Brittney Griner is one of the best-known female athletes on the planet. Though her college basketball career just came to an end last Sunday, the 6′ 8″ center/forward is all-but-certain to be selected first overall in the WNBA draft by the Phoenix Mercury. Griner is strong and quick, a defensive presence and rebounding machine. Her game resembles that of future hall-of-famer Shaquille O’Neal, except Griner has a better jump shot.
We should be talking about Griner as a unique talent, one of the elite female athletes in the world. We should be talking about her accomplishments and her future.
Instead, we’re talking about Mark Cuban.
Yes, Mark Cuban, the man who never met a camera he didn’t like, billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks and professional self-promoter, has injected himself into Brittney Griner’s story, telling Jay Leno that he’d consider drafting Griner to the Mavericks with a second-round pick. And this has ignited the usual inane questions: can Griner play with men? Could she succeed in the NBA?
This has led the discussion down a predictable path. Instead of talking about Griner as an athlete in her own right, we’re talking about whether women can compete with men in sports. We’re talking about whether Griner could compete with male athletes for a spot on the bench, whether such an attempt would be a landmark for women or a publicity stunt.
The fact is that Griner might be able to play in the NBA, and she might not, but color me dubious that she could actually get a fair shot. We have come a long way in accepting women’s athletics in the past 40 years, but we still have a long way to go. If Griner failed to make the NBA, it would be seen as proof that women are inferior athletes — never mind that there are hundreds of elite male basketball players who fail to make the NBA each year, too. Worse, with Mark Cuban pulling the strings, there’s the possibility that Griner could make the league, but as an Eddie Gaedel figure — on the team not as a player, but as a sideshow.
Once upon a time, women’s athletics were a sideshow. Those days are moving behind us, though. Just two generations removed from Title IX’s creation, women in America can and do compete in sports on their own terms. The WNBA may not be where the NBA is yet, but it’s growing. Players like Griner are going to help it continue to grow. Cuban’s musing that Griner could be a bench player in the NBA doesn’t help women’s sports grow; instead, it emphasizes that women’s sports are somehow lesser than men’s. That the WNBA is just a poor sister to the NBA. That frankly, we should ignore women’s athletics, because men aren’t playing.
That doesn’t mean that women should be barred from competing in men’s leagues. It certainly doesn’t mean that the mere mention of a woman competing in men’s leagues should draw hate.
Griner has tweeted at Cuban, jokingly asking when she should show up for try-outs; if she indeed wants to try to make it in the NBA, good for her. But that’s a decision for Griner to make. And if she decides to simply be one of the brightest stars in the most elite women’s basketball league in the world — well, isn’t being one of the top female basketball players alive an accomplishment worth respecting?
Image Credit: Feminema