Sports have always been a male-dominated enterprise. From the beginnings of sports, male bodies have always been considered to be the pinnacle of athletic accomplishment. Male athletes then and now are typically valued based on stereotypically masculine attributes like physicality, toughness and having a natural competitive edge. This masculine gaze has provided the framework for all sports, and the more recent inclusion of the female athletes has often clashed with it. In a highly gendered world like athletics, this view, unfortunately, has proved to be an inherent and unconscious bias providing an uphill battle for participants and spectators who don’t adhere to the mold. Gender bias is not new of course, but in today’s media moment, we can observe a redefinition of an athlete. A particular moment of interest can be seen in the continuing discussion of lowering the rims for female basketball players.
So many great players like Elena Delle Donne and Diana Taurasi are debating whether women’s basketball should lower the rims from its current regulation of 10 feet. Delle Donne argues that lowering the rims will allow for more viewership and increased celebration of the athleticism of female basketball players. The main reasoning for her stance is to ensure that female players will dunk more during games, something which is undoubtedly one of the most exciting parts of the men’s game. However, Taurasi disagrees with this argument because lowering the rims would again cause even more differentiation with the men’s game, adding another point where critics can argue the superiority of the men’s game. I also agree with this. Dunking was never a part of Naismith’s original rules, so why change the standards to include it for women?
Also, if you didn’t know already, female players have already been dunking on 10-foot rims for years, including Delle Donne. Granted, the majority of these players are over six feet, and dunking within games regularly is a feat reserved for rare exceptions like Brittany Griner. Nonetheless, the female game is including more dunking. When men started dunking in games, it wasn’t embraced and practiced right away; it had to be developed. And though female athletes are generally shorter, current female players are dunking, which shows younger female athletes that they can also do it.
When I was growing up, dunking wasn’t even discussed for female basketball players. Now, that idea has dynamically changed. For example, Shakayla Thomas of Florida State University at 5’11″ can dunk the ball arguably with even more athleticism than her 6-foot counterparts, and even Brianna Stewart’s “almost” put-back dunk displays that female players not only have the athletic ability to dunk but to do it hard. We need to allow more game time for players to continue adapting to the belief that they can dunk instead of handicapping rim height, which defines the game as only valued if it includes a feat valued by a male’s perspective. The women’s game is developing along with the uphill battle for both fan support and equal pay. But the popularity of this discussion illustrates that the fight for equality matters and is valued in this society, but just like any change, we need time.