Henry Abbott mentioned this week's WNBA posts on TrueHoop
yesterday. In the same article, a TrueHoop reader provides a list of 10 reasons to why we (with "we" being pretty much everybody) are idiots for not watching WNBA games. Go check it out
Now, the comment I found particularly interesting was the one in which Henry suggested that Basketbawful had "lost the moral high ground, perhaps, when it later called for WNBA games to be played in skin-tight outfits
for the amusement of lusty fans."
Have you ever noticed that almost every conversation about the WNBA's lack of popularity eventually transforms into a discussion of morality, human dignity and gender equality? Not that these concepts aren't worth discussing, but at least with regards to Evil Ted's "let's dress 'em pretty" post, they miss the point. Allow me to elaborate. I live in Chicago. As such, I try to attend as many Bulls games as my time and personal finances allow. Let me describe that experience for you:
I get to see the Luvabulls dancers -- described on the team Web site as "beautiful, talented and articulate women"
-- expose large sections of their anatomy and gesticulate in ways that prominently display their breasts and behinds. Sometimes while wearing suggestive, lingerie-like clothing. For instance:
I am forced (rather against my will) to endure the sight of the Matadors
-- a group of dancing fat men -- expose large sections of their anatomy and gesticulate in ways that prominently display their breasts and behinds. Sometimes while wearing suspenders and funny hats. For instance:
Then there's the Swingin' Seniors
"entertainment team," a group of older women dressed up in Bulls jerseys who sing and dance. There's also the BullzKidz
, a group of teens who run around and act really superduper excited
(the tagline: "Energy in a small package!"). The Junior Luvabulls
are basically miniature versions of the actual Luvabulls, only they're little girls in short skirts instead of bigger girls (relatively speaking) in even shorter skirts. The IncrediBulls
wear McDonald's logos ("I'm lovin' it!"), perform gymnastics and fire t-shirts into the crowd. And, of course, their are those brave men who dress up like stuffed and/or inflatable animals
and appear on the Jerry Springer Show
There are also a variety of "fan interactive events," where, for instance, people from the crowd spin around on the tip of a baseball bat until they're dizzy enough to throw up and then try to shoot a layup without falling down. ONLY THEY ALWAYS FALL DOWN. To the crowd's delight, of course. Other fans compete in a nightly sing-off to win fabulous prizes, like a McDonald's Big Mac, only they usually sing so poorly and off key that the whole experience becomes a study in public humiliation. And, of course, I've already described my halftime of horror
, in which I was introduced to Duo Design
, a "strength and hand-balancing act from Warsaw, Poland." Basically, it's two topless guys in ass-hugging tights and gold body paint doing gymnastics -- slow, sweaty gymnastics -- off each other's bodies. No, really.
But keep in mind that these are simply sideshows to the real event, in which muscular male athletes, dressed in shorts and tank tops, sprint up and down a 94-by-50-foot court, leaping high into the air and playing games with an inflatable ball purely for the purposes of our entertainment. Dunk the ball! Dunk for me, puppets!
Here's the point: The NBA is, first and foremost, a business. As such, they willingly exploit their players, their hired entertainers and their fans in any and every way they can in order to make money. It would be great if professional sports could exist solely for the sake of the sports themselves, but they cannot. They provide goods (the players) and services (entertaining games), and if those things cannot be sold, the business will fail. It's that simple. That's why certain players (like, say, Mario West) are largely ignored while other players (such as Kobe Bryant) are repeatedly exploited.
Seriously, Kobe Bryant is the most exploited basketball player of our time. His team exploits him ("Come see Kobe Bryant take on the Spurs!"), opposing teams exploit him ("Come see Kobe Bryant try to beat your team...maybe he'll even score 81 points!"), sports writers and bloggers exploit him because any article or post about Kobe will cause an almost immediate spike in readership.
That's the reality of it. Human dignity is a noble goal, to be sure, but it didn't keep NBA's Hoop Magazine from airbrushing the tattoos right off of Allen Iverson's body
, nor did it prevent David Stern from instituting a dress code to try and prevent the league's mostly white, middle class fan base from associating its players with rap artists and criminals. Back in the 50s and 60s, both professional and college basketball tried to discourage and even outlaw the slam dunk. But when the people in power figured out that the dunk both amazed and delighted the fans -- drawing them in even bigger, higher-paying numbers -- they decided to exploit the hell out of it.
The WNBA is a business, just like the NBA. To my knowledge, that business has never been able to turn a profit, yet it still exists, mostly because of the persistent support of David Stern and the immense wealth of its brother league. The WNBA formed in 1996 and has operated in deficit spending ever since. How many business could survive like that? Could any other business that exists solely for the entertainment of its audience remain doggedly the same, changing nothing, and yet convince shareholders and investors to continue flushing away millions of dollars per year because there are various moral and ethical reasons to keep trying to entertain
people in a certain way? I highly doubt it.
Look, Evil Ted's suggestion was callous and exploitative. But really, take a closer look at the NBA experience I described above and ask yourself whether that suggestion is really any more callous and exploitative than the many ways the NBA is sold to its consumers. I honestly don't think it is. It's just idea that might get more people to purchase the WNBA product. And that's simply good business.Update! Henry responds with a thoughtful post
. One last note on this subject: I do think it's unfortunate that people often get treated like cattle so that a business can make money. I see it happen at my Clark Kent job
all the time. I see it happen in beauty magazines. I see it happen at Burger King. I think many organizations have to disconnect their kindess and sympathy in order to do business. I don't think it's necessarily right, or conducive for making a better world, but that's capitalism for you.
Labels: Chicago Bulls, exploitation, moral high ground, TrueHoop, WNBA