December 2010


University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team won their 89th straight NCAA game last night, breaking John Wooden’s UCLA men’s streak of 88 games from 37 years ago. Congratulations to these world class athletes. Your hard work and dedication is inspiring. Here’s to other teams being compared to you (instead of vice versa) for a while.

My first question is, had you heard about it?

The sports columnist for my local paper wants to assure you that the reason this story isn’t getting much press has nothing to do with sexism or misogyny, but rather, apathy.

Geno Auriemma imagines an enemy that doesn’t exist. Running short of worthy opponents, Connecticut’s all-conquering women’s basketball coach has constructed a straw chauvinist, a mythological misogynist who can’t bear the thought of females surpassing the record winning streak of John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins.

Frankly, your typical testosterone-laden troglodyte is not threatened by UConn’s success because it has barely registered on his brain. He was not ‘having a heart attack,’ as Auriemma put it Saturday, ‘because a bunch of women are threatening to break a men’s record,’ nor did he wail or gnash his teeth when that threat was carried out Tuesday night in Connecticut’s 93-62 thumping of Florida State.

Neanderthal Man is not angry, agitated or anxious. What he is, at his primal core, is apathetic.

Mr. Sullivan admits that it’s a pity that sports fans are uninterested in the Huskies’ accomplishments, but he defends their right to be indifferent. But how can he explain the media’s lack of coverage of this very newsworthy event? Where he goes wrong is his inability to make the connection between apathy (or anger, even though he denies it’s there) and the gender of the athletes. That’s sexism. It’s so ingrained in him that he can’t even see it.

Imagine for a moment that you have a son and a daughter who are both talented musicians. They perform concerts on separate days and the local newspaper only covers your son’s concert. Would you tell your daughter not to worry, that people aren’t angry with her musical talents (or the fact that she’s better than her brother), they just don’t care about girls’ accomplishments. Is this an explanation you would expect your daughter to understand?

Does my example seem far fetched and exaggerated? Tell that to Alissa Johnson, one of the US’s top five women ski jumpers who was forced to attend this year’s Olympics in support of her brother rather than as an athlete, because there is no women’s team. The women ski jumpers were not allowed to compete in this year’s Olympics, despite the fact that the record for the longest jump is held by a woman, Lindsey Van. The gatekeepers, usually men (in this case the IOC), are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy with regard to women’s sports.

As veteran jumper Jessica Jerome, 23, of Park City points out, without being in the Olympics, it’s tough to develop to the level that the IOC seems to want of her sport. “People don’t understand the seriousness of a World Cup title, or a World Championship medal; they just want to see people at the Olympics. So without the Olympics, you’re not going to get the funding. You’re not going to get the support,” she says. “It’s a catch-22.”

The fact is that there are many men, sports reporters even, who feel very threatened by the accomplishments of women athletes. David Whitley of FanHouse wrote:

“Rule No. 1 in determining whether an activity is a sport: If the best female in the world can beat the best male in the world, it doesn’t qualify.”

Mark Potach feels so threatened by the idea that women could ever beat a men’s record that he feels the need to attack the team’s physical abilities, to remind them of their place:

But if Geno wants to continue the charade of breaking the men’s record, he’s going to have to start playing some men’s teams. I think he knows how ugly that would get. There are probably 10 high school teams in the city that could beat the Connecticut women.

David Whitley and Mark Potach are not straw chauvinists, Mr. Sullivan. And that’s not apathy Potach is expressing. These two men are actively working to keep women’s sports less popular than men’s. Perhaps what some don’t realize about apathy is that it can be feigned. If we pretend not to notice women’s accomplishments, we don’t have to admit that they are just as good, if not better, than the men. Another thing he overlooks is the danger in this perceived apathy. The news media makes decisions every day about whose accomplishments matter. Our daughters are paying attention. By accepting the idea that people don’t care about UConn’s record, you’re making it so.

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