I’m warning you, folks: my dander is up.
One week ago the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team set the Division I college basketball record for consecutive victories with their 89th win in a row. 89 straight wins!
Much was made in the media about whether the UConn women’s win streak can really compare to that which it broke: the 1971-1974 record set by the UCLA men’s basketball team under legendary coach John Wooden. But I’m not all that interested in comparing apples (men’s college basketball in the 1970s) to oranges (women’s college basketball in the 2000s). It seems to me that the facts are the facts: the UConn women’s team has won more consecutive games than any other in the history of Division I college basketball.
And that is that.
What really irks me, though, are the ignorant – and often offensive – responses that coverage of the record has sparked.
I’ve read many comments on sports blogs and websites questioning ESPN’s coverage of the streak. Last weekend, ESPN promoted the record-breaking UConn-Florida State game from lowly ESPNU to ESPN2. (Mind you, the game was still trumped on the flagship network by the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl featuring unranked college football teams Southern Miss and Louisville.) ESPNU also featured an afternoon-long look back at some of the great UConn players from the past and some of the highlights from the streak.
Now I am not so naive as to forget that most men’s college sports make much more money than most women’s college sports do. And I know that far more people are interested in men’s sports in general – and, yes, probably even the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s bowl and its match-up of not-quite-titans – than women’s sports.
But I was shocked by how many people seemed to suggest that the record-breaking game didn’t deserve any coverage at all. And this, on a network, which, last summer, offered a countdown clock until the start of Brett Favre’s news conference announcing whether or not he would unretire…again. Earlier this week, a ticker ran across the bottom of the ESPN screen announcing in red the “Breaking News” that Donovan McNabb felt “disrespected” that his coach hadn’t told him sooner than he had lost his starting position. And you don’t think this 24-hour sports network had time to cover this game? Seriously?
USA Today‘s Christine Brennan wrote a thoughtful article on the relative lack of buzz over the UConn streak noting the way in which the media has the ability to create interest over a news story:
For decades now, those of us in the sports media have argued about which comes first: interest or coverage. There’s no doubt that college men’s basketball has more interest than the women’s game. TV ratings, attendance figures and revenue bear that out. But there’s also no doubt that the media’s lack of coverage of the UConn story, and many other stories in women’s sports, ensures that interest will remain static.
She goes on to cite the way in which the media helped launch the 1999 U.S. women’s soccer World Cup team to celebrity status. How many of us had really heard of Mia Hamm or Brandi Chastain before the media blitz that accompanied that remarkable team’s path to victory? And might not an accomplishment like the UConn women’s deserve a little bit of buzz too?
But what made me even angrier than the complaints about the “over-exposure” the media provided to the UConn women were the comments on UConn’s record itself.
In response to the espn.com article on UConn’s record-setting victory, “thefakejon” suggested: “I think if the women dressed up in bikinis then I might watch… actually, I just googled NCAA women’s basketball and *rough* is all I have to say.”
“Payne91” chimed in with
“Boy these gals sure make it look difficult”
“But is having this minor skill worth being so unattractive?”
“That’s for the fan to decide”
“The Cry Was No Surrender” helpfully added, “I’d rather poke my eyes out with a rusty nail than watch women sports.”
I’ve been hanging around the blogosphere long enough to know never to put much stake in the words of trolls. But I was nevertheless disheartened by the comments on this article (over 3000 when I last checked) and others like it.
As I always do when I see such a vicious comment, I asked my computer screen: “Why read an article and take the time to comment on it if you have no interest in the topic?” But, more than that, I was disturbed to see by the sheer number of negative comments – really a whole village worth – that we are still so very far away from a place where female athletes are not even lauded or respected, but simply tolerated.
We may have come a long way, baby. But it seems to me that we have even farther to go.
Edited to add: Congratulations to the Stanford women’s basketball team, who defeated UConn on Thursday, December 30, 2010 to end UConn’s win streak at 90 consecutive wins. (Incidentally, Stanford was the last team to beat the Huskies, in the national semi-finals in 2008.)
Do you think the response to UConn’s streak is an anomaly or is sexist thinking alive and well in North America? What bee is buzzing around your bonnet today?