Skip to Content

Women rule March Madness and these men know it

Metaphors are seldom as convenient as they were last week, when University of Oregon basketball player Sedona Prince posted a Tik Tok video of the fully appointed weight room in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament bubble and what the women were given in theirs: a single rack of hand weights. The NCAA executives responsible for the disparity were embarrassed by, and likened to, an inadequate collection of dumbbells.

It’s an annual rite of spring, these spot-the-difference inequities in the men’s and women’s tournaments, embracing large concerns (Covid testing has been applied unequally) and smaller ones (the quality of swag bags). If the athletes feel more united than ever this year, it may be because they’re all playing in one place for the first time, in a quarantined bubble, rather than in scattered sites around the country.

This March, the women’s courts are painted with the phrase “Women’s Basketball” while the men’s courts bear the household phrase “March Madness.” One is a store-brand box of corn flakes, the other the beloved name brand, beckoning from the shelves.

And while the NCAA quickly acknowledged failures and miscommunications in the wake of Prince’s video, these mistakes always seem to come at the expense of the women, not the men. “These disparities are just a snapshot of larger, more pervasive issues when it comes to women’s sports and the NCAA,” Georgia Tech women’s coach Nell Fortner said in a statement. “Shipping in a few racks of weights, after the fact, is not an answer. It’s a band-aid and an afterthought.”

One heartening development this time around, however, is that men are also calling out the nonsense, most prominently NBA star Stephen Curry, who amplified Prince’s video on social media. “come on now @marchmadness @ncaa,” Curry tweeted. “yall trippin.” That March Madness Twitter account, with 1.5 million followers, is the official handle “for all things Division I NCAA Men’s Basketball,” even though the NCAA women’s tournament has been a thing for 40 years now, providing countless moments of madness.

Even men less prodigiously gifted at basketball than Curry found they could, at least metaphorically, dunk on the NCAA. “This is outrageous,” tweeted Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, of the weight room video. “It needs to be fixed. Now.”

These stories often hijack the first week of the women’s tournament, obscuring the games themselves, so it was especially significant to see members of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs keeping the focus not only on the gender disparity between the women and men, but also on the sheer excellence of the women’s game.

On Monday, they shone a light on some of their peers, wearing jerseys, off the court, of some prominent college women ballers. Spurs guard Dejounte Murray rocked the Colorado State jersey of Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon. Ex-USC player DeMar DeRozan wore the jersey of Trojan legend Cheryl Miller. Spurs guard Patty Mills, who played at St. Mary’s, wore the jersey of his wife, Alyssa, who played on the women’s team at the same college. It was an acknowledgment by NBA players that women are — if not in salary, or media attention — their equals as the best basketball players on Earth.

Spurs forward Rudy Gay, who played his college ball at the University of Connecticut, wore the UConn throwback jersey of Rebecca Lobo. As Rebecca’s husband, I’ve witnessed firsthand this game-recognize-game ethos among athletes and others. The rapper and actor Ice Cube gently urged his then-young son to ask Rebecca to sign his basketball at an NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles in 2004. Jeannine Russell, who is married to the NBA’s all-time winner, Celtics great Bill Russell, sought out Rebecca (now a commentator) after a WNBA game that she had broadcast in 2018 in Seattle, where Russell is a frequent presence at Storm games. “Bill would like to say hello,” Jeannine told Rebecca in the ladies’ room, leading one Hall-of-Fame center to the other for a brief chat about basketball. Barack Obama, as president of the United States, annually filled out a women’s NCAA bracket with Rebecca at the White House, on ESPN, on the same day he filled out his men’s bracket.

With these men, it isn’t lip service. They’re allies, genuine fans, consumers, merch-buyers. They literally patronize the women’s game, as when LeBron James sits courtside at a Las Vegas Aces contest. Dozens of NBA players wore their orange WNBA hoodies in the NBA bubble during this last season, one when the WNBA reinforced its national leadership role on matters on and off the court.

Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, regularly attended women’s college games and became close to female basketball role models, among them former Oregon star and current member of the New York Liberty Sabrina Ionescu of Oregon. I sat with Kobe and Gianna at a UConn game eleven months before their fatal helicopter crash, and Bryant spoke to our high school daughter — basketball player to basketball player — about the joy of posting up.

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson wore a Sue Bird Seattle Storm jersey out of his team’s locker room after a Seahawks game last October, and said in his postgame press conference, of a key play in the game, “I feel like Sue Bird in the clutch,” shouting out another Seattle sports icon. Wilson’s sister, Anna, is a senior star on the number-one-seeded Stanford women’s basketball team, and he’s been in San Antonio watching her games live.

None of this is meant to congratulate men for liking women’s sports, or for respecting the achievements and sacrifices of women athletes. Those women athletes are the ones in the fight. The young women in the NCAA tournament — adept at social media and prepared to call out injustice — are demanding change, and members of Congress have written to NCAA president Mark Emmert demanding answers.

On Thursday, Emmert announced that the NCAA will “aggressively address material and impactful differences between the Division I Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships,” and hired a law firm to review gender equity issues.

Meanwhile, the young women playing basketball continue providing indelible moments on the court in San Antonio. That includes Sedona Prince and the Oregon Ducks, who are in the Sweet Sixteen. She and the rest of the athletes there now have a well-appointed weight room, and know there is still plenty of heavy lifting to be done.

Article Topic Follows: Sports

Jump to comments ↓



ABC 17 News is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content