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Brittney Griner and the larger issue of women in men's sports

Is it possible that the reaction to Cuban's comments about Griner is about more than questioning basketball decisions?


I am not a bra-burning feminist. Not even close. I often get annoyed when people lean on gender bias to explain away shortcomings. But I am a female. And I do see actual gender bias that is worth addressing on occasion.

Basketball Twitter has been up in arms, thanks to a conversation Mark Cuban had involving Baylor hoops star Brittney Griner. To be fair, Basketball Twitter is generally up in arms whenever Cuban opens his mouth, whether justly or unjustly, so the instant reaction was no surprise. What surprises me is how folks immediately assumed this was a joke or a publicity stunt and not Mark Cuban genuinely believing a person is a capable basketball player.

If you get beyond the initial comment, Cuban goes on to say,

"I've thought about it already. Would I do it? And right now, I'd lean toward yes, just to see if she can do it. You never know until you give someone a chance."

That last sentence is the part I'd like to take a minute to discuss.

I guess the thing that's irking me so much is the need to keep Griner in her place. You know, the WNBA, where women make a couple thousand dollars playing a short season, then travel overseas for the rest of the year so they can make enough money just to live a normal life.

She's supposed to be here, doing damage for the Phoenix Mercury

Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don't Lie opined on the situation, and took the stance that it was a disservice to Griner to even consider her among the NBA talent.

No, at that point in her summer schedule she's supposed to be here, doing damage for the Phoenix Mercury and leading a turnaround for a proud franchise that has been in the WNBA Finals four times, while winning the championship in 2007 and 2009.

I'm sorry. Supposed to? And why is that? Because we created a nice little league for the girls to play in so they wouldn't feel left out of the professional basketball world? Have any of you ever been to a WNBA game? Or a women's NCAA basketball game? I have. There is such little respect for these women who play this sport as hard as any man does, and now we're forced to address the issue (again) of what to do when a woman wants to try her hand competing with the guys.

Look, I'm not saying inviting Griner to play in Summer League or even drafting her isn't a publicity stunt or an unwise basketball decision. What I'm saying is, why on earth isn't she allowed to try if she wants to?

There's this weird protective vibe that I'm picking up that's irking me to no end. "Oh no, don't get her hopes up just to let them down." She is a grown woman who has proven to be pretty damn strong in many ways. I think she can handle making her own decisions. Women who play basketball don't need men to look out for their best interests. Women in general don't need men to look out for their best interests, but that's a whole other issue.

Maybe she wouldn't make the team. Ok, likely she wouldn't make the team. But hey, that little crack in the glass ceiling left by Ann Meyers Drysdale might just get a little bigger. Maybe the guys who have literally never watched a female play the game of basketball, and yet dismiss it all the same, might get a chance to see a truly unique talent that they wouldn't have seen otherwise. Maybe someone's opinion about female athletes will change.

And I'm curious as to why that's a bad thing.

Getting drafted as the first pick in the WNBA is a big deal. An impressive accomplishment shared by few. But if Brittney doesn't get drafted first, does that mean she can't ever play? No seriously, I'm asking. If she did find a way to audition at Summer League, and didn't get offered a contract, could she not go sign one with a WNBA team anyway? If she can, what's the harm in trying?

I don't always agree with Mark Cuban. Honestly, he drives me up a wall sometimes. But the immediate dismissal of his comments regarding Griner reveals, to me, a deeper issue of women playing men's sports. Remember, friends. Once upon a time women were not allowed to wear pants.

Things change. People can accomplish amazing things. And like Cuban said, you never know unless you give someone a chance.