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From the San Diego Union-Tribune:
Candice Wiggins, La Jolla Country Day alumni and WNBA Woman of the Year recently described the WNBA as a “very very harmful” culture where she was bullied throughout her 8-year career.
… Wiggins, a four-time All-American at Stanford, asserts she was targeted for harassment from the time she was drafted by Minnesota because she is heterosexual and a nationally popular figure, of whom many other players were jealous.
“Me being heterosexual and straight, and being vocal in my identity as a straight woman was huge,” Wiggins said.
Wiggins’ baseball player father Alan stole 70 bases as the leadoff man for the 1984 National League champion San Diego Padres before massive drug problems led to his death in 1991.
Commenter O’Really notes:
Similarly, straight women do not merit protection from abuse and harassment by lesbians, in this case in the WNBA. Since coming out with her story of anti-heterosexual abuse, Candice Wiggins has not exactly received the unquestioning support offered to Jackie Coakley:
… But surely she realized comments to any newspaper would be disseminated globally online.
Anyway, it’s hard to remember how much upbeat media hype there was when the NBA launched the Women’s NBA league in the wake of the popular United States women’s team’s triumph at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
I think I’ve finally figured out the psychology of why there is this big disparity between the success of women’s national teams and the failure of women’s city teams. In men’s team sports, national and city teams are both seen as Defenders of the Turf, just on different geographic scales. Our young men defend us from your young men.
On the other hand, young women don’t trigger our loyalty as the defenders of our turf, they represent the flower of our culture.
Commenter Black Sea sums up nicely what I was trying to say:
Genuinely popular men’s sports are more like battles; genuinely popular women’s sports are more like beauty contests.
The U.S. women’s national soccer team is a big deal because we see these healthy, athletic, well-trained, attractive young women as exemplifying the superiority of our American culture over backward Iranian culture and decadent French culture.
But that kind of pride in women athletes doesn’t translate well to regional teams in an American professional league. In part, American regional cultures are fairly homogenous compared to America versus foreign countries. But also, the system of pro franchises drafting players from all over the country undermines feelings of local pride.
Clearly, Candice Wiggins is a popular sportswoman in San Diego, where her father is remembered as a tragic story, so people like to see her healthy and doing well. But what do La Jolla and Minnesota have in common?
The Miss American contest has traditionally been organized around competitors from all 50 states. In turn, the contestants in state beauty contests were drawn from the winners of local beauty contests.
Sports used to have that kind of organic organization, but competition became so fierce that the best athletes were drawn from wherever they were from. If, say, Phil Knight wants the U. of Oregon to win a national championship in football, it’s not going to stop him just because there are barely any blacks in Oregon. And for pro teams, recruiting is institutionalized in a draft where each team gets to pick players from anywhere.
For men’s pro team sports, winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. So men’s team fans are happy to draft the best players from all over.
But women’s sports aren’t as much about winning at all costs as they are about winning with style (consider popular women’s Olympic sports like figure skating and gymnastics). Women athletes represent a culture. Girls aren’t going to self-organize themselves into becoming sports stars the way Brazilian street urchins will become world-class soccer players. Female athletics doesn’t happen without a big social infrastructure of families and coaches. Thus the U.S. is better at women’s soccer than Brazil is, despite Brazil’s men being much better at soccer than our men, because our upper middle class is so large, rich, and effectual about inculcating achievement in their daughters.
But that reminds me that fans of men’s pro teams are even happier to win with local boys.
The NBA had territorial picks from 1950-1965: e.g., Philadelphia got to pick Overbrook High School of Philadelphia’s Wilt Chamberlain, Cincinnati got Oscar Robertson from the U. of Cincinnati and Crispus Attucks high school in Indianapolis, and the New York Knick’s got Bill Bradley of Princeton.
But then they stopped doing that as NBA teams started to develop brand equity of their own independent of college basketball. Nonetheless, it has always been part of the story of Akron-bred LeBron James, the top player since Michael Jordan, that he was drafted by his local NBA team in Cleveland because they had been so bad. No Cleveland pro team had won a league title in any sport since 1964, so it was heartwarming that young LeBron almost singlehandedly carried Cleveland to titles.
But then he decided to assemble a guaranteed to win superteam, and he was widely reviled for lack of loyalty when it worked out best for him to do it in glitzy Miami. But after a couple of titles in Miami, he chose to return to Cleveland. Slightly over the hill and as the definite underdog to the superlative Golden State Warriors, the area man finally led Cleveland to a championship last year, which was considered very heartwarming.
So one thing women’s team sports could try would be territorial draft picks. Restrict each team to only players who went to college or high school in their zone.
But, overall, there really isn’t enough talent in women’s sports to support a league. They’d be better off with a barnstorming model where the stars of the US national team come to town once a week each year to play Team Euro. Or, if you wanted to support two teams worth of American women, you could barnstorm with with two rivalrous American teams: Team Red representing inland America and Team Blue representing coastal America.
My vague impression is that women’s basketball wasn’t quite as lesbian in the past. My hunch was that lesbians muscled their way into dominating the WNBA, through behaviors much like Wiggins says. Women’s professional basketball is not at all a big money business, and the hard times are not conducive to live and let live attitudes.
The economic irony is that the lesbian takeover of the WNBA has diminished its popularity, leading to even less money. Women’s basketball is a bigger money sport in Europe. (I don’t know much about European women’s basketball. That may just be a bubble boosted by some rich guys in Russia and Turkey.)
Granted, it’s always been hard for tall women with lots of upper body strength to find husbands.
For example, Ann Meyers, who might have been the top women’s player of the 1970s, always assumed she couldn’t find a husband and then suddenly she got married to 6′-5″ baseball hall of famer Don Drysdale and they had three kids.
Lisa Leslie, who was the best known star of the WNBA in the 1990s, is an elegant-looking lady with a lot on the ball. But she’s 6’5″. So she wasn’t very optimistic. But her friends kept trying to set her up with this 6’7″ black guy who is a jet pilot for UPS. Now they’re married and have two kids.
One thing women’s basketball should consider to allow more graceful, feminine women to be competitive is to make the women’s basketball lighter and smaller. Soccer is more popular with slender girls because it’s a lower body strength game. But the basketball officials could do something about how beefy their players need to be just by making the ball smaller.
We don’t think much about the upper body strength required to shoot a basketball because male players are huge. For example, LeBron James is 6’8″ and maybe 260 pounds. Reigning NBA MVP Stephen Curry is very popular because he’s so short and slight relative to most NBA stars, but he’s still 6’3″ and 190 pounds.
But shooting a basketball overhand is a challenge for women, especially as the long distance 3-point shot has grown in importance. And the WNBA lengthened the 3 point shot out to a considerable 22’6″ a few years ago (which is longer than the NBA’s 3-point-shot from the corners).
The women’s basketball is about 4% smaller in circumference than the NBA basketball, but women would be better off shooting jumpshots with a basketball about the size of a volleyball.
Why hasn’t women’s basketball made this change a long time ago? I don’t know. Perhaps the people in charge like it the way it is?
As I’ve often pointed out, despite all the popularity that U.S. national women’s teams have enjoyed in various sports (e.g., soccer), that has never succeeded in translating to professional team sport leagues organized on the model of men’s leagues where players are drafted from all over the country (e.g., California girl Wiggins was drafted by Minnesota of the WNBA).