‘Why Do I Have to Work Twice as Hard Just to Get Noticed?’

Aug 08, 2022 · 136 comments
Hoopsamongus (Illinois)
The simple truth is that women's basketball is not as exciting to watch as men's basketball, and there is no remedy for that. Our society is VERY familiar with the speed and dynamics of men's basketball and we can't help but compare the differences when we watch regardless of the competence athletes demonstrate. The dynamics of tennis, including the immediacy of outcome of each return, are completely different qualitatively; thus women's and men's tennis are both very engaging.
Opa Mike (Connecticut)
@Hoopsamongus Women's BB is played under the basket. Men's is played over the hoop. Somewhat different games. in WBB there is more passing and setting up plays. Personally, I prefer that to seeing a dunk slammed down. But that is just my choice.
Hoopsamongus (Illinois)
@Opa Mike I see your point but I'd say that a vast majority of Men's BB is played under the basket, too, just with faster, stronger moves that present very differently because of men's higher center of gravity. That's why most fans prefer a dunkless highschool boy's game to a highschool girl's game. I've watched women's NCAA finals in-person and certainly appreciate the skill and effort, but I'd choose a men's game every time just like I'd choose a jet airshow over a propeller-driven airshow. On the other hand, I'd pick college over pro any day. Many NBA players are just too big now and fill up the court. I'd rather watch hard working college players.
mark talbott (Indiana)
perhaps you don't understand the difference between what you called Truth and your personal opinion. I find the women's game to be equally as exciting as the men's game and I could list what other people have spoken about here. please don't pop in here with your antiquated views Boomer guy. it makes you sound as bad as you might not think it does. just try to be a decent person and not a jerk by making comments like these. what is so difficult about that?
RR (Madison)
This casual sports fan has never heard of either of these ladies. They seem to be great athletes though.
RR (Madison)
@Alan I agree with you and Shamrock.
Shamrock (Westfield)
@RR They are great women athletes. Not NBA athletes but WNBA athletes. If they were NBA athletes they would play in the NBA. It’s open to all.
Ayecaramba (Arizona)
Nothing against them but I just don't find them as interesting to watch as the men.
Ann (WA)
I believe you’ll discover that neither is a household name.
Riley (Seattle)
@Ann Which is a real shame. They both deserve to be!
Andrew (Cleveland)
Candace Parker is a household name. Cheryl Miller is a household name. This isn’t about race.
RQ (California)
Dave: That’s very true. I don’t follow tennis at all, not one bit, and the only three female tennis players I can name are black. I played college basketball so I know who Sue Bird is but I’m pretty sure if I polled everyone who works in my office tomorrow, nobody else has heard of her. Truly, not everything is about race or sexual preference, even if Sue Bird thinks it is. I really liked Kurt Streeter’s article in 2019 on my Maya Moore. Doing actual work to fight injustice not just easy, free, attention getting social media antics and I remember thinking at the time there HAD to be more to that story, for her to step away from basketball. And then voilà, in 2020, the article that she married the man she helped get out of prison.
Michael (Close to homelessness)
The media and fans have their favorites. It's too bad Sylvia hasn't received the attention her performance and character have earned.
michjas (Phoenix)
I taught a kid in high school who was ‘dead’ set on being an undertaker. He often stayed after class to talk and I was a little uncomfortable. Was he trying to recruit me as a client.
Elise (Phoenix)
Several people arguing that Sue Bird is not a household name... that just means YOUR household doesn't know her. Venture outside of your bubble. If you claim to be a fan of basketball, you can appreciate both the men's and the women's game.
AJ (Falklands area)
Sylvia who? And “et tu NYT” certainly applies. Fowles is retiring so now the NYT profiles her? vs How many articles over the years about Sue Bird? Your columnist and your sports dept should be examining how you can largely (completely?) overlook a player of Fowles’ stature for so long. And then ask, how many other Black women (and men) athletes are you overlooking. How many Black men and women of accomplishment are you overlooking across the spectrum of activities humans engage in? Recognition and stature arise from many arenas. Attention and profile in media is one of the key ones. The NYT already has done the old “obituaries that were never written at the time” thing. It’s past time to make sure that you’re, in real time, giving proper attention to key individuals: not waiting to marvel at how they never got due attention at the time they retire, die or already are dead.
Kurt Streeter (Streeter)
@AJ Hmm. Perhaps you need to read more of my columns and features. Thanks much for the comment, KS
Shamrock (Westfield)
@Kurt Streeter Everyone knows Bird has received overwhelming coverage in the Times compared to other comparable WNBA players. And it’s obvious why.
bobw (winnipeg)
@AJ : I read the NYT Sports section daily, and had no idea who Bird is. The NYT barely reports on men's hockey, let alone women's baseball.
pepper1 (Phoenix)
Never heard of either one.
187 (Detroit)
Finished reading this article and already forgot her name. That's how irrelevant the WNBA is.
Selene (Florida)
Sue Bird is a household name? Her household?
SV (San Diego, CA)
No it’s not the problem. Q:Is that what it’s all about, getting noticed? Constantly? Being viewed and getting more and more adulation? What about meeeee?!! Where’s my endorsement contracts? Don’t I deserve more money? Won’t anyone notice? I suggest the subject of this article consider becoming a fashion model or social influencer, in other words, a professional narcissist. As an athlete, teammate and coach most of my 67 year old life, athletes the author considers overlooked are because few of us can stand being around the big ego victims. And it’s not just us athletes. Besides, basketball is possibility the the second most team oriented sport played -right after mine, Rowing. Endorsements? HaHaHa
Tiffany (LA)
You don’t get endorsement deals just because you’re good. You also have to tell your agent that you want it. And you have to be in the country when opportunities to transcend the sport pop up instead of playing overseas 8-9 months out of the year. Candace Parker, for example, became a superstar here once she stopped playing in Russia and Turkey. Ditto Nneka Ogwumike. Of course, it helps if you’re also gorgeous and straight or at least femme (Candace Parker, both Ogwumikes, A’ja Wilson). For some (Jonquel Jones), charm and a great smile are good enough. Fowles is not especially pretty. She does not radiate charm, joy, softness or anything you’d be able to market. By all accounts, she is a kind and lovely person who likes to knit and ride bikes. None of that comes across. At all. If ESPN’s Holly Rowe didn’t love her to pieces, we probably wouldn’t know much about her. So I get why she’s not more famous. I don’t know if she wants to be.
Chris D (Arizona)
@Tiffany She's stunningly beautiful.
Stephen Merritt (Gainesville, Florida)
Racism, misogyny, racism, misogyny, racism, misogyny. That's the explanation. Still. It's not as if we haven't had time to fix ourselves.
michjas (Phoenix)
The comparison between Fowles and Bird is not the one that comes to mind. WNBA fans know that she has always has been measured up against Griner. It is one of the best rivalries out there. And going back to their college days it was Griner who got all the attention. Griner dominates, she dunks, she stands out and she’s got a big personality. Put aside, if you can, Griner’s imprisonment. Her private life has always been high profile. Her lesbian marriage is well known and, at times, soap operaish. She benefits from playing with Taurasi, probably the best WNBA player ever, and Taurasi and Griner make each other better. Fowles played the first half of her career in Chicago at a time when the team didn’t draw. Only when she was traded to Minnesota did she get the fan support that Griner has always gotten in Phoenix. Griner compares to Shaq. Fowles is much less flashy and more workmanlike. And when they take the floor the question is always whether Fowles can keep up with Griner, never the reverse. When you compare Fowles to Bird, it’s apples and oranges. When you make the more appropriate comparison, you see that Griner is the shiny apple you take to your teacher. Fowles helps make a great apple pie.
Kurt Streeter (Streeter)
Thanks to all for your comments. I appreciate them, even the ones that attempt to skewer this column, women's hoops and sports, or the W, because that means you're engaged and at least giving these issues some thought. Here's a guarantee. Among the many other subjects I focus on in Sports of The Times, I'll keep writing about equality for all and women's sports -- amazing athletes, great drama, and fascinating cultural issues. If you've followed my work at all -- going back to my many years writing news features or covering crime, etc., etc. -- you'll know I'm interested in issues that tend to be overlooked or given only quick, cursory glances. I'll keep at it, no doubt. Again, thanks much, and keep reading and commenting on the columns. Best, KS
Sally (California)
@Kurt Streeter You are doing an excellent job. Loved your coverage of Maya Moore's decision to leave and the wonderful work she has done since. And I had no idea SF plans to be an undertaker. I am blown away by that. I follow the WNBA and had not heard that before. Keep on keepin' on. Appreciate your work.
AJ (Falklands area)
@Kurt Streeter Enjoy your work, but I think you should consider my take, as related in my submission (as yet, unposted). It doesn’t mean I am sure I’m “right,” but that I feel my thoughts deserve consideration (e.g., if Fowler is “under recognized,” how much of the fault is with the NYT, its sports columnists and media generally).
Chris D (Arizona)
@Kurt Streeter Thanks for your work. It means a lot.
ROC (New York)
The main difference is black and white. Forget everything else, black athletes always have to do more than whites. It's not about something planned, a white audience identifies with white athletes. They are not as plentiful as the blacks and tend to stand out.
Dave (New Jersey)
It is disingenuous, inaccurate and unnecessarily provocative to attribute Ms. Fowles lack of attention to her race or gender. Despite her undeniable talent the fact is that the WNBA is not and never has been popular. By contrast women's tennis and soccer are much more popular which has resulted in the athletes, regardless of their race, receiving far more attention.
JPL (Northampton MA)
"Sylvia Fowles has been as dominant on the court as Sue Bird, but only one of them is a household name, our columnist writes." So why wasn't the Times covering her all this time?
Shamrock (Westfield)
@JPL Kurt was too busy telling us we are morally bankrupt for not buying season tickets for the Indiana Fever. I spend my money on local bands and artists.
Milton Lewis (Toronto Ontario)
Skin colour has not held back LeBron James or Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods. Pigmentation is only part of the story. Possibly personality and media sense also played a role in Sylvia Fowles not being the cover story on major magazines.
Bill (Johnson)
Who is Sue Bird?
Opa Mike (Connecticut)
Coming out of the gate quickly on a college level has a downstream recognition impact. Not mentioned was Sue’s UConn teammate Diana Taurasi. This duo was arguably the best women’s collegiate backcourt ever. Winning three consecutive NCAA WBB Championships (the first two with Sue) garnered both players significant attention. A current player on the same track is South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston. Connecticut fans certainly know her. They will get to know her again when the Huskies host South Carolina as their final nonconference matchup in the 2022-23 season. If Sylvia had a coming out party similar to Aliyah’s her recognition factor would be much higher. When Taurasi retires who is she going to overshadow in a NY Times article?
Justin (Houston)
Sue Bird is attractive with an outgoing personality. She has an ability to communicate and commentate well amongst NBA analysts. Candace Parker does it even better. She is physically, Bird’s opposite. It’s not about race or body type. And it’s not just about being a great basketball player. You need to be beautiful with a great personality and ability to commentate to get noticed by the NBA viewers who make WNBA players “household” names.
Robert (Georgia)
@Justin Yes, plus Parker and Fowles were in college during the same period. Parker won 2 NCs for Tennessee, Fowles made the final four but didn't win a title. That alone made her overshadow Fowles even before entering the WNBA. Parker is a good comparison because she too is a media darling for a variety of reasons, one of which is she is an attractive person with an outgoing personality who comments on NBA games and is part of the Turner network crew. She's also one of the best to ever play the game. As I've posted earlier, props to Fowles though for an amazing career.
Nancy (Seattle)
Sue Bird recognized Sylvia Fowles' dominance in a visible gesture at the end of the two players' last WNBA all-star appearance together: Given the game ball, Bird promptly asked Fowles to take it. Greatness recognizes greatness.
Kurt Streeter (Streeter)
@Nancy True.
Concord63 (Oregon)
I am a long time fan of both players. They are both incredibly talented and extremely hard working athletes. Sylvia plays the inside game better than anyone. Blue plays the outside game better than anyone. We are a pre-Title IX household. My wife played Division 1 basketball before Title-IX. We're both women's basketball fans, absolutely love the game. Sue and Sylvia pillars in their sport and have taken women's basketball to the next level. I've always that Sue was more extroverted and Sylvia introverted. Both great people, players, and champions.
KD (Out West)
Lots of the usual comments about how the WNBA is boring or of lower value than the NBA; thus, their players shouldn’t be famous. But the real point is celebrating this remarkable, towering figure of women’s basketball who exudes power and grace both on and off the court. All the best to you, Ms. Fowles, in your next phase. Thank you for all you have given to us.
Shamrock (Westfield)
@KD The players are not famous because the public doesn’t think they are famous. That’s why the Bachelor gets higher ratings than the WNBA. The viewers are women.
Nancy (Seattle)
@KD the people who thinknthe WNBA is boring havr not watched a game since 1997.
Rourke (New England)
This is a history lesson for all the people commenting here about how no one watches the WNBA and no one care about professional women's basketball generally and none of the stars are household names. Literally every comment you are posting was equally true for men's professional basketball and its players in its early years. Back in the 1940s when men's pro ball was in two leagues, the Basketball Association of America and the National Basketball League, there were plenty of stars, including George Mikan. But there was basically no audience for professional men's basketball. The fan energy around men's basketball was for the college game. Those two leagues finally merged in 1948 to form the NBA. The NBA struggled to get an audience for decades. From 1979 to 1981, the NBA finals were on tape delay on CBS; men's college games over on NBC still pulled in a larger viewing audience. Commentators seem to assume that "audiences won't watch women play." Meanwhile, in reality, for most of its history, audiences did not want to watch men play basketball, either. It took decades of effort to create an audience for men's basketball. NBA came into existence with that 1948 merger and was not immediately successful. WNBA's first season was 1997. I am hoping it won't take as many decades as it took for the NBA to catch on. But please stop with these simplistic "audiences have always like watching men play professional basketball better" arguments. They are just wrong.
blanche boyd (connecticut)
@Rourke From a WNBA fan, thank you for this very important history lesson! Didn't know of the NBA history....
charles (new york)
@Rourke ". They are just wrong.." They are just right until time and if proves wrong.
Michael (Manila)
@Rourke, The early NBA did not operate at a loss for 25 straight years.
Evan (Atherton, CA)
I wish that after 14 years as a structural engineer I could retire to fame and fortune, but you know I’m sure Fowles and frankly every pro basketball player has made more in that time then I will have in 40 years.
Katherine (Austin, TX)
@Evan The starting salary in the WNBA is $70k. The entire team's salary is capped at roughly $1.3M per year for 12 players (so, an average of $110K per player). It's a good job market for engineers so if you're making less than a WNBA player you should really be considering another position. My spouse, also an engineer, has been making more money for most of his career.
Michael (Manila)
@Katherine, Fowles probably made more internationally than in the WNBA, but the gist of your comment stands.
Esperanza (Lopes)
“that the W.N.B.A. will find a way to promote all of its players”. The WNBA doesn’t make a profit. It is, and has been, subsidized by the NBA since it’s inception in 1996. The league refuses to disclose its financials, but conservative estimates peg its annual losses in the tens of millions. How, exactly should the players be promoted, and with what marketing budget? The NBA had revenue topping US $10 BB last year, with US $8.9BB in profit. The WNBA? Revenue was estimated at US $60 MM and it operated, not at a profit, but an estimated US $10 MM loss.
eji (minneapolis)
Here in Minnesota, the Lynx have been the most successful team in the state. Anyone who followed the team's success knows Fowles has been a game changer. She is a great one and deserves recognition. Yes, she was part of a top notch starting line up, but that's how team sports work. The Lynx at their peak were a blast to watch. Thank you, Sweet Syl!!
Dr. William Warner (Minneapolis, MN)
Spot-on, wonderful article about the greatest women's basketball player of all time. Sylvia is a G.O.A.T. who is an even better team mate and person. Black women athletes deserve better from the media, sponsors, and the public.
bsevermont (vt)
Sad but true is the fact that race still matters in sports and the rest of our culture, too. One day maybe people will see each other as human beings, both good and bad and leave race and the other "Other" descriptions out of it. Wouldn't that be heartwarming? The venom and fear and acts of hatred that prevail today are frightening and so wrong. And those who encourage it are a disgrace or worse. Sad, too.
Justwonderin (Seattle, WA)
Funny how so many of the NYT readers who chose to comment here disparage women's basketball because of their own personal lack of interest in the game. Women's college and professional basketball is one of those niche activities with a following substantial enough to fill arenas in this country and around the world. It is laudable that women, playing a sport that was developed by, and for, much faster and stronger men, are playing it at a very high level among other women, and are providing entertainment for millions of people. What they do is does not deserve negative judgment from people like these commenters who choose to disparage them.
Justwonderin (Seattle, WA)
@Alan Women playing basketball, are women playing basketball, no more no less. Why the need to compare them with men playing any sport? In sports, most of which require physical strength, men are stronger and faster than women, so why are you singling out basketball to make your comparison? Your last paragraph doesn't justify your attitude.
Justwonderin (Seattle, WA)
@Alan Oh Alan, one thing I forgot to mention; If a poll were taken, I would bet it would show that "most" people would "lack interest" in watching men play basketball as well.
Alan (New Mexico)
@Justwonderin That's probably true, but the same can be said of Major League Baseball, whose World Series attracts little public attention these days. Still, the NBA is hugely profitable, and its star players earn obscene amounts of money. That, if nothing else, attests to the game's cultural significance. As for the WNBA, were it not for financial support and promotion by the NBA, the league would have folded long ago. Would that have been a bad thing? For the players and their fans, yes. For everyone else, not so much.
SMedeiros (San Francisco)
Women's basketball is its own game and I really enjoy it. All the disparaging comments seem odd. If you don't care about women's game, why all the emotional reactions? Take a deep breath and let it go.
eji (minneapolis)
@SMedeiros That's my reaction too. Unfortunately, I see it all the time regarding the WNBA. Personally, I prefer it to the men's game. I don't watch football, but I don't post comments on football reporting, either.
HTG (Midwest)
I've never liked the underdog stories that pervade all sports (and reality TV, holy cow!), but it's inherent. Gotta find some way to drive to the top, and if that's what inspires you... You wonder what all the completely unknown role players think about comments like these.
David (Nashville)
"household name" lol
LincolnM (Maine)
Sue Bird got most of her attention at UConn, where she won two NCAA titles and where the team draws more fans to games than the men. Players then disappear into the WNBA. This is more about the power of the college game against the weak pro league where the players have to play overseas to make a fraction of what the men make. Then the spotlight on her relation with Megan Rapinoe had her picture in front of gossip mags and social media. The premise of this article is flawed. Lesson here: If you want recognition, go to UConn and not some college in Louisiana and then have a celebrity marriage ...
lucysky (Seattle)
@LincolnM Obviously you are not from the west coast. Sue Bird has been a household legend here for many, many years. Seattle has never loved anyone the way it loves Sue Bird. And, b/t/w, Sue and Megan have not had a celebrity marriage.
Ned (Truckee)
Good article. Never heard of Fowles, but big fan of Sue Bird. Wish Fowles all the best for belated recognition.
John (Olympia, WA)
Since Seattle lost our NBA team, the Seattle Storm is professional basketball and has tremendous popular support. I don't know that the situation is the same in Minneapolis where WNBA has to compete with an NBA team.
Jorge (San Diego)
It goes way beyond skin color and looks (and talent). A group of broadcasters was debating "the future face of the NFL" and someone mentioned Justin Herbert because of his incredible arm, judgment, and accuracy (but he needs a playoff win). The woman in the group took issue with it because "he's too nice, handsome but he lacks that bad-boy demeanor". In other words, you have to be Joe Namath rather than a much better quarterback like Len Dawson, to get on the cover of magazines and on talk shows and date movie stars. It's totally superficial.
Steve (NH)
Why does name recognition even matter? Can't most of us just do our jobs well and not expect some sort of narcissistic redemption? My greatest athletic heroes are Earl Anthony and Ronnie O'Sullivan and I'll bet 99.5% of people today don't know who they are or what I'm talking about. And yet those on the inside recognize them, like Fowles, as arguably the greatest ever. It doesn't matter if everyone knows Earl Anthony, Ronnie O'Sullivan, or Sylvia Fowles. Only the ones that care.
David (Madison, WI)
@Steve Ronnie O'Sullivan is a beast.
Karen (FL)
@Steve Recognition is money in the sportsworld. Earl Anthony is a bowler, admit I don't know the other two.
Steve (NH)
@Karen If recognition is money, then perhaps Sylvia didn't have a very good agent.
TyroneShoelaces (Hillsboro, Oregon)
Uh oh. I never heard of either one.
Duck N. Cover (Wherever, NJ)
I don't know Ms. Fowles as a player. But I gather from her plans that she has not sought the spotlight and neither she nor the club actively marketed her, at least not nationally. Does she have an agent? If not, whose supposed to get her noticed? Frankly I presume that advertisers will come to a celebrity athlete if and only if they believe the individual can sell product for them. WNBA has an audience but it's just not really gripping entertainment to me, a serious NBA fan, yet. So Ms. Fowles' lack of exposure looks like it's mostly a big fish, small pond story. Happy Undertakings in the future, Ms. Fowles
Michael (Santa Cruz)
Tbh 99.99/100 of people have never heard of either of them.
Eric (Bronx)
I think this article would be a lot more effective without the- shame on you for not knowing her!- angle. Just tell her story. Yes the transition to undertaker is interesting. Tell us more about that. Tell us about her high school career and her upbringing. Leave sue bird out of it. They’re both worthy of their own stories. In short, tell me why I should know about her without making me feel guilty that I don’t know about her.
Ernest Montague (Oakland, CA)
Uhh, nobody wants to pay money to watch women's basketball. Here's a hint. I may have briefly been the fastest 73 year old on a racetrack on the west coast, riding a motorcycle. Ever hear of me? Of course not. Who cares?
Bob (San Francisco)
First, neither of these women are household names. Michael Jordan is a household name. And he is black so please let's not make this about race as a knee jerk conclusion. Second, neither you nor the government can mandate what athletes do or don't get sponsorships. All major sponsorship deals are backed by research data so if you want to complain go talk to everyone that watches the WNBA. Third, if we are going to talk about people that should be household names in the US let's make it people that are actually important to our society rather than athletes. You can start with super successful black women businesswomen like Sheila Johnson (founder BET) Janice Howroyd (founder Workforce). Maybe move on to scientists such as the first black woman to win the Nobel Prize, Wangari Maatha. From there it's an easy step to a few black female astronauts Mae Jemison or Stephanie Wilson. My point is that a publication such as the NYT should not concern itself with an unprofitable sports league that just had it's best TV audience ever for the playoffs.... 367,000 (in case you don't know that is 50% less than a weeknight baseball game). I have a daughter that will play D1 soccer next year and she will focus her studies on going to medical school to help kids with disabilities. It is far more important for our young people to have role models that are a positive for our country and our society rather than trying to be .
Joe (Chicago)
The WNBA is not a household sport. The WNBA is marketing the best it can. It's easy to pen this piece. If you want, go do marketing for the WNBA and try to accomplish your agenda -- if they'll hire you.
Paul (Toronto)
What was the point of this article? Did you dissect anything about fame and why some get it and some don't. Some people just have charisma, and some don't.... Or did you just want to write an easy article where you could do the popular thing and hint at racism. Next time just say your dog ate your article and don't send anything in. LAZY!
Shamrock (Westfield)
@Paul The article read like stories that were panned years ago by Al Jaffe and Woody Paige on ESPN “Dream Job.”
Lynn in DC (Here, there, everywhere)
"Not intimidating." That right there says a lot about Sue Bird.
VJR (North America)
I am not sure how encouraging these words will be to Sylvia Fowles at this moment, but I hope she reads them and gains solace from them. Every league and sport has had its early heroes, many of whom were not household names during their time. Yet, as that league or sport grew in prominence, each generation of avid fans and experts hunger to learn the history of that league/sport. Over time, it is then when the previously little-known heroes of the early eras become "re-discovered" and their exploits become legendary with a mythology building around them. This will eventually happen with Sylvia Fowles. who will be inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame and, if there is ever a WNBA Hall of Fame, will be inducted into it too.
Had not heard of either. I wish Fowles well in her new undertaking (no pun intended) which I think is a wonderful choice. What I want to know is: what was the draw in Russia that they had to play in a foreign league to meet?
Katherine (Austin, TX)
@OCP The WNBA salaries are quite low in dollars relative to the skill of the players, especially for rookies. Many players travel overseas in the off-season to play professionally in Europe, Russia, and elsewhere, and receive much, much higher salaries to do so. Many players and sports enthusiasts bemoan this practice, as it puts wear and tear on their bodies and can result in injuries. While a WNBA rookie salary of $70k might sound like a lot, these are some of the best professional athletes in the country, and they need to use that salary to pay for off-season training, weights, coaches, support a family, and sometimes maintain two residences (home and where their team plays). Many athletes choose to maximize the money they can make during their playing years to support themselves and family after they retire in their mid-30s.
Shamrock (Westfield)
@Katherine I played professional golf. Put in tremendous effort. All I accomplished was going deeper into debt.
bsevermont (vt)
@OCP Income. American players don't get paid like men. Sad but true. That's why Brittney Griner played for Russia, as did other WNBA players like Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles, see article on their retirement in today's paper.
JoeD (NY)
One can forever dissect social issues on the basis of inequity. One could ask why Russell Westbrook brings in more endorsement deals than Kyrie Irving? Afterall Westbrook is not a champion, but Irving is. Personality plays a big part in it. Popularity is mercurial, monetization even more so. A bigger question is why did Fowler, and Griner, have to play abroad so often? When the WNBA pay averages $109K a year, and the NBA $7.9M, it's not hard to see the inequities between the leagues, managed by the same umbrella organization, writ large. A further question is how can the NBA remain a "non profit" when it generates $24B a year just in tv revenue, and nets $8B? Is it fair for it to remain a "pass through" entity while the value of these franchises increases by hundreds of millions per year?
Ernest Montague (Oakland, CA)
@JoeD Here's a clue. Nobody wants to pay to see women's basketball. If they did, the women would make lots more money. It's not a conspiracy, nor prejudice. Just economics.
C (Seattle)
Fowles has had a very nice career, but its not as good as Bird's. Bird had 2 NCAA titles (0 for Fowles), 4 WNBA titles (2 for Fowles), 5 Olympic golds (4 for Fowles). She was a 12 times WNBA All Star (8 for Fowles) and 5 time first team All-WNBA (3 for Fowles). She also won 5 Euroleague titles, 4 FIBA World cups, and played 21 years for the same team. However Fowles does have 2 MVPs to Bird's none. The difference in off court recognition though may well come from Fowles being "low key" and Bird being engaging and dynamic.
Gary A. (ExPat)
I'm glad that Mr. Streeter wrote this article. I am a sometimes-fan of women's basketball and knew little about Sylvia Fowles and much about Sue Bird. Ms. Fowles sounds like a very likeable person as well as a champion player. However I think that might have as much to do with the general disinterest in women's sports as much as anything else. It is only in the last few years that women's sports have started to become popular at all and still pale in popularity compared to the men. There are many reasons for that including sexism, racism, stereotypes, money, etc. along with the different ways little girls and little boys are brought up. In truth, it is more noteworthy that Sue Bird (and her partner Megan Rapinoe) are well known than that Fowles is not. On a final note: What's wrong with being an undertaker? If you have ever had to bury a loved one you know how important a thoughtful, sympathetic and sensitive undertaker can be. I'm more impressed by Fowles becoming an undertaker than if she became an investment banker. We need good undertakers.
pigeon (mt vernon, wi)
It's difficult to ascertain precisely why Bird has more public cachet than Fowles. The knee jerk assumption is due to race. But there may be other factors. What is Bird's engagement off the court like compared to Fowles. Political? Social? Community? Did Bird's emergence from a high profile school like Connecticut provide any advantage versus LSU? Is Bird a better interview? Etc. The speculation that Fowles race disadvantages her in terms of public recognition is certainly warranted, I remember Larry Bird acknowledging that much of the attention he received was due to his anomalous,( i.e. whiteness), presence in a majority Black league. I'm sure that in the intimate world of women's basketball Fowles is very much a star even if she lacks a larger public presence.
Shamrock (Westfield)
@pigeon Two words about basketball and fame and money and endorsements. Michael Jordan. Race is not stopping any WNBA players.
Kevin OConnor (Ontario)
In Canada our Olympic Gold Medal winning women's soccer team is about as high profile as it gets for women's sport. Our Captain Christine Sinclair has scored more goals than any other woman in international competition and is a true short list all time great. She's been in the public eye for 20 years. Her back up Jordan Huitema, a 21 year old with classic model looks, has the GatorAde commercial.
Paul (Toronto)
@Kevin OConnor Nice point, but it needs a racism angle.... obviously, you are not going to make it in the "news" business.
knowitallnow (Illinois)
@Kevin OConnor And?
newyorkerva (sterling)
I'm glad that Sue Bird said the quite part out loud. That being White has helped. As a tennis fan these past 40 or so years, I've never rooted for Maria Sharapova. She's good, had been great for a bit of time, but because of the wealth she generated by being slender and White compared to Serena and Venus being Black, I could never root for her. Personal choice and I can hear the slings being swung and the arrows being set to bows. Fine. I understand that business is business and most buyers of tennis equipment are White. Maria is attractive, won't deny that. But her record pales (sorry) compared to Venus and Serena, who never earned off the court as much as Maria. Fact. Our society doesn't reward greatness. It rewards the surface. I didn't know Fowles or Bird. Glad that I do.
Nick (NJ)
@newyorkerva you lost me when you brought Serena into it. Serena is significantly more popular and well known than Sharapova. Also, it's not like Sharapova was a mediocre player, she won 5 majors.
Ken (Chicago Burbs IL)
@newyorkerva "I'm glad that Sue Bird said the quiet part out loud. That being White has helped." - I can't understand how. I understand why, but how in the past 20 years has Birds race enabled her rise to fame? It's like calling out is racism is now rhetoric.
Eric (Bronx)
@newyorkerva hmmm. Let me ask you this question as a tennis fan in response. Who’s more well known, coco Gauff or Danielle Collins?
Robert (Georgia)
Bird played at UConn, which is the best women's program still today and won championships there. UConn is the women's program of ESPN. Fowles played at LSU. They were very good during her time but her college career coincided with Candace Parker at Tennessee, who won titles while Fowles didn't. Bird played her entire career in the same place and the team, overall, was very successful. Fowles started in Chicago, which was a lower performing franchise before she arrived in Minnesota. She won big there but was one of multiple players who made an impact. Bird looks like the girl next door and has a more marketable appearance, plus she's engaged to a major figure in the women's soccer world. Plus her career has been longer. There is nothing wrong with being a quiet star. Everyone who watches the sport knows how good Fowles is and she will be missed. She isn't as famous as Bird but that doesn't mean she hasn't been a major contributor to the sport.
Reggie (Brooklyn)
@Robert wow way to miss the whole entire point of the article. We know she has been a major contributor to the sport. It's about who is a household name and who isn't and WHY. Kawhi Leonard is a quiet star who still get New Balance sponsorships and the like. Why can't Fowles have something similar? Even on the Level of her peer Bird?
Robert (Georgia)
@Reggie I addressed some of the reasons why Fowles isn't a household name like Bird: longer career, one singular team, appearance as the girl next door, playing at the top women's program in college, and being engaged to another women's sports superstar. Has race played a factor? I'd say that it is a factor but not the only one. Agents play a major part in helping athletes land endorsement deals and some players get them while some don't. The point of the article as I took it was to introduce the world to a player they probably don't know but should. That's not to slight Fowles or brush off the implications race is a factor as I believe it is but the situation isn't that simple.
Thomas Sullivan (Kentucky)
Unfortunate that race had to be injected into the story. The simple fact is that Bird has a much more marketable personality than Fowles.
David (Virginia)
@Thomas Sullivan Sue Bird injected the issue, which is obviously part of the story. I might add that Sue Bird is an easy to remember name, which would help. It sounded vaguely familiar even to me.
Reggie (Brooklyn)
@Thomas Sullivan Kawhi Leonard has no personality and that is the center of his marketing sponsorships with New Balance and other companies. So miss me with that simple, surface level analysis of the situation. Companies can market anything if they really want too. She's studying to be an undertaker for crying out loud. Didn't the WWE have a wrestler called the Undertaker that went undefeated for 20 years? I can think of multiple marketing opportunities right there. Race definitely played a role in the her and Bird's divergent paths in opportunity off the hardwood. Just say that "you don't see color" and go on somewhere.
Red (NJ)
@Thomas Sullivan the question is why is one more marketable than the other...
Shamrock (Westfield)
Unfortunately a lot of women don’t watch the WNBA. Hurtful, but true. Life is full of choices. I watch basketball but not Marvel movies or network television. It doesn’t make me a bad person. I can’t watch everything.
Shamrock (Westfield)
It’s not a social problem to be unaware of the career plans of a professional athlete. Please don’t use hyperbole. Fowles career plan is not “amazing.” My sister in law cremates bodies. It’s not “amazing.”
Rodzu (Philadelphia)
Some sports figures are more charismatic than others. Michael Jordan as opposed to Larry Bird, Tiger Woods vs. most of his contemporaries. What's the story here?
White lotus (NJ)
@Rodzu The story is to drum up an issue, when one might not be there. It's the overt implication that because Fowels is a woman of color, her career trajectory, endorsements, fame and notoriety is different from Bird's, who is white. Nowhere is there supporting data. Perhaps the implication is true and based in fact, but when the author offers not a shred of evidence to support the spurious claim, then the potential for a false narrative exists. Don't let that get in the way of a veiled claim, though. This is the classic, let's drum up an issue when one might not exist. In sports talk radio and talk shows, it's akin to creating a list to entice debate (greatest point guard in NBA history, best lefty pitcher of all time, etc.) - in other words, it's a bit lazy. I'll label the author of this article as lazy for this angle. It seems cheap and contrived, in my opinion.
Benjamin Hinkley (Saint Paul, MN)
Fowles is one of the all time greats. Those who know, know.
Billy Evans💥 (Gloucester MA)
At one time an openly gay person could cry foul. Not in this case. Take a win.
Ycbstl (Bronx)
Because nobody goes to these games, and nobody watches these games.
KD (Out West)
@Ycbstl - 18,000 at yesterday’s Seattle/Las Vegas matchup. Not nobody.
Ycbstl (Bronx)
@KD Paid attendance is 5000/game. Not a sustainable league business model. 730000 viewers for their championship game. Again, nobody.
ZecaRioca (GB)
I’m from Minnesota and don’t follow basketball, men’s or women’s. I never heard of Fowles, but I certainly heard a lot about Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus. Everybody knows Mick Jagger and Keith Richards from The Rolling Stones. But only aficionados ever heard of Charlie Watts, the Stones drummer who recently died and was one of the greatest drummers of all time. Why? Personality.
Mixed Family (NY)
She should call up Andre Dawson, the former Chicago Cubs great (with a similarly low key personality) who is now a funeral director.
Shamrock (Westfield)
@Mixed Family Brilliant comment. The author thought he was so clever. He didn’t know about the Hawk.
Anna (USA)
Thank you for illuminating the careers of these two brilliant players.
Michael (Stockholm)
We didn't miss out on anything. There are lots of people who excel at what they do. 99.9% of these people are never known to a wider audience. They receive neither fame nor fortune. If more people were interested in women's basketball, then the money-making powers-that-be would eagerly capitalize on this and make fortunes. This has not happened. Why? Because the demand is not there. This is valid not only for women's basketball but for plenty of sports played by both men and women. The issue has nothing to do with gender, sexual orientation or socio-economic status. It quite simply is a matter of demand. Martina Navratilova - female, lesbian and from Czechoslovakia - excelled at tennis and became world famous. Female tennis players earn more than men. Female golfers earn as much as men. Why? People are interested in these sports and TV networks pay huge amounts to broadcast them. Kudos to Sylvia Fowles! She should be proud of her accomplishments that have allowed her to see and experience things than most others will not. This is in stark contrast to all the "famous" people who sit in their basements all day and make YouTube videos.
White lotus (NJ)
@Michael Male professional golfers earn significantly more than women and that's before LIV golf entered the picture. Women only earn about 80% of what men earn in professional tennis for comparable success/wins. You make some good points in your comments, but on those two egregious mistakes, I felt compelled to clarify
Gary A. (ExPat)
@Michael Why do you make these unsubstantiated and false claims? Women tennis players make about 34% less than men tennis players. Male golfers make more than double what female golfers make! You may claim that this is because there is more demand for the male players - though I would question that. But you can't flat-out lie about the facts because they do not suit your narrative.
Dawg01 (Seattle)
Sue Bird's retirement garnered more media attention here than did Ms. Fowles. That is true. But, Sue retired on a court in the middle of her fan base.
History Guy (Connecticut)
Women's college basketball remains much more popular than women's pro basketball. Sue Bird played for the highest profile college team, UCONN, which went undefeated during one of her national championships. So that automatically gave her more exposure coming out of college. Still, she didn't appear in commercials and the like until the last few years, which had some connection to her romance with Megan Rapinoe, the longtime face of the U.S. women's soccer team. They're a power couple. Sylvia Fowles is a great, great player and a great human being. But her college career flew a bit under the radar and her pro career, like almost all women professional players, is basically unknown. Add her size and the position she played and, well, she just never got the exposure. Maya Moore, a Black player and a guard like Bird, had tremendous exposure coming out of college, again UCONN and national championships, and had TV commercial endorsements almost right away. Also her activism drew a lot of national attention.
Robert (Georgia)
@History Guy I will also point out that Fowles came through college and was drafted the same time as Candace Parker, who won titles at Tennessee, which was at that time the other dominant program along with UConn. Parker, like Bird, is a household name while Fowles isn't. That doesn't mean she or the media did anything wrong, it just is what it is. I've liked Fowles since LSU and she's had a terrific career. I'm glad she got the shout out in this piece.
Max (Everywhere)
@History Guy As a Person of Colour, I too see the "contrived angle" that the author of this piece was reaching for. I believe that you, Robert and White Lotus dissected that contrived intention very well. Kudos...
Kurt Streeter (Streeter)
@Max Hmm...Obviously, I happened to speak with both Maya and Sue for this column. And guess who agreed with the premise regarding race and skin tone? Both Maya Moore and Sue Bird, that's who. (So did Cheryl Reeve, by the way.) I published Sue's comments. She makes it plain. I didn't need to note all that Maya or Cheryl told me because that would have been repetitive and too much for a 1,000-word column. Thanks for reading my "contrived" piece. ;) Best, KS
Simone (Minnesota)
I admit I do not have much faith in Minnesota teams. The Vikings, Twins and the Timberwolves have failed to make the play-offs multiple times, and when they have made it (except for the Twins in '87 and '91), they've lost. Instead, the Lynx have won multiple championships, and delivered in the WNBA. Sylvia Fowles is a star basketball player, both in the US and internationally. Her name and status is admired in Minnesota, especially to women.
dairubo (MN & Taiwan)
How could any basketball player or fan not know about Sylvia Fowles? I was so happy when she signed to play in Minnesota. She never disappointed. She can still play.
Mark Kropf (Long Island)
It is sad that sports can see such an uneven treatment. It is perhaps not so readily seen in Men's sports, though that is hard to say for sure. After all the names which have made it big in Men's Basketball: Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and so many more, the situation is not seen as easily for the men. It is still possible that a great many players are not given their due in that segment. One can certainly argue that the attention gotten by Brittney Griner shows some attention to those African-American women in the sport, but a Center of the WNBA should not have to be taken prisoner by the Russian Federation to obtain such a questionable publicity. In any case, it is not clear that Griner is retiring any time too soon so that her inclusion here is somewhat irrelevant to the comparison made in this opinion piece. I can clearly see that perhaps in its less publicized form the women get less overall time and perhaps a White favoritism is practiced as the relatively lesser attention in that segment allows the discrepancy between those with the darker skin pigment to be overlooked and to become 'invisible' by comparison. The situation most certainly is not good and is not one to be respected.
Shamrock (Westfield)
@Mark Kropf I have been a huge sports fan for 50 years. I couldn’t place a name and a team together for half of all NBA teams. I watch a total of 20 minutes per year of the NBA. I watch college basketball. Don’t over dramatize the lack of recognition of Fowles. It’s not amazing to work at a funeral home anymore than if she was a florist. Everything doesn’t have to be amazing. By the way, tell me 3 players currently on the roster of the Pacers, Kings, Wizards, and Thunder without any hints. I’m not a better or worse person because I don’t follow professional basketball. Women or men.
Law (Msp)
@Shamrock Amazing is perhaps not the right word; it's unique and different. Just as in Minnesota as well Randall McDaniel ended up a third grade teacher; it's interesting, because it's rare after a pro sports career to something out of the spotlight, especially if you don't need the money, that helps other people. Newspapers try to tell interesting stories; I find her future plans interesting and unexpected.
Shamrock (Westfield)
@Law The author picked the word “amazing” with deliberation. The author writes every article with the same hyperbole. He is following the SI tradition started 60 years ago that everything that just happened is the most amazing thing to ever happen, of course until next week’s story.
See also