Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Other Side of Sports

"Cocaine is a hell of a drug." - Rick James

The same should be said of money. That astoundingly novel thought occurred to me while I was watching an HBO documentary about the evolution of United States' Women's Soccer. The show got me thinking that the women's side of sports is essentially the yang to the men's side's yin. And it's a damn shame more sports fans don't pay attention to it.

Before I go on, let me be very clear that I am absolutely, 100 percent guilty of everything I'm about to write.

It's true, I've seen far more women's soccer than most men. But that's because my little sister is awesome and what was I gonna do? Not watch her play? We were two years apart in school and went to the same high school. While she played for Berkeley, I was at Stanford so most of her games were an easy drive away.

However, I've literally never watched a women's sport by choice unless one of my sisters (I have an older sister as well who played high school basketball) was playing. Maybe a little World Cup.

I'm not saying this because I'm proud of it or to sound macho, blah, blah, blah. I'm saying it because, if I don't make a point to include myself, the rest is going to sound self-righteous and condescending. Who's gonna voluntarily subject him/herself to that? Plus, it's the truth.

Anyway, back to the better-half's athletic endeavors. It's unfortunate that we don't pay more attention to them for two reasons.

The first is because they continue to foster many of the best ideals that have been lost on the men's side. And I don't mean good as in pleasant and enjoyable. I mean good as in socially- and morally-productive. Also, lost is probably the wrong word to use for what the men's side is doing to the ideals in question, actively destroying them is probably more accurate.

Sportsmanship and respect for the game.

Can you imagine a female athlete carrying on like Chad Ocho Sinko? Or Terrell Owens? How about pulling the bullsh*t Brett Favre did in Green Bay? Or doing something like Bill Romanowski, who spit in J.J. Stokes' face? Ditto Robeto Alomar (not in Stokes' face, but an umpire)? Or what about stampeding into the stands to go after a fan? Or how about blowing off an adoring fan a la Barry Bonds?

Maybe women trash talk on the field/court and just keep it away from the cameras. I doubt it. They seem to have enduring respect for the opponent as well as the fans who pay their admittedly lesser salaries. The same cannot be said for a growing number of their male counterparts.

The concept of a teamwork.

Again, can you imagine a female athlete promoting herself like Deion Sanders or Terrad Owens Sinko while playing a team sport? If you listen to a female athlete who fits that description talk about her sport, you almost totally forget about the individual. You have to specifically ask about HER role to get her to use the word 'I.' And the joy they feel after succeeding as a team is palpable.

This is the average women's team I'm talking about, not some special "Band of Idiots" that everyone can feel good about every once in a while. They celebrate as a team and suffer as a team. Most importantly, they work as a team and almost always acknowledge the team as the primary reason for any individual honor or success.

Last and most importantly, social progress.

I might lose some of the religious crowd with this one, but oh well. If I lose you, we probably weren't going to see eye-to-eye anyway.

Let me throw some famous female athletes from major pro sports at you: Billie Jean King, Lisa Raymond, Martina Navratilova, Sheryl Swoopes, and Karrie Webb. I'm sure most of you see where I'm going, but in case you don't, here's that list's counterpart from the men's side:_.

It doesn't exist because there are no famous homosexual professional male athletes. In fact, there's a good chance there will first be a list of male professional athletes who are famous because they are gay instead a list of famous athletes who happen to be gay.

Look, I'm not a gay-rights activist. I don't happen to be gay myself. And, frankly, I don't really care one way or the other. It's none of my business and I'll thank you not to make it such.

But I don't believe for a second there hasn't been a single, gay male who was elite in either baseball, basketball, football, tennis, golf, or hockey. That means someone had to hide a significant part of his identity, a part over which he had no control.

That ain't right. But it's something that the male side of sports continues to endorse.

The women's side does not. It also, obviously, does a better job of promoting respect for women.

There's not too much need to go into this one. Suffice it to say that healthy, confident female athletes are better examples for my two little nieces than selfish, petulant millionaires who run through groupies like it's part of the job.

And then toss 'em down a flight of stairs afterwards.

Or how about cheerleaders (not that I'm against them)? And it's not coincidence that commercials during sporting events tend to lean towards the sexually-provocative featuring scantily clad women more often than Brad Pitt or Orlando Bloom in skivvies).

There are others, but if I don't stop somewhere, this article will be even longer than it's shaping up to be (we're almost there though, don't give up).

The second reason it's unfortunate we don't pay more attention to female sports is that they prove the direction in which male professional sports are headed is not a good one.

Many of the above ideals have been sacrificed on the men's side at the altar of the almighty dollar. I bemoan guys like Ocho Sinko and Owens, but the National Football League loves 'em and some fans defend them because they sell tickets, jerseys, and hats. They are also very good at the game they play. Nobody cares that the individual is becoming bigger than the team or that many pro athletes are blurring the line between the arena of competition and crime because everyone's getting rich and looking good doing it.

That's fine, to a degree. Sports are about entertainment and entertainment is about style as well as substance. And it should be profitable.

But women's sports show what is forgotten when profit is paramount. They show what has already disappeared and what continues to vanish with each new Scott-Boras-driven contract. Each new off-field scandal. Each bump in ticket price and personal seat license. The women's version shows, by ugly comparison, how the men's version is nurturing and emphasizing the very aspects that will surely be its demise (if anything can be) while hiding behind financial justification.

And no one is watching.

I'm not saying we should be forcibly carted off to WNBA games or anything of that nature. People are free to choose what entertains them and I tend to agree that the pinnacle of the physical side of sport is found in the men's professional leagues. That's why I don't watch high school sports. That's why I don't watch too much minor league action.

However, ESPN has a billion channels. Fox Sports has its own legion. We've got the NFL Network, MSG, the YES network, TBS, TNT, the Big Ten channel, the Golf channel, etc. You're telling me there isn't enough room for some women's love in there?

Sure, sponsors might not like it and some of the edge might be taken off the revenue stream. You're telling me those deep pockets can't afford it?

Sure, the masses still might ignore it. But a few might get the message.

And if you really love Major League Baseball or the National Basketball Association or the NFL or any other of the heavy-hitting male sports, that would be worth the price.

Because it's an important message and too many of us are ignoring it.

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