June 8, 2001, - 7:15 am

WNBA: Sports’ Big Joke is Closet Deception

By Debbie Schlussel

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.

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9 Responses

My, my…where to start with this ridiculous, conservative, woman who hates other women crap.
The WNBA, and big time women’s sports in general, have only been around for about three decades, or since the passage of Title Nine in 1973. If you bother to study the history of the major men’s sports, you would see that at a similar time in their development, they were no better off than the WNBA in terms of fan support.
The sports media is VERY biased in favor of men’s sports and against women’s sports. So much air time and print space is given to every little detail of men’s games, while the women have to struggle to get the ignorant, macho, male dominated sports media to pay just a bit of attention to the GREAT female athletes who are getting better all the time.
Quite frankly, i think that the attractiveness of the players should be irrelevant, and is just another symptom of the sick patriarchal world we live in. But, since you brought it up…you must be blind not to see the stunning beauty of WNBA players like Deanna Nolan, Cheryl Ford, and Ivory Latta of my beloved Detroit Shock. They are just a few of the very good looking women in the WNBA.
Open your mind and stop hating female athletes.

ShockFan on June 4, 2007 at 12:57 pm

It’s 2007 and I think the WNBA is catching on in a big way. I just started attending games this year and it’s a blast. Go Silver Stars!
It’s good to see so many families around. Parents can actually afford to bring their kids to the games and it’s a great way to spend some time together during the summer. I really like seeing everyone, especially the kids, all cheering for the women and seeing women as the outstanding professional athletes and role models that they are.
Debbie, I also have to say that I think your article reveals a lot more about you than it does about the WNBA. It’s interesting that you are so concerned about whether there are lesbians present, either on the court or in the stands. It’s kinda revealing, you know? In other words, “methinks the lady doth protest too much.”
Finally, as someone who has attended many NBA games too, I can tell you that there is more drinking, swearing, etc., at those games and is a lot less family friendly. Especially for the little ones. Take it easy, Deb.

Vicki on September 9, 2007 at 4:37 am

Wow, i wonder what actually went through you mind to write such negativity. you should be slapped in your face literally. I bet WNBA players make way more cash then you do. I guess big muscles is the way to go. Get on board deb, cause you suck!

shaniece j. on July 26, 2011 at 2:50 am

Deb was pretty much dead on so fuck u deisel dykes….women sports suck…nuff said

Eric Brindo on April 4, 2012 at 2:15 am

Get over it….u’ll never come close to us men bitches!

Eric Brindo on April 4, 2012 at 2:18 am

WOW!!! Shame on you Debbie! You being a woman (?) and all should be supportive of the WNBA and women’s sports in general. Are you aware of all the young girls who play AAU or high school ball who dream of playing in the WNBA? Shame on you for posting such a negative article. Maybe there are many lesbian players and fans who play in or support the WNBA, I’m sure the NBA has many gay/bi players and fans as well…WHO CARES! #HOMOPHOBIC

C. Heard on July 26, 2012 at 9:13 am

    girl please, get a life

    vanm on October 18, 2013 at 7:43 pm

Why do men think women want to be like them??? We do our own thing. We play ball cause we wanna and we are damn good at it.
Women are evolved pass the time where we are barefoot and pregnant. It’s just sad to hear another woman talking like that.
The wnba is all about the game of basketball. so if u love basketball u watch it. if u dont like basketball, u dont watch it.
Now a tip for u debbie, u cant do everything with your libido in mind. The world does not revolves around your vagina. Quit trying to make your an issue.TRAMP!!

sid on October 18, 2012 at 12:48 pm

To the lady who wrote the article, what ever happened to you as a child is not your fault. Please seek help. There is no statue of limitation for certain crimes.

Anthony on January 29, 2013 at 5:13 pm

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