The WNBA vs. NBA double standard

07.17.09 9 years ago 37 Comments
Diana Taurasi

Diana Taurasi

From the response generated by Diana Taurasi‘s recent scrape with the law, you’d think we were being introduced to the WNBA’s first full-blooded goon.

Taurasi was arrested in Phoenix on July 2 for an “extreme DUI,” when she was pulled over for speeding and blew a 0.17 (twice the legal limit) on the blood-alcohol test.

Happens every day in the NBA, right? Well, imagine if one of the marquee players in the men’s league — Taurasi is leading the WNBA in scoring at 20.6 points a night and is undeniably one of the faces of the women’s game — got into a similar situation shortly before the All-Star Game, and compare the reaction to this column excerpt by’s Mechelle Voepel:

There’s no way Taurasi should be an All-Star, and the league must take as harsh a stance as its guidelines allow in terms of punishment.

If she indeed does not play in the All-Star Game, her absence will be conspicuous. And that’s a shame, but that shame is all on Taurasi herself. She is the first truly high-profile WNBA player to get in any serious legal trouble.

Considering what a popular, visible and vocal presence she is for her franchise, the league and the sport of women’s basketball, this is as much a worst-case scenario as the WNBA hopes it ever has to deal with.

Because the real worst-case scenario, of course, is that Taurasi, if driving under the influence, could have killed or severely injured herself and others. There aren’t any excuses for that behavior, and Taurasi now has a mark on her reputation that will never come off.

Voepel goes on to further lecture Taurasi on all the obvious dangers of DUI and breaking the law, but beyond that, her column left me with some questions:

1. Is it really THAT serious?
2. What does it say about our society when a lot of people would say it isn’t that serious?
3. Are WNBA players (or women in general) held to a higher standard of behavior than NBA players (or men in general)?

A couple months ago, I was at a sneaker launch event with some other media types, and one guy who clearly wasn’t a basketball fan — I think he actually snorted when I told him I worked for Dime — got on his soapbox about the NBA and its “thug” players. With a straight face, this guy suggested that when an NBA player gets arrested, he should have his salary revoked and should be kicked out of the League. For life. Unless, he added, “It’s something minor like drunk driving or, like, a domestic dispute.”

So even this guy who wants to throw half the NBA in jail doesn’t consider DUI a major violation, probably not worthy of costing someone an All-Star spot or deserving of a huge suspension. The last player to get a DUI that comes to mind is Zach Randolph, and he was suspended for a game or two by the Clippers. And he’s one of those players with a bad reputation that precedes him.

In Taurasi’s case, this is the first such incident I’ve heard of on her rap sheet. Voepel highlights that Taurasi is a role model and a standard-bearer for the WNBA, so her punishment should be more harsh. It’s also implied — though not directly stated — that with a fledging league like the WNBA where credibility is always a battle, they can’t afford to have players (especially high-profile players) doing anything that would make negative headlines.

So maybe that’s it: The NBA is established enough that one player getting in trouble doesn’t reflect on the entire league, and will soon by overshadowed by another story anyway.

But I think it’s deeper than that. Forget WNBA vs. NBA; this is a man vs. woman issue. In that same “boys will be boys” justification mindset, in the eyes of public opinion, males have more leeway to get in trouble and basically act like immature guys. For male athletes, whether it’s misdemeanor crimes, on-court brawls, incessantly arguing with refs, even just screaming after a big play, it’s not only more accepted — it’s expected.

Remember how shocked (and/or amused) everyone was when there was a WNBA on-court brawl last year? The bigger surprise to me was that it somehow took 10-plus years for the WNBA to even have a brawl in the first place. Although women are (stereotypically) supposed to be more emotional than men, they’re not supposed to be as aggressive and competitive. So when they act like stereotypical men, the double standard shows itself.

They’re telling us to Expect Great, but in every physical aspect of the game, we’ve been conditioned to expect less. When it comes to off-court behavior, however, “Expect Great” apparently translates to “Expect Perfection.”

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