Monday, September 21, 2015

Why it's hard for us to embrace the WNBA

The WNBA playoffs are upon; did you know? Unless you are a diehard, probably not. Great players, good basketball, you won't get an argument there. But relevant to move today's sports dial? Even the NBA commish had to admit when asked Thursday,

"It's not where we hoped it would be."

The normally reticent Maya Moore weighed in recently on a disappointing WNBA season in terms of butts in the seats, exposure and an overall lack of momentum.

We are the WBB diehards and even for us, here's what we find distasteful about the WNBA in 2015.

*New York Liberty president Isiah Thomas. How insulting is it to female fans and players that this man is president of a WNBA team? How tone deaf is Adam Silver to say on Thursday that Thomas "made a mistake at Madison Square Garden." A mistake is traveling with the ball. Thomas settled an $11.5 million sexual harassment lawsuit and was said, with several women corroborating, to have created a hostile workplace for women at the Garden. Now he's president of a WNBA team? "Life is complicated," Silver said when asked about it. Not really. It's pretty simple that this man shouldn't be president of a WNBA team.

*Griner/Johnson saga. We don't pretend to have the inside scoop on Brittney Griner and Glory Johnson, but domestic violence and Griner's lack of interest in providing financial support for Johnson's twins -- which we have to assume Griner had some prior knowledge of -- are hard to stomach.  Imagine a male athlete ditching his pregnant wife and the financial responsbilities that come along with children. He'd be crucified in the media. He'd have to answer for it in a press conference. Bottom line: It's hard to cheer for Griner right now.

*The WNBA has a loyal gay and lesbian following,  yet the league continues to market to this fan base in a lukewarm manner and a pride day a year ago was little more than lip service. Maybe they're trying to be PC, but if I'm part of that fan base, I don't feel appreciated. Frankly, I would feel dismissed.

*Tell me why again why anyone in Tulsa should care that the Shock made the playoffs? The Shock finally have a player to be excited about (and yes, bummer that Skylar missed most of this season with a knee injury), and the team is moving to Dallas where they'll be lost in a sports market consumed by football.

*Sylvia Fowles demanding to be traded to one team. Is that what you would expect from one of the faces of the league? Again, picture a franchise player in the men's game demanding to be traded to one team and not having to answer for it. Can't picture it? That's because it wouldn't happen.

*No Taurasi. We don't blame you, Diana, or Candace (who missed the early part of the season to rest). But the fact that international play remains a priority -- and given salaries, that's understandable -- it's hard to invest in a league that doesn't invest in its players.

Media remain remiss to criticize or even to analyze women's athletics with depth. We should be past the point that we're happy women are playing and hold female athletes to the same standards as their male counterparts. That means Griner and Fowles might have to answer some difficult questions.

No don't get us wrong. We like the idea of the WNBA. We respect the overwhelming majority of the player in the WNBA. We were thrilled that Elena Delle Donne, a kid we saw play in high school, got the much-deserved MVP vote. But this is a league with some problems worth addressing that often seems tone deaf to reality. Isn't it time for a realistic conversation about a league that is loaded with talent but struggles for relevancy, that has playoffs just when the NFL and college football have started, that will lose most of its marquee talent in a year to the Olympics?

The WNBA isn't where we want it to be, either, and we admire Silver for his candor, but we hope he moves the ball forward. He has a stake in this league succeeding, but let's not stand around and wonder why it's not. Many of the aforementioned issues need to be addressed in a thoughtful manner.

The league's infomercials say "WNBA cares." Our question is cares about whom?


  1. The WNBA needs to get more games on national television. There are fans in abandoned markets (Sacramento, Portland, Houston, Miami) who would've continued to follow the league, but get nothing from the league, not even a postcard or email acknowledging they were once season ticket holders, and a schedule of upcoming season. Get a new Commissioner who knows how to promote and reach out.

  2. Many Tulsa fans will also feel abandoned. One of the major problems is games going up against the NFL and college football. The NBA Network does show games, but not everyone has access. As for a new commissioner, we do believe Silver has a stake in this. Certainly continuing the status quo is not the answer.