Admitting a Bias Against Women's Basketball
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
Last night, Florida beat Ohio State to claim its second straight NCAA basketball championship. And tonight, Tennessee is facing Rutgers, which happens to be the alma mater of Christopher Johnson - one of our producers who you have heard in the Letters segment - in the women's championship. Commentator Richard Purcell recently discovered he's got a thing about women's ball, but he's working on it.
RICHARD PURCELL: I love college hoops. So you'd think that when a group of us got tickets for the NCAA Division 1 Tournament, I'd get mad excited -especially since I got to watch my school, University of Pittsburg, play the University of Tennessee on Pitt's home court. But to be honest, I just wasn't that excited.
See, I love basketball, but I love men's basketball. We were going to the Women's NCAA Division 1 Tournament. Now I went willingly, driven by my own principal devotion to basketball spelled with a capital B. Besides, since women's tournament games suffer low attendance, I thought I'd do my part.
However, truth be told, my attitude was that of someone talking himself into doing court-ordered community service. The game itself was an intense seesaw battle. Whenever the crowd got excited, so did I. But my response was Pavlovian. I spent most of the time talking with Jake, the other guy in our group about our men's tournament betting pool.
The lower-seeded Lady Panthers gave the number one-seeded Lady Volunteers a serious run for their money. But unfortunately, Pitt lost in the end. At the conclusion of the game, crowds of young girls began to gather near our courtside seats. I asked my friend Julie why, and she told me they were probably waiting to get an autograph from Candace Parker.
Ms. Parker, the Lady Vols sophomore phenom, totally dominated the game. At 6'4", she has a speed of a point guard, the silky jumper of a shooting guard, the postings of a center and can dunk to boot. It's no wonder she received the Wade Trophy this year, which is given to the best women's player in the nation. That these young girls sought Ms. Parker's autograph made total sense to me.
What didn't was a lone African-American boy around the age of 10 who joined the crowd of Candace Parker fans. When Ms. Parker finally came out and sat with her family, arena security dispersed most of the autograph seekers. Not to be deterred, this boy tried to sneak past the guard, but was repelled. He then sat in the vacant seat next to my friends and I, a bundle of disappointment and excitement since separating our courtside seats and Candace Parker were about 12 feet, that guard, and a section of metal railing.
After spending 20 dejected minutes next to us, he started to leave. Noticing this, the thin crowd of spectators sitting around us convinced him to lean over the railing and politely ask someone who sat much closer to Candace Parker to take his ticket stub and get her autograph. I was the only person who did not join this motivational chorus. I just couldn't understand why a young boy wanted her autograph. It's not like she was Kevin Durant.
Anyway, a kind woman took his stub and gave it to Ms. Parker, who promptly signed and passed it back. When this boy got it, he looked at that stub like I would have looked at tickets to the men's championship game. A few days later, I thought about this scene. I still couldn't understand why this little boy wanted Candace Parker's autograph, but I did feel guilty for not encouraging him to seek it.
And that got me thinking: as long as people like me accept women's basketball only if it mimics the men's game, Title IX and other guarantees against gender discrimination win legal battles, but the one on the most important battle field - that of the mind. The worst part is I see my warped principles as progressive ones.
Somehow - and admittedly, I don't know how - principles must ultimately yield to desire - the very same desire that drove that 10-year-old boy to get Candace Parker's autograph. So hopefully, instead of being silent, I'll at least encourage that desire next time it sits next to me at a women's basketball game.
CHIDEYA: Richard Purcell teaches at the University of Pittsburg. He's finishing his doctoral dissertation on writer Ralph Ellison.
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