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The WNBA & "The True Fan Card": Why We Need to Pay Less Attention to the Haters

Ben York who writes a Phoenix Mercury blog for recently wrote an article for Slam Magazine entitled, "Why You Need to Pay Attention to the WNBA", taking a direct shot at readers who apparently double as WNBA haters and even assuring them that their "man-card won’t be revoked if you like it."

*Note: I'm glad he did that because I was starting to fear for my man-card.

As someone who believes that the WNBA could work a bit on its framing/marketing strategy, I usually enjoy reading these articles just to get some insight on how one might hypothetically pitch the game to men.

As persuasive WNBA writing goes, Bob Ryan’s Boston Globe article from last year entitled "The Game You’re Missing" still strikes me as the gold standard, but I think York makes a pretty good case directly refuting the more prominent arguments people use against the WNBA.

But I usually also enjoy reading these articles for the comments. It truly amazes me that people who claim to hate the WNBA spend so much time and mental energy berating the league with unreflective comments that seem to simultaneously defy basketball logic and common sense.

The most egregious comments are either a) those that use some sort of alternative mathematical system to compare the per game stats from the WNBA (40 minutes) and NBA (48 minutes) OR b) those that suggest lowering the rim. I cannot really decide which is worse.

But what stood out for me in reading the article was York pulling "the True Fan card". York makes a juxtaposition between liking "flash, showmanship, and dunking" and "good team basketball". However, that dichotomy doesn't quite set right with me and is often easily dismantled by NBA fans for good reason.

First, even if you look at recent years, the NBA elites actually do play excellent team basketball. That goes for pretty much any team that has played in the NBA Finals coached by Phil Jackson (LA Lakers), Larry Brown (Philadelphia 76ers/Detroit Pistons), or Greg Poppovic (San Antonio Spurs) as well as the 2009 Orlando Magic, the 2000 Indiana Pacers, and just about any Utah Jazz that has ever been coached by Jerry Sloan. Second, when you compare that to watching WNBA players occasionally miss layups, I acknowledge that the "WNBA is more fundamental" argument seems really difficult to grasp.

So to me, that pretty much eviscerates the WNBA is "more fundamental" argument in addition to undermining the True Fan card argument. There might still be room for a WNBA as no-frills basketball argument, but even that is directly challenged by the Spurs and Jazz. Is there a more frill-less man than Jerry Sloan anywhere in U.S. professional basketball?

However, I still think there is merit to the argument that people who dismiss the WNBA without watching it because it lacks "flash, showmanship, and dunking" might not be "true fans". To elaborate, it might mean that people who dismiss the WNBA on these grounds simply like basketball as another form of entertainment (a pleasurable diversion from daily life), rather than appreciating it as a sport (competition in an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess).

Of course sports and entertainment are interconnected, but I would argue that if you’re evaluating a basketball player on dunking ability and style, you’re looking for that person to excite you as a passive consumer rather than trying to appreciate that person’s craft on its own terms as an active observer.

This is not necessarily an evaluative claim suggesting that one is better than the other, it just suggests a distinction between a fan who appreciates basketball as sport and a fan who consumes basketball as entertainment. It is certainly possible to be one without the other or both simultaneously. I would consider myself both. I would consider those that play every weekend but never watch the former. I would consider NBA fans who bash the WNBA as the latter.

All I’m saying is that if you don’t really appreciate the sport for the sport, then own it…and don’t waste time berating the WNBA (or any other sports league) using an entertainment framework. There are probably just better uses of time.

Hateration and the Dark Side of Anti-intellectualism

My favorite WNBA critique actually came from a friend in a late-night discussion over drinks, proof that being overeducated in no way protects someone from turning to the Dark Side of Haterism.

I was talking to a few native Seattlites about whether they would ever root for the Oklahoma City Thunder after the Seattle Sonics relocated there (I have yet to find a Sonics fan who would ever consider rooting for the Thunder and it intrigues me). At some point, a good friend of mine said, "I don’t know much about basketball, but I do know you’re supposed to win. The Sonics never won anything, so I didn’t watch them. We don’t deserve a basketball team."

Note: as Rethinking Basketball is a family site, I have censored the above statements to make them appropriate for all ages.

So I responded, "Well there’s still the Storm. Y’all got a team."

To which my friend responds, "They don’t count."


How can a man who just admitted he knows nothing about basketball and really doesn’t care for basketball anyway evaluate the quality or worthiness of a basketball team? It just seems a little inconsistent? There’s no way to even respond to someone who is working from a completely arbitrary place to begin with.

Unfortunately, most comments about the WNBA are just as arbitrary (and blatantly sexist) as the comment above.

So although I admire the attempt to challenge the haters, reading the comments to York's article was just yet another reminder that one simply cannot persuade irrational individuals using rational arguments.

Once one has chosen the anti-intellectual path of haterism– a path that is not only devoid of logic, but also actively contemptuous and dismissive of it – it’s really difficult to change course. Haterism makes listening to well reasoned arguments a burden simply because it threatens the very core of the hater’s identity.

To be fair, I’m sure we are all haters of something. For me it’s the New York Yankees – I’m a Yankee hater for almost no reason at all. I mean, they won a lot (last century) and they have a big cable contract bank rolling their team, but I have no real reason to hate them. I just do -- the soundtrack of my mind instantly switches to the Imperial March any time I hear the word "Yankees".

And we can all probably discern from personal experience that people who are sipping large quantities of Haterade are probably not really seeking any sort of understanding of that which they are attacking. They do it simply because they are either argumentative, insecure, or simply unintelligent…or (in the case of the WNBA haters) sexist.

We probably shouldn’t expect them to "Expect Great" from the WNBA any more than we should expect a president of a wealthy nation to apologize for an unconstitutional war. Perhaps instead of expending energy trying to convert the mindless minions of the Dark Side, supporters of the WNBA should just maintain clarity about what they're advocating for. For me, that’s an appreciation of basketball as a sport, regardless of who's playing.

To those who don’t appreciate the WNBA as a sport, that’s cool. But is there really any need to disrespect the women who play?

Transition Points:

Perhaps some insight into what it means to be a True Fan lies in the beauty of youth sports. A recent ESPN feature on youth sports by Kenny Mayne: