UConn Women's Team Rises To A Watershed Moment

Originally published on December 15, 2010 6:59 am

On the whole, far less attention is paid to women's team sports than to women's individual sports. The most recognized female stars are invariably tennis players, swimmers, skiers –– whereas most popular male heroes are team players.

After all, these guys are on our teams. They're playing for us. Women's teams have never enjoyed that sense of the possessive.

And it's not so simple as the old glass-ceiling analogy. No, it's more emotional: teams represent our city, our college. They represent us –– the old team spirit. So, for many gentlemen, having a team of girls representing us is too much to bear.

And to be frank, female fans have themselves miserably failed their sisters; they've not yet come to support women's teams as men do their own athletes.

Oh, there was that feel-good moment in the summer of '99 when our American women won the soccer World Cup. But an attempt at a women's pro soccer league quickly collapsed, and a new one barely survives. Women's pro basketball is humored –– forced to play in the off-season, the summer, so the desperate arenas can at least open the concession stands.

In college, women's softball, volleyball, and ice hockey are tolerated mostly just as necessary evils –– fill up the Title IX quota. They sure don't fill up the stands. Watch your local 6 o'clock news. How often does the sports guy even make a reference to a women's team game?

Sure, Serena and Venus get mentioned during the Grand Slams; the be-sequined figure-skater dolls every four years at the Olympics; maybe golfer Michelle Wie if she's in contention this weekend -- but women's teams?

That's why the University of Connecticut's basketball team and its 87 consecutive victories mean so much. The streak places a spotlight on all of women's basketball.

The Huskies force people –– men and women alike –– to at least think about women's teams. The idea. Little girls see UConn and they realize they don't have to pick up a tennis racket or a pair of figure skates. By being so good, UConn has not just transcended its sport, but it's doing a number on tradition. On sexism, too.

And, well, as for numbers, the Huskies can, within a week, pass the incredible record of 88 wins in a row set by the UCLA men back in the 1970s. Whether the Huskies break that record or not –– and they're not so very good this year that they couldn't come a cropper against Ohio State this Sunday –– they sure have made people notice them.

By its success, UConn is to women's basketball sort of what the Baltimore Colts-New York Giants overtime game in 1958 was to the NFL. After that, fans stayed tuned to pro football. They bought tickets.

In a crowded world of images, you need the extreme to upset the accepted; you need a phenomenon to change the everyday.

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Commentator Frank Deford says hockey is not the only women's team sport that has trouble attracting fans.

FRANK DEFORD: In a crowded world of images, you need the extreme to upset the accepted. You need a phenomenon to change the everyday.

INSKEEP: Many of you are commenting on women's sports at our Facebook page.

DON GONYEA, Host:

Betsy Padilla blames the media for letting women's sports be overshadowed. She says women's sports media coverage is soft, without the exciting music and detailed analysis of men's sports.

INSKEEP: Jeffrey Gleit(ph) writes that Connecticut's women's basketball ream is already a media favorite, with every game seen live on the local public TV station.

GONYEA: Victoria Smith Quinn writes that she's a college basketball purist. At a time when the men's game is all about flash and shoes, she says the women's game represents traditional skill and strategy.

INSKEEP: Conversations like this one begin every morning at your Public Radio station, and you can follow them throughout the day.

GONYEA: It's Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Don Gonyea.

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