The Rebel Girl: Taking It to the Hoop

Catherine Sameh

I RECENTLY HAD the pleasure of attending a University of Washington vs. Stanford women’s basketball game. It was exhilarating on many levels: the high level of competition, the intensity of both women coaches, the crowd enthusiasm, the acute concentration and team work of the players, the three women officials.

Through the heady wave of sounds, sights and smells, one constant filled the crowded gym: this event was about the skills and accomplishments of women. From the players to the sports announcers, the trainers to the officials, this was a celebration of accomplished and proud women.

Women have made tremendous inroads into the world of sports, one of the last bastions of patriarchal values and privilege. Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, which prohibited discrimination against women in schools and colleges that receive federal aid, more than one-third of all intercollegiate athletes are female — compared to fifteen percent before 1972.

Close to two million young women are involved in interscholastic sports, compared to 300,000 before Title IX. More than any other time in this country’s history, women are participating in sports and physical activity in record numbers. (How many people even know that the United States women’s soccer team is dominant in the world?)

Given the watershed of Title IX, and the general acceptance of women and girl athletes, I was dismayed to find a near-blackout about the women’s teams when the NCAA basketball competition rolled around in March.

Call me naive. My knowledge of the reality of women’s sports lags far behind my passion for them. But given how far women athletes have come, the paucity of women’s games on network television (except for the final rounds, in contrast to the saturation coverage of the men’s tournament), and the dismally brief nods to them on radio and in newspapers, signal the need for more fundamental shifts in attitudes about women’s sports.

I shouldn’t be so surprised about the low profile of NCAA women’s basketball. After college ball these women aren’t marketable as professional players. And that’s really what American basketball is all about, that most esteemed and profitable sports organization, the NBA.

Perhaps college women basketball players are lucky to be shielded from the intense pressure to make the professional cut. Maybe their lack of access to getting a dizzyingly high salary doing what they love the very most protects them from being so quickly bought and sold. Certainly college male basketball players are vulnerable within such a hierarchical, profit-driven institution.

As with all institutions where men have privileges that women don’t, questions about dismantling those institutions versus changing them from within, about creating an alternative set of values versus infusing new values into the old, arise for those who care about women’s lives and experiences. A good start might be to give proper recognition and honor to women — including women who participate in sports at any level — wherever they are.

ATC 56, May-June 1995