I have only been covering the WNBA for a matter of months, and I will be the first to tell you that I am a complete novice when it comes to being a member of the media. Yet I have long been a sports fan, and I am of the opinion that you would have to be quite ignorant not to notice the disparity between media coverage of men’s and women’s sports. I watch SportsCenter: I see the bias not just in coverage, but also in who is doing the covering. Female sportscasters are few and far between, and their success always seems to hinge on some level of physical attractiveness. There are exceptions, but I’d rather not insult these women by naming them.
My current issue stems from the fact that I covered my first WNBA playoff game last night and was astounded at the difference from the regular season games in terms of media attention. In my brief tenure with the New York Liberty and now the Washington Mystics, I became accustomed to the sparse attendance by the press. As an extreme example, there was one Liberty game after which my friend and I were the only two writers present at Coach Donovan’s post-game press conference. I can proudly say we held our own, but how embarrassing for Coach Donovan that no one was interested in what she had to say?
When I moved back to Washington, D.C. I was impressed that the Washington Post provided regular coverage and featured their Mystics-related articles quite prominently in the Sports section. I never subscribed to the New York Times, but frequent Internet searches for Liberty coverage often yielded nothing more than a passing mention. It is apparent that some teams have better coverage than others, and I may only be experiencing a fraction of what is really going on. That being said, it is impossible not to compare the sparse coverage of the WNBA to seemingly less-important events in men’s sports.
At the Mystics game last night, it was as if the town had suddenly awakened to find that yes, D.C. has a women’s basketball team, and yes, they’ve had quite a season. My usual routine involved arriving to a mostly empty press room two hours prior to tip-off, watching some of the players shoot around before the game, setting myself up at the scorer’s table (apparently they are desperate for bodies… I’ve been seated there three times) and enjoying the game in relative solitude. The pressroom provided a soda fountain, but that was it in terms of amenities.
After the game, there were usually five or six members of the media present for Coach Plank’s conference, and a small group of reporters would crowd around the players in the locker room. No fanfare or pomp and circumstance, just quiet, personal interactions with the team.
Game one of the Eastern Conference Playoffs could not have been more different. I arrived to a packed pressroom and received a meal voucher for Chick-fil-A (where had these been all season?) and had to search out an open table where I could save seats for my coworkers from SBNation. The seating chart for the scorer’s table was full (I was still on it, thank goodness) and I recognized approximately one eighth of the faces present. In the locker room after the game, I had to squeeze my arm through a mass of reporters just to get my recorder close enough to the players. Many of the people present were from media outlets that had completely ignored the team until that game. I’m quite sure I can count on one hand the number of times the Mystics were featured on NBA TV who, by the way, broadcasted this game.
I will say this. I am thrilled that the Mystics, and all the other playoff teams for that matter, are receiving this attention. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been frustrated by the general lack of enthusiasm for these hard-working women. Yet I can’t help but wonder where all these people were when the team wasn’t winning and needed the support of the public? The faithful fans showed up to cheer them on, but the team went virtually unnoticed on the airwaves.
And woe be to the Mystics, who couldn’t pull out a win on their home court with all that attention. The game started flat and looked pretty hopeless until the Mystics bench turned it on in the second half and drew them to within two points. The game had all the drama you could hope for in a mass-broadcasted event, but sadly the results were not in the home team’s favor. Does that mean that all the hard work to garner the attention of the media will have been for naught? I sure hope not.
If anything, I hope that the media outlets that chose to ignore the WNBA until now were able to feel the electricity in the arena and rode the emotional roller coaster along with the players and fans. I hope they realized that people could get just as excited about women basketball players as they can about men. And I hope they decided that perhaps it would be worthwhile to show the WNBA just a little more love when the regular season comes around again.
The playoffs aren’t over for the Mystics. They travel to Atlanta Friday to try and bring the series back home this weekend. Sure, the Mystics have a less-than-stellar postseason history, but that’s no reason to lose faith in them. They defied expectations by taking the Eastern Conference with injuries and sidelined players. They finished the regular season on a six-game win streak, including a dramatic one-point finish over a red-hot Liberty team. They never gave up on themselves, and they wont start now. I just hope the media doesn’t give up on them if they can’t bring home the title.
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To view the Box Score of last night's game, go here.