuing such opportunities.

And they haven’t stopped there. The feminists have sounded a repeated clarion call (read: threat) to pro sports team owners that they, too, had better produce equality soon . . . or else. Thus, the WNBA, women’s soccer, etc. These female sports activists say that young girls need role models. But who says you have to have role models of the same sex. When I was a competitive high school and college tennis player, I didn't look up to the butch Martina Navratilova or the boring Chris Evert. My heroes were the controversial John McEnroe and the cool Jimmy Connors, and it didn't matter that they didn't have the same type of plumbing I did. They were the best and most exciting tennis players, and that's what matters.

Next, it’s the salaries those in the women’s athletics crowd complain about. Like in pro tennis, where men have to play the best of five sets and women only play the best of three; where the men have exciting, charismatic male players like the electric Andre Agassi, and the women have boring, unappealing players like Lindsay Davenport; where the biggest story of this year’s women’s circuit was Alexandra
Never won a tournament:
Kournikova
Stevenson, not because of her tennis, but because it was disclosed she’s former pro basketball star Julius “Dr. J” Erving’s illegitimate, biracial daughter; where the most popular and well-paid female player ($10 million yearly in endorsements), Anna Kournikova, hasn’t ever won a tournament and isn’t even in the top ten. Hint: She’s dating Detroit Red Wing, Sergei Federov, and he doesn’t date ugly women. It’s not her tennis that people care about.

The WNBA is no different. The league’s biggest story was also off the basketball court — the cancer death of point guard Kim Perrot. And the WNBA is milking this story for all it’s worth because there’s not much to milk on the court. Yet, the receipt of a kidney transplant by NBA player Sean Elliott of the San Antonio Spurs is getting much more attention, another illustration that fans could care less about the WNBA.

This season, the WNBA slogan is “We Got Game.” In reality, they don’t “Got Game.” They ripped this off from the basketball adage “He Got Game.” But, if men were playing in this league, it would have been out of business long ago. None of these WNBA teams could beat my little brother’s high school basketball team. And that’s no exaggeration. The Shock, like most WNBA and women’s college basketball teams, practice against has-been high school and college men’s basketball players, some of whom are even middle-aged, and —surprise, surprise— the WNBA teams lose to them.

Yet, all season long, the Detroit Shock's coach wrote an annoying column that no one read, whining about “a lack of respect for our team.” And Sharon Manning of the Charlotte Sting had the gall to complain to Sports Illustrated that her team is not on page one of the Charlotte paper’s sports section. “We get no respect. We’re not treated like the NBA.”

But there’s a reason that the average NBA player’s salary is $2.6 million, and the average WNBA player’s salary is $30,000 (which for about 30 thin games of nothing is still too high). There's a reason the WNBA is the Rodney Dangerfield of pro sports. Who would you rather pay to see, Grant Hill or Dawn Staley (if you even know who she is)?

Why have respect for a team or league where the best player would never be able to compete in the NBA, a team or league that can’t even come close to playing the same level as the men’s game, regulation-wise or physically? For example, the WNBA’s shot clock is a whopping 30 seconds, but the NBA only allows its players a more excitingly difficult 24 seconds to make a basket. WNBA teams get 8 team fouls per half, while NBA teams get only 5. The WNBA clock stops in the last minute of each half and/or overtime following a successful basket, but the NBA clock stops in the last two minutes, making the game much more urgent, exciting, and competitive. The WNBA has no passing game to speak of, more turnovers than a rollercoaster ride, and as much defense as Luxembourg. What’s left is lack of basketball. And where are the slam-dunks? There are none. No plain dunks, either. There’s no Michael Jordan in the WNBA. (The only thing that comes close is player Sheryl Swoopes baby boy, Jordan, and he can probably make better shots than the women in his mom’s league.) Why pay these boring physically inferior athletes the same as their lustrous, male NBA counterparts?

Male models don’t get paid as much for doing the same job as the more popular Cindy Crawford and Christy Turlington, but you don’t hear them complaining.
Worth her keep?: Turlington

None of the WNBA moves are worthy of a televised replay, but the television networks attempt them anyway, because they have to pretend this is a real sport with real TV coverage. I mean, how many underhanded lay-ups can you watch in slow motion before you get a headache? That is, if you’re even watching the television coverage.

In Detroit — a basketball town — the NBC affiliate, WDIV, chose to show old Perry Mason movies instead of WNBA games. Mason gets higher ratings. “Some of the games . . . nobody watches . . . . We won’t allow ourselves to be killed on an exploratory mission,” the station’s program director Henry Muldonado said. So many sponsors signing up with the WNBA to reach female viewers and so little response.

ESPN reports that its largest female audiences watch men’s sports, like NBA and NFL games, three to ten times the viewership of women’s sports, an interest that hasn’t changed with recent marketing ploys by the WNBA and others, according to an ESPN Chilton Sports Poll. Ratings are everything in pro sports, unless you’re a women’s league. To give you an idea of how weak the WNBA is, they don’t even have the newly resurrected Marv Albert covering the games. They have guys like Matthew Laurance. No not the cheesy Matthew Lawrence from the 80’s TV show “Gimme a Break.” It’s the cheesy Matthew Laurance from the 90’s show “Beverly Hills 90210.” (He’s the guy who played David Silver’s dentist father, and he got the job because of his “friendship”—whatever that means—with Detroit Shock Coach Nancy Lieberman-Cline.)

And have you seen the circuslike orange and white “basketball” they play with in the WNBA. They don’t need a fancy, colorful ball in men’s basketball because the men have fancy, colorful moves and shots. It’s no surprise that there’s not even a (gambling) line on the WNBA in Las Vegas because no one cares enough to bet money on it. Most people probably just hope all the teams lose. Pro wrestling is more exciting and overwhelmingly more popular, and it’s fake. Then there’s the first WNBA All-Star game, played this season, with ads asking fans to vote for their favorite “WNBA All Stars.” Isn’t it an oxymoron to use WNBA and the phrase “All-Star” in the same sentence? Who’s heard of any of these people. They’re All-Stars? They’re not even Semi-Stars.

There’s a reason the WNBA doesn’t play during the NBA season. Absolutely everyone would watch real basketball—the NBA—over the apocryphal version. It’s human nature that men want to watch men play sports. They want to be them. They identify with them, not with a 6’7” woman from Korea. It’s also human nature that most women want to watch men play pro basketball. There’s a sexual attraction there, and you’ll never find that affinity, from members of either sex, for the WNBA’s average alien—a 6’3”, muscular woman with which there’s no identification. The few women who are into the WNBA—well, people who like “Ally McBeal” aren’t really sports fans. The fact is, men are physically stronger, they are faster, and they are better at sports. That’s the way it has always been, and that’s the way it will always be. Real women don’t play pro basketball. They watch men play in the NBA. Given all this, it’s shocking that there’s a WNBA Fantasy League.

My Fantasy League has real basketball players —men— playing in it. They won’t let male Bill May into synchronized swimming, and they shouldn’t let women play pro basketball, either.


JWR contributor Debbie Schlussel is a Detroit-based sports and entertainment agent, attorney and commentator. Send your comments to her by clicking here.


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©1999, Debbie Schlussel