I just read another great column by espnW writer Kate Fagan regarding discussion about Brittney Griner’s possible tryout for the NBA. In her column, Fagan argues that Griner, or any other female BB player, could not compete in the NBA and gives her rationale by pointing out that, “…now everyone is once again measuring female ballers in relation to their male counterpart. These constant comparisons do little more than reinforce the notion that the women are somehow second-class players, instead of world-class in their own right.”
However, I want to enter a few friendly counterarguments to Fagan’s column. I say ‘friendly’ because I want to state that Fagan is one of the very few sport journalists that write about women’s sport thoughtfully and from a critical perspective. I greatly welcome, appreciate and admire her perspectives and in a space greatly in need of diverse voices.
My contention: The comparison being made matters.
Fagan makes the point that the best female BB players cannot compete with the best male BB players. This statement however serves to reinforce the viewpoint of gender as two distinct and opposite binaries, and that the only (or certainly the most important) comparison that matters is between elite athletes as the highest levels. Highlighting this comparison further reinforces female athletes as second class citizens–the very notion that Fagan is trying to argue against! It sets up the idea that the NBA is the norm by which female athletes are compared against.
What is not articulated in Fagan’s piece or elsewhere, is that MANY females routinely outperform many male athletes in basketball and other sports. I’m sure there are many college male BB players that have not dunked 12 times during a game in their careers, as did Griner. There are also many males who have not dunked as many times (if any) as the male dunk leader (For the NBA, Blake Griffin is the dunk leader. I couldn’t find stats for most college dunks). The key point here is range of difference in performance is far greater between males, than between males and females. But we never hear about these comparisons. If we discussed performance as a continuum (See Kane, 1995), rather than a binary, it may help resist against constructing female athletes as inferior.
Fagan also states, “Game recognizes game, and the best players know that the main difference between the men and the women is something completely out of their control: a threshold for athleticism bestowed upon them at birth.”
Unfortunately when a “biology is destiny’ argument is used, it is used against women as difference = less than, and again reinforces female inferiority.
What Fagan does say and is ultimately the MOST important point to highlight is that women’s basketball and female ballers should be appreciated for their athleticism….period. No comparison needed!!
College basketball players are arguably the most visible and popular female athletes in college sport, and thus have great potential to change the way society views female athleticism. Celebrate and enjoy, rather than compare, women’s basketball.
Also read Jemele Hill’s espnW piece “The false promise of the NBA” on this topic, also good!