There is ramped-up coverage of tonight’s Tennessee at Oklahoma game because, of course, Pat Summitt is going for her 1,000th career win.
You’ve probably heard that ESPN2 has Brent Musburger and Bob Knight to do the broadcast, along with Nancy Lieberman. Knight obviously is a major figure in the sport and someone who can talk from first-hand experience about what it’s like to win a mind-boggling number of games as a coach.
But I imagine a lot of first reactions to this were similar to mine, in regard to Knight:
“Oh, great. They’re bringing in – to broadcast what could be a historic win in women’s hoops – a former coach who once put a tampon in one of his player’s lockers in an attempt to shame him into playing better.”
Because, of course, what could more clearly convey “you’re weak and pathetic” to a man than suggesting he’s like a woman? What could possibly be more humiliating than to be a woman, right?
Gee, this has NOTHING to do with having (and teaching) a lack of respect for women, does it? I’m being overly sensitive to “man-talk,” right? It’s just how guys communicate with each other. It’s not really about me or women in general. It isn’t symbolic of one of the biggest problems we’ve always had as a species, is it?
OK, enough sarcasm. This is really, really serious. Men calling other men “women” as the so-called ultimate insult is a part of humanity’s age-old struggle with ingrained sexism. And it’s always been evident in the sports world, where men say things like, “Why don’t you put a skirt on?” or “They’re a bunch of (crude word for genitalia).”
And it’s up to men to stop it. That attitude has done a tragic, immeasurable amount of damage. One of the things that people (men and women) still seem to not fully grasp is what a monumentally destructive force sexism continues to be among human beings. It’s monsterously destructive.
All that said, let’s look at this from another angle: Bob Knight *agreed* to do this game. He certainly didn’t have to. If we know one thing for sure about the man, it’s this: No one can ever force him or cajole him to do something he doesn’t want to do. The fact that he’s there is proof he does respect Summitt.
I doubt that it ever occurred to Bob Knight when he put a tampon in a locker that it would become public knowledge, that people would read about it and never forget it, that it would convey to women such mocking contempt for them. In his mind, I’d bet he thought he was just “communicating” with his player. It was in a crude fashion that has been deemed acceptable for such a long time that in the locker room, it’s rarely even questioned.
And, in all honesty, I really can empathize if some men at times feel like this: Don’t blame *me” for the whole history of sexism based on some thoughtless thing I said or did.
But your words and your actions can speak volumes even when you don’t intend them to.
I realize that I’ve given a lot of weight to that action of his … and so it’s only fair that I also give weight to his agreeing to work the game tonight.
That’s an action that is also speaking something, and that “something” is high regard for the the most accomplished coach in the women’s game. Of course, I’d be most pleased if Knight said, “I’ve said and done some things in the past that were insulting to women, and I’m sorry for that.” To me, a sincere apology is worth a great deal, and a real measure of a person if he or she is able to do it. But … let’s not look for miracles tonight.
Instead, let’s hope for a good game – although, as many bad ones as I’ve seen this year, that might be a type of miracle – and let’s hope Knight really gives us insight into what’s happening on the court and the thought process of a coach. I don’t think anyone would argue that Knight understands how to successfully execute basketball strategy as well as anyone on earth.
We also have to understand that television is in the business of increasing ratings. I don’t work on the television side of the industry, so I don’t know what goes into all their decisions. But I do know that the top decision-makers at ESPN in charge of women’s basketball do truly care about the game and want to expand the audience. I’d guess they see Knight’s appearance as a ratings booster, and to that end he is helping women’s basketball.
Those of us who cover/follow women’s sports regularly get irritated by the “credibility” issue – that something is only credible when it’s been deemed as such by men … especially powerful and famous men such as Knight.
But I also constantly remind myself that you can’t change everything about the world as fast as you want it to. Yes, I cringed with the first news that Knight was doing this game. And I felt badly for people like Pam Ward and Carolyn Peck _ who normally do most Big Monday games – broadcasters who passionately follow the sport full-time. (And in Peck’s case, a former national-championship coach).
I thought about how I’d feel if ESPN.com told me that one of its columnists who normally covers men’s sports and has a much bigger regular audience than I do would write about this game instead of me. It would be very hard to take.
However, it’s like so much else of what we’ve always tried to balance in women’s sports: Attempts to broaden the appeal of the game sometimes work and sometimes don’t. There are missteps, and we sometimes have to grin and bear them. And it’s hard to know until you try something.
And one last thing … Mr. Knight, sir, please … it’s WOMEN’S basketball, not girls. The girls are in high school. Thanks.