St. Louis SportsOnline
In a previous column (Unmasking Words) from 1999, I visited the topic of equity under Title IX. Over the past year of covering men's and women's basketball, mostly Missouri Valley Conference and Conference USA action, the topic has shown its face constantly.
Another installment seems appropriate.
Let's begin by stating that the popularity of women's basketball has been increasing, while that of men's basketball has remained relatively constant if not slowing down at bit (depending on which source you contact). Television and radio are paying ($$$) more attention to women's sports, which contributes to the popularity and viability of all sports at our colleges and universities.
This is a good thing.
It is also true that women's basketball is different from the men's game in that the action is, by far, played below the rim, while the men's game rises above ground level. Women tend to shoot a familiar set shot (or from the hip), while men shoot from above their heads. There are notable outstanding women shooters on many teams, but general skill levels are different.
This is a changing thing.
But the biology of men and women are different and that leads to differences on and off the court. Women are built differently and has been reported in medical journals, have a greater tendency toward specific ligament and tendon injuries.
You cannot change biology.
But the subject of this column is much more fundamental and probably more incendiary! What information is important in understanding the game? Which statistics are useful in evaluating performance on the court?
During the past 1999-2000 men's and women's basketball season, I collected 15 men's and 21 women's information guides. These guides seem to be designed to highlight features of each team, their strengths and weaknesses, scoring and rebound records, academic achievements, community service, etc. All deemed important or of interest to the reader.
If we focus on the women's basketball guides, for example, we read the following:
Saint Louis University Billiken freshman forward/guard Christan Shelton was "born February 13, 1980 ... daughter of d'Anne and Reuben Shelton ... has one sister, Heather ... is majoring in liberal arts and sciences ... also recruited by Wichita State, Yale and Notre Dame."
University of North Carolina-Charlotte 49er junior forward Kurtisha Whitehead "is the daughter of Jackie Whitehead ... majoring in criminal justice ... born June 13, 1979."
Southern Illinois University at Carbondale Saluki junior center Kristine Abramowski was born 7/15/79 in Freeport, IL to Jerry and Lorna Abramowski. "Not only is Kristine the tallest member of the team, she also has won the title of having the biggest foot, by displaying a whopping size 13."
One can learn much from the information.
What stood out from my perspective was the single glaring omission in the women's guides that is prominent in the men's guides.
NONE of the weights were available for women players.
ALL of the weights were available for the men players.
Now I can hear the criticisms coming in. "You never ask a women about her weight; it's just not proper. Our society just doesn't operate that way."
But we do ask their age, their shoe size, their parents' marital status.
Why do we feel ok about broadcasting physical measurements for men? Is it to make them look more or less intimidating to other men?
Why do we feel ok about not reporting one physical measurement for women? Is it to make them appear to be different from their male counterparts?
Would it not be equitable to have both height and weight for all players? Doesn't that information tell you something about the player?
Wouldn't it be important to know that a 7-ft tall, 170 lb center in going up against a 6'11", 220 lb center.
Same applies to a 5'6", 150 lb guard and the oppositions 5'10", 140 guard.
This is an inconsistent thing.
It can be changed. But will it be changed?
Men are different from women, period.