Questioning the question: Paul Shirley on Brittney Griner playing in the NBA

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Note from DJ: Paul Shirley and I (along with Travis Waldon) recently participated in a HuffPost Live broadcast. Prior to the broadcast, Paul was nice enough to say he enjoyed The Wages of Wins. This led me to ask Paul – who is the author of ‘Can I Keep My Jersey?: 11 Teams, 5 Countries, and 4 Years in My Life as a Basketball Vagabond” – if he would like to contribute to The Wages of Wins Journal. What follows is a comment from Paul on the idea that Brittney Griner could play in the NBA. One should note: this was originally posted at El Pais in Spanish

Before a late-season game between the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Lakers, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was asked whether he would consider selecting Brittney Griner, college basketball’s best female player, in this year’s NBA draft.

“If she is the best on the board, I would take her,” Cuban said. “Would I do it? Right now, I’d lean toward yes, just to see if she can do it. You never know unless you give somebody a chance.”

Cuban’s flippant remarks ignited a fiery debate: could a woman play in the NBA? Lines were drawn, sides were chosen, tempers flared. And even though no real conclusion was drawn, it was widely assumed that we’d made something like progress, because at least we were talking about something approaching gender equality.

I would argue the opposite. The Great Brittney Griner Debate didn’t do anyone any good. Not because women shouldn’t play basketball, or because women shouldn’t imagine playing alongside men, but because the existence of the argument proved just how sexist our society is.

Consider the following question: would the first pick in last year’s NBA draft, Anthony Davis, make a caring and nurturing parent?

I ask because I think it could be argued that women are better than men at taking care of children. This doesn’t mean that all women are more nurturing than all men – just that most are. Yet, as a society, we don’t value the ability to be a good parent as much as we value the ability to overpower other humans in order to put a ball in a hoop. If we did, we’d be having arguments about it.

This is why we all lost in the debate about Brittney Griner. The right move isn’t to argue whether a woman can play like a man. The right move is to reframe the argument entirely: to ask why we make women feel that they should chase after male-centric characteristics like strength, power, and athletic prowess. Why not ask why it’s not the other way around? Why not ask why society has been so hijacked by the male viewpoint that, to even suggest that we debate child-rearing capacity over basketball skill would be viewed as laughable and, possibly, misogynistic?

I have neither met nor played against Brittney Griner, but I have spent a significant time around female athletes. (I once trained with Jackie Stiles, the only Division I women’s college basketball player who has scored more points than Griner.) Based on this experience, I feel comfortable writing that Brittney Griner could no more play in the NBA than I could run to the moon. While she is 203 cm tall [Editor's note: 6'8" for those of you who prefer non-metric systems of measurement] and while she did score 3,269 points in college, the size and strength of the men she would face in the NBA would leave her overwhelmed.

This doesn’t mean that no woman will ever play in the NBA. In fact, a small, sharpshooting guard might one day do just that.

It does mean something we already know: that men and women often have unique talents. And it seems, to this writer, that we would all be better off if we figured out how to value such unique talents equally.

- Paul Shirley

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