My First Season As a WNBA Fan: Chapter 1
Challenging my male upbringing begins with the athletes I choose to support
I’m a first-generation Mexican American from Northern California, a CIS male, and a husband. I’m a fairly conventional dude, emphasized by the fact that I grew up in a household without a consistent female presence (my mom and sister never lived under the same roof as my Mexican dad, older brother, and I did) plus my dad never remarried or had a girlfriend after his divorce. So, from elementary school until community college, I was regularly conditioned in a masculine space with other men. I graduated from talking shit while playing pick up games in the neighborhood, to drinking beers while watching sports every day. And sports was basically our religion.
Imagine coming home after class, having no parent around, and watching ESPN for hours, playing Madden on the Playstation with your homies, doing graffiti, then smoking — or any combination of that in different orders. That was my upbringing. And no matter what I decided to do each day — never anything important or responsible — it involved either replaying, discussing, or idolizing, my favorite athletes. To be hella honest, I don’t think a day ever went by without me and my boys talking about a previous night’s game, arguing who the best player in every league was, or going head-to-head at something athletic to prove who was the best or fastest or strongest (I was usually the fastest but never the best or strongest).
Yet, out of these millions of hours, thousands of days, and years of loyal fandom and addiction to the thrill of competition, I never once considered a female athlete. All those basketball, baseball, football, soccer, and shit, even hockey games from literally all over the world (my dad is an immigrant, remember?), and not one time did I ever see a female sports star on my television besides a commercial. In essence, I spent the first 18 years of my life glorifying players from all over the globe and dedicating every ounce of my limited existence to being a fan of different leagues and teams — but they were restricted to my male biases, restricted to everything I had (or hadn’t) been exposed to, restricted to everything I saw as normalized in a man’s world.
I’m 33 today, and sports are still an intrinsic part of my lifestyle and identity. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m either rocking an Oakland Athletics hat, Golden State Warriors socks, or a Mexican national team soccer jersey. That’s what I know, and what I love.
But I’m ashamed to admit that even though I’ve matured and grown in so many other areas of my life — including becoming a professor, writing poetry books, and traveling the world — I’ve yet to take any serious interest in a professional sporting league for women. Now, I want to actively change that.
After decades of contributing to the monopoly of the male sporting business, I’ve decided I no longer want to be complicit in supporting the invisible systems of patriarchy that favors and promotes male competition as worthy, while overlooking — or worse, publicly shaming — female athletics.
With sports resuming in our strange, COVID-dictated world, I’ve noticed it more than ever. As the WNBA gears up for resuming (about a week before the NBA’s official restart), I’ve seen nothing but jokes, dismissive comments, and straight degrading treatment of the NBA’s sister-league, particularly on the #NBATwitter timeline.
Yesterday, I happily dished out $16.99 (a grand total of seventeen dollars) to subscribe as a first-time WNBA League Pass member. What does that mean? It means I get a shit load of WNBA action — every game, every team, every minute — for the entire season. To put this in perspective, I have previously purchased similar accounts for the MLB ($20 for season-long radio access to MLB games, but no video) and the NBA ($119.99 for season-long access to only one team — my hometown Warriors, of course — but no other games). So for 14% of the price, you can enjoy more games and more access than the male versions of baseball or basketball, combined.
I don’t care if even end up watching 1/4 of the damn games with my WNBA pass, but what’s $17? Even as an unemployed freelance writer and educator, that’s not even half the cost I’d spend on another fitted ball cap for my collection. Chump change. Cough it up.
This isn’t some sort of call for martyrdom — far from it. I’m also not seeking praise or a pat on the back here. This is simply — as someone who grew up in the world of sports and masculine interests — a time to hold myself accountable (and for us to hold ourselves accountable) by becoming proactive in how we can reject sexist mindsets and habits.
Of course, watching women play basketball isn’t some revolutionary act that will suddenly shift the social and gender landscapes of our society. But just imagine if your brother, or your father, or your uncle, or your fuckboy cousin (I see you, Sergio Jr.) decided to watch a few WNBA games a year, or decided to spend that $17 towards supporting the WNBA’s stats with a League Pass instead of betting each other who’s faster when running without their shoes or socks (not as fun as it sounds, but fun to watch).
As of writing this, none of my homies — male or female, for that matter — watch the WNBA.
Still, after a week of researching, nerding out, watching highlights, reading articles, listening to podcasts, and tuning into the start of the 2020 season, I can say that the WNBA is similar — if not, in certain areas, superior — to the NBA. And I’m seriously not exaggerating.
Less dunks? Definitely. More missed shots? Yeah, I won’t lie. But the level of elite athleticism, precise teamwork, hustle, beautiful geometric calculations, intelligent decision making, political outspokenness, fiery coaching moments, and the occasional trick play or big shot, undeniably exists in just as much abundance.
I won’t dumb it down for you though. The style and pace are different; but not that much different. There’s no LeBron, of course. But you’ve watched plenty of NBA games without LeBron in action, and you survived, right? I grew up as a Warriors fan long before Steph Curry, and let me tell you that watching Andris Biedrins and Speedy Claxton on the court wasn’t exactly the most entertaining form of sports I’ve ever watched; but I watched it, because I chose to watch it, and I decided my loyalty.
Let me rephrase this: watching the WNBA so far has literally been the same as watching the NBA when you boil it down to the core elements of the sport — there are hard screens, open shots, fastbreaks, cuts to the rim, box outs, cross-court passes, crossover dribbles. And they can still do it better than you can. Why can’t we simply appreciate — and choose to support— that?
As I’m speaking on this, I’m three games deep into my experience as a WNBA fan — currently watching the Los Angeles Sparks vs. Phoenix Mercury. I’m on my laptop, listening to the game — the rhythms, the pace, the sounds, the love — and switching over to soak in extended stretches of gameplay, long enough to see Diana Taurasi get swat rejected in the paint before recovering and rotating on the floor to hit a deep, corner three.
I have to wonder why I’ve never seen this before? Why was it never shown in my sports-worshipping house while growing up? Why can’t I walk into any sports bar in America and find one person wearing one WNBA jersey — let alone seeing a damn game on one of the 175 screens? Think about that. You know those sports bars, with the same barely-spicy wings, generic bros, and the women who work as bartenders or servers there.
How come you can watch live UFC, NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB, FIFA, and more (and then you can watch the replays, after hours) but you can never catch women competing on those same screens unless it’s tennis (often sexualized) or maaaaybe golf (an unintimidating sport)? Are female athletes really that unwatchable unless they’re in skirts? Or are we really just that patriarchal and sexist as a sports-loving society?
I’m saying fuck that. For real. I can’t think of any tangible, legitimate, convincing reason (besides sexist normalization) why the WNBA — among other female leagues that exist — doesn’t deserve a bigger fanbase; at least one that rivals the MLS (universally seen as a glorified AAA-minor league system in terms of world soccer quality, but yet, still has more followers than the world’s best basketball league for women). And speaking of soccer, the US Women’s National Team literally far outperforms the US Men’s National Team but is still egregiously under-supported and underpaid in comparison.
Marinate on this for a minute, and if you feel like you’re someone who really values equality and fair representation in this world, maybe it’s worth $17 as a starting point to show some love beyond the bubble you’ve been living in.
Author’s note: This series will cover specific players, teams, moments, highlights, politics, interviews, and other areas of interest for WNBA fans, so make sure to follow for more content. I promise it won’t always be a rant.