Guys: It's Time to Man Up

By Ben York, PhoenixMercury.com
Posted: Feb. 25, 2013

I’m a fan of *NSYNC.

And I’m not talking about the “I-don’t-listen-to-that-type-of-music-but-if-I-did-NSYNC-is-pretty-good-I-guess” type of fandom.

I dig their music. Deal with it.

(I might even know a dance or two.)

Judge me. Label me. Make fun of me. It's cool.

But because I’m a fan of the group, a lot of dudes over the years have assumed I have cooties. You know – those things all of the girls thought the boys had (and vice versa) in elementary school.

Cooties? Really?

Oh, they’re real. They must be.

That has to be the reason why guys are so hesitant to admit they like *NSYNC (be honest, you love them). They are fearful of contracting the hideous, revolting and incurable Cooties Virus.

On a similar level, why else would men feel the need to dismiss the WNBA, or preface/supplement every compliment directed toward women’s basketball with the caveat, “I don’t watch the WNBA, but…”?

Simple. Cooties.

If you’re a guy and you like *NSYNC, you must have cooties. If you’re a guy and you enjoy the WNBA, you must have even bigger cooties.

It’s a worldwide pandemic.

Except that it isn’t.

“My general response is you’re missing out,” says veteran Phoenix Mercury Male Practice Squad member, Mykael Wright, on the often instant dismissal from men on the WNBA. “It's different being a fan here [in Phoenix]; most dudes at least respect Taurasi, but they’ll only casually admit that she’s good. Well, she’s actually amazing. Clearly they haven’t seen the Mercury play because the overall talent level is incredibly high. That goes back to my initial comment. Most guys who write off the WNBA have never seen them play. I've never heard a guy who has actually watched a few games say anything that discredits the women's game.”

Recently, I received what I initially thought was a complimentary email about the Mercury’s renowned history. In it, was the following line:

I don’t watch the Mercury or WNBA but they are a good team for what they are and its [sic] cool they [have won] championships.

“Good team for what they are?”

What does that mean? Or, more importantly, why even give the team a compliment if you are, simultaneously, criticizing them as women?

“It’s not a basketball issue,” says Phoenix Mercury Head Coach and General Manager Corey Gaines, a former NBA player who also coaches for the Phoenix Suns. “I’ll use myself as an example. When I was younger, in my teens, I went to the park to play some tennis. I saw an older woman there, probably in her 50’s, and thought I was going to beat her easily. I actually thought I needed to take it easy so I wouldn’t make her feel too bad. Well, she beat the crap out of me. She used the angles on the court and had me running everywhere.”

Gaines assumed he would destroy the woman at the park based on his preconceived notions. To be fair, on some level, we’re all guilty of a variation of this type of judgment; it’s human nature. The key, however, is overcoming that line of thinking (as Gaines quickly did) and moving towards an inner state of acceptance and open-mindedness.

“I’ll give you another example,” continued Gaines. “When I was playing basketball at UCLA, I thought I could be a defensive back or safety on the football team. One day, I went to try it out and guarded the slowest receiver. He had me turning every which way; there was no way I could stay with him – and I was known for being quick.”

The character trait that separates Gaines from other men with analogous assumptions is that he doesn’t feel threatened admitting he wasn’t as good.

Or, to be blunt, that the woman playing tennis at the park and the UCLA football players were, in fact, better – regardless of their gender.

“Basically, it boils down to people sitting on their couches at home that for some reason think they can play with WNBA players,” said a bewildered Gaines. “That leads to a feeling that the competition is inferior. People play basketball and baseball all the time and think they could go out and play pretty well; but when they see them up close it’s a whole different story. I mean, people don’t look at football players or track & field stars and think they can do what they do. So I think it has a lot to do with society and how they view the WNBA. I’ve had a lot of people come up to me, especially when we were in the Finals, and tell me they had no idea the players were this good.”

But why didn’t they have any idea that the players were that good?

Much of it comes from the widespread and unfortunate frame of mind that WNBA athletes are “good,” sure, but good for women. Likewise, some of it stems from individuals in the media whose apparent single life goal is to end the “charade” that is the WNBA. As this inadvertently demonstrates, society tends to respect athletic accomplishments by women far less than they do with men.

“Two things impressed me when I started on the Mercury’s practice squad,” added Wright. “Their tenacity and overall skill level. It's tough to explain in words; you really have to experience the resolve and grit these women play with first-hand. To a person, they are all very friendly off the court, but once you step on the court, it’s go time. Every Mercury player plays hard all the time.”

And what of the men out there who say they just don’t care for the WNBA (and go out of their way to bash it), but are huge fans of the NBA? Isn’t that, by definition, contradictory?

For example, I’ve never personally seen the television show The Amazing Race. Not deliberately; just hasn’t happened. Still, I love reality television and frequently hear what an amazing show it is. Needless to say, I don’t go out of my way to write thousands of words on why the show is being “shoved down our throats” or why the concept is “inherently flawed” as numerous sports-loving men have in regards to the WNBA.

You can dance around it any way you want, but that is the archetypal definition of narrow-mindedness.

“To me, it’s simple,” concluded Wright. “They're just very talented basketball players who happen to be female.”

Exactly. Thank you, Mykael.

***

James Parker has been to dozens of Mercury games with his daughter, Jasmine, who currently plays varsity basketball in high school. Attending Mercury games together over the past decade has assisted in the strengthening of their bond.



“It’s helped open up my relationship with my daughter,” says Parker. “It’s also helped me to be a better father. When you’re at a WNBA game, young ladies can see how hard work pays off. They can see leadership and communication at work. All of this transcends the court and crosses over to the classroom, boardroom, jobs, family and society.”

For Parker and Jasmine, it was the quality of Mercury basketball that prompted them to attend their first game many years ago.

“It’s not about being superior or inferior to the men's game,” adds Parker on the Mercury and the WNBA. “I'm a basketball head, and that means I watch basketball as much as I can from youth, high school, college and pro – male and female. I believe a true basketball fan or purest doesn't discriminate; basketball is basketball on any level, played on any court, in any country, by any player regardless of class, gender or race.”

It’s time to man up, guys.

You aren’t going to contract cooties from liking the WNBA. Trust me; I should have twice the cooties as any other guy for being both a huge fan of both *NSYNC and the WNBA.

So, here’s my challenge.

And I’m talking directly to any guy out there who thinks James, Mykael and I are wrong. That somehow we are exaggerating or making all of this up.

Send me an email and I’ll hook you up with tickets to a Mercury game. I’m talking good tickets, too. Trust me; we’ll take care of you.

Or, better yet, if you think you can hang with the Mercury on the court, tryout for the Male Practice Squad (like Mykael did). I’ll get you information on that, too.

That’s the deal.

You in?

Together, I’m confident we can cure the cooties.

#CureTheCooties #ManUp

The Man Up Challenge isn't just for guys! Any doubting ladies out there? Feel free to email or tweet us. We want all doubters to give the Mercury a try!