Comparisons between male and female athletes

While talking with a reporter today about WNBA Champions the Minnesota Lynx, I had a realization…it most likely isn’t new, but I’d never thought about selective comparisons between male and female athletes in quite this way before.

Comparisons between male and female athletes in the same sport and in general are commonplace. Today I realized that most comparisons are used to marginalize female athletes, while sustaining and promoting male athletes as the normative best.

When people want to trivialize or put down female basketball players or the WNBA for instance, the comparison goes something like this…. “Women’s basketball is boring. They don’t play above the rim, jump as high, or dunk like the men. No woman could ever play in the NBA.”

The reporter said she had written a piece which suggested that WNBA players are great athletes but more sportsmanlike, team oriented, and accessible than NBA players, which makes them appealing to watch….and she got a lot of push back and negative feedback to the effect of  “Why do you always have to compare the leagues and players?”

This got me thinking that some people use comparisons selectively to promote men’s sport and relegate women’s sport. When comparisons are used to highlight to the good or better elements of women’s sport or female athletes compared to their male counterparts, backlash usually ensues. Why? Because the upsides might make people realize that perhaps the better value and product lies in consuming women’s, not men’s, sport.

The similarity lies in the fact females are great athletes!

The difference lies in many factors, some of which I mentioned above.

Both similarities and differences can be used effectively to promote and sustain interest in and for women’s sport.

After the espnW Summit I’ve been thinking about how “we” need to reclaim some of what was lost when the AIAW was taken over by the NCAA in the early ’80’s, as well as take what is working in the current business model of sport (the traditional male model) to help promote and achieve sustainability for women’s sport. Women’s sport doesn’t have to follow or emulate what men’s college and professional sport teams are doing (i.e., conference realignments, rule violations, player strikes and lockouts, egregious behaviors, entitlement, arms race…and so on).

With the 40th anniversary of Title IX upon us soon, it is a great time to reflect on where we are, where we need to go, and how to get there.

One Reply to “Comparisons between male and female athletes”

  1. Thanks, Nicole, for maintaining this conversation. My impression is that people go to see men’s sports for the Wow! factor – the “look what he can do, that’s my boy” effect.

    The relational aspects of women athletes don’t play so much on the field. It may make us feel good to see it, but that’s because we can do it, too. And that, ironically, is why I watch them. Because they inspire me to try things I might actually be able to so.

    I am curious to hear what changed from AIAW to NCAA. Having been a national champion in the AIAW and hearing griping from the girls who followed who now had to compete in NCAA, are there some things that looking back at could help move us forward?

    Like

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