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Thursday, July 24, 2008

I took a business trip yesterday to New York City, and upon exiting the subway at 53rd and 5th Avenue, I saw a huge picture of WNBA rookie Candace Parker (above), who has taken the league by storm, and her Los Angeles Sparks teammates. And I remarked to myself that it was the first time that I'd seen a WNBA athlete and thought of a fistfight.

On Tuesday, the WNBA got both a blessing and a curse when Detroit Shock forward Plenette Pierson objected to Parker's hip check following a free throw. (Watch the video here.) Pierson went buckwild, started some when there really should've been none, and got suspended for four games today. Parker got a game, and many others on both teams are going to have some time to reflect. (I won't even get into Shock assistant coach (and former Pistons Bad Boy) Rick Mahorn's involvement, which also netted him a suspension.

Jemele has a great piece that looks at this incident from a different angle:
Tuesday night's bench-clearing scuffle between the Los Angeles Sparks and Detroit Shock proved women can be just as boneheaded as men in the thick of intense athletic competition.


Absolutely. The fight, which, by the way, isn't the WNBA's first, showed that squaring up isn't a man thing. It's a sports thing. It's an athlete thing...

In its way, this is a revelation for women's sports. I've long been sick of the halos and pristine white robes put on female athletes. During the Olympics, we're force-fed stories about how Susie Swimmer and her mom are BFFs. We're told Jane Ice Skater enjoys pottery, ocean views and Coldplay. The WNBA goes out of its way to showcase its players as community-minded citizens we can safely entrust to mold and shape our little girls.

That's how it is in comic books, but not in real life. In real life, athletes lose their tempers and use bad language. They're flawed. Female athletes aren't an exception.

Indeed not.

This, to me, speaks to a deeper problem - how readily America pigeonholes that which it cannot readily understand, or seems at all foreign. And America surely has not figured out the Angry Black Female. Jemele's aside, public reactions to this fight have ranged from sanctimoniously horrified to sexually condescending ("Cat fight!"). Obviously this is not how the WNBA would like to project itself, let alone market itself - but it may have been a necessary evil to expose, once again, the very attitudes that hold back women's sports in this country. We love to compartmentalize women into roles that were set for them generations ago, and sometimes we even have their help in doing so. The WNBA has said no to this, and repeatedly so. They have every bit of the passion, the drive and the skill that male players do, and frankly, they can also throw a hell of a right hook. Deal.

(Photo: WNBA.)


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