June 8, 2001, - 7:15 am
They’re baaaaack. And it’s scary.
Unfortunately, the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) is back for a fifth season of ennui, ineptitude and annoying invasion of the national airwaves.
Fittingly, the WNBA’s opening day was Memorial Day. It’s a sports league that’s been dead for four years. But like a stubborn, unwanted weed, it keeps rearing its ugly head. Nobody cares about women’s basketball, and the anorexic box office receipts and embarrassing television ratings prove it.
According to league-inflated numbers, attendance dropped to a paltry 9,072 per game, last year–and that includes cold bodies at the nearest cemeteries. Amazingly, the WNBA gets lower ratings than the XFL, the World Wrestling Federation’s pro-football league. The WNBA gets barely 0.5 in the ratings on both ESPN and Lifetime networks, and an anemic 1.4 on NBC (many of whose affiliates run old sitcom reruns instead of this ratings disaster). But the higher-rated XFL was killed after one season. Yet, in pro sports’ affirmative action sacrificial offering to the barren altar of Title IX silliness, the Wannabe Association gets to bother us for a fifth year. Even “Monday Night Curling” is more exciting, and it’s not real (it’s an “SCTV” sketch).
Unlike the XFL, there are no colorful characters, like “He Hate Me.” Even though “He” does hate the WNBA. Few men watch women’s pro basketball. Maybe, the league should have an athlete nicknamed “She Hate Me,” too, since few women watch it, either. Female sports fans remain loyal to real sports, like pro football, men’s basketball and hockey. They are turned off by the women’s substandard product, where running, slam-dunking, and real shooting are unknown skills. Let’s face it: Men like professional men’s sports because they want to be the players. Women fans want to date them. Both of those dynamics are absent with the WNBA, where no one identifies with or fantasizes about the likes of 7-foot-2 Margo Dydek of the Utah Starzz.
Unless you count the many lesbian fans and players in the league. The fact is, a substantial portion–in fact, the largest demographic group–of the few fans the WNBA has, are lesbians. And, like the LPGA, so are many of the players on the court. “The fact is that the majority of players are gay, and a lot of the management, and people who work with women’s basketball,” Washington Mystic Valerie Still told sportsjones.com. And WNBA star Lisa Leslie acknowledged it in a 1997 ESPN special. So do many frank articles, like the Village Voice’s “Madison Queer Garden.” “Everyone knows lesbians are a majority of our fans,” New York Liberty player Sue Wicks told the Voice. The WNBA All Star Weekend is always the site of huge lesbian gatherings, and it’s no coincidence that the 1998 WNBA season tops the list of videos for sale on lesbianshopper.com. The New York Times reported that on June 14, the Los Angeles Sparks, in conjunction with lesbian “Girl Bar,” are promoting “Gay Pride Kick-off.”
But the WNBA, desperate for nuclear families, won’t acknowledge this. And the WNBA player contract prohibits players from saying anything detrimental to the league. That presumably includes admitting that they don’t like men. It is the ultimate deception to families, which are sold the WNBA “family-friendly” advertising and marketing bill of goods. Washington, D.C. families, looking for low-cost entertainment for their kids have complained, for instance, when their children were exposed to multiple lesbian public displays of attention in the stands at Washington Mystics games. And lesbian fans at many WNBA games wear T-shirts announcing their presence. Poor parents will have to figure out an answer to little Susie’s question, “Mommy, what’s a lesbian?” The WNBA owes it to families to tell the truth and come out of the closet, so families won’t be ambushed by these unwanted situations.
But the WNBA won’t end the lie. It’s no coincidence that since its 1997 inception, Rosie O’Donnell has been a WNBA spokesperson. Like O’Donnell, the WNBA deceives its target audience by posing as a normal, heterosexual, American product. New York Magazine outed O’Donnell as a lesbian, whose girlfriend, Kelli Carpenter, “accompanies her week after week to her box at WNBA games.” Like O’Donnell, the WNBA knows that the lesbian lifestyle turns off mainstream consumers, and an industry–in this case, women’s professional sports–cannot survive on a gay consumer audience. Duping families into believing it’s a mainstream product, is the ultimate rip-off.
But even with the pro-family scam, the WNBA will never catch on. Because the only professional women’s sports that succeed, like the USA World Cup Soccer Team, are those with good-looking players. The marketplace isn’t interested in the skills of women athletes, and masculine female athletes are a turn-off. That’s why the beautiful, feminine Anna Kournikova propels women’s tennis’ popularity and is the Women’s Tour’s most highly paid player–at over $10 million a year in endorsements. She’s never won a tournament, and is barely in the top ten women’s tennis rankings. The less attractive, higher-ranked players hate her, but without her, they’d have no Women’s Tour, just like the WNBA has no basketball league. The WNBA’s new slogan is “Basketball is Beautiful.” But where’s the beauty? The New York Times calls it “Beauty and Grace.” More like “Will and Grace.”
And there are no stars. Ever heard of Tynesha Lewis, Astou Ndiaye-Diatta, Claudia Maria Das Neves, or Elena Tonikidou? Me neither. The league is a joke.
The NBA owns and operates the WNBA, because no wealthy successful sports owner likes to throw his money down a black hole by buying a team. Teams in Detroit and Charlotte “are struggling for fans,” according to the Chicago Sun-Times’ Carol Slezak. Slezak wrote about how the NBA pressured Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf into starting a team. While most cities sell out their pro sports teams’ inaugural seasons, the Chicago WNBA franchise is begging 7,500 fans to buy season tickets. Saying “it’s not something we’re doing to see a financial gain,” Reinsdorf said his highest hope was to break even financially. Then why do it? That’s not a sports team. It’s a charity case. Or a political cause for feminists who can’t compete on their own in the sports marketplace, so they’ve gotten the NBA to strong arm its owners.
Gloria Steinem must be smiling. And maybe the NBA should change its initials to NOW.
Tags: Anna Kournikova, Astou Ndiaye-Diatta, athlete, basketball, Box Office Receipts, Carol Slezak, Charlotte, Chicago Bulls, Chicago Sun-Times, Claudia Maria Das Neves, Colorful Characters, D.C., Debbie Schlussel, Detroit, Elena Tonikidou, ESPN, Female Sports, Female sports fans, football, Gay Pride Kick-off, Gloria Steinem, hockey, Inflated Numbers, Jerry Reinsdorf, Kelli Carpenter, Lisa Leslie, Los Angeles Sparks, Madison Queer Garden, mainstream product, Margo Dydek, Memorial Day, Men S Sports, National Airwaves, National Basketball Association, NBA, NBC, New York Liberty, New York Magazine, owner, player, pro basketball, pro sports, pro sports teams, Professional Men, professional sports, real sports, Rosie O'Donnell, spokesperson, Sports Fans, sports league, sports marketplace, sports owner, sports team, substandard product, Sue Wicks, Television Ratings, tennis, the Chicago Sun-Times, The New York Times, the Village Voice, the World Wrestling Federation's pro-football league, Tynesha Lewis, ugly head, USD, Wannabe Association, Washington, Washington Mystic Valerie Still, Washington Mystics, World Cup, World Wrestling Federation, World Wrestling Federation's pro-football league, XFL