Thursday, May 6, 2010

WNBA: You have to make us care

There's a truism in journalism that the reader doesn't care about your problems. That's one reason why we find it distasteful whenever somebody complains about food in the press box. But Clay Kallam makes some excellent points in his Slam Online post about the WNBA. His gist is that the WNBA makes it hard to care given how secretive and nebulous the league can be about giving out certain information, including transactions. In the end, it's not just the reporters who lose. It's the game, which is still wrestling to fight its way out of a niche into a more mainstream sport.

Wanted to relay some personal experiences here without whining. In our dealings with the WNBA, the league rarely makes it easy. Should it be easy? We think so. Let's say a player is coming into town who you want to write about. Ideally you'd get to chat with that player for more than a few minutes at shootaround or prior the game, as the nature of the beast is when players are in game mode, there's little room for chit chat. But anybody who's done this for a living will tell you that it's not uncommon to be told you get 15 minutes and have 10 of those taken away. The teams we've dealt with aren't terribly interested in making their players stick to any sort of media commitment. Frankly, doing anything outside of ordinary game coverage is seen as a bother, which is inexplicable considering the lack of coverage this league receives.

Unfortunately this attitude pervades much of the sport at a college level, too. There's constant rhetoric about growing the game, but to do so women's basketball has to get out of its comfort level. Too often now media are met with suspicion, when in fact the majority of folks who write about this sport are unabashed cheerleaders for it. That doesn't mean they hide the bad news. But overwhelmingly, they'd rather focus on what's good.

We linked a few months ago to the fascinating piece Gene Wojciechowski wrote for ESPN that went inside Florida State and detailed what the Seminoles did during the 36 hours of preparation leading up to their matchup with UConn in the regional final.  Kudos for coach Sue Semrau who essentially gave Wojciechowski free rein to write what he observed from the players and coaches. The confidence she showed in allowing that sort of access speaks volumes about her attitude about the sport. We rarely get this insight into players and programs. Too often there is fear that the media will go for the jugular, so players and coaches remain in check, talking about focus and playing one game at a time.

What's rarely understood is that there's a difference between reporting negatively and critically. Women's basketball is in dire need of some critical analysis, but too often that is met with disdain by defensive folks feeling you are picking on their sport. It's OK to say somebody had a rotten night. It's OK to wonder why everybody else is seemingly incapable of reaching the heights of the Huskies. We can celebrate what this sport gives us and still question what it doesn't without being accused of being unfair.

Criticism and debate and a certain rawness are all part of sports. While we hear a lot that women's basketball wants to be part of the national sports dialogue, we also see that too often that's wanted on their terms. That happens with the WNBA and that happens with the college game, too. And here's the secret. Ask us not to care for too long and while many of us still will, others won't. When that happens it's not just the media who lose out. It's the game, which says it desperately wants to grow but doesn't always want to take the steps to do so.

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