Lessons From Layshia: Tournament Time Double Standard

Note: Lessons from Layshia is a blog series written by Indiana Fever guard Layshia Clarendon. Clarendon is a noted social advocate and writer, who is often asked to lend her voice and opinions on various social topics.

March is about upsets. They are the story. They surprise, excite and bring a predictable unpredictably to the tournament every year. What seems to be so intriguing about the Cinderellas is they bring with them a story. A new narrative of names and paths that before this month, we had never heard – but now the whole country can’t stop talking about.

At least that’s how the story goes for the men. And I am right there for the ride.

But on the other end, for the women’s tournament, we get stories like this (one example of many):

Now, I get it. UConn has been dominant. Historically, women’s basketball has lacked parity. But this was a #1 vs #16 seed matchup. This is exactly what is supposed to happen, which is why we care about upsets, it strays from the norm.

I looked but I couldn’t find anyone saying the same after #1 Kansas beat #16 Austin Peay 105-79 or #1 Oregon beat #16 Holy Cross 91-52. It wasn’t a story. It was predictable. Everyone moved on.

But maybe the most upsetting about this narrative being pushed is that there’s been a ton of upsets for the women this year. In the same way it started out as the year of the 12 seeds on the men’s side, it mirrored that on the women’s side.

When #12 Albany knocked off #5 Florida after dropping the opening game two years in a row, they paved the way for stories. For a new narrative. But we didn’t bite. When #7 Tennessee came into #2 Arizona State’s house and gave a window into a possible return of a once dominant program with arguably the most history in women’s basketball – hardly a blip.

If your response to the lack of coverage is that there’s no way sports media would intentionally bury stories that would give them post clicks and ultimately revenue – then you don’t understand the reality of systemic oppression. Dismantling it is possible, the stories that would make women’s sports relevant exist. We just don’t tell them enough.

The stories that would make women’s sports relevant exist. We just don’t tell them enough.

The truth is this isn’t about UConn at all. They’re the latest in a long list of targets for why people just can’t get behind women’s sports. UConn’s dominance shouldn’t be disparaged. It should be celebrated. We should be exhausted listening to analysts discuss just how this team maintains this level of play for so long, far after the score “matters”. Teams all over the country should be trying to figure out what the hell they’re doing over there in Storrs, so they can do it too. I watched their latest blowout in awe. The execution, the precision and also, the crowd. The arena was sold out and even with the score, the seats were still full. Those people came to watch history. Geno Aurriemma is going to go down as one of the best, if not hands down the greatest college basketball coach of all time. I wasn’t alive then, but a quick google search didn’t lead to any articles about how the John Wooden era of excellence was bad for men’s basketball. Mind you, UCLA won 10 national titles in 12 seasons, 7 of those in a row. Something UConn hasn’t even come close to doing.

Perhaps, what is the most upsetting is that UConn’s latest strive for greatness is yet another excuse to perpetuate sexism in the sports world. UConn will pass, Geno will eventually retire. Then what will the excuse be? What was the excuse when Pat Summitt’s Lady Vols were once atop the food chain? There will always be a list of arguments as to why the women’s side just isn’t enough. I’m tired of it. I love watching UConn basketball. I play against ex-huskies in the WNBA and they are a different kind of beast – they’re lethal. Just like my teammate, Catch, who came from the Pat Summitt school of hard knocks – there’s something about the players who are coached by the greatest. It sets them apart. This is something to celebrate!

There’s something about the players who are coached by the greatest.

Currently, the Golden State Warriors are chasing history. Steph Curry is dominating the NBA. He has sat out over 22 fourth quarters and he is still leading the league in scoring. Not once have I heard someone say this is bad for basketball. It’s celebrated, analyzed, discussed, compared – he is everywhere. As he should be.

Sue Bird, a UConn grad – go figure, recently wrote a piece for The Players’ Tribune on the need for advanced statistics in the WNBA. The need to tell the story. She’s arguably the best point guard our league has ever seen, the fact that she has to ask for it is ludicrous. Point guards coming up behind her, like me, should have her stats burned in our minds.

March is about the stories. Basketball is about the stories. Sport is about the stories.

Stop making excuses about why ours aren’t enough.