By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) “No, thanks.”
Simple and polite. And it would speak volumes. Or she could tell everyone to shut the hell up just the same, but she strikes me as being above that (though I’d think it would be pretty cool).
That is all Brittney Griner needs to say the next time someone asks her about trying out for an NBA team. It would certainly save her a hell of a lot of trouble and female athletes at large a hell of a lot of undeserved flack. And, really, that goes for any and all future female hoops stars, because there will be another really dominant woman to play NCAA basketball, probably sooner than later, and then there will be another one shortly after that, and that woman will get the same nudges Griner is now getting, just as there were those banging the drum for Candace Parker.
Why does it have to be this way for some people? Why does the “well, it hasn’t happened yet, therefore somebody has to do it” crowd exist? Why would some people force a crusade that need not happen?
And I barely mean the chivalrous Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. Okay, maybe Cuban has the best intentions when it comes to this to-do besides the potential windfall his McDuckian money pile would get. Or maybe he’s just doing this to get attention in a year where his team might miss the playoffs.
Thing is, at no point would Griner be the best player on the board. She is not one of the top 60 as-yet-to-be NBA players in the world. She’s not in the top 100. Maybe not even top 500. If you find that to be a harsh assumption, step back and think about all of the male NCAA basketball players out there right now—over 4,000 on the Division I level alone. To think that Griner would be better than seven-eighths of them—and not factor in most of the D-II and D-III players that are probably better, and let’s not forget the players from other countries that get drafted each year—is beyond naive.
And that’s okay.
She is the best NCAA women’s player. She’ll be one of the best WNBA players. She simply cannot compete with men on the professional level, though. That is not prejudice, it’s fact. If she were capable of holding an NBA roster spot, Mark Cuban would not have been the first league figure to mention her name as a roster possibility. Scouts exist for a reason.
This is not Annika Sorenstam making a PGA cut. Golf is not basketball, and such a comparison shares hardly a logical parallel.
Yet several people would see Griner not accepting a challenge to compete with the big boys as an affront to equality or ethics or something else perceived as righteous but actually misappropriated. Women fail to exist playing on NBA courts not because of some sexist conspiracy. This is not a Jackie Robinson thing or a Casey Martin thing or even a Martha Burk thing.
And the sooner Griner accepts publicly that being the best in her medium—women’s basketball—is absolutely wonderful and sufficient (she may already understand it privately), the better. While she may accomplish furthering her brand by engaging reporters who dangle the carrot of a story of “gender barrier shattered” more in front of their own noses than hers, the greater effect of an NBA tryout for her would be a step backward for women’s sports, not progress.
If she works out against pro-quality players, even destined D-leaguers or Euroleaguers, she will be dominated. Fact. “If I get a shot, why turn down something like that?,” Griner commented over the weekend. “That’s big, even if you don’t make it. Hey, at least you tried. Somebody pushed the envelope.”
It’s big in the sense that she will fully open the Pandora’s Box of misogynistic ass-hattery of which the lid has already been cracked ajar by Cuban’s words. The amount of people who would be proud of or impressed by Griner even in utter failure would be drowned by the idiots who would use it as an opportunity for sexist remarks and male chauvinistic derpitude and the noxious belches of “Haha, girls suck at sports.” Taking on a task that is doomed to fail is not pushing the envelope, it’s stupid.
This isn’t a sports drink commercial, and acknowledging that Cuban or anyone else is inevitably out for themselves at her expense and that she does not have the skills to compete with professional men would be far nobler than accepting some quixotic challenge. I understand that maybe Griner is afraid of looking the coward or seeming a quitter. What would truly be admirable, though, would be her saying something akin to: “Know what? I’m a great female basketball player. And I plan on continuing that. Why do I have to try to play against men to validate myself or something greater?”
It’s okay to acknowledge one’s limitations, though somewhere along the way of being bombarded by full-throttle sneaker ads and clichéd public speaking engagements with famous coaches, it became taboo to accept the reality that some things just can’t be obtained—or what Xtreme spandex shirt pushers would call “loser talk.” Intelligent people understand they can’t fly without needing to jump off the roof first.
Even in the most harmless outcome, one where Griner tries out, gets no serious consideration from the NBA, goes on to a fruitful WNBA career, and the American attention span lets the story become a sports footnote like Ann Meyers before her, there would still be a failure to take advantage of an opportunity to be smarter than critics and fans that would push her to what UConn women’s hoops coach Geno Auriemma called “a sham.” What Dirk Nowitzki and his coach, Rick Carlisle, tried their hardest to be polite about without literally calling it a crock.
There is an opportunity to do something far more lasting rather than a gimmick that might make for a badass commercial campaign. Brittney Griner could show young girls that look up to her, critics who would try to unrealistically prop her up or unfairly bring her down, and casual observers in general that it’s far more important to be the best at what you already are than to concern yourself with having to be as good as or better than somebody else. Especially when it’s other people desiring the latter.
Because when it’s other people trying to force someone to be a crusader when there isn’t much of a viable crusade in the first place, I say “No, thanks.”
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa and Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for 670TheScore.com, Tim corrupts America’s youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim’s inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @Ten_Foot_Midget, but please don’t follow him in real life. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read more of Tim’s blogs click here.