It isn’t exactly a revelation that the ramblings of sports pundits regarding sex and gender tend to fall somewhere between “socially misinformed” and “offensively inane.” Over the past couple of weeks, such lowbrow discourse has found itself a new spawning ground: debating Mark Cuban’s statement that he’d consider drafting former Baylor superstar (and WOMAN!!!) Brittney Griner.
Cuban may be the all-time NBA leader in ostentatious remarks, so any of his “shocking” ideas should be taken with, like, a thousand grains of salt. Desperate for a new controversy, however, folks in sports media (echoed by their, let’s be honest, mostly male disciples) have devoted hours to discussing why extending such an opportunity to a female player, even one as gifted as Griner, would be a misguided decision. Unsurprisingly, the reasoning has tended to be pig-headed and immature.
Let’s take a look, shall we?
“The whole situation is nothing more than a marketing ploy!”
The horror! How dare somebody sully the sacred space that exists between professional basketball and marketing! The two have always been separate and pure entities!
See, it is a little silly to use “marketing ploy” as a pejorative when you’re talking about a multi-billion dollar industry. I detest corporate gimmicks as much as the next obnoxious liberal, but I also recognize that they serve a necessary role in business. The NBA is a lucrative entity and marketing schemes are an essential part of creating profits, whether you or your dog-eared copy of Naomi Klein’s No Logo likes it or not.
“She’s running a huge risk of getting hurt!”
Oh no! You mean she may twist her ankle and disqualify herself from earning one of those eight-figure WNBA salaries?
“It’s bad for WNBA!”
Oh yes, that sport none of the pundits pay any attention to is now all of a sudden in need of protection. Commentators and talking heads, if you honestly care about the state of the WNBA, maybe convince the networks you work for to give it more coverage and show more games. How about that idea? I’d like to ask any person concerned about how Brittney Griner’s tryout may “damage” the WNBA to demonstrate how many WNBA franchises he or she can extemporaneously name. Go ahead, I’ve got time.
“Lauren Silberman tried out to be an NFL kicker this year and look at what a debacle that was!”
Brittney Griner was a record-setting All-American who dominated on the court. Silberman may have never even seen a football before her pathetic audition. It’s like comparing apples to incompetent, uncoordinated oranges.
“She’s just going to embarrass herself out there!”
Here’s the funny thing about embarrassment: you, as an outside observer, have ultimately no influence over whether someone experiences it. Yes, I know the Interwebz thrive on humiliation, but in life you can only be disgraced if you allow the naysayers and bullies to get under your skin (my other job is motivational speaking. Call for bookings!). You can create all the mocking GIFs and spew all the Twitter one-liners you want if Griner fails to play well, but that doesn’t translate into her actually succumbing to feelings of shame.
Brittney Griner is 22 years old; I’m pretty sure she can handle her own decisions. If she wants to step on the court with men and chance getting dunked on, that is entirely her prerogative. She knows the risks and knows that having thick skin is a prerequisite. Assumptions about her potential emotional fragility are both dumb and infantilizing.
“Nancy Lieberman said Griner would struggle and Lieberman is a woman!”
Yes, Nancy Lieberman was a boss on the basketball court. That said, unless Nancy Lieberman has become Griner’s sensei or something, her opinion on the whole matter is of only marginal significance. One woman doesn’t have the right to speak for all women who want to play basketball against men, even if she did compete against guys at one point in the 1980’s and found it exceptionally difficult. Again, it is inexcusable to act like Griner can’t make her own choices.
Tied into this specific argument is the claim that, because Griner is a center, she’d be at an even bigger disadvantage than an aspiring female player who was a guard. While playing in the post definitely requires more physical contact than dribbling out on the wing does, it is illogical to assume Griner couldn’t adapt her game to compensate for that impediment. With enough shooting drills, couldn’t she become one of those European-style centers that mainly shoot threes? Couldn’t she develop footwork, pump-fakes, and tricky shots to offset her lack of brute strength?
Griner is no Shaq, so she wouldn’t play like him.
She’d have to adapt and transform her style of play, sure, but that’s what every rookie has to do. Also, do commentators really think that the NBA is full of physical, imposing, and violent centers right now? If so, I’m not sure what league they’re watching. When I look around the NBA landscape, I see guys who would have been torn to shreds by Charles Oakley in the 1990’s. The game is changing; finesse is in.
“Why does she feel like she has to prove herself against men? She should just be satisfied where she is!”
By this logic, you should be satisfied with whatever your current job is and have no further aspirations of excelling in your field. Do you work at a rinky-dink law firm in Humblebumble, Iowa? Great! No reason to seek out working for Sullivan & Cromwell in New York! Be happy where you are! Why want to maximize the returns on your talents? Doing that is selfish and WRONG.
Griner is obviously a competitive person. Competitive people thrive on being challenged. They desire it in the same way I, as a lazy slob, desire a robot named Winston that will crack my Pabst for me, change the TV channel, and funnel Funyuns into my mouth via a trough/conveyor belt. If Brittney Griner wants to play against the best competitions available, then by all means she should be allowed to compete. It’s part of her nature to push herself, just like how it is part of my nature to believe that wearing an Ab Belt by Sport-Elec will help me achieve a ripped torso as I remain sedentary, eyes glued to Sealab 2021 reruns.
Listen, I don’t know if Griner could succeed in the NBA Summer League, much less excel over the course of a full NBA season. The odds are obviously stacked against her. There is really no true harm in her trying, though.
Yes, poking fun at the black-clad feminist who sat in the back of literature class and bemoaned the dearth of gender-neutral pronouns in English was fun…in high school. Really, more maturity and sensitivity towards issues of social inequality should be expected of both (supposedly) professional journalists and the people who follow them.
The issue here isn’t about trying to statistically or anecdotally justify whether Griner would or would not fail if she played basketball against men. It is about being forward-thinking enough to understand how denying her the opportunity to even try is entirely untenable in this day and age.