Athletics / Opinion

Why can’t we just enjoy women’s basketball? The reality of female excellence in sports

On April 7, over 18.9 million people tuned in to watch South Carolina go up against Iowa in the long-awaited National Championship game. This staggering viewership comes after many months of increased attention on women’s basketball, particularly the games during the NCAA’s annual March Madness tournament. 

While this heightened focus on women’s sports has been widely beneficial, there have also been undertones of sexism and racism within the coverage of these games. In particular, the distinction between the ways that society views men versus women in athletics has made itself clear. While society treats men’s sports with respect and awe, women’s sports are lost in a mix of hypercriticism and disregard. This distinction between female versus male sports is a testimony to the deeper issues in our society and the ways sexism seeps into everything women do. In this case, this perpetual sexism shows itself through the questionable coverage of women’s basketball.

For example, it is a common part of basketball games that players will trash talk the opposing team, playfully celebrate a good play, or generally show intensity while playing in the game. Men and women alike participate in this common display of passion for their game. The only difference lies in the ways men are viewed as “fierce” and “driven” for this behavior, while women are viewed as “impolite”, “trashy”, and “aggressive” for doing the exact same thing. 

A particularly controversial example of this sexism was during last year’s Iowa-Louisiana State University (LSU) game in which one of LSU’s star players, Angel Reese, trash-talked Iowa’s star player Caitlyn Clark by imitating a gesture Clark had done toward Reese earlier in the game. This small, simple moment was then catapulted into the media, with many calling Reese “classless” and saying she showed her “ugly sportsmanship”. Nobody seemed to care that Reese scored fifteen points, ten rebounds, five assists, and three steals or that Clark had thirty points and eight assists. The only thing that was talked about was this minuscule moment of competition and passion between two equally incredible women. 

This unnecessary rivalry between Clark and Reese that is being fueled by the media has other implications besides the blatant sexism. It clearly falls into the common trope of the “black swan vs. white swan” and “good vs. evil”, with Clark, a white woman, being the likable hero while Reese, a black woman, is the classless, rude villain. Additionally, this rivalry reeks of the media’s racially discriminative tendencies that manifest themselves in the worst ways, this case being a single moment that was blown out of proportion in order to garner viewers and take away from the sports being played.

In addition to this moment, on March 29 of this year, LA Times Staff Writer Ben Bolch released a commentary titled “ UCLA-LSU is America’s Sweethearts vs. Its Basketball Villians” that focused on his views of LSU and UCLA’s women’s basketball teams along with their performances this season. Only three days later on April 1, according to the Editor’s note that is now above the article, Bolch’s piece was updated due to “not meeting Times editorial standards” along with “language that was inappropriate and offensive”. The vulgar language that was removed was notably aimed at LSU’s players, with Bolch calling them “dirty debutantes” and “the villains of basketball”. 

Although sports commentary is bound to be biased and contains opinionated material, Bolch’s language regarding LSU is far past the limit of having an opinion. His sexism is clear, most grossly shown in his description of LSU’s players being “dirty debutantes”, a term that is a derogatory reference to a woman’s sexuality. As said by LSU coach Kim Mulkey, the article’s language was “sexist,” “awful” and “wrong”.

In addition to the use of misogynistic language, Bolch demonizes LSU while simultaneously uplifting UCLA. In particular, he writes how UCLA “operates saintly in the shadows while being as wholesome as a miniature stuffed Bruin mascot” and that they “are really America’s sweethearts”. 

This description starkly contrasts Bolch’s perspective on LSU, with his commentary particularly focused on Angel Reese and the previously mentioned controversy she faced last year. Bolch writes that Reese “can’t get out of her own way” and how after she “taunted Caitlin Clark” and “mocked Clark’s hand-waving gesture” she is now apparently  “at it again”. He then goes on to describe how in the Middle Tennessee game this past March, Reese waved goodbye to a “crying Anastasiia Boldyreva headed to the bench” after Boldyreva had fouled out of the game. 

Once again, the media shifts the focus away from the incredible athletes at work and can only seem to pick apart every insignificant moment that provides no substance besides gaining viewership. Bolch’s ignorance and sexist language are clearly an effort to bring down LSU and Angel Reese while uplifting UCLA and Caitlyn Clark. This mentality is just another example of the “white swan vs. black swan” trope that takes away from female excellence in athletics and establishes implicit racial bias.

Image Source: USC Today

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