This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.
Women, Sport, and Film - 2002
When the American Basketball League (ABL) started up, I was one of the wide-eyed young athletes who dreamed of playing in it when I grew up. I had always had lots of women role models as athletes, but this gave me something that I could aspire to do with my life. These women were playing basketball as a career. My parents took me to games to see the New England Blizzard and the Columbus Quest play. One time we stayed in the same hotel as the Columbus team, and they all came out of their rooms and talked to me and autographed a program for me. That summer that Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) initiated by the National Basketball Association (NBA). I was adamantly against the WNBA from the moment I heard its name. Take the men's league and stick 'women' in front of it, and you had the WNBA. The WNBA wasn't even playing basketball during the right time. No one should have a basketball season during the summer. Of course, they couldn't play during the winter because then they would be interfering with the men's games. The NBA couldn't let women's games draw support away from the men's games. In my thirteen-year-old eyes, the ABL was a league made for women by former female players. It had female coaches and it was the true basketball league that would give women an equal chance. The WNBA was thought up as a novelty by fat white men in business suits who thought that with the NBA's backing and money, they could do just about anything. So why not let women play basketball and see how it went over?
In retrospect, I can see that neither of my opinions on the two leagues was exactly correct. However, I still resent the NBA-supported WNBA for breaking the first women's basketball league that had a real chance of surviving. I resent it more because I know that the WNBA did have a better chance of competing in the business world of professional sports because they did have support from the men's league. The WNBA would get more sponsors than the ABL would, and it could afford to not make a profit for a few years with the financial support from the NBA. I can also see that with my height and lack of natural athletic ability there was no way I would have ever made it into either league. But that realization does not make me appreciate the original excitement that the American Basketball League had inspired in me.
I do believe that when the women's structure is merged into the men's structure it promotes the women's aspect more than the women could have promoted it on their own. I feel that in the long run, these mergers benefit women. It gives them more publicity, more legitimacy, more power, more money, and more opportunities. All of a sudden, the women's leagues are receiving the same endorsements from products and television companies that the men's leagues would monopolize if they weren't linked to each other. If they merge together or if the same company owns them, then the women don't have to compete against the men's dominant structure. This saves time and eliminates problems for the women and then they can concentrate on succeeding instead of fighting for the right to try to succeed.
At the same time, merging into the men's structures seems to be saying that our culture will only accept women athletes if they have the approval of the men athletes. The combination of the two institutions can be seen as similar to admitting that women need men's help in order to succeed. If the women's leagues or structures could survive and succeed without being integrated into the already existing men's institution, then it would be more of a success. Women would have created their own athletic structure independently from the men's, which would give the organization more power in its own right.
I understand that there are logical reasons for any two businesses or corporations to merge; older, more powerful corporations often take over the new promising ones. It doesn't necessarily have to be related to men dominating women. In the case of sports, however, it has usually been the women who try to create their own new league when they are not being treated equally by the men's league.
Women's athletic organizations have usually been incorporated into or created from the men's pre-existing structure. It is difficult to condemn this, because I believe that anything that furthers women's participation in sports should be supported. At the same time, I resent the implications of these integrations and it would be empowering for women to have a thriving league that is separate and independent from the men's league.
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