I’m watching the Billie Jean King documentary on HBO, and it brings back a load of mixed memories.
Yes, Billie Jean was a great tennis player and backer of women’s sports, but the sad truth is that women’s sports have been a catastrophic, expensive failure. In this analysis I’m referring primarily to girls’ team sports in middle school and high school. Women’s individual sports like golf and tennis have enjoyed some marginal success over the years. But those sports cater to a few elite families rich enough to nurture a young teen girl to athletic success. When a girl gets into her 20s, the career winds down quickly.
Michelle Wie has the right idea, shooting for the men’s golf tour rather than being saddled with being in the LPGA.
But Wie needs to make it fast. Statistically, women peak in athletics at a very young age and fade rapidly as they face adulthood – and adulthood, no matter how you feel about it, is radically different in women than it is in men.
The women’s tennis racket (no pun intended) is fueled by sex, with the Kournikovas and Sharapovas dominating, replacing the lesbianized Martinas and Billie Jeans. Tennis is clearly secondary. Can you name the current top-ranked women’s player?
Sure, the NBA continues to bankroll the WNBA, but notice the WNBA games are played in the NBA’s wake, the offseason. The NBA feels it’s a good investment to keep the women out of the way.
I covered a women’s professional game once, the San Francisco Pioneers playing a team from Columbus, Ohio, in the Women’s Professional Basketball League in the 1980s. Competition was lifeless and boring. Fans just can’t stretch to pay for both men’s and women’s games in the same sport. League lasted three seasons.
Sure, the U.S. women’s national soccer team won the World Cup and Olympics, but against whom? Women’s soccer really is not popular overseas and it’s not socially acceptable.
The Olympics have lost their allure, partially due to NBC-TV forcing the issue on women’s sports. The manufactured women’s side of the Winter and Summer Games is sad to watch. NBC assumes that more women’s events means more women will watch the Games. Not so. And men will abandon the TV as well. This last Winter Games was a disaster, in an unknown city in Italy and with American Idol outpointing the Games in ratings.
Yes, it’s cute to emphasize sports like figure skating and gymnastics because they feature cute little girls in skimpy outfits. But that’s cheesy and cheap.
Women’s hockey? What?
Title IX in the 1980s “leveled the playing field” in girls’ sports by forcing equal money to be spent on girls’ teams. All it did was cripple high school and college programs and cause friction and unease between schools’ boys and girls. It was forced and awful and we are paying the price for it.
As a sportswriter in the 1980s I saw a lot of kids ruined by girls’ sports. Fans were more vociferous than those who attended the boys’ games. It was easy to see that many girls were forced into that direction when it was obvious they really didn’t want it.
Then, the coverage. I was caught between angry women’s coaches who stormed into the newsroom and accosted me because the boys were getting all the coverage. WSe did start covering the girls and many sports departments gradually expanded that, but to what avail? Did it sell more papers? No. Did it antagonize the boys, which felt the financial stresses even more because of Title IX? Yes.
I see girls playing on sports teams these days and ask: Why? What good will it really do these girls and what happens when the playing days are over? I feel, deep down, it’s wrong to force girls to do this. They really don’t want to. Too bad Billie Jean kind of rammed it down their throats, along with her militant lesbianism.