By Laura Pappano
The countdown started long ago.
Most fans know that if the UConn Women’s Basketball team continues its unbeaten run that on Dec. 21 the team will surpass the 88-game winning streak set by John Wooden’s UCLA teams of the early 1970s.
As the date nears, the question becomes pointed: Who will acknowledge the record?
There is an annoying habit in male sports circles to belittle or render women’s athletic accomplishments invisible (or as one talk show host described it, watching women’s play is like supporting “your loser brother-in-law.”). The excuses began months ago – it’s girls playing girls! (Well in the 1970s it was 1970s-era guys playing 1970s-era guys).
Like the Billie Jean vs. Bobby Riggs tennis match in 1973, the UConn women’s quest to overtake Wooden’s record will resonate far beyond the court on which the deciding game is played.
If the UConn women earn this record, they will replace Wooden’s team in the top spot. Simple as that. That a women’s team may overtake a record held by a men’s team merely reflects the fact that athletic dominance doesn’t have a gender.
We expect whining from guys like ESPN’s Colin Cowherd, whose predictable rants bring an Archie Bunker sensibility to sports talk radio. Don’t expect him – or a host of like-minded men – to even notice UConn’s supreme athletic ability or their dominant and skilled play.
But a warning: Those who launch into a thousand excuses will reveal themselves as oldsters cemented in a past in which only men’s performances mattered.
The UConn women’s play – their tenacity and toughness – are symbolic of where female athletes in so many sports are today. Many know that. But we can now demonstrate progress with a number: 89.