A New York Liberty Blog

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Why Here? Why Now?

Thursday is Essay Day.

(Update to follow...)

Why would a heterosexual man create a Liberty blog? It’s not like I’m the only one. Hell, some have written books about the WNBA. If you are asking yourself that question, however, maybe you should rethink your viewpoint on the world. Is there something inherently anti-masculine about watching women play basketball? Are all the stereotypes correct, in that only Lesbians like the league (incorrect, first of all, and even if true, who cares)? Or is it that the WNBA is a second-tier sport, below even the Arena Football League or both Lacrosse leagues? Is it not cool to root for something that isn't established? Or is that I am writing a blog about it?

Well, okay, that last point has some merit. I am not the biggest basketball fan out there, nor am a WNBA stalwart. I have only been to four games in my life, and my knowledge of basketball is limited. I grew up in Pittsburgh, and until the Pitt Panthers began to get good, hoops was a non-entity in the city outside of a few high school teams. Being such, I didn’t watch a full basketball game until halfway through my sophomore year. So, why would I write a blog about the New York Liberty?

I guess most of it has to do with the timing. I have been to a few Libs games before, and I enjoyed my experience, but I hadn't really given it much thought. I liked the time I spent at MSG, and the games were good, but I didn't find myself compelled to keep coming back for more. This has to do with scheduling, as well; I used to live in Pittsburgh during the summer, going to New York for school from fall to spring, meaning that the time that I could have spent watching Liberty games was instead used to watch the Pirates reach new levels of pathetic sportitude. Summer, when most of the league’s games are played, was out of reach.

Now that I'm living in New York full-time, however, a lot of things just kind of fell together at the right moment. I had a little bit of extra money to spend one weekend and happened to look online. What should I find but that my free-day (Sunday) of that weekend also happened to be the season opener. The Writer's Girlfriend loves basketball and likes the WNBA, so we made a date and went and saw the game. Not only was it awesome, but I found a lot to like about the experience itself. I felt myself beginning to enjoy basketball, which, aside from some college hoops that I watch from time-to-time, is nearly alien to me. This deserved some panning out, especially since I had no other team to root for in the immediate future.

Following sports as someone who lives - but was not born - in New York is a daunting experience. Rooting for the Yankees is out; I might as well root for the Empire in Star Wars. Ditto on the Mets, as they have steadily grown to become Yankees Lite (or Diet Yankees, if one's a teetotaler). I love hockey, so I tolerate the Rangers, but I grew up in Pittsburgh as a Pens fan, and thus the Rangers were only a step above Serial Killers on a list of criminals. Devils = Snore. The Islanders play in Nassau. The Knicks and Nets... eh. I don't like the NBA enough to make an effort. And the Giants and Jets, while mildly entertaining enough to watch, have some of the most annoying and abrasive fans out there (to be fair, their fans almost definitely think the same thing about Steeler Nation). I am without cable, and thus am left with few options. The Liberty stepped up to fill that void.

They appealed to me at first for a variety of reasons. Number one, I score major points with my girlfriend when we go to games (she played varsity ball in high school). Number two, it feels like I'm supporting an underdog, even though they're a New York-based team. Number three, the quality of play is very high; these are the best female players in the world. And finally, number four (a biggee), the seats and snacks are ridiculously cheap. They're easy on the checkbook and fun to watch: the Libs are tailor-made for a penny-pinching (read: cheap) sports-fan like me.

There's also something else to it, though. The Liberty, and the WNBA as a whole, seem like they have their act together. Maybe not completely, and certainly not financially, but at least they don't worship greed in the way that the MLB and NFL do. This is a league that says it’s okay for a woman to play sports, and to play it on a major level. Players don’t beat their partners (see: Patrick Roy), dope (see: Barry Bonds), kill people (see: Pac-Man Jones), or antagonize the very people who give them the attention they crave (see: Allen Iverson). It is fun, family-friendly, good entertainment, and as long as one isn’t expecting a completely wonder-bread, no-homos-allowed experience, then it is the perfect place to bring young daughters and enjoy sports.

I certainly wouldn’t want to raise a young woman in this environment if something like the WNBA wasn’t around. I love sex as much as the next guy, but testosterone oozes through the very air we breath at the moment, making role models like Paris Hilton seem acceptable while advertisements/magazines/TV/films/music/etc. encourage girls to act like sluts and whores for the edification of men. I’m all for women making their own choices; I just think that there should be options for young girls to look up. Lindsay Lohan should not be the end-all-be-all. Not only that, but even if a young woman LIKES sports, hyper-sexuality pervades sports events as well. Witness cheerleaders at almost all NFL games, insane Budweiser commercials (I guess they have to have something to draw attention away from the horse-piss they call beer), and wet tee-shirt contests. I go to sports to AVOID having to think about sex. If I wanted all of that wrapped into an activity, I wouldn’t go to a baseball game and hop into a strip club. While I guess most men can’t control their sexual desires for thirty-seconds at a time, it is nice to have an arena where that isn’t the major draw.

This raises the hackles of certain people, however. Not only the knuckle-draggers who have been dissatisfied since women left the kitchen, but also men who feel threatened by the success of the opposite sex. Why this occurs, I don’t understand. It is not like a woman playing basketball in a league somehow makes a man playing hoops with some friends after work mean less. In any case, however, men (and some women) find it necessary to bash the WNBA whenever they can. There are too many lesbians, they can’t even play, they don’t even dunk, etc. All of these arguments come back to a certain basic principle that all have laying at their foundation: the WNBA is inferior. And because it’s inferior, we shouldn’t support it.

We live in a society that preaches success amongst all other things, and woe unto that which does not reach for (and achieve) those lofty heights. Companies are expected to report massive earnings to the stockholders, and if they don’t, it’s not the management’s fault. They need to cut more workers or expedite assembly lines. Oscar-nominated films routinely draw significantly higher crowds the week after the nominations are announced. They weren’t good enough before, or is it that there needs to be some sort of outside benchmark to success before it is okay to go and see that little underground something. People are afraid of failure and change, and being linked to failure and change is somehow uncool. Iconoclasts are only looked up to in our country if they begin to become successful (the paradox being that when they become TOO successful, the backlash begins and suddenly, it’s not so cool to like that something anymore).

This is so much more true in sports (the exception being football teams, which are supported no matter what). The Golden State Warriors, for so long, the welcome mat of the NBA, are now doing well, and suddenly, all of the fans come out of the woodwork. Ditto on the White Sox and Tigers. In the early nineties, the Twins routinely outdrew the Yankees, but when their fortunes were reversed, guess what? The Twins drew less and the Yankees drew more. People claim to love an underdog, but if that’s so, why aren’t there more fans at Royals’ games? Or Islanders’ games? Or Bobcats’ games? Why aren’t hockey ratings higher on TV? It feels good to win, but no one will admit it openly because the only thing worse than being a loser is being a bandwagon jumper. Jump on at the right time, and one can coast all the way to a championship, and when things begin a downward swing, no worries! There wasn’t a huge investment anyway. Enjoy the high, but don’t bother with the legacy. If the WNBA ever begins to succeed, we might begin to see people jump up and claim to have always supported it. It hasn’t reached that critical mass yet, and as such, they are the true underdogs and remain (at best) ignored or (at worst) publicly scorned.

However, for me, it is this underdog quality that so many seem to despise that makes it so much easier to find things to love in the Liberty. The Timeless Torches are a perfect example. What other sporting league would promote 40 and over women and men to dance around and have fun. It's funny, their quite good, and... well, why not? It's just at least as entertaining as watching scantily-clad 20-somethings dance around, while not raising qualms about sexism in those intelligent enough to understand why cheerleaders might cause problems. There is a lot there that can be written about, and as a writer, I felt the need to spread some of the goodness about the team and the times to people who might not otherwise get information on the team (the Libs are BARELY covered in the Post, and except for some pity shots in ESPN, hardly visible in this over-saturated sports market). I’m sure I achieve no more than 30 unique hits per day on this website, but for people who are looking for humor and Liberty coverage, I at least give something beyond the WNBA-sponsored propaganda (and I write that with respect).

The Liberty are a marked contrast to the Yankees, as well as New York Sporting Teams (and all pro sports) as a whole. Those who go to see Liberty really are there for the whole package. It's not just the wins, the team, the league, the sport, or any other single cog, but rather the underlying theme through it all. There is a connection, from woman to girl, mother to daughter, player to fan. The rules that the rest of sports "must" follow don't necessarily apply here. Sports aren't exclusively masculine, nor are women second-tier. Ideas like these mingle with the athleticism inherent in the competition to create something meaningful and lasting at the Garden. This isn't a one-way street, either: Fans matter at Liberty games, and it’s nice to feel that one is being appreciated by the Liberty as much as one is appreciating the team on the court. When the Liberty play, it is as if all the things that are wrong about pro sports in the States can be fixed. This is not to say that the WNBA or the Liberty are perfect. Far from it (check out Women’s Hoops Blog for more details…) Still, it is a breath of fresh air.

So, in answer to the above question, there are lots of reasons why a straight white male would create a Liberty blog. Maybe he likes cheering on the underdog. Maybe he likes being an iconoclast. Maybe he likes having a good time. Maybe he likes learning something new. Maybe it's this, and a lot more. There is a lot to the Liberty that isn’t readily apparent, and the Writer enjoys being there to watch the times a-changing. And maybe, in some small part, it's also that he finds athletic women sexy.

I mean, come on. I like to think of myself as more progressive than sexist, but I'm a guy first and foremost, and women playing basketball? That's hot.

Most of the topics skimmed over in this essay (homosexuality in the WNBA, sexism in sports, the survival of the league, why over-masculinated men feel the need to insult women’s basketball, etc.) will be addressed in more detail in later essays. Keep your pants on.

1 comment:

Laura said...


can't wait for the phoenix game!

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