Oregon’s Bev Smith (#24) puts up a shot against Louisiana State while teammate Allison Lang (#52) looks on. Dec. 16, 1981 (I was there). Photo by Brent Wojahn.
Much has been made of the fact that the popularity of women’s sports lags far behind men’s sports – particularly in basketball, and more specifically, in the WNBA. It has been widely thought that what the league needs to do is to capture the attention of the male sports fans, as they constitute the vast majority of the sports viewing audience.
But the gap issue doesn’t seem to stem from male sports fans. Rather, it is the lack of female fans of women’s sports that is a major contributor in the sport stalling in popularity. There are simply not enough women supporting women in basketball.
I attend every WNBA game in Los Angeles each summer, and like other WNBA crowds, the fans consist mostly of younger kids, middle-aged folks and seniors. There are some teens there of both sexes, but not many. I see more men in their 20’s and 30’s in the crowd than women of the same age groups.
It’s men who I talk to about women’s basketball. Male hoops fans know who the WNBA players are, as well as many of the top college ballers. Meanwhile, women and teen girls are clueless.
It has been men who have been willing to write for my website, womenshoopsworld.com. All the new women’s basketball websites and blogs seem to be mostly staffed by men, if not operated by men, as well.
I work at a high school and deal with young athletes. In 2010 I traveled with the Cal Sparks to a summer club ball tournament. I asked each one of the girls on the premiere team who their favorite player was, and all but one named an NBA player. One girl named Diana Taurasi as her favorite.
If I went out and did the same experiment right now, the result would still be the same. Most girls aren’t raised to watch women’s sports – not even women playing their own sport. It saddens me deeply.
My Dad is and was a progressive thinker. He began taking me to women’s basketball games at our local university during the 1981-1982 season, when I was a young teen. I watched star forwards Bev Smith and Allison Lang smash records, and lead the team to the first-ever NCAA Tournament for women that year. Though they lost in the early rounds, I was inspired for life.
It was because of the influence of those women that I began not only watching basketball, but other sports. Then I began playing sports, and I slowly morphed into an athlete, which I remain today. The toughness and resilience I acquired in becoming an athlete has got me through many a tough time, and past many obstacles where I have seen others fall. Seeing examples of strong women playing sports changed the trajectory of my life for the better.
If I were the WNBA, I’d make a concerted effort to get women – and especially girls – to games. Let them witness all the possibilities. Show them what strength and confidence and beauty all wrapped up together looks like. Help them to witness and appreciate all the different types of women there are on the planet, and not just the distorted views of media. The world would open up to become a much bigger place, along with their own possibilities.
Women’s basketball doesn’t need more male fans; it needs the support of its own people.