Layshia Clarendon: 'It's not about dunking. It's about the system.'
Lauren Jackson retired this week.
The U.S. Women's National Team banded together to stand up for equal pay, filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation.
UConn women's basketball is on a quest to do something no other women's team has done.
Yet, I had trouble escaping this idea that our rims should be lowered. When I saw SportsCenter discussing us, it wasn't about our upcoming season -- the 20th of the league -- it was about something we could do that might make our game more appealing because it would be more like the men's.
I appreciate dialogue. I love to discuss the many angles of issues, and I would encourage new voices to join. But changing a fundamental aspect of our game in order to better mirror the men is incredibly short-sighted.
Visibility for women in sport is a huge issue. Not only do I think that lowering the rims would become a significant source for further ridicule and a step back in gaining equal respect -- I also think it misses the point. People don't tune in to the NBA for the sole purpose of watching dunks. People watch because it's imbedded in our culture to do so. Men's sports have such an immense platform for visibility that even the utility guy on the best teams is revered. They watch because it's the cool thing to do. We don't give women's sports the space to be cool.
The sexism around women's sports can't be denied. Figuring out ways to try to get men to respect our game looks like this: Designing skimpier uniforms, highlighting women who are traditionally beautiful -- and lowering the rims. This completely isolates the varied women we have in this league. Women who can dunk. Women like Brittney Griner, who, when I asked her about the idea, scoffed via text:
Lower the rims for what? For the critics, who then will say, 'Well of course she dunked it's a 9-foot rim.' And how would we do that in every gym and playground in the world? We don't need a lower rim and we don't need tighter uniforms! Those ideas are taking us in the wrong direction. We need equal treatment by the media and support from sponsors. That's real equality. Wake up people. This is a distraction!Brittney Griner
Distracting indeed, from real change. Elevating the women's game looks like this: Advanced statistics, pregame and post-game coverage, telling our stories. Because they are there, but the system that is in place demands women should be satisfied with coverage at all. It says we should be happy to be here. The argument that people just don't care about women's basketball is never going to be true and will never be legitimate without giving the sport the same coverage.
This past year women have made tremendous strides in visibility. From Serena Williams to Ronda Rousey to the entire women's soccer team -- we have seen an elevation for women in ways we haven't before. I'm not ready to concede that women's basketball isn't doing the same. I'm not ready to say we are what needs to change.
One of the most powerful statements the USWNT made was that they are fighting for equal pay for the next generation. They are stepping up for the young girls that are coming behind them; in the same way, we all had incredible women step up before we walked the trails they blazed.
Growing up, I learned to shoot on a playground. I practiced endlessly on a concrete slab in my backyard with a hoop my Dad got from a friend, and when I made it to the asphalt battles of the schoolyard, I was ready.
Like most of the women who make it to the professional level, I played with the boys growing up. The anticipation of the recess bell was almost unbearable at times. I would sprint out to the blacktop because the first two people there got to be the captains. I can't imagine what it would have been like to be isolated to the court next to the one everyone was playing on because I had to play on the court with the lower rim. Or even worse, have no court to play on at all, sitting on the side watching all of the boys play on the 10-foot court. I was often the only girl, if not one of two or three girls out there playing. Who would I have played with? Would I be the player I am today? I highly doubt it.
To lower the rims would not only further isolate young girls and women in the sport, it would become another excuse as to why we aren't good enough.Layshia Clarendon
Furthering inequality is not the answer to increase visibility for women's basketball.
To lower the rims would not only further isolate young girls and women in the sport, it would become another excuse as to why we aren't good enough.
Visibility is the problem.
"How about a WNBA three-point shootout, or a WNBA Skills Challenge. Even better, how about we finally have a WNBA player in the NBA three-point shootout?" said Minnesota Lynx guard Seimone Augustus in a text.
People tune in to watch the Warriors, Spurs, Lynx, Fever and Mercury because they have some of the greatest players in the world on their teams. They've managed to keep a number of stars together who play a fun brand of basketball.
When issues are complicated and constantly being questioned, it's easy to get distracted. Quick fixes are tempting. Continuing to grow this league is going to take serious solutions that will elicit real change. We need to be honest: It's not about dunking. It's about the system. We need to band together as a league and say we're enough. Because we are.
Layshia Clarendon is a guard for the WNBA's Indiana Fever.