On Sports, Erasure, and Media Narrative.

So far, this trip to Tampa is proving much more satisfactory than the previous visit in 2008, when it rained the entire time and we lost and it was terrible and we will not speak of it again.

So far, I’ve had one of the most relaxing and fun Final Fours in recent memory. As you may remember, last year I spent most of the Final Four under a storm cloud of my own making, crippled by paralyzing anxiety. Now, thanks to a lot of hard work (and some help from medication), I’ve been having a blast. Plus, it’s easy to relax when your biggest task all day is to go to the gym and then spend a ton of time in the pool with some of your best friends, and then watch men’s and women’s championship games.

Notice how I said “men’s and women’s games” above. Including those pronouns makes a world of difference. As a gender scholar and overall loudmouth, I’d like to take this time to talk about those types of small things that can lead to micoaggressions.

The gender pronoun clarifies which game and which sport I’m talking about. The difference between men’s and women’s basketball is significant, and not in a bad way. They’re just different games. The point is, language can be used as either a sign of erasure or of recognition.

Last night, Duke won the tournament thanks to defense, the implosion of Wisconsin’s offense, and some bad refereeing. I quite like Coach K (He’s a friend of the family) so I wasn’t too bummed out like the rest of my friends. But then I was reading Twitter after the game and all of the major networks kept saying the same thing. They said Coach K is the most prolific basketball champion after John Wooden. Coach K’s the only one who comes close to Wooden’s record of 10 national championships. The way Sportscenter and ESPN were phrasing their tweets, and the way the media creates the narrative they do about sports, it was as if the women’s game and my father’s accomplishments were ‘less-than.’

It’s worse online and on the shows, too. On ESPN’s website, you have to click through to “Other Sports” tabs to get to the “Women’s BB” link.Today on the Today Show, Willie Geist pronounced March Madness as “officially over”. Grantland barely even mentions the women’s game; once, Bill Simmons wrote an article stating that he’d rather see Sue Bird in a cocktail dress at the ESPYs than driving the lane in the WNBA. (Just to be clear – Sue’s got three gold medals. What do you have, Bill?)

This is the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night because it frustrates me to no end that these outlets continually erase the accomplishments of women. This is an example of the removal of pronouns creating gender erasure, and basic ignorance leading to an entire sport getting diminished in the public eye because we’re taught not to care about it. Because we are women, we are used to being quietly, but definitely, erased. It’s as if we aren’t there at all. It’s so easy to quiet us down because they just pretend we aren’t here. You can’t be what you don’t see. That’s why so many people see us as irrelevant. It’s because the mass media (with its tendency to shove the wrong thing down our throats) creates a narrative of erasure, even if they don’t necessarily mean to do so.

Tonight, my father’s team plays Notre Dame (an incredible basketball team with a storied history of its own) for the right to win his 10th national title in twenty years. That is an astounding record. Granted, ESPN has a lot of great things on its record for how it respects my Dad and the women’s game when we play. But when my Dad comes out and says some necessary, needed criticism of the men’s game (I mean, come on…last night’s game was just ugly) the response is akin to “Your sport doesn’t count.”

We’ve been told for so long that we don’t count, that we don’t matter, that we need to go away. I’m sick of it.

I’d like to see one of these Tweeters, with ten followers and a loud mouth, come into our practice and try to play with these ladies. Stewie would kill them. Morgan would out-maneuver them. Mo would break their ankles. Kia would steal the ball from under their nose. And Kiah would block their shot into the nosebleeds. And Dad would make them cry. It would be great.

We make it look easy because we have to. What we do is nearly impossible, yet we make it look effortless. You will miss us when we are gone, because nothing lasts forever.

Honestly? The main reason I get so angry about all of these morons dismissing our game aggressively or passively is simple: These kids are fantastic. They’re one of the most tight-knit groups we’ve ever had and they genuinely love to play together and to have fun with each other off the court.

Also? He comes off as a douche, but Dad is an amazing person. When we go out to dinner, he makes friends with the entire wait staff. He is an aggressively good tipper. He wants to know everything about you. He makes you feel like you’re the only person on the planet, which is why he’s always late to everything – time doesn’t matter when he’s with someone he likes and he’s got a great story that he absolutely must share. He’s a workhorse, one who never stops pushing the players that he knows can take it.

I can’t think of many coaches on the men’s or women’s side that deserve every inch of success like he does. And he’s the last person to compare himself to John Wooden, but I think it’s a good comparison. And that’s not just because he’s my Dad. It’s because I am a fan of a beautifully played game. I grew up watching old footage of UCLA and it left me in awe. Dad’s team inspires the same feeling.

Women’s basketball will be taken seriously in this country when the media stops treating it like an afterthought.

I encourage all of you, even if you’re not a women’s basketball fan or you think it’s irrelevant, to tune in tonight at 9PM when we play Notre Dame. Who knows? Maybe you’ll see the beauty in it, too.


Published by The Curious Ally Cat

I'm a 34 year old adjunct professor and writer in Connecticut. People seem to like me because I am polite and I am rarely late.

8 thoughts on “On Sports, Erasure, and Media Narrative.

  1. Completely agree, and well said. I have had to explain my stance on major networks many times, but you did a better job than I have ever done. Want to read on ESPN about LPGA, WNBA, or NCAAW? Go to a different site, ESPNW, not the main site. Electronic segregation is still segregation.


  2. Great article, Alyssa. As a student and Rape Crisis Counselor at UCONN in the mid-late 70’s, I regularly spoke to student groups, both male and female. Given the recent passage of Title IX, the conversation often evolved into discussions about women in sports. For years, I listened to both male and female students declare that “no one will ever go and watch women play basketball.” Well, thanks to your father, other dedicated coaches, and generations of talented, hard-working, and athletic women, their dire predictions were wrong. And yet, as far as it has come, the battle for acceptance still continues. Keep shining the light on the issues and we will win this battle as well.


  3. I’ve been fighting the fight for 35 years. Some of the responses from editors on my requests for *any* coverage back in the early 80s, even just box scores, were beyond dismissive. Today the climate is so much better…and, as you point out, also very much the same. Perhaps when the parity establishing itself with the 2-thru-10 programs rises to match that of the #1 program more attention will be paid.

    Attention tends to be born from success, not from groans that you’re in UConn’s side of the bracket. But all things change. UConn has raised the standard for everyone, and as frustrating as it can be for its victims…er, opponents…in the long run it has only helped the game. UConn is the 60s Celtics (as a Lakers fan of the time, I learned early on how frustrating facing a juggernaut could be).

    I agree that some of the segregationists might change their tune if they went toe-to-toe with these young women. In days long since past, I played with and against female Olympians in practice sessions. When I later played pick-up games with males on the blacktop, they’d complain about how rough I was playing. Yeah, they’d never have survived.

    I’m pretty sure I talked to your father a bit back when he was an assistant at Virginia (I talked to most coaches when I had the chance – I was a sports photog along I-95 at the time). If I did, I remember it about as well as he probably does. That I don’t recall means he mustn’t have pissed me off…so there’s a backhanded compliment if ever there was one.


  4. Sensitive much? I understand your frustration because I feel the same frustration when these same old tropes equating a lack of interest and an acknowledgement that the men play on a level way above the women to some sort of sexism are trotted out.
    You state immediately that men’s and women’s basketball are different games; but you can’t understand why some would compare Coach K to Wooden but not your father, who by your own admission, coaches a different game? I suppose Nick Saban should be pissed he was left out too despite the fact he coaches football … oh I’m sorry … MEN’S football.
    Just because the women’s game is not at the top of webpages doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant; it just means it’s less popular and the website understands what most of their readers want to see quickly. Saying that either the women’s game needs to be on Page 1 or else its being “completely erased” is a false choice. There is a lot of real estate in between those two extremes.
    And you definitely hit on a pet peeve when you, like many, fall back on the old “these girls are better players than you are” line. While it may be true, none of those tweeters are asking anyone to watch them play, pay for tickets to see them play, or get TV networks to pay for broadcast rights. The fact a women’s player may be better than someone tweeting about the men’s game is completely irrelevant.
    Glad your dad won, but if you’re asking anyone to elevate him to Wooden status, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. As you said, your dad coaches a different game.


    1. Auriemma and Wooden both have 10 national championships. Different sport, same accomplishment. Your argument is irrelevant to me because you’ll never change my mind. Thank you for coming into my critical conversation space and calling me sensitive for defending the accomplishments of one of the greatest coaches of our time. You completely proved my point about erasure, so that’s awesome! 🙂


      1. Not trying to change your mind; there’s nothing wrong with liking women’s college basketball. And yes, Aurlemma is one of the greatest coaches in women’s basketball history.
        I’m just trying to explain that the fact it doesn’t garner the same attention as the men’s game is not due to sexism and is not a conscious attempt to “erase” anything.
        Just as the kid who pitches the winning game in the Little League World Series has every right to be proud and deserves kudos from those who like the sport; it still doesn’t make him comparable to Clayton Kershaw.
        Your article seems to suggest that it is the media’s fault that more people aren’t interested in women’s college basketball. I would suggest it’s the opposite; they are following the lead of their audience.
        And just as you are perfectly within your right and not a sexist because you love the women’s game, the vast majority of the country is similarly not sexist just because we ignore it.


  5. Great commentary. If one would listen to the fans (and there were so many in Tampa who were not from Connecticut and who did not attend UConn), what they value is HOW the game is played. Even Dawn Staley called UConn’s game “beautiful” following the February match-up. I continue to be in awe of the players (and how hard they work) and the coaches. Obviously, others have failed to find a way to emulate your father. A gift, a talent, and a passion.

    Further, ESPN has treated UConn like the “elephant in the room” all season. Watching the replay of the championship game, I wondered if Doris Burke had actually watched UConn play. Her comments were off target; she missed calls; and she inaccurately identified players. The worst “play” of the season must go to LaChina Robinson, however, who anointed Jewell Loyd POY during the regular season (POY, not one of the best players). After Jewell announced her decision to declare for the draft, Robinson said what a shame Jewell wasn’t returning to collect the POY award she won THIS (her emphasis) year. Not only were her words insulting to all the finalists and those who were on voting panels, but also to Jewell Loyd (who showed class when the AP POY was announced).


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