female athletes: overlooked and underestimated
Gilbert Arenas has a message for the Women’s National Basketball Association: forget the talent, bring on the sex appeal.
The former NBA player took to Instagram this week to mock the women’s league and its players. In a series of postings, some of which showed women playing basketball in lingerie, Arenas referred to the athletes as “ugly lesbians” and “cast members from Orange is the New Black.” In a video posted December 16, he suggested WNBA players are noticed and remembered for their physical appearance rather than skill.
The string of postings (which began December 15 and continued up until today) have been widely criticized by the WNBA and its players. Despite the backlash, Arenas has refused to apologize.
WNBA players are strong, talented and determined individuals who give it their all on the court and serve as inspiring role models to millions around the world. – WNBA official statement
It’s not the first time Arenas has found himself at the centre of controversy. Though the former Memphis Grizzlies guard is well-known on social media for his often offensive comments, he has also encountered various issues on the court. With over 50 suspensions throughout his career, in 2010, the NBA issued an indefinite suspension without pay after Arenas was photographed pointing his index and thumb finger as a gun at his teammates. Of course it didn’t help that just a year earlier, he’d admitted to bringing a gun into the Washington Wizards’ locker room (an incident that has become one of the most infamous moments of his career).
Judging by the response to Arenas’ latest comments, it’s clear many have grown tired of the former player’s antics. But unfortunately, Gilbert Arenas’ latest remarks cannot be dismissed. Though directly targeting female basketball players, his comments highlight a disturbing trend of misogyny and sexism often seen directed towards female athletes in general.
Since its inception in 1996, WNBA players have had to fight for many of the perks given to their male counterparts in the NBA. While athletes like LeBron James have achieved superstar status and are awarded “lifetime” contracts valued at over $500 million, most female basketball players will never even earn a six-figure salary. With significantly fewer endorsements and overall support, WNBA players’ talents are often overlooked and underestimated.
But as Arenas pointed out this week sometimes, a female player is noticed. Unfortunately, it’s rarely for her talent.
As seen beyond the basketball court, female players in practically every sport are the targets of sexual objectification and discrimination. After winning 53 of a total 56 matches in 2015, Serena Williams’ legacy as perhaps the greatest female tennis player of all time continues to be shrouded by criticism of her physical appearance deemed by many as “masculine.” And in the world of mixed-martial-arts, although champion Ronda Rousey remains one of the highest paid athletes ever (male or female), many critics are likely to pay more attention to her toned, muscular frame than her knockout kicks.
It’s an issue that has left many to wonder what female athletes must do in order to gain the attention and respect of sports fans. Some athletes have chosen to disregard the criticisms and simply excel in their respective sports, hoping their skills and talents will one day speak for themselves. Others, like WNBA Chicago Sky player Elena Delle Donne, use humour and sarcasm in an attempt to make light of the disparaging situation.
It’s just about all they can do under the circumstances.
Discussions regarding the issues of misogyny and sexism within female athletics is nothing new (as a matter of fact, in 2007 the WNBA actually tried to capitalize on it). However Arenas’ latest remarks are an ugly reminder that although the conversation has already taken place, it must be had again both in the present and future. In a time when women can work, vote and even run for the Oval Office, they should not have to fight for fans’ respect on the court.
But that’s just According to Adrienne.