Alysa Auriemma: 'I grew up with the antithesis of LaVar Ball in my household'
Oh, here we go. Another female columnist talking about LaVar Ball and his antics and his shirts and his shoes.
Another female columnist giving Ball attention after a situation in which a man exerted power and, when questioned about it later, insisted it was more about the "difference between men's and women's basketball."
I wait with bated breath for the trolls to come after me with their pitchforks and keyboards.
But this article isn't about Ball. Not really. I mean, it is -- but it isn't.
As much as I would like to devote a thousand words to why people like Ball make the game of professional men's basketball a complete train wreck to watch for someone like me, this is more about the culture that allows people like Ball to flourish, and the harmful machismo that follows.
I didn't grow up in this type of culture, but I'm not so foolish as to presume that it doesn't exist. I know my privilege, and I'm aware that, with that, comes the need to check it constantly. I do this gladly, because I know I have had so many experiences that many others may not get.
The reason why I didn't grow up in this culture is pretty simple, really. First, I had a great mom, who really took on two roles while I was growing up. Because of the nature of my dad's job, which required him to be away a lot for games or recruiting trips or camps, my mom had to be both parents at the same time. She's the funniest, kindest person I know, and she's got a backbone of steel. But you already know how much I admire and love my mom, and how much she's taught me over the years. I wrote a whole essay about her!
The real reason I was able to avoid the toxicity of a culture that enjoys and promotes someone like Ball is because I grew up with the antithesis of Ball in my household. My dad is the anti-LaVar Ball.
Ball seems to most commonly use the phrase "stay in your lane" when addressing women who challenge him, such as the referee at the Adidas camp, or Kristine Leahy on "The Herd" with Colin Cowherd. The message behind that phrase is clear -- it means "know your place." "Be quiet."
I was never told to stay in my lane, unless I was in my late teens and Dad was giving me a driving lesson and I was listing a little bit too much to the left. That's the only time, really, that a woman should be told to stay in her lane.
Growing up, I learned what real masculinity looks like. Masculinity is embodied by listening. By making tough choices. By admitting when you're wrong.
I'm concerned that we aid and abet Ball's agenda because men on some level admire his audacity. They want to be that level of outrageous or controversial. He performs a level of theater to get attention, the likes of which I've not seen since the infamous, ambitious Mama Rose from the musical "Gypsy." Ball's performative masculinity gets him noticed, gets articles written about him and gets him shirts printed up with his signature phrases. "Stay in Yo Lane." "Big Baller."
What exactly does it mean to be a "Big Baller"? Does it mean to insult a player who lost his mother at a young age, like he did with Kyrie Irving? Does it mean getting a referee thrown out of a game, only to cause your own team to lose when you yourself are ejected and then refuse to leave the court?
We think masculinity means overrunning everyone else's opinions, to believe so completely in your own self-righteousness that you negate the idea of ever once thinking that you're wrong, to the detriment of everyone around you.
Masculinity like this will always want women like us to stay in our lane.
I am thankful that I've spent my time on this earth in the presence of a father figure who never told me to "stay in my lane," but rather told me to work as hard as I could, and that sometimes, even working as hard as you can doesn't necessarily mean you'll get what you want.
When I was 23 years old, I lived in New York City for several months to try to make it as an actress. I got invited to perform in a cabaret that was a pretty big deal in the theater circuit. My dad wasn't able to attend, but he called me before I went onstage. I was absolutely terrified. After a moment of chit-chat, he told me something I will never, ever forget:
"You have been working towards this since you were 5 years old. But I want you to know something. Two things could happen tonight. Either you go out there and you kill it, or, you go out there and you totally crap the bed. Either way, you're going to wake up tomorrow morning, and you're going to have a family that loves you and friends that love you, and that is never, ever going to change. OK?"
I am who I am today because I was guided by a parental figure whose love and support for me has never been in doubt, no matter how often I screwed up. While I didn't necessarily crap the bed that night, I definitely didn't do my best work. I blame nerves (and the shot of Jack Daniels I took before going onstage, which wasn't smart because I have the liquor tolerance of a goldfish).
Lo and behold, I woke up the next day, and my dad wanted to hear all about it. He asked me when I was coming home for a visit. He told me he was proud of me no matter what, as long as I did my very best.
Our young boys are being taught to model a type of masculinity that is reliant on toxic over-promotion of narcissism and misogyny. I wish the model were better, and I wish men like LaVar Ball, with their prominence and their wide audience, had a better sense of whose ears they're reaching. Perhaps then they would realize that the only person who should stay in certain lanes are them.
Alysa Auriemma is a contributor to espnW. Her work has been recognized in The Hartford Courant and The New York Times. Alysa also contributed the afterword to "Unrivaled" by Jeff Goldberg. When she's not yelling at her computer to make words less difficult, Alysa resides in Manchester, Connecticut, and eventually she will stop visiting her parents solely to steal food out of their fridge. @alysamarsiella