Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Dude Looks Like a Lady

The Connecticut Huskies women’s basketball team recently won their 88th and 89th consecutive games, continuing their record-setting streak that stretches back to the 2008 Women’s NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately, simply winning 89 straight games wasn’t good enough to satisfy the national media, and it certainly wasn’t good enough to keep UConn head coach Geno Auriemma’s mouth shut.

Way back in 1974, a UCLA Bruins team, led by legendary coach John Wooden, completed a streak of 88 straight wins, a record that still stands in men’s college basketball today. And regardless of how many games the Lady Huskies win before their next loss, UCLA’s 88 straight wins will remain a men’s collegiate basketball record for the foreseeable future.

A big deal has been made (by the mainstream sports media, as well as UConn) about the Lady Huskies tying and surpassing UCLA’s mark, in turn setting a new consecutive wins record for college basketball – which to me makes no sense. And apparently it’s people like me that have UConn’s Auriemma running his mouth about what he perceives to be a lack of respect for his team and women’s basketball in general – which to me sounds a lot more like whining for what he perceives is a lack of respect for him.

First, let’s talk about this so-called record setting performance. The UConn women’s team is by far the top program in women’s collegiate basketball, and has been for some time. They deserve truckloads of respect and appreciation for their accomplishments; Geno Auriemma deserves just as much for his success as a coach. But to compare their winning streak to that of UCLA’s men’s streak is completely and utterly…dumb.

This is not a smear campaign on women’s basketball. I have no intentions of writing that men’s basketball is superior, or that UConn doesn’t deserve to be held in the same light as Wooden’s squads. My desire is not to disparage female athletes or athletics, or to state why men’s sports are better than women’s. I just want to explain why it’s idiotic to equate a men’s basketball record to a women’s basketball record, in the same manner that it’s idiotic to equate any athletic record to that of another sport.

The Los Angeles Lakers had a record 33 consecutive wins back in 1972, a benchmark that still stands today. And the reason it still stands is because the 88 wins by UCLA in 1974 had literally nothing to do with the Lakers’ win streak a couple years earlier. Sure, both teams played (men’s) basketball, but the records were different, because one took place in the NBA, while the other was at the collegiate level. Equating them would be pointless. On the same note, the Oklahoma Sooners won a record 47 straight games in collegiate football back in the 1950s, a record that still stands today, despite what UCLA basketball accomplished in the ‘70s. Each of those marks remains because they occurred in different sports. Sure, both streaks were achieved at the (men’s) college level, but anyone with half a brain would see the insanity in equating UCLA’s 47th straight victory at the time it occurred to the mark achieved by the Sooners nearly two decades prior. It wouldn’t make sense.

Do you see my point?

It’s stupid and wrong to equate the UConn Women’s 88 wins to the UCLA Men’s 88 wins, because the two streaks occurred in different sports. Yes, both teams played basketball. And yes, both competed at the Division I collegiate level. But the difference in gender supplies an obvious separation between the two teams and the records that they each set. If men’s college basketball and women’s college basketball are equal, then why do they play in separate leagues? How can they possibly be considered the same? I’m not saying that one league is superior to the other, or that one record is more impressive than the other. I’m just saying that they are different, in the same way that the NBA and NASCAR are different, or NHL and MLB are different, or the Olympics and High School sports are different. The winning streaks are two completely separate situations.

I also am not saying that it is idiotic to compare the two streaks; we do this with sports all the time. We can compare Cal Ripken Jr.’s streak of 2,632 consecutive games played in Major League Baseball to Brett Favre’s streak of 297 consecutive starts in the National Football League. We can compare Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hit streak in baseball to Wayne Gretzky’s 51-game point streak in hockey. We can compare Martina Navratilova’s 6-straight tennis Grand Slams to Jimmie Johnson’s 5-straight Sprint Cup Title’s in NASCAR. We can argue which streak is more impressive, which was harder to accomplish, or which will stand for the longest amount of time. We can always compare and always argue. But to equate any of these streaks would be fruitless and dim-witted, and the same goes for UConn and UCLA. Their inequality is not a result of the difference in level of competition or ability or national interest, but rather a result of the inherent and undeniable difference in gender. Not better or worse – just different.

Sadly, the issue goes beyond that, thanks to Geno Auriemma’s post-game comments following UConn’s 88th win. Partly because the media was (wrongly) making a big deal out of equating UConn’s streak to UCLA’s, and partly because Auriemma had (wrongly) convinced himself that the streaks were in fact equal, Geno took umbrage with the manner in which the situation was being covered.

"The reason everybody is having a heart attack the last four or five days is a bunch of women are threatening to break a men's record, and everybody is all up in arms about it,” said Auriemma, following win #88.

First of all, I find Auriemma’s statement to be intrinsically false. UConn would only be breaking a “men’s record” if they had completed their 88 straight wins against men’s college teams. Instead, they are continuing their own streak of consecutive women’s college basketball wins, the previous mark which was 70, set by a previous UConn Women’s team. Again, this doesn’t make their accomplishment any less impressive (it’s actually extremely impressive), it just makes Auriemma’s statement incorrect.

Second of all, Auriemma is creating this idea that people are mad that a women’s team is breaking a men’s record, something that appears to be mainly concocted in his own head. Yeah, I’m sure there are some old-school college basketball fanatics out there who are angry about a women’s team breaking UCLA’s record, but it is a small and relatively unheard faction, and one that is incorrect in their misplaced anger, for reasons I have already discussed at length. As dumb as it is to equate the two streaks, it is just as stupid to argue over which team had more talent, was more fun to watch, or would win in a head-to-head match-up. The best NBA team in the history of the league would pulverize the best high school team in the history of high school basketball. (Duh). But does that make the high school team any less impressive? (Of course not). It's wrong for people to equate the streaks, and it’s ridiculous for people to be mad about UConn’s streak simply because they are a women’s team. It’s worse that Auriemma suggested this sentiment is some wide-spread prejudice.

Even still, Geno wasn’t done.

"Because we're breaking a men's record, we've got a lot of people paying attention," Auriemma went on to say. "If we were breaking a women's record, everybody would go, 'Aren't those girls nice, let's give them two paragraphs in USA Today, you know, give them one line on the bottom of ESPN and then let's send them back where they belong, in the kitchen.' "

And with that, Auriemma made the situation one of gender and anti-feminism, instead of consecutive collegiate basketball wins. Or at least that was his intention.

Auriemma would love for the media, fans, and anyone paying attention to this streak to believe that he is actually angry about a lack of respect shown towards women’s basketball. He wants us all to believe that he’s mad that the Lady Huskies aren’t getting enough attention from fans, enough admiration from the media, and enough equality in the athletic realm. He wants people to think that his disdain is towards those who somehow feel women’s basketball is below men’s basketball. He wants us to believe this is the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

He doesn’t want us to know he’s lying.

For the most part, this is really about Geno Auriemma’s massive ego. He’s not as mad about the disrespect towards women’s basketball as he is about his own perceived lack of respect as a women’s basketball coach. He’s not as mad about the lack of attention given to the UConn program as he is about his own perceived lack of attention from college basketball fans and media. Geno considers himself to be on the same level as the great John Wooden of UCLA, and he is finally getting all pissed off at the fact that he’s not being considered or treated in such a way by everyone else.

If you know anything about Geno Auriemma, than you know how he is often perceived by others in his sport, the media, and general public. Simply put, he’s not very well liked. If this were a mainstream newspaper or magazine article, Auriemma might be described as pompous, conceited, narcissistic, arrogant, or ostentatious. But because this is a blog written by an uncompensated college kid, we can describe Auriemma as he truly is: a douche. That’s right…a giant douche.

Auriemma’s ego has always been prevalent, and frankly, always overshadowed his own success as a coach. Regardless of what sport, competitive level, and gender he is coaching, his accomplishments are extremely impressive. He makes millions of dollars because he is very good at what he does. His bank account would suggest he’s a highly esteemed man in his profession. His ego, however, is convinced that he is disrespected.

Geno’s Ego thinks he is on the same level as John Wooden, Phil Jackson or any other great coach in the history of basketball, and Geno’s Ego feels he should be valued in a similar fashion. He has convinced himself that he deserves a higher level of greatness. He thinks that because he’s a man coaching women’s basketball, people somewhat belittle his success. He thinks that if Pat Summitt were in this same position, she would be receiving a lot more recognition and praise.

(In many ways, this is probably true, and one could easily argue whether it’s right or wrong to factor Geno’s gender into his success as a women’s coach. However, Geno is overlooking both his own personal massive inferiority complex about being a man coaching girls, as well as the fact that people have always liked Pat Summitt a lot more than they like him.)

Geno’s Ego feels that because men’s basketball is so much more popular than women’s basketball, it is viewed as the superior sport, played by superior athletes, in turn making his accomplishments somewhat less impressive or devalued in comparison to a men’s coach.

(In many ways, this is also true. It is no lie that men’s basketball is more popular, and is generally held as a superior sport. I, for one, find men’s basketball much more enjoyable. I really don’t like watching women’s basketball at all. But I also do not think that makes men’s the superior sport. I have little to no interest in the NHL and NASCAR. I could care less about the Tour de France. I have only marginal interest in Premier League Soccer or the PGA Tour. Does this somehow make those sports inferior to the NFL or NBA or College Football? No, it just means I like the NFL, NBA, and College Football better. Popularity and superiority are two very different things. If Geno wasn’t so thin-skinned, he might realize this, and rise above those who look down on the sport simply because it’s played by women.)

In the end, Geno Auriemma has convinced himself that he is disrespected.

He thinks he deserves reverence and deification when applause and esteem are acceptable responses. He thinks his track record makes him equal to the legendary John Wooden, and he thinks he deserves to be treated as such. He thinks his greatness is a foregone conclusion, and he’s using archaic gender biases to try and prove his point. I, for one, am not fooled. Because in reality, Geno and Wooden are about as far away from equals as my writing is to Shakespeare’s.

Auriemma could win 1,000 games in a row and 25 championships, and yet he will never be on the same level as John Wooden. Stats aren’t the only thing that make the coach. John Wooden won a lot of games, but he’s a legend because of his character and his respect for the game of basketball. Wooden is revered because he taught the game the right way and lived his life the right way; he made sure that any player or coach to come under his tutelage understood that playing the game with fundamentals and respect was more important than on-court success, and that becoming a good person was more important than becoming a good basketball player. Wooden was great because he was concerned more with the character of his players than winning games.

Auriemma, on the other hand, is more concerned with how winning games will enhance his own recognition.

Women’s basketball being disrespected? Age-old partiality sparking hatred towards female athletes? Yeah, there is undoubtedly a grain of truth to that. But if you believe that’s the reason Geno is up in arms about how his team's 80+ game win streak is being covered, then his mission is accomplished.

It’s wrong to think that men’s basketball is superior to women’s basketball, regardless of which of the two you prefer. It’s wrong to equate the UConn Women’s winning streak to the UCLA Men’s winning streak, regardless of which you believe to be more impressive. It’s wrong for chauvinism or anti-feminism to shape your opinion on an athletic accomplishment, but it’s worse to use those things as an excuse for your own greed and perceived lack of respect (not to mention that its absurdity gives off an anti-feminist vibe of its own). And it’s wrong to put Geno Auriemma in the same stratosphere as John Wooden when it comes to coaching. Equating them would be…well, I'm assuming you get the idea by this point.

Geno Auriemma is a great coach. But as much as he’d like to think otherwise, he isn’t even worthy of holding John Wooden’s clipboard. And as much as he’d like to think (or convince you) otherwise, it has nothing to do with the gender or sport in which he coaches.

Thanks for reading

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