Prior to this year and aside from high school basketball, I could count on my fingers how many women’s basketball games I had seen in my life. It’s a sad and embarrassing fact, but true, and I’m sure the typical sports fan may also be somewhere in that ballpark, especially if that sports fan is male.
The truth is that there is stigma around women’s sports in general, and a lot of it comes from sexism. The view that women’s sports are for some reason less is a problem in society and can be seen in every sport and every corner.
But it is time for a cultural reset.
This year, the WNBA Draft was on ESPN for the first time. It took a pandemic for that to happen. Regardless, the WNBA got two hours of ESPN screen time in arguably the most important draft in the organization’s history.
University of Oregon guard Sabrina Ionescu was the first pick in the draft. Ionescu is the first Division I player ever to score 2,000 points, log 1,000 rebounds and 1000 assists. That includes men’s basketball as well. Her selection to the New York Liberty may mark the first time that a majority of sports fans know the number one pick, or any pick, in the WNBA Draft.
Ionescu is arguably one of the best basketball players in the world, male or female. Her skill, leadership and stats prove that, yet the comments about her selection remained negative from those who don’t follow the sport.
“WNBA is still a thing..,” one reply to the selection on the WNBA’s twitter said.
“Does anybody actually care???,“ "go and wash the dishes” and “haha she already got hall of fame sandwich maker, and silver dishwasher” were among the other comments.
While many of the tweets were positive, negativity still made its way in. There was no critique about her play, why she shouldn’t have gone number one or other concerns, instead she got “go and wash the dishes."
Sexism is present in women's sports, as are ignorant people in the world. The unfortunate reality is that as long as one exists, the other will as well.
I’m not writing this for those people, rather I’m writing to those who appreciate sports for what they are: sports.
I spent the second half of my freshman year of college covering the Michigan State women’s basketball team. Honestly and ignorantly, I had no idea what to expect coming in.
But I love sports — I love covering sports, I love covering basketball, and I was getting the chance to do that.
It didn’t take me long to get hooked.
For everything that men’s basketball is, women’s basketball matches it. Sure, there aren't very many dunks, but the sport exists in a world of its own.
Ball movement and execution of plays is essential. Those that think that women’s knowledge of the game is any less are mistaken.
I was able to sit in on Suzy Merchant’s postgame press conferences and get inside the heads of the players after their biggest moments.
Women’s basketball is exciting.
One of my first games covering the Spartans was an overtime win against Nebraska, where they fought their way back from a double-digit deficit in the second half alone.
In just one year, watching mostly one team, I’ve seen highs and lows, buzzer beaters and blowouts, comebacks and storylines that just fall short. Women’s basketball is basketball, but beyond that, women’s basketball is more than just the game.
I didn’t either until I started watching women’s basketball.
Just as there are in the NBA, men’s basketball and every other sport, there are stories behind each player and each game.
Every shot carries a meaning, every pass has a purpose and every player has a story, leaving legacies that transcend the game.
As I watched the women’s hoops team play their final game at the Breslin Center on Senior Day and attend Senior Day festivities, I watched the video summarizing senior forward Nia Hollie and caught a glimpse of a hoodie she was wearing. The words on it went along the lines of “women hoop, too."
I don’t know why the hoodie stood out to me, but it was a perfect recap of my first year – of many – being a fan of women’s basketball.
The movement represented on Nia Hollie’s sweatshirt is one that shouldn’t have to exist. But it simply and clearly gives the statement that for some reason is so hard for some to accept and others to get into.
For those that say women’s basketball is any less than the men’s sport, or any other sport for that matter, I say one thing:
Women hoop too.
Shut up and watch, you’ll be surprised.
For those who were receptive, those who watch sports for the right reasons and those who love the game: help shape the culture.
Now is the perfect time to get invested and support women’s basketball.
We have our flagship athlete in Sabrina Ionescu, in the limelight of New York and a lot riding on her back.
She represents the possibility of a transition of the WNBA into the mainstream, and can be an easy way to invest and introduce yourself to the game.
So when sports return, tune into a WNBA game or follow your college team. It is time that everyone realizes that women can hoop too.