The 2014 March Madness for college basketball has now passed, and now all that is left is the Final Four events for both women and men! I happen to be at the University of Connecticut this week, of course celebrating the occasion with a host of other avid UConn basketball fans! For those not following this madness, the rare occurrence of both the men and the women’s basketball teams from one school – in this case UConn of course – are
going to their respective Final Four tournaments. This is very exciting on a number of levels, one being the simple rarity of this convergence. The UConn women were not only expected to reach the Final Four, but are slightly favored to win the championship. The men, on the other hand, were not expected to even reach the Final Four, so the suspense related to their performance in the Final Four is very intense! The men’s coach is a former UConn player, who has never before coached a Final Four team! The women’s coach has been at UConn for over 30 years, and if the women win the Championship, this will be his 9th national championship (a record!). But despite these contrasts that are interesting, there are other contrasts that draw my attention, as an avid UConn women’s basketball fan, in a
kind of yin/yang way.
I blogged about the challenges of homophobia in sports in general on my LavenderHealth blog on Monday. But even today, signs of the persisting disparity in sports based on gender landed in my Inbox in the form of message from the UConn President, Susan Herbst (the first woman President!!). Her message acknowledged the excitement of both teams going to their Final Four Tournaments, urged everyone to “celebrate responsibly,” and included this information:
The university will open up Gampel Pavilion on Saturday, April 5, to all UConn students, so that you can watch the televised men’s game live with one another here on campus. The doors will open at 5:00pm. The game will begin shortly after 6:00pm and will be projected onto large screens that will be visible throughout most of Gampel.
Sunday’s women’s game will also be shown live on campus in the Student Union Theatre. Doors will open at 8:00pm and the game begins at 8:30pm.
Even without knowing anything about the UConn campus, I believe that you can detect the disparity here. Of course, everyone “knows” that the audience for the women’s game will
not be as large as the audience of the men .. right? Are you sure? The women’s team has commanded a fan base for years that matches or exceeds that of the men’s team. And, if you plan for a smaller audience, are you not creating that reality in advance?
Then there is the matter of finding these games on television. For this tournament that problem is a bit simpler because there are only 3 games for each. But still, they are listed on the TV schedule as “College Basketball” and “Women’s College Basketball.” When someone says “I am going to the Final Four” the assumption is that they are going to the men’s tournament. This is more than annoying .. it is symbolic of a lasting disparity that is sustained by the language we use.
So to me it does matter which Final Four we mean. Karen and I will be watching both the men and the women tournaments. But we cannot help but notice so many contrasts – some of which represent real progress for women (for example, 3 of the 4 teams in the women’s Final Four have women head coaches!). All the while, it is important to be mindful of ways to address the disparities that persist – one way is by our actions .. tuning in to the women’s games, talking
about the amazing emergence of women’s sports and what it means for so many young women as they are discovering their personal and collective strength and power. This women’s tournament will be amazing .. there are two undefeated teams in the Tournament – UConn and Notre Dame! One team will walk away with their winning streak broken, but all the young women on all of the teams competing this year have broken amazing barriers by just being there, for developing their athletic skills, and devoting their energies to inspiring other girls and women as their careers have unfolded! So I cheer them all, even though for now I have to close with this … go UConn!