One of the stupidest controversies ever broke out on the Internet yesterday when basketball start Diana Taurasi responded to the recent suggestion by a coach to lower the rims in women's basketball with the following comment: "Might as well put us in skirts and back in the kitchen."
Intentionally or not, Taurasi did a lot to boost the proposal, which has been around since 2012. The idea then, as now, would be to make women's basketball more exciting to watch by creating an environment where players could dunk the ball. Right now women's basketball is mostly dunk-free, with the exception of a few freakishly tall players. Women's basketball is also played in half-empty stadiums and carried only on ESPN2. Lower-rim proponents hope that more visually exciting games would draw bigger audiences and raise the status of the sport.
That seems like a no-brainer to me. So why are some female basketball stars objecting? The anti-lowering arguments were cogently laid out by espnW reporter and former college basketball player Kate Fagan. Here they are -- and why I think she's completely off-base.
1. Lower rims will make dunking no big deal.
"If history is any indication, instead of jaws dropping over these slam dunks, jaws will start flapping -- about how anyone can dunk on a lowered rim," Fagan writes. She adds that when Brittney Griner dunked in her first WBNA game, spectators commented that at six-foot-eight, dunking isn't much of a challenge for Griner.
I'm sure Kagan is quite right about what people say, but I care a lot more about what they do. And when a six-foot-one fifth-grader named Ashlyn Watkins dunked four times in a single game, enough of them shared the grainy video of those plays that it went viral, and was featured on ESPN's flagship program SportsCenter. That's exactly the sort of thing that could fill more stadium seats.
2. Basketball fans really care about great play, not dunking.
To support that argument, Fagan points to Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry. She claims Curry is "driving almost all the conversation around the league this season" even though he doesn't dunk. It's his trickery with the ball causing all the excitement, she says.
She may well be right about conversation within the league, but it's what fans care about that matters. And if you search Google Images for "great basketball moments," 9 of the top 12 results are photos of dunks. The other three aren't during play at all -- they're things like players hugging or holding a trophy. Trickery doesn't make the cut.
3. It would stop girls playing with boys.
This is the centerpiece of Fagan's argument. The best women players, she says, grow up playing with men and continue playing with them their entire careers. So, either women would grow up playing with a 10-foot rim and would then "struggle to adjust" when they switched to a different height, or they would have to stop playing with men from the get-go. "The worst thing for the growth of women's basketball would be creating an additional logistical hurdle between boys and girls, one that forces young girls to take their ball and go find a different, lower hoop."
That statement presupposes that women and men play basketball in identical conditions today -- and they don't. Women's professional basketball uses a ball one inch smaller in diameter than men's. Women accustomed to playing with men don't seem to be struggling to adjust to the smaller ball size. They could adjust to the lower hoop.
4. 'Just treat us the same. No better, no worse.'
This iconic line, paraphrased from the movie G.I. Jane is the crux of Taurasi's argument. But, with a smaller ball, women basketball players already aren't treated the same. Throughout professional sports, adjustments are made to account for the fact the women's bodies aren't the same as men's, such as closer tees in golf because women have less upper-body strength. Women's bodies really aren't the same as men's when it comes to height. Brittney Griner notwithstanding, the average difference is about seven inches among both college and pro players. And while women golfers can build up their triceps, no amount of training will make a woman taller. This is why women's volleyball nets are eight inches lower than men's -- even though, there too, women players are accustomed to playing in mixed genders. No one cares.
If lowering the rims really does bring more spectators to women's basketball, it might help reduce the biggest disparity of all between men's and women's sports -- athlete's pay. It's ironic that on the same day the rim controversy blew up the Internet, five members of the U.S. women's soccer team filed a wage discrimination complaint.
Professional athletes, like all who provide entertainment, command pay in proportion to audience interest. That's where we should focus our attention -- not on a dumb argument about the height of a metal hoop.