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Friday, August 22, 2003
Updated: August 25, 8:34 PM ET
Why men don't watch women's sports

By Graham Hays
Page 2 staff

It's not like they were competing against the Super Bowl -- or even "Who Wants to Marry My Dad." It was the biggest weekend of the year in professional women's sports, but most men weren't watching.

The WUSA's third championship was decided on Sunday when Washington beat Atlanta in overtime in Founders Cup III in San Diego, while the WNBA's frenzied playoff race concluded with a frantic finish on Monday.

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The two most prominent women's professional leagues showcased their best and brightest on an August weekend begging for events between the end of the PGA Championship and the start of the U.S. Open, the NFL regular season and baseball's stretch run. So why won't most men watch women's sports? Count me among the viewers, but I've got some theories about the rest of my brothers.

Male fantasies no longer require women
Ask the typical male sports fan about his fantasy life, and he's more likely to tell you about Priest Holmes' hip than his significant other's bedroom attire. We've become a culture obsessed with statistics. From NASDAQ to Zogby, numbers rule our lives. This isn't a bad thing when handled in moderation, but put 12 men in a room together, hand them some yards-per-carry printouts and you've got the makings of a cult.

Lisa Leslie
Admit it: You care more about Priest Holmes than Lisa Leslie only because of fantasy implications.

And until someone finds a way to effectively market women's fantasy leagues to a market saturated with everything from fantasy NASCAR to fantasy bass fishing -- that's not a joke -- women's sports won't capture the hearts of male sports fans. After all, what does a Lisa Leslie blocked shot really mean, if it doesn't giving you bragging rights for being a more successful fantasy manager.

What's the over-under on the Sparks and Comets?
If sports fan were interested solely in the purity of athletic competition, bookies would be out of business and horse racing would be a quaint hobby for animal lovers. You can bet on the WNBA -- over/unders, point spreads, the whole bailiwick -- but women's sports aren't big gambling business. And since men will turn daily chores, foodstuff and even bodily functions into wagers the way MacGyver turned sewing implements into complex machinery, it's only worth watching if it can be gambled on.

You have to know someone to enjoy the sport
Men don't know Abby Wambach from Abby Conklin -- for the record, Wambach is a rising star in the WUSA while Conklin played for the University of Tennessee women's basketball team. Men say they don't know the players, and thus don't have any connection to the game. Which makes it tough to explain preseason football. Honestly, do you really feel a bond to Jody Gerut of the Cleveland Indians or James Williams of the Seattle Seahawks? You may know your local team's backup shortstop, but you don't give a hoot about Cezar Izturis.

And your mother dresses you funny
Established leagues can get away with the occasional Atlanta Thrashers or Minnesota Wild, but don't give those already inclined to laugh for all the wrong reasons a legitimate reason to chuckle. Atlanta Beat? Boston Breakers? Detroit Shock? At least the grammatical nightmare that was the Utah Starzz pulled out their Strunk and White before moving to San Antonio. Silver Stars won't sell a ton of merchandise, but at least it won't break a spellcheck. And please, there's no reason for a league that plays indoor games in the summer to have a team named the Sun, no matter what the name of their parent casino. You're trying to get people to forget it's summer, remember?

I'll give you my opinion as soon as I find out what it is
It's tough to stay up to speed on all the issues when cable has upwards of 200 channels. Heck, just keeping up with all the developments on reality television is a full-time job. That's why men love having talking heads keep them up to speed. Not sure about this whole Arab-Israeli crisis and couldn't find Tikrit on a map if there were $300 on the line? Tune in Chris Matthews or Bill O'Reilly -- oops, don't want to get sued -- and you'll be castigating State Department policy inside of 20 minutes.

And then consider these two words: sports radio. Sure, Bill from Yonkers didn't actually watch the Mets game -- are you kidding? Body Shots was on Showtime 7 -- but he knows Jeromy Burnitz is a bum and a traitor because Mad Mark told him so, and Mad Mark has a radio show, a brand of hot sauce and millions of loyal listeners. So maybe men don't watch women's sports precisely because they have to watch women's sports. Without the reassuring screams -- volume suggests authority -- of a talking head, watching sports requires thought. And who has time for that these days?

Heather Mitts
Guys, meet Heather Mitts. Maybe you'll start watching the WUSA now ...

Serena Williams isn't in charge of uniforms
Because of course, men do watch women's tennis, the sport where the women play in short skirts and tight-fitting tops. Viewers tuned in to watch the 1999 Women's World Cup -- even before Brandi Chastain made herself famous -- because the U.S. team played skilled, compelling soccer and represented the country with honor. But it didn't hurt that the squad was full of attractive women. So perhaps men don't watch women's sports because they hold it to such exacting standards. Imagine if watching men's sports depended on the athlete's being both talented and attractive. Randy Johnson? Thanks for playing. Dirk Nowitzki? Next. Jason Sehorn? Close, but there's that talent issue.

What do I care if the maxi pad is super-absorbent?
Men aren't especially comfortable with the mysteries of their own bodies, so commercials geared towards the gender more in touch with the physical form are as unsettling as the thought that Michael Jackson has children that contain his genetic material. It's hard to stay focused on a game when every commercial break finds men scrambling for the nearest soundproof room. There's a reason Preparation H had to settle for Don Zimmer, and it's not because the old guy has tremendous stage presence. Nobody wants to see Alex Rodriguez talking about that itching, burning sensation.

Furthermore, consider how much men value beer, shoes and sports drinks. The athletes who sell them on television earn points by association. And since the only women you're likely to see in Miller Lite ads couldn't run 100 yards without toppling over, equality in commercials is a long way off.

The feminine mystique
It's really all Betty Friedan's fault. Here's the typical man, just trying to quietly go through life replacing his divots and changing his oil every 3,000 miles, only to find himself blamed for generations of inequality. It's not as if he had anything to do with glass ceilings or salary differences in the workplace. Heck, last year's three-percent bump was barely enough to pay for that new Big Bertha ERC II Forged Titanium Driver.

So maybe men think it's time to take a stand. To leap to the rampart and stand shoulder to shoulder with Vijay Singh and Andy Rooney. Women can join men's clubs and the old-boys network, but they'll never take sports.

They aren't good enough
The holy grail of complaints about women's sports, and an excuse that sounds especially curious on a weekend when ABC is broadcasting 12-year-old boys playing baseball in prime time. Argue that the third baseman from Saugus, Mass., wouldn't stand a chance against Jeff Suppan, let alone Pedro Martinez, and you're likely to get a puzzled stare, or in the Boston area, a bottle of Sam Adams upside the head. Women aren't as fast, don't jump as high and don't kick as hard as their male counterparts.

After all, who would want to watch UConn-Duke women battle for No. 1 when the Bulls and Warriors are about to tip off.

Graham Hays writes 'Out of the Box,' the inside scoop on yesterday's box scores, five days a week.