March Madness: Let’s Celebrate Women Athletes for their Leadership and Talent

As a huge women’s basketball fan, I was thrilled to see the excitement over the recent NCAA women’s championship game between Texas A&M and the University of Notre Dame. Similar to the men’s contest, there were no number one seeds in the final game. Unlike the women’s game however there was very little commentary or tweets about the University of Connecticut’s Kemba Walker being attractive or eye candy. The media frenzy over Walker was relegated to his awesome game and his leadership in a remarkable Big East championship run. 

Unfortunately, Skylar Diggin’s game was a secondary sidebar in most of the coverage of Notre Dame’s loss to Texas A&M.  By most accounts Skylar Diggins is considered very attractive.  Include the fact that she is smart, a leader and a gifted athlete, and you have a formula that has marketers of the women’s game looking forward to next season. The Notre Dame guard’s popularity has soared since March Madness. Before the March women’s series she had 6,000 followers on Twitter, after tweets from celebrities’ Lil Wayne and Chris Brown, today she has over 89,000 followers. And there is no question, she may have been part of the reason that some 3.8 million viewers watched this women’s series. That has got to be good for the game.

However, what can’t be good for the game is the persistent and nagging attention by too many men who suggest that the only reason to watch the women’s game is if there is a Skylar Diggins playing or a Nikki Caldwell coaching. Nikki Caldwell is the new coach of LSU women’s basketball team and former UCLA women’s basketball coach. Both are beautiful women. Even so, these are basketball games, not swimsuit competitions. In Skylar Diggins’ case, the sophomore business major was essential in turning the Notre Dame women’s team into a championship contender. Nikki Caldwell, the former Tennessee assistant and the first-time coach lead UCLA to a third seed this year and was offered nearly $1 million by LSU to leave UCLA. She is on the verge of becoming a great coach but you will also find a fair share of stories and tweets on the Internet about how attractive she is and inquiries into her dating status.

This NCAA women’s final highlighted the need for many to make sport of looking beyond the talent of women athletes to find something “pretty” to admire. I sadly remember the comments in 2007 by radio broadcaster Don Imus in the Rutgers versus Tennessee NCAA women’s final that prompted a national conversation about the images of women, racism, sexism and the influence of hip-hop.  For many of these female college athletes the allure to play sports is grounded in the opportunity to attain a quality education at some of the best schools in the country. There are no million-dollar, multi-year contracts or history-making endorsement deals.  For many of them it is the chance for a free college education that will prepare them for their careers. When we truly honor the intention of Title IX to treat female athletes fairly, then women basketball players will be seen as college students realizing the true essence of collegiate athletics that combines sports with a college education. The dream for a college championship pales next to the dream of a college education for many athletes and their families. That alone deserves celebration during March Madness.
Beverly L. Isom


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