We are living in times of change, and that includes change and progress for female athletes. But as with any forward movement, it’s not non-stop, nor is it linear.
We saw the re-beginnings of change at the 2012 London Olympics, where there were more female medal winners for the US than male for the first time ever. Many women at the Games were celebrated like never before.
Ten days ago, the 2015 World Cup-winning soccer team was given a parade in New York City. Serena Williams has made women’s tennis a hit at a level that it hasn’t been since the days of Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. Track and field is poised to become wildly popular again heading into next year’s Olympics in Brazil.
Yet, when we have steps forward, we also have steps backwards.
NBA San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon coached the franchise’s summer league team the last several weeks – the first woman to do so. She was fully accepted:
“We don’t look at it as female or anything, she’s the coach and we just listen,” Spurs forward Jarrell Eddie said Sunday afternoon.
A few hours ago, the Spurs beat the Suns in the league’s championship game. The reaction is hugely positive, and Hammon is currently trending on twitter.
But apparently it’s easier for women to be accepted for their intellect than their bodies. Serena Williams took heat last week – for what seems like the hundredth time – for being a strong, muscular athlete. Critics, as they have before, said Williams is “built like a man.” It’s a classic tactic to shame women for being strong and powerful. Fortunately, Williams responded that she is proud of her strength and her athleticism, and essentially told critics to stuff it.
Every female athlete needs to take that stance, including basketball players and their fans and supporters.
Basketball is a tough contact sport, and those who play it tend to be on the muscular and built side. I have no doubt that this is one reason why the sport’s popularity isn’t what it could be in the United States. We can be confoundingly backwards at times.
But instead of athletes putting bows in their hair as they typically do in at least one other sport; instead of asking players to put on dresses and pose for photos the way some pro and college franchises have in the past; athletes would do best to claim their strength and athleticism like Williams does. Own it, wear it, and don’t worry about what anyone else says. True acceptance is self-acceptance.
Women’s basketball is coming along skill-wise, and popularity-wise. It is still in its infancy in comparison to men’s basketball, which has about a 60-year head start at the college level. We take steps forward, we take steps backwards, and there are times we just stand there, waiting. But it’s important for athletes, coaches and staff, fans and media relations corps to press on, and to do so authentically.
Progress will happen, in its own time and its own strange way. Be proud of those muscles; they’re beautiful things.