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Women’s sports are sending a message, loud and clear

 

Women’s sports are sending a message, loud and clear

Who to call?

With the UConn women’s basketball team nearing another national championship, I wanted to talk hoops with someone. So, I dialed up Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy during Tuesday night’s final. Yes, the same Dan Shaughnessy who drew the ire of UConn coach Geno Auriemma, the entire state of Connecticut and women’s sports fans everywhere when he tweeted about UConn’s 60-point victory over Mississippi State earlier in the tournament.

“Hate to punish them for being great, but they are killing women’s game,” he wrote. “Watch? No thanks.”

When Shaughnessy picked up, I asked him if he was watching UConn play Syracuse in the title game. He was. Really. Then, he quickly added that his opinion remained unchanged. But he put it all in a broader context.

“It’s not competition,” said Shaughnessy, as UConn pulled ahead by 33 points in the third quarter. “It’s got nothing to do with gender. It’s like the Dream Team in Barcelona. UConn is great, but I wish half of them were playing somewhere else.”

It’s the perspective of someone who sees competition as the most essential, non-negotiable, fundamental part of sports. He’s been clear about that in his own column. Fair enough. But there’s an important context much broader than UConn or Tuesday night’s final. And it has everything to do with gender.

Too often we talk about what women’s sports isn’t, instead of what it is. In the process, success gets devalued, even criticized. That’s why a tweet about UConn killing the women’s game prompts such a strong backlash from Auriemma and others.

While UConn makes a perfect season and a fourth consecutive national championship look easy, they’re not. That kind of long-term dominance takes talent, coaching, chemistry, and unrelenting drive. Four years is an incredible length of time to stay on top and to keep focused on the NCAA tournament trophy.

Ideally, such a reign pushes other players to be better. The same could be said of the success achieved by the US women’s national soccer team and Serena Williams.

In recent weeks, UConn, the US women’s national soccer team, and Williams have demanded greater respect for what they do. The World Cup-winning women’s team is trying to close the wage gap with the men’s side. In mid-March, Williams called out a tournament director who commented that female players “ride on the coattails of the men.” The tournament director was forced to resign amid the controversy his remarks created. Bravo.

Maybe UConn, the US women’s national soccer team, and Williams will prompt a change in how female athletes value themselves and how sports fans value female athletes.

Responding to Shaughnessy, Auriemma said, “Don’t watch. Nobody’s putting a gun to your head to watch. So, don’t watch and don’t write about it.”

More than Auriemma’s anger, I was struck by the subtext of what he said. Besides the coach’s defiant message, here’s what I heard: “We don’t have to be grateful for whatever we get.” […]

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