March Madness is over for Gonzaga University – for 2011, at least.
Even in defeat, however, the extraordinary women’s basketball team with the superlative point guard earned every speck of admiration a grateful community had to dish out.
But there is more to ponder this week than the home team’s accomplishments, historic as they were. By extension, women’s sports programs in general can claim a share of public honor.
It’s not quite 40 years since Title IX codified women’s equal opportunity in the athletic programs of the nation’s colleges and universities – at least those that rely in some part on government support. And how times have changed.
The advances in skill and athleticism are conspicuous. Fan interest has soared, as measured by the 11,646 attendance figure for the Bulldogs’ loss on Monday (not to mention the decibel level inside) as well as the ubiquitous autograph seekers around Courtney Vandersloot and her teammates.
At the same time – here’s the cool part – the women in these contests have kept a solid grip on proportionality. They’re passionate about what they do. They’re intense. They’re competitive.
But they keep their showboating in check. If there’s trash-talking, it’s tame. The in-game celebration is authentic rather than choreographed, an emotional element within the game rather than the main attraction.
You don’t see the self-absorbed attitudes of entitlement that have landed so many male counterparts in off-the-court/field difficulties.
In The Spokesman-Review’s Sports section on Monday, the day the Stanford-Gonzaga game dominated the coverage, at least three lesser stories touched on some of the negative sideshows that have become so common in big-time sports – a criminal trial, a recruiting violation, a labor dispute. And that was a slow day for athletic dysfunction.
You rarely read about such tawdry stuff involving women’s sports. We’re not sure about other teams elsewhere, but none of the GU women ran into trouble over marijuana-possession charges this season.
True, the tolerance for misconduct that has built up around men’s sports didn’t become common overnight. It has been evolving for a long time. Well before Michael Vick was welcomed back to the National Football League following a prison sentence for dogfighting, Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon went to prison for counterfeiting and was kicked out of the College Football Hall of Fame, only to be reinstated later.
This is not to say the men’s sports world lacks heroic figures, or that women’s success won’t eventually turn sour, too. But the familiar assertion that sports builds character has suffered obvious damage. The Courtney Vandersloots of the world are doing some necessary and greatly appreciated repair work.