Column: Women =//= Professional Sports

WNBA (via Liza)

WNBA (via Liza)

With the Super Bowl over, people might be suffering withdrawal from their weekly dose of pigskin and the incredibly good-looking Tom Brady. But hark, there appears to be a solution and no, it is not the return of the XFL.

Recently in New Mexico, about 40 women tried out for a new women’s professional football team. Like everyone, I’ve been hearing about a women’s pro football league for years, but it seems that one is now in the works. I’m really surprised that it took this long since the Women’s National Basketball Association is already in its ninth season.

I, like most people, believe in equality. I am inclined to give women every opportunity to get — or even take by force — equal representation in our current male-dominated society. Men shouldn’t be the only ones to walk on the moon, women should too. I mean, it’s about time.

However, I must object to a women’s pro football league (there are even talks for a pro hockey league too). Professional sports today are more about money than anything else. Athleticism and physicality aside, money drives professional sports. The WNBA is in a downward spiral of losing money and hardly anyone ever goes to the games. Who remembers the team that won the championship two years ago? Last year? That’s what I thought.

Look at the recent folding of the Women’s Professional Soccer League. It looks like ages ago (1999 to be exact) that the U.S. women’s soccer team won the World Cup — an event that empowered women everywhere. No one doubts the athleticism of female soccer players, but the fact that a professional league of any sport, male or female, can go bankrupt says a lot about its popularity. Mia Hamm even offered to take a pay cut to save the league, but it wasn’t enough from the world’s most popular female soccer player (and arguable the most popular female athlete). I love Anna Kournikova just as much as the next guy, but soccer is much more popular than tennis.

The concept is about much more than just giving women an equal shot at sports glory and fame. It’s about financial viability and sustainability. Starting up a league is hard enough, but being able to maintain and develop it is even more daunting. People hoping to create a new league don’t talk about how revolutionary or groundbreaking it will be, but rather how much money they hope to make with it.

How many teams have folded in the WNBA? Too many. If women want a league, how come women don’t go in droves to the WNBA or WUSA games and salute their sisters-in-arms? It’s more than just petitions, protests and ongoing debates for sexual equality that will get the ball rolling. It’s about filling up the stadiums and coliseums with people, and more importantly, fans.

At last check, there was roughly an equal amount of men and women in the country. If men can fill stadiums, why can’t women?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for women playing sports. Heck, it even turns me on. But if women want this football league to mean something more than a token suffrage prize, they had better work hard to see this league succeed and help atone for the fact that Paris Hilton and Britney Spears exist.

[photo via Liza/flickr]

NOTE: Originally published in The California Aggie (25 February 2005).

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