Goodman: Women’s basketball deserves more fan support

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Meredith Goodman, Columnist

I started thinking about women’s basketball a few days ago when I saw that Brittney Griner, a 6-foot-8-inch basketball phenom, had broken the Big 12 conference record for career scoring Wednesday with more than 2,800 points. Griner needed only 3 points to set the record, but she still scored 40 in the game. She also holds the NCAA record for most dunks by a woman at 13 and blocks at 686 (more than 100 better than the male record holder).

The same day, I also stumbled across an article by the satirical news source The Onion joking the Minnesota Lynx was the world’s richest Women’s National Basketball Association team with a value of $4. The article made fun of the WNBA’s historically low attendance rates and player salaries.

I couldn’t help but notice the contrast of the two stories I had read. One promoted one of the WNBA’s future stars on her incredible athletic accomplishments, while the other dragged the league down to a joke.

I feel a slight amount of guilt, as I should be promoting and rewarding these incredible female athletes, but I have never seen a WNBA or Northwestern women’s basketball game. Should I be doing more to support women’s basketball?

I used to love college women’s basketball as a kid. My neighbor and dear family friend, herself a high school basketball player, would take me and some other girls from our street to Lady Longhorns women’s basketball games. I had the chance to see current WNBA star Tiffany Jackson play in college, when she was named the ESPN National Freshman of the Year. These games sparked my passion for college sports and were often more entertaining than men’s games.

The best part of the Lady Longhorns games was seeing Jody Conradt, a legendary women’s basketball coach who was the first to surpass 700 career victories. Conradt earned the first undefeated women’s basketball season in 1986, along with the University of Texas’ first and only NCAA basketball national championship. She was only the second woman to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1998. She also served as a role model both on and off the court with more than 99 percent of her players graduating.

NU makes it easy to attend both men’s and women’s basketball games with free shuttles and multiple promotions (Free T-shirts! Free donuts! Free Coke products!). To be honest, I haven’t attended any basketball games this quarter, men’s or women’s. But when my basketball band friends describe to me the spectacle of a near-empty stadium, I cannot force myself to schlep to Welsh-Ryan to participate with such a low fan turnout.

If more women like me, particularly in the key marketing demographic of 18 to 34 years old, watched WNBA and college women’s basketball games in person and on television, perhaps the WNBA would earn more primetime coverage. If I watched the games and tweeted and Facebooked about them, would ESPN take interest and promote the WNBA?

The Women’s Professional Soccer league folded last year, and star athletes such as Abby Wambach and Megan Rapinoe may be forced to go abroad to play their sport. Will the WNBA suffer the same fate if there is not enough interest in professional women’s basketball?

The only WNBA team in my home state, the Houston Comets, folded in 2008. The Comets were led early on by storied WNBA player and Olympian Sheryl Swoopes, known as the “Female Michael Jordan.” The Comets were the first WNBA dynasty and won four straight championships from 1997 to 2000. If even the best WNBA team folded (and I was unaware of it), what does this say for the future of the league?

Perhaps I should take a cue from NU “Super Fan” Noah Weiss, who goes to almost every single women’s basketball game to cheer on the Wildcats. Maybe this quarter I could go see my first women’s basketball game at NU or even see a Chicago Sky game. By rediscovering my long-lost passion for women’s basketball, I could help support incredible athletes like Brittney Griner and ensure the sport is here to stay.

Meredith Goodman is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, email a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].