Monday, November 24, 2008

John and Mary

I was inspired by a blog post from a blog called Bloggin' NBA: The Good Girls of Basketball. The gist of the article is that WNBA seem to be rarely involved in the sort of "bad boy" behavior associated with NBA players.

Part of it is that from the time a player is a young prospect until the time he's an NBA veteran, there are pressures on all of the authority figures involved in his life to do two things when he gets in trouble:

a) cover up, and
b) look away.

You can look at multiple examples of a male basketball player and a female basketball player in the same situations, but each will have to live by a different set of rules to be successful.

For example, there are several major colleges * that feel the need to improve their college basketball status by grabbing a successful player out of high school. There is pressure both from the high school administration and from outside forces for this kid to make it to college. If grades have to be "brought up" artifically by means legal or not, there is the money and the willpower to do it.

If John Doe Baller is an all-"D" student, lots will happen. His grades will be altered. Someone will take his SATs for him. Or he'll be extensively tutored, or he'll be sent to a private school that is simply a memorization boot camp for future college ballers.

If Mary Roe Baller is an all-"D" student, she'll just be allowed to fail. There aren't powerful alumni support organization in women's basketball that are going to make those kind of arrangements for a prospect. Pat and Geno will just sign someone else. Mary might have to get her GED, or spend two years in JUCO before she gets to put on the orange or blue.

John will get money under the table, under the belief that he brings money to the school. (He doesn't, according to statistical studies - the college will at best break even; basketball and football are status symbols and not money earners.)

Mary will get a handshake. Maybe some new shoes.

If John is pulled over for speeding and is under the influence of alcohol, Joe says, "I play for Money U." The officer recognizes him. Joe is allowed to go on his way.

If Mary is pulled over for speeding and Mary says, "I play for Money U," Mary spends 24 hours in the drunk tank and probably faces suspension from the team or worse.

If John gets mad at someone and beats Richard Victim with an inch of his life, a massive game of cover-up begins. Alumni play good cop and bad cop. The good cops of the alumni offer Richard Victim money to make the assault charges go away. The bad cops tells Richard that he'll become persona non grata at the campus. The evil cops threaten Richard's life if he squeals. Richard drops the charges and the record is expunged. The media department has no comment.

If Mary gets mad at someone and beats Rhonda Victim with an inch of her life, Mary loses her scholarship and gets 200 hours of community service. Next year, she's playing for a bottom-tier Division I school after sitting out a year. The coach and the media department of the school lament Mary's hair-trigger temper.

John can leave college after a year if he doesn't like it. He claims hardship. He walks right into a seven-figure salary.

If Mary doesn't like college, tough titty. She sweats it all four years. If Mary suffers an ACL tear in her sophomore year that ends her career, well, life is tough.

By the time Mary reaches the WNBA, all of the really bad apples have been weeded out. The violent types, the boozers, the chronic fuck-ups. Mary has learned that talent takes place to not screwing up your shot. Whereas John and his friends have learned the opposite lesson - if you screw up your shot, talent provides a multitude of second opportunities.

The NBA is a player's league. The players set the rules. They are primary.

The WNBA is an owner's league. The owners set the rules. They are primary.

If John is seen partying it up at discos with lines of cocaine freely offered, the media cover it up.

If Mary is seen partying it up at discos with lines of cocaine freely offered, the media doesn't cover it up. Nothing Mary does draws any attention from the media. Unless Mary Roe Baller is snorting cocaine off a (heretofore supposedly) heterosexual supermodel's backside. Then everyone cares.

If John Doe Baller is snorting cocaine off a (heretofore supposedly) heterosexual male model's backside, that bit of information NEVER reaches the media. The cocaine, maybe; the homosexuality, never. Any NBA reporter who reported it would be shut out of locker room news gathering so fast it would make his head spin. Even Mike Lupica would never have the same level of access if he reported something like that. Even though the NBA's player culture might be notoriously intolerant, the players would roast that unfortunate reporter alive. The editor, were he so foolish to let such a story reach the print or the air, might lose his job.

(There is an exception - if John is suffering from HIV. Then John's tale of woe becomes a cautionary tale.)

There are times, frankly, when John wishes he could be forgotten.

There are times, frankly, when Mary wishes she could be remembered.

* - These major colleges are sometimes called "basketball colleges". The tirem is not mean to compliment the institution reaching its athletic goals. In essence, these are trade schools. As Paul Fussell wrote, the quality of an educational institution is usually (but not always) inversely proportional to the quality of its sports teams and the role that sports plays in campus life.

1 comment:

Rebecca said...

I think you're simplifying things. A player with enough talent will get a second chance anywhere, whether we're talking about John or Mary here. Google Shalicia Hurns for an example in college. The fact that Brandy Reed was offered a second chance with the Sparks after completely fucking up with Phoenix and Minnesota also argues against your case. There's an infamous story about an interview Reed did in Israel that started with the intrepid reporter having to bribe Reed with pizza.

I'm not sure if the theory works on the college level, but at least on the WNBA level, there might also be incentive to not fuck up because of the limited number of jobs. How many teams are there in the NBA? 30? 32? Something like that? There are only 14 WNBA teams. Less than half as many jobs available. Theoretically, Mary would have to be more than twice as good as John to get away with the same stunts, because if she isn't, Suzie, Jane, and Loretta are lined up to take that roster spot.

I don't like the women good/men bad paradigm, and especially not the good WNBA/bad NBA paradigm, because it puts the WNBA on a pedestal and makes its players less human when, arguably, the human factor is what separates the WNBA from the bigger leagues. I'd wager a larger percentage of WNBA fans have seen a player up close and personal than have NBA fans, NHL fans, NFL fans, or MLB fans. To me, in New York, Nate Robinson, Brandon Jacobs, Derek Jeter- they're not real; I've only ever seen them in pictures, on TV, or at best, at a distance from the only seats I can afford, only ever heard them on the radio or TV. But Loree Moore, Janel McCarville, Shameka Christon- they're real; I've seen them in person, wished them good luck and heard it acknowledged, requested and received autographs, asked them questions. I'm sure there's some of that in the men's game- I don't know, I don't really follow that closely. But it's easier to engage and enmesh oneself quickly in the women's game, and I really think that's an important cultural difference.

Sorry. Wandered off on a tangent. The point of that was that it's not that simple and making it that simple is insulting to both sides.