Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Shorter Hems for Women's Hoopsters?

France: Dresses for uniforms.

**Originally appeared on SLAM Online April 4th, 2012**
  As a kid, the day you got your uniform was always one of the best days of the basketball season. You remember YMCA ball: when you got to put on your bright purple t-shirt for the first time.

  And as you got older, that day didn't lose any of its luster, as the uniforms usually got better and better with each passing year. Maybe you got to pick out your number that day too. But uniform day was exciting for another reason as well: the 'real' season was about to get underway.

  Even as a professional, uniform day is still one of the best. There's nothing like getting your gear, and donning it for the first time.

  As of late however, in Europe, uniform day is slowly turning into a nightmare for us ladies.

  Sponsors and the almighty dollar (or Euro, in this case) have always ruled. What they say goes. 

  Sponsors pay the bills after all, so it's understandable. If they want you at a dinner, you're there. If they want you at a community event, you're there. If they want you out shaking hands, there you are, shaking hands. And if they want you in tight shorts on the court, unfortunately for you, you'll be in tight shorts on the court.

  I was made aware of this my rookie season in Italy. After putting on my uniform shorts for the first time for Pool Comense, I immediately asked our manager if they had anything larger. The pair I had tried on, fit more like a pair of running shorts, or soccer shorts. I definitely hadn't worn a pair of basketball shorts THAT short since I was a youngster.

  Our manager smiled at me and said, 'the sponsors want the uniforms to show more of your bodies,' as she made a figure-outlining motion with her hands. I laughed it off, said ok, and wore the shorts I was given. 

  I never got used to them, as I tried stretching them out before each and every game, and probably wore them lower on my waist than I have ever worn a pair of shorts.

  That was my first season. Every year after that has been hit or miss in regards to uniforms. 

  Sometimes I've had the latest and greatest, Nike outfitted gear (that you can never complain about), and other times I've had lesser-known brands supply our uniforms. You roll with the punches, but I've always been given a basketball uniform.

  After this past year however, things are headed in the wrong direction. FIBA, the body that runs the highly-touted EuroLeague (among other competitions), recently enacted uniform regulations that ONLY applies to the women's league:
'The FIBA Europe prior to this season (2011-2012) accepted new regulations regarding uniforms in EuroLeague Women that state that shorts have to be at least 10 cm above the knee and there can be only two centimeters between the shorts and the skin.'
  They're regulating how long the shorts can be, and also how tight to the skin the shorts must be worn. 

  This begs the question: WHY?

  I'm not really sure what FIBA is trying to accomplish. If selling more tickets is a motivator, I'm curious, have attendance numbers increased since the uniform rule was instituted?

  As I mentioned before, sometimes the uniform requirements don't come from the leagues, but from individual team sponsors. In my nine professional seasons in Europe, I have played against a handful of teams who have worn dresses (including one this season).

  'Combi' uniforms (also called 'onesies' -- all spandex material you may have seen on the Australian National Team) have been adopted in various leagues around the world as well.

  But instances of the 'FIBA concept' of short/tight fitting uniforms are seemingly on the rise. In fact, the team I play for this season in France, is finalizing an equipment deal for next season that would put the team in such uniforms. 

  Maybe they're trying to put more femininity into the game? I, for one, don't think they look good. When I see players wearing these uniforms I think they no longer look like basketball players, and that they surely can't be comfortable. If the players aren't comfortable, I think it would only make their play suffer.

  Let's flip the script and say that all of a sudden, FIBA started mandating that the men play in ultra tight uniforms. Or took it a step further, and made them play shirtless. How would that go over? I know it would be met with HUGE uproar, and would quickly be overturned.

  If they're trying to make women's basketball 'sexy', they need to stop right there. Athletics are not meant to be sexy. People might say, look at tennis or volleyball uniforms! Fabulous. But tennis and volleyball players have been playing in those uniforms for decades.

  To quote FIBA secretary general Patrick Baumann, "they are great athletes, but also beautiful athletes and there's no reason not to show it." No reason not to show 'it'. That statement has ZERO to do with the quality of basketball being played, and EVERYTHING to do sex-appeal.

  If I'm not mistaken, women's professional leagues have already tried, and failed, to use sex-appeal to promote the popularity of the sport. In early professional leagues in the US, women wore 'combi' uniforms. Those leagues quickly folded.

  Fans aren't interested in how tight the uniforms are worn. They are interested in watching high quality, entertaining basketball. That's it. There are countless other arenas of entertainment to get 'sexy' in the world. Let's keep that motivation out of basketball.

  One player, Diana Taurasi, refused to wear FIBA's tight-fitting uniforms this season, resulting in thousands of dollars worth of fines. For every EuroLeague Women game Taurasi played in, disobeying the new uniform rules, she was fined 2,000 Euro ($2,600). 

  Taurasi's team, Galatasaray of Turkey, played 18 EuroLeague games; equaling fines amounting to 36,000 Euro ($47,000). It's been reported that FIBA didn't fine her the full amount, but either way, it's a pretty expensive stance to be taking.

  I applaud Taurasi for standing up to FIBA, and letting them know her feelings. She was quoted in in February as saying, 'They want to make basketball sexy, but basketball isn’t sexy, it’s a sport...The uniforms are cultural and we have been playing in them for years, that will not change. If you want sexy uniforms, go read Playboy.'

  Here's another reason I take issue with 'non-traditional' uniforms: the majority of European teams are run strictly by men. From the President, to the coach, on down to the board members. I've had one woman coach, and one woman in management in nine seasons. In addition, every single referee is a man (I think I remember having one woman referee since I've been playing in Europe). I'm also willing to bet that FIBA doesn't have many female representatives on staff.

  So I guess you can say it's a man's world, and women are just playing in it.

  Finally, it's not about 'do I look good in this uniform?' Or 'you're a beautiful woman, you should have no problem showing off your body'. Or having confidence in your body. It's that these uniforms are objectifying to a large degree (not to mention uncomfortable).

  Basketball should never be about gender. When I'm on the court, it's not about being a woman or worrying about being 'feminine enough'. On the court, I'm a basketball player first. A woman second. Off the court, those roles are reversed.

  I've always been excited to put on my uniform come game day. But put me in a tennis dress, a skirt, or a tight fitting uniform, and I suddenly don't feel like a basketball player anymore.

  For me, it's always been about being an athlete, and playing the game well. Maybe fans' thoughts are different than mine. But isn't the object of professional basketball to play the game, and to play it to the best of your abilities?

  Hopefully FIBA (and sponsors, for that matter) listens to its players, and realizes they've made a mistake. Their sole motivation should be improving the quality of the game, and increasing the popularity of women's basketball in that manner, not objectifying its players with ridiculous uniforms.


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