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Opinion: Women’s basketball deserves recognition for achievements, equal attention as men

(Kaylen Ho/Daily Bruin staff)

By Makenna Kramer

June 8, 2024 2:58 p.m.

Being a part of my family meant being a Golden State Warriors fan.

Wearing my No. 30 Stephen Curry jersey for good luck, I spent childhood school nights anxiously watching the Warriors. My sister and I did our homework early to catch the action, lamenting if we missed even a single game during the season.

Growing up with a love of watching basketball inevitably translated into my desire to play it. I began as a youth league benchwarmer, eventually earning my spot as a middle school starter – a role that had more to do with our five-player roster than my talents.

I dedicated my school days to talking about trade rumors with my friends and evenings practicing at the park with my dad. Basketball quickly grew from a hobby into defining a crucial part of my identity.

Nevertheless, as I continued my amateur athletic journey into high school, I began to realize that the majority of my friends were nearing the end of their sports careers. Some students had opportunities to play in college but that was the pinnacle. Most of my female friends couldn’t dream of shooting game-winners in front of a sold-out crowd at the Chase Center, formerly known as the Oracle Arena.

It wasn’t until the Women’s March Madness tournament this year that I envisioned a different future for female athletes.

According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, one in three adolescent girls will drop out of sports in their teenage years, which is two times the rate of their male counterparts. Limited access, cost and social stigma are all significant contributors to this concerning phenomenon. Female athletes may also experience a lack of positive role models as a factor in their ultimate decision to end their sports careers.

I spent summers at basketball camps with an entirely male coaching staff. During scrimmages, we used men’s basketballs by default, shot from the men’s three-point line and studied highlight reels of our favorite male players.

The male-centric culture of basketball caught up with me even off the court. After declaring myself a basketball fan in a room of men, I became accustomed to being quizzed on my knowledge. Any wrong answers or hesitation would only be a reason to label me a “bandwagon.”

The uncomfortable reality is that men’s sports are historically more popularized in mainstream media. Many sports fans support women’s sports in superficial ways, if at all. Even women athletes who identify as feminists often neglect to buy tickets or keep up with the Women’s National Basketball Association.

I am not immune from this pattern. I observed banners of women’s basketball players on Bruin Walk and pledged to attend more games, but my attendance at UCLA men’s basketball games far outnumbered women’s games this season, despite their historic record.

This deficit-based mindset changed when the Women’s March Madness tournament gained popularity this year. I spent my spring break eagerly watching as female athletes competed with the basketballs I used and from the lines I shot from. Sharing this excitement with millions of other fans, I finally felt at home within the basketball community.

The statistics backed it up. The Women’s March Madness tournament championship became the most-watched basketball game at any level or gender since 2019, according to ESPN. Moreover, the WNBA draft saw its viewership increase by 307% since 2023, while season tickets for the WNBA expansion team, Golden State Valkyries, continue selling at high rates.

Beyond the numbers, it was tremendously impactful hearing the spectators around me begin to discuss women’s basketball, unprompted and without comparison or judgment. It was as if we finally realized that young athletes deserve role models and female athletes deserve recognition.

Listening attentively to these conversations, I imagine a young girl at basketball camp this summer mirroring the moves of Caitlin Clark and Stephen Curry or staying up late to finish an Ace’s game.

While the spotlight on women’s basketball has been inspirational, it forced me to cope with the blatant reality that female athletes have always been here and deserved my support long before now.

For this very reason, critics are decrying the recent rise in women’s basketball popularity as merely a fad.

But this is where we come in. Instead of wallowing in the guilt of time lost, new women’s sports fans should vow to make this change permanent. Elevating women’s basketball is crucial for young athletes and entertainment for viewers.

For countless basketball seasons to come, I look forward to cheering for all Bruins. And in time, I am confident that being a part of my family will mean being a fan of whoever may be shooting the ball – provided they’re in Golden State colors, of course.

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Makenna Kramer
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