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Westhem: Women’s sports deserve more coverage

With baseball season in full swing, the NFL preseason right around the corner and the newly renewed anticipation and excitement for college football on campus (recharged by the release of “Rags to Roses: The Rise of Stanford Football — check it out if you haven’t already), it’s understandable that many overlook the fact that the WNBA is also in season.

So I’ll give some attention to the under-covered sport and try to enlighten some sports fans on something other than football, baseball, the NBA or soccer for once.

First off, the WNBA should be kissing the feet of the “Big Three” — Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins — for bringing some much needed attention to the league as solid players and role models.

As a rookie, Delle Donne (drafted second overall) has lifted the Chicago Sky to first in the Eastern Conference and already given the team only two fewer wins midway through the 2013 season than it had during the entirety of last season. She is the third leading scorer in the league with 18.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and two blocks per game.

And anyone who makes the argument that they’d rather watch an NBA game than a WNBA contest because the NBA is more exciting has never seen this 6-foot-5 powerhouse rookie play. Delle Donne, in her first year, has the opportunity to propel the Sky into its first postseason.

And if you need more than the underdog story of the Chicago Sky to draw you in, look no further than Brittney Griner — the first overall draft pick of the Phoenix Mercury — and the dunking clinics she’s been putting on. Even opposing fans come out to watch her dunk on their team.

Speaking of fans: Not only are Delle Donne, Griner and Diggins (the third overall draft pick of the Tulsa Shock) making an impact for the league on the court, they are also boosting the WNBA’s viewership, attendance and merchandise sales. Their jerseys are the top three sellers this season in the WNBA and the Sky is averaging 2,000 more fans per game than it did last season. Overall, the league is getting double the viewership on ESPN2 as compared to last season.

It’s encouraging for me and for any other women’s basketball fans to see the league gaining some recognition for the sakes of both the WNBA and the players.

As I got to travel quite a bit with and got to know the Stanford women’s basketball team last season through my coverage for The Stanford Daily and KZSU, I saw how much blood, sweat and tears (of joy and pain) are put in by the players to make themselves better for the sport they love.

These athletes (notice how I don’t denote them as female because it shouldn’t matter) deserve recognition for what they can do.

One of our very own Cardinal athletes, Nneka Ogwumike ’12, picked first overall by the Los Angeles Sparks in the 2012 draft and recently named an All-Star, deserves recognition for her dominating play and stellar representation of Stanford athletics in the professional realm.

On July 22, Ogwumike tied her season high with 24 points and nine rebounds against the Seattle Storm to help her team clinch a 65-64 win. Ogwumike — standing at 6-foot-2 — made two monster blocks in the remaining seconds of the game to secure the win, ending the matchup in the same exciting, nail-biting fashion that you’d see in the NBA.

Now, I realize I’m not going to be able to turn all NBA fans into WNBA fans, but I would like to at least get them to acknowledge that these women are superb athletes whose feats at least deserve more recognition.

Fortunately, my experience with the coverage of women’s sports at Stanford through The Daily and KZSU has been nothing but positive and, for the most part, equal.

Early on in the women’s basketball season, however, something happened (or rather, didn’t happen) that really got under my skin. Stanford played Baylor in a pre-season tournament in Hawaii. The game was not televised on any network — not even on ESPN3. Considering this was a rematch of the 2012 Final Four game (which Baylor won) and would determine who would hold the No. 1 ranking in the nation, this was quite disconcerting.

This occurrence, along with Stanford women’s basketball head coach Tara VanDerveer mentioning to me in any interview that media coverage is an area for improvement in the equality of gender in athletics, opened my eyes to the fact that media coverage is not equal outside of Stanford.

The recurring issue in the coverage of women’s sports is the lack of consistency; the media pays attention in spurts and only during certain times and events. For example, the coverage of women’s soccer booms during the time of the Women’s World Cup because there is so much worldwide interest in the sport during this time. Sports fans are also interested in female athletes during the Olympics. The momentum gained in the popularity in female sports during these times needs to be taken advantage of.

The WNBA has paved a way by promoting support and fandom for players who received a lot of recognition as college players, such as with Delle Donne, Griner and Diggins most recently; and Ogwumike, Candice Parker and Maya Moore during their rookie seasons and beyond.

College basketball season can’t come soon enough so that I can continue my coverage of Stanford women’s basketball and promote a greater appreciation for female athletes. Until then, I’ll be looking forward to college football season just like everyone else.

Ashley Westhem was recently named as a reserve on the Tahoe Waterskiing All-Star team. To congratulate her or give her advice on how to be a starter next season, email Ashley at awesthem ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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