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Woman-Up: A conversation with WNBA Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve. Part II

Minnesota Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve discussing strategy with point guard Lindsay Whalen during pre-game Title IX at 40. 06/28/2012
Matthew Fleegel

Welcome back to Woman-Up. A three part exclusive interview where I sit down with WNBA Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve and discuss how and when she became interested in sports, how that interest led her to coaching, the WNBA, and the state of woman’s athletics as a whole at home and abroad.

Part II:
Equitable treatment of women in sports

Examiner: “We’ve had discussions about marginalization of female athletes by the mainstream media. Would you like to elaborate on that subject for our readers?”

Coach Reeve: “What I’m really happy about is; to be middle aged, and to see that we now live in a world of social justice if you will. So marginalization of any group is kind of fallen by the wayside, it’s just a thing of the past. We live in a much better society here in our country. The one area that I think has been slow to be a part of the movement, or to be on the wave, is sexism or marginalization of women, particularly in sports.”

CR: “There is a bit of an old school mentality in the decision maker’s minds. Often times there are an older male that just didn’t grow up knowing women’s sports, appreciating women’s sports, and they are making a determination that people aren’t interested without having supporting evidence.”

On the effect of Title IX on growth and participation in women's sports…

Coach Reeve: “Since 1972, since Title IX, the growth and participation for women in sports has just exponentially grown and therefore the interest has grown. Yet, studies show that the coverage by the media probably capped out in the mid to late 90’s.”

On the current state of the WNBA from a coverage perspective…

CR: “We’re actually in decline in coverage of women’s sports in the media. We’re relegated to the tenth page, maybe a small box, or a small recap. We’re relegated to ticker status if we are on TV, and the claim is that there is not the interest and the data does not support that.”

CR: “I just want, and I appeal to the local media because that’s what I care about…it’s certainly a national problem, but I want our local media to understand, number one: Our product is a really good product. The WNBA is a heck of a lot more than just basketball. The impact that we are having on both girls and boys in our communities is an impact that we can have in society going forward, so we’re a microcosm of society, and what we’re doing now is going to impact the future.”

On how the league has the potential to change lives and minds…

CR: “The third grader that’s coming to the games, the boys…the girls, they are now seeing strong, powerful women playing basketball at a very high level. Versus years ago, that same third grader only knew that ‘they’ played basketball, and that maybe it was ‘too rough’ for girls, or it was ‘too hard’ on their bodies. Way back when they said that you had to play half-court because it was was ‘too demanding’.”

CR: “We’ve obviously come a long way from that, but there is still a bit of an archaic mindset with I’ll call them the ‘decision makers’, the ones that are choosing to relegate us to a lower status than what we deserve.”

Examiner: “Along those lines, the WNBA plays 10 minutes as opposed to the 12 minutes the NBA plays. Do you feel that by playing fewer minutes WNBA box scores appear inferior to NBA box scores… (CR:)”Yep”…and that certain members of mainstream media use that to keep the league subjected in a way?”

Coach Reeve: “Yep, absolutely. The reason we don’t play 48 minutes, it’s kind of like tennis. Women’s tennis is 3 sets whereas guys play 5 sets because it’s ‘too demanding’ for the women. Y’know we could talk about volleyball, golf, the different sports. The WNBA uses a smaller ball than the NBA. Some of the things make sense because of the physical aspects of it. Meaning, a smaller ball was thought to lead to higher field goal percentage, which was thought to lead to more interest. Because the ball goes in the hole more, people are more interested.”

Methods that have been suggested to make the WNBA like the NBA…

CR: “Along the same lines we have people who think we should lower the rim so we look more like the men, dunking. At the same time if we go do that and start dunking, those same people that are naysayers are going to say that ‘we don’t act like women’ because we’re dunking and we’re getting excited, and ‘that’s not very womanly of us’.”

The 40 minutes versus 48 minutes overview…

Coach Reeve: “The 10 minute quarters versus the 12 minute quarters, right now, it isn’t comparing apples to apples. When people go, ‘Oh, they only scored 72 points in a game’. Or if a hard fought WNBA game led to a 66-65 score they’ll say, ‘Well that set basketball back however many years’. But if a guy’s game is 66-65, ‘It was a hard fought, well played, struggle between two great teams’. So there is a difference in the way it’s described.”

CR: “The 40 minutes versus the 48 in our league right now is largely because of TV. In order for us to sell our product, to make it more marketable and appealing to the folks that would put us on TV, right now we can’t take too long to play the game. Because they have so many programming options, we want to best position ourselves in a window that they would find appealing.”

CR: “So, right now, the fact that we play 40 versus 48 is ok, as long as it is not used against us in description of our game by looking, like you said, at box scores or scores in general.”

Examiner: “That leads into the potential for a double-standard when it comes to the WNBA. We live in a more enlightened society now…Michael Sam becoming the first openly gay NFL draft pick. We know that is it not okay to discriminate against someone because of race, religion, nationality, or sexual preference, so why do some members of the mainstream media still think it’s okay to be sexist when it comes to sports?”

Coach Reeve: “That’s unfortunate, I had made this comment that 'I applauded the NBA and Adam Silver, and their handling of the Donald Sterling situation'. But I immediately followed up with ‘I hope that sexism is next’. Because some of the biggest culprits are sports teams, men’s sports teams. Whether it’s promotion within an NBA teams executive ranks, or whether it’s having a WNBA team and treating them in a first class way. Those are the kind of things that have been slow to take hold.”

CR: “A female reporter trying to get their work done, to be in the locker room, drawing to draw to big assignment. We have local papers here that the men go on the road to Chicago to follow the Wild, but the woman who was on the beat all season doesn’t. Because y’know that’s ‘a big job’ and ‘a man’s gotta do that’. It’s been disappointing to be very honest with you.”

On what she believes influences that perception…

CR: “Again, it comes down to who is making the decisions. We still live in a very male dominated world and men have been reluctant to share, and to put us on their same level. A little bit of it, is that women are maybe more inexperienced as of right now in some cases. For example, for years…women weren’t in the work force. For years…women couldn’t vote. So we’ve been held down for years, and now women in business…we’re not as experienced maybe as some guys who have been doing it.”

CR: “I think that it might be kind of like the WNBA versus the NBA discussion. We’re in more of the infancy stages. We’ve got a long way to go, but as long as we’re comparing apples to apples versus to apples to oranges when it comes to those sorts of things.”

Cheryl Reeve: “It will be a great time in our society if we could ever get to equitable treatment of women. Equality certainly would be the goal, but equitable treatment of women would be a major step.”

That concludes part II of Examiner’s exclusive Woman-Up interview with WNBA Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve. Keep on eye out for part III, when Coach Reeve and I will continue our discussion pertaining the marginalization of female athletes, and then look at the difference between the perceptions of the WNBA in the United States versus the perception of the WNBA on the world stage.

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