Sweetness And Light
5:17 am
Wed January 15, 2014

Women's Team Sports: Where Is The Love?

Originally published on Wed January 15, 2014 11:51 am

Two recent sporting disappointments underscore the state of interest in women in sports. The first: Lindsey Vonn, sadly acknowledging that her injuries were too serious, announced that she would not be able to compete in the Olympics next month. The second: The owners of the Los Angeles Sparks, acknowledging that they were overwhelmed by debt, just gave up the franchise.

Now, even if you aren't a sports fan, you've probably heard about Vonn's fate. Even if you are a sports fan, you might well have not heard about the plight of the Sparks. The larger point: Individual women's sports continue to be the popular fare on that side of the gender line, while women's team sports simply never manage to attract much attention, let alone success.

It's possible that more Americans are familiar with the nostalgic baseball league from the 1940s depicted in the old movie A League of Their Own than they are with any existing women's league.

Click on the audio link above to hear Deford's take on this issue.

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Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Women's sports are on commentator Frank Deford's mind, specifically the difference between, say, a female skier and a female basketball team.

FRANK DEFORD: In sport, besides just the losing, there are always disappointments - two from last week. First, Lindsay Vonn, sadly acknowledging that her injuries were too serious, announced that she would not be able to compete in the Olympics next month. Second, the owners of the Los Angeles Sparks, acknowledging that they were overwhelmed by debt, just gave up the franchise. Every employee was let go.

Since there're no apparent buyers, even for an L.A. showcase, the Sparks were just dumped back to the poor league, the Women's National Basketball Association.

Now, even if you aren't a sports fan, you've probably heard about the sad fate of Ms. Vonn. Even if you are a sports fan, you might well have not heard about the sad plight of the Sparks. The larger point here is how individual female sports continue to be the popular fare on that side of the gender line, while women's team sports simply never manage to attract much attention - let alone success.

This is, too, high season for the women. Serena Williams has begun her attempt to win her 18th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open. And then, notwithstanding Vonn's absence, women will be prominently displayed in the Olympics in sports like skiing and figure skating.

But, say, have you ever even heard of Breanna Stewart? She's the incredibly gifted sophomore basketball star at the University of Connecticut, which dominates its universe more than any other team in American athletics. If Breanna's UConn were a men's team, it would be daily lifted to the heavens in print, on radio and TV, in blogs and text and twitters.

If Breanna Stewart had become as fine a tennis player as she is at basketball, headlines would be blaring out of Australia now about the grand new challenge to Serena.

Ironically, despite the popular emphasis on individual sports, and at a time when so many girls in the United States now grow up, with pride, participating in sport, American women are lagging in that territory. In particular: Europeans dominate tennis, Asians golf. I can only conclude that, like our boys, more American girls are choosing to play team sports. Only, when school is over, there's no teams for the best of them.

Gee, I suspect that more Americans are familiar with the nostalgic baseball league from the 1940s depicted in the old movie, "A League of Their Own," than they are with any existing women's league. There's no crying in baseball. But there is crying for women's team sports.

The final irony is that I agree with what we keep hearing, especially about female politicians: That they're much more accomplished than men at working together at - well, at teamwork. It's just that nobody much wants to watch women athletes displaying that ability.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: Commentator Frank Deford part of our team, joins us each Wednesday.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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