Women’s hoops fans who’d like to tear into Chicago Sun-Times columnist Rick Morrissey for this year’s derivative “Fans don’t care about women’s basketball” diatribe need to keep a couple things in mind that I’ll explain after this excerpt:
“Women deserve the same opportunities as men in the sports world, but no democracy on the planet can force citizens to be interested. By the way, you can replace the words ‘women’s basketball’ with ‘soccer’ in America and have a similar discussion.
“There’s no need to apologize if you find women’s basketball a lesser product than men’s basketball. You can appreciate the women’s game for what it is, but you can’t say it’s anywhere near on a par with the men’s game. The truth is that Simeon’s Class 4A boys state championship team would blow the UConn women out of the gym.
“I like my basketball played above the rim. I don’t think that makes me sexist. I think it makes me discerning.”
For what it’s worth, I don’t think Morrissey is sexist, either, although this knuckle-dragging line is a riff on a familiar theme, designed to make the guys guffaw:
“I watch a women’s game, and all I see is men’s basketball wearing ankle weights.”
His previous reference to soccer says all you need to know about what inspired Morrissey to write this simplistic, warmed-over piece.
Sportswriters like this get a burr under their saddle when anything competes for their attention beyond baseball, football, men’s college and pro basketball, for the most part. Women and “foreign” sports don’t figure into it. They are sportswriting exceptionalists, and their views are extremely limited and superficial, seen through the lens of an outdated mass media environment.
Morrissey didn’t even bother to mention the DePaul women’s team that plays in his city, amd that has reached the Sweet 16. Instead, we get a misplaced rant against UConn coach Geno Auriemma, who’s appointed Bruno to be one of his assistants on the 2012 U.S. women’s Olympic team. A good story gone untold.
There is some truth here when Morrissey writes:
“It’s nobody’s duty in the media to see that women’s college basketball succeeds. It’s up to the game, and judging by the interest in terms of attendance and viewership, it has been found wanting.”
But Morrissey is forgetting the relatively short history of women’s hoops as a spectator sport. Or maybe he’s just ignoring it. I do think the audience is always going to be limited, but we’re less than 10 years into being able to see a steady diet of games throughout the season.
And he misfires on the soccer part too. More than 78,000 crammed the new Giants Stadium in New Jersey last night to watch a friendly between the U.S. and Argentina in a match that was shown live on ESPN2, right before two women’s NCAA Sweet 16 games. ESPN’s ratings from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and its airing of selected English Premier League matches every weekend are very strong indications that the niche sport of soccer in America is far bigger than Morrissey would ever acknowledge.
Women’s basketball may never reach that point, and frankly, I doubt that it will. But it has entered that same psychological space that soccer has occupied in the minds of antiquated hacks who have a column to write, and don’t really have anything better to say.