In an HBO sports documentary feature, women’s basketball takes the spotlight as we are introduced to superstar, Cheryl Miller who is arguably the greatest female basketball player of all time. The documentary follows the University of Southern California (USC) 1980s women’s basketball team and how Miller’s talent and leadership paved the way for the women’s game and gender equality. The film explores basketball history through the stories from Cheryl Miller herself and game-changers including Doris Burke, Cynthia Cooper, Juliette Robinson, Linda Sharp, Pam McGee, Paula McGee, Rhonda Windham. All of whom have outstanding accolades of their own. The USC Trojans offered women a stage to showcase their talents leading them to consecutive national championships. However, the team’s success also played a significant role in influencing the National Basketball Association (NBA) to establish a league for women to play on a professional level called the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). A huge step towards equality in sports.
Key Takeaways and Further Discussion Points
This film was a fantastic watch whether you are a seasoned vet or completely new to the game of basketball. Women’s sports are rarely given the spotlight it deserves, and through enriched storytelling, viewers are immersed in the historic journey of women’s basketball. Not only does the doc expose the incredible athletic skills these women possess but additional value is placed on their ability to change stubborn minds and encourage the world to embrace women’s sports within all levels of the industry.
“With men, they started to evolve on their own. Women, it was up to everybody else how they could play the game. Not them.”– Jackie MacMullan
Women’s sports began the same way that men’s sports did. The difference is that men are allowed to write their own stories and develop the sport in any way they want. Fans did’t and still don’t question the game as the men’s professional leagues make it up as they go along. However, women are forced to follow the blueprint that the men leave behind, and the power is given to society to determine their worth, credibility, and ultimately their future. Women’s sports are compared against the men’s game which is represented as the fundamental normative that women need to work toward to find their place. It is as if when God, or whatever higher power you may subscribe to, placed the game of basketball on earth, was it only intended to be designed by men and for men. It is perceived to be THE standard for any human being who wishes to play it.
“As the game evolved, what changed? It was television coverage.”– Kim Mulkey
“The biggest thing that came out of that [her career in sports] was the younger generation, the younger crop of young girls, watching this, being inspired to play at this level. ‘Do I think I can do that? Do I really think I can do that?’”– Cheryl Miller
If visibility is so important to the growth of a fanbase, why is there so much resistance toward developing professional women’s sports leagues and then broadcasting their games so fans can form opinions of their own? Instead, we allow fans to fall into the classic narrative that the male experience shapes us to believe.
Don’t tell me its because women’s sports aren’t entertaining enough for anyone to watch. I’ll get to that pathetic argument in a moment.
Each sports league began as an unknown business. Like any startup, one cannot truly anticipate a product’s attractiveness to the market, and only through time, preparation, and promotion will you know how viable you are for success. For example, someone, or rather a party of people, had to take the leap when establishing professional men’s basketball. Investors were sought out and broadcasting companies needed to be persuaded that audiences would tune into the games enough for them to make a profit. There were numbers, testimonials, and stats that projected a viable future for men’s professional sports of course, but no one can truly guarantee the product will be a success. However, based on the data, all those parties took the risk and have been generously rewarded ever since.
So, explain something to me. If all it takes is public interest and savvy businesspeople to manipulate positive projections, why is it so hard for investors to take the risk on women’s sports? Moreover, what is up with the argument that there simply isn’t a demand for women’s sports in-game or on television?! Uhhhh…there
is a demand if you just ask consumers. Also, how is it possible for a sport to gain a fanbase for a demand to occur IF CONSUMERS CANNOT SEE THE PRODUCT?
Don’t believe me? This list of articles may help clear some things up:
- More women are playing sports. Why is no one watching?
- Women’s sports popularity is growing, according to Nielsen study
- US viewership of the 2019 Women’s World Cup final was 22% higher than the 2018 men’s final
- I thought the main issue in women’s sports was equal pay. I was wrong
Think of it in another way. The demand for smartphones was completely unknown when they first came to the market. We hadn’t experienced this type of technology before nor did we understand our eventual desire or obsessive need to have one. Until one day, a guy in a black turtleneck broadcasted to the world of his newest invention. Magazine ads, billboards, videos on the internet, and news platforms broadcasted this man’s genius and now the entire population practically requires smartphones to function. However, had we not been EXPOSED to it, we may have never known.
AND ANOTHER THING…
After the XFL fiasco, no investor or broadcast company can convince me that taking risks on a new sports product isn’t worth it. Even good old American football couldn’t make it work the first time around and YET, companies took a second chance on them after it was already proven to be a colossal failure.
Billionaire businessman, Vince McMahon, is known as a major staple within the corporate sports landscape. He acts as a promoter and executive within WWE, and over the past 20 years he has sought to expand his wallet into the football business. After NBC lost their broadcast rights of NFL games, McMahon, and his newly established entertainment company, Alpha Entertainment, formed a deal with NBC to bring fans a new age of American Football. In 2001, the XFL was established for a single season to compete for NFL audiences. The structure of the game varied from its traditional form to allow for digital innovations and intensified play. The introduction of Skycams and mic’ing up players in-game enabled the league to test out new forms of entertainment that would bring a level of intimacy and personality that fans are not privy to in the NFL. After benefiting from strong viewership in their first few games, the interest died off and the ratings plummeted. The league and their partners lost more than $35 million and were forced to fold only after one season.
Still not satisfied with the outcome, McMahon dumped more money into the revival of the league which made a comeback in 2020. Alpha Entertainment, the parent company of the XFL, has since filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Given that this is an unexpected turn of events that is out of the league’s control, one cannot suspect what the longevity of the XFL’s rebirth would have been for its second time around. This does, however, show that are plenty of deep-pocket businesspeople willing to risk it all for a product that may not survive. So, if investors can justify spending millions on an unstable strategy for a men’s league, what makes standing up for women’s equality in sports any different?
Think hard now, because the argument of there being a lack of interest and scarce viewership is pretty mute at this point.
In Allies We Trust
“Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, name a star and to watch those men treat a woman with that level of respect, it can’t help but have an impact moving forward on an entire gender. Here those men were, embracing a basketball person, but a basketball person who happened to be a woman, and treating her as an equal, that is where society changes.”– Doris Burke
In the film, Doris Burke notes that as Cheryl Miller entered into the world of sports broadcast, what played a significant role in the shift of societal perceptions, was the VISIBLE support and respect that prominent male athletes afforded her.
… So, you’re saying that if I can see human decency in-person or on television, it encourages the social normalcy of equal treatment?! Damn.
I believe it takes a persistent group of allies both within the industry and throughout the public to continue raising awareness of gender bias. The industry and the public need to take an active role in changing their discriminatory attitudes. As leaders with a prominent voice, athletes, coaches, executives, and sports media companies must set the example to audiences by taking more significant leaps to create gender equality. The public then needs to shut down their resistance to change and eliminate their negative behaviours within social society.