ESPN Mag's Bryant: Leave the WNBA Alone! Comparing Women's Sports to Men's Is Sexist, Racist

May 15th, 2016 1:43 PM

The WNBA marks its 20th anniversary this year, with both attendance and ratings down, and ESPN Magazine's May 23 issue was devoted to wondering why people weren’t watching the games (that the network just happens to air). The cover headline laid on the guilt: “WNBA 20: Are You Ready To Watch Them Play?

ESPN magazine columnist (and social justice keyboard warrior) Howard Bryant’s end-zone column (subscription only) at the back of the biweekly mag ponderously pondered the WNBA’s publicity failures. Bryant threw up bricks, blaming sexism and racism for the game’s failure to achieve popularity, even roping in the civil rights movement and the history of American inequality: "Six-foot-10 John Isner serves 143 mph. Five-foot-9 Serena does not and never will, which is proof of nothing, another false equivalent in a country built on inequalities."

After praising the achievements of the University of Connecticut’s women’s team, Bryant brought up the civil rights movement, warning that “....acceptance of the women’s game on its own legitimate terms, independent of men – feels less promising and more turbulent. And in many ways it parallels the various racial dynamics of integration. Legislation secured the right to exist. Achievement vindicated the movement. Neither assured acceptance. The women’s game is in a similar place. The progress is there. The progressive thinking isn’t.”

How dare you not watch our network’s programming, sexist pig!

And let’s have none of those diverting dormitory discussions about whether or not Serena Williams could beat a top male tennis player:

Using men as the standard for female athletic achievement is designed to diminish and distort women’s accomplishments....The insistence on being identical to men might appear noble but is actually a false flag.

Bryant’s rigid view of the sexes is ironic, coming after ESPN fired and then disappeared on-air personality and pitching legend Curt Schilling for his insistence that men belong in men’s bathrooms and women in women’s bathrooms. Whither gender fluidity?

The issue is why the women’s game cannot be left alone, without harassment, without needing to be viewed through the invalid framework of the men’s game in the first place.

Actually, according to the ratings, just about everyone is leaving “the women’s game...alone.” That’s why Bryant is writing this in the first place. He attempted another spin move about the invidiousness of comparing Serena Williams to male tennis players, resulting in this air-ball.

Six-foot-10 John Isner serves 143 mph. Five-foot-9 Serena does not and never will, which is proof of nothing, another false equivalent in a country built on inequalities.

Huh? Also, for all of Bryant’s harping about equality, why does the male athlete gets a last name in that sentence but Williams doesn’t?

These empty arguments, rooted in distortion and misogyny, are not without a sinister purpose. They are intended to devalue the women’s game, block opportunity, attack equal pay or discontinue women’s sports altogether.

Got that? You may have thought you were just idly thinking about sports figures the same way comic fans match up superheroes in hypothetical battles -- but you were actually furthering racist and sexist oppression.

His muddy conclusion seems to argue that it doesn’t matter if no one watches or cares about women’s professional basketball: long as women’s sports remain a cultural priority, financially and legally protected, maybe acceptance really isn’t that important anyway.