Friday, December 31, 2010

UConn's Win Streak

Even the many basketball fans who hate the women's game know that the Connecticut Huskies broke the record 88-game winning streak of the UCLA Bruin men and legendary coach John Wooden the other day--which is in part why you hate them. They broke the men's record. And that's probably why you rejoiced when, a few days later, the streak ended at 90 in a 71-59 loss to the Stanford Cardinal.

OK, I hope you can tell that I have my tongue planted firmly in my cheek on this one. I don't know anybody who hates the Connecticut Huskies. Head coach Geno Auriemma, maybe, but the Huskies? No. Still, there's been a certain amount of whining that the Huskies haven't gotten their due, and that it is because--you guessed it--they are women.

I'm referring to an Op Ed in yesterday's StarTrib written by "digital producer/editorial writer" Susan Hogan, who says that "dismissive reactions to UConn's record say much about continuing gender disparities in sports."

Well, somebody's got to say it. Not that gender disparities are entirely a thing of the past. But that Hogan's commentary is nevertheless at least 90 percent hogwash.

• First, her premise is that UConn's record "received scant attention" in the news media and that, "by comparison...(UCLA's) feat saturated the news." Well, for one thing, I suspect that Hogan has no idea whether "UCLA's feat saturated the news" or not. The fact is that you couldn't watch the men's NCAA tournament on television in those days, of which she is probably unaware. And secondly, sure, UConn's record didn't make the Strib's front page but, hey, it's not a local story. And, again, I seriously doubt that may basketball fans are not aware of what the Huskies did.

• Second, Hogan purports to show "continuing gender disparities in sports" by reference to her own career in high school and college. But she never says exactly when that was other than that it was "decades" after he father coached high school sports in the 1940s and that it was after the adoption of Title IX in 1972. "When I two sports were offered to girls.... Boys, on the other hand, could choose from football, basketball, baseball, track and golf."

"It wasn't supposed to be this way," she continues. "Title IX...prohibited sexual discrimination in federally funded educational programs. So while the UCLA men's basketball team was winning its way into the record books, women were fighting for the chance to attend medical schools, law schools and play sports--opportunities routinely denied them."

Well, UCLA set its record 42 years ago, in 1968. Hogan writes as if the opportunity to play sports was "routinely denied" to her and are still "routinely denied" today. Neither of which is true. Hogan herself played sports in high school--though she only had two sports to choose from--and she "played varsity sports in college."

What's more, she goes on to write that "since Title IX...several Minnesota women have soared to wide acclaim," including skier Lindsay Vonn and basketball player Lindsay Whalen. Her own evidence, then, disproves her generalized claim that women's sports receive "scant" and "dismissive" media coverage.

Generally, her presentation of gender discrimination in sports is utterly hyperbolic and completely outdated--pre-dating, in fact, even her own personal experience as an athlete.

• Third, she claims that not only was coverage "scant," but what coverage there was was "dismissive," that journalists and others "belittled" UConn's achievement. She provides but two examples, which she fails to attribute by name--saying only that they were written by "one sportwriter" and "another writer." A Google search shows that the first writer was Samuel Chi of Real Clear Sports (dot com) who said simply that UCLA would continue to hold the men's record while UConn would hold the women's record. The second was by Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports who said that "these are two different sports."

Whether either of these comments is "dismissive" of "belittling" or not is surely in the eye of the beholder. But more to the point, do two such comments indicate a general air of dismissal such as Hogan wants to claim exists? What Wetzel, in fact, asks is whether UConn's achievement "should be taken down a peg because it didn't come against the same level of competition" and whether UConn will "be surpassing UCLA's record." The answer to both questions, he says, is No.

She goes on to quote two other journalists, whom she does identify by name. One, Laura Pappano, wrote, "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," which quote contradicts Hogan's two main arguments, above. And finally she quotes Mike Bombach of USA Today, who wrote, "Not to give them credit is just shameful chauvinism." Well, USA Today reaches a vastly larger audience than Real Clear Sports, which contradicts Hogan's argument that the mainstream was "dismissive." In fact the mainstream, represented by USA Today, was supportive and the allegedly "dismissive" comments came from the periphery.

In viewing all of the above and coming to the conclusion that the media coverage was "scant" and "dismissive," Hogan is living in the past and unable to see girls' and women's sports as they exist today except through her own personal filter.

• Finally, Hogan attributes gender "disparities" in sports to a lack of media coverage. And, by the way, the only current disparity she claims is the "scant" and "dismissive" media coverage, though she never quite gets around to acknowledging that the days when girls had but two sports to choose from and boys five is in the past. But the fact is that observers of the sporting scene who are vastly more knowledgeable than Hogan would argue that "scant" media coverage is reflective of the relative level of interest in men's versus women's sports.

Christine Brennan wrote in another USA Today column: "There's no doubt that college men's basketball has more interest than the women's game. TV ratings, attendance figures and revenue bear that out." The media, in other words, follows the fans, not the other way around as Hogan would have it.

My own personal experience is that, indeed, fans of girl's and women's basketball are hungry for news. More visitors to this Web blog read my posts on girl's basketball than read my other posts. Sure, that's because they aren't seeing as much coverage in the mainstream media as they do for the boys and men.

But when I go to a Gopher game, there are 14,000 people there--for the men. For the women, more like 3,000. And when I went to the high school state tournament last year, there were 6,000 at the final and 37,000 across 4 days. For the boys, the numbers were 11,000 and 65,000. Media coverage reflects this reality.

I've probably seen about 3 times more girls and women's basketball games over the past decade than boys and men's. I'm sympathtic, OK? But, shaming fans into following girls and women's basketball, as Hogan tries to do, is simply not going to work.

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