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WNBA media coverage still far short of equitable 

 

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Second of a four-part series

 

Although it’s America’s longest running women’s pro league, the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) is still seen by too many as below major league status. The MSR talked about this and related issues with coaches, players, analysts, fans and league officials throughout the league’s 17th season; their insights are included in this multi-part series on the WNBA.

According to Scoreboard for Equality, a new on-line blog that began this summer monitoring women’s sports coverage, America’s longest running women’s pro league championship didn’t make the New York Times’ top sports stories, with just a brief mention in both USA TODAY and the Washington Post.

Sports Illustrated had four writers covering baseball playoffs, but only one for the WNBA playoffs. ESPN’s almighty SportsCenter aired the Minnesota Lynx’s three-game sweep of Atlanta only after five other sports stories were aired. And as for male-dominated sports radio — forget about it!

Furthermore, there was not one local mainstream columnist in Atlanta to watch and write on Game 3 earlier this month. It’s a safe bet that wouldn’t be the case if it were the Wolves playing for a title, or the Twins, Wild, Vikings, or even the

Nicole LaVoi Photo by Sophia Hantzes

Nicole LaVoi
Photo by Sophia Hantzes

Gophers.

“I think that’s inexcusable,” said University of Minnesota Tucker Center Associate Director Nicole LaVoi, who regularly studies media coverage of women’s sports.

“I look at the newspaper and what do I see? Losing teams on the [sports] front page,” says Danita Banks of Brooklyn Park. “Two championships in three years and in the championship finals three years in a row. I don’t know what more they have to do to get some recognition.”

“Why can’t they be recognized like the men?” complained Lynx fan Pat Blackburn, Minneapolis. “I’m baffled — I don’t understand it. If somebody has good answers, please bring them to me.”

LaVoi says that although the Lynx coverage “was better than it has been in the past,” it was partly due to the fact that local mainstream media had been shamed for their invisibility earlier this year. “The media was perhaps a little more sensitized because of the outrage that they all got for not giving the [undefeated national champions] Gophers women’s hockey team their due,” noted the professor.

Still, after 17 seasons, why are we continuing to seek equitable media coverage for the Minnesota Lynx? Fantasy sports get more love and are more discussed than the WNBA, which some still see as a novelty act, a niche sport.

“I understand your frustration, because I have family and friends who complain about the same thing,” admits Phoenix guard Alexis Hornbuckle.

Sports radio unfortunately spent more time talking about “the kiss” that occurred during a Minnesota-Phoenix playoff contest: Mercury guard Diana Taurasi unexpectedly kissed Lynx guard Seimone Augustus as they got tied up in a heated exchange.

When the MSR asked League President Laurel Richie about the incident and if she was concerned about any negative fallout from it, she responded, “Not at all. I thought [it] was a fabulous piece on, I think it was called “Smooching in Sports” [on ESPN].

“It was a look back at all these infamous kisses that have taken place in sports. So for the WNBA to spur that conversation and for us to be viewed in that context, I think it’s great.”

Context? Being a highlight on America’s silliest videos instead of serious post-game analysis should be disconcerting for Richie and the league overall.

“I would like to be consciously optimistic, but we have a long way to go” said LaVoi. “We all know there is a lot of room for improvement in terms of the amount of coverage and the type of coverage, what’s covered and what’s not. There still is a lot of room for improvement,”

What do we want? More. When do we want it? Why not now?

 

Next week: Promoting the WNBA — is it better? Does it need to be better?

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to [email protected].

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