Auriemma speaks the truth about lack of respect
"I just know that there wouldn't be this many people in the room if we were chasing a women's record," Geno Auriemma told a packed news conference in trademark sardonic fashion. "The reason there's everybody in this room, the reason everybody's having a heart attack the last four or five days is a bunch of women are threatening to break a men's record. And everybody is all up in arms about it. All the women are happy as hell and they can't wait to come in here and ask questions. All the guys that love women's basketball are all excited. And all the miserable bastards that follow men's basketball and don't want us to break the record are all here because they're pissed."
I've watched with morbid curiosity as the reactions to Auriemma's comments roll in from around the sports and sports media world. Critics claim Auriemma's comments detract from the game and his team's accomplishment. I was at the postgame press conference at Madison Square Garden on Sunday and my first reaction was, "Geno speaks what's on his mind and he speaks the truth."
We are not having this conversation if the UConn women weren't challenging a men's record. I certainly don't think as many people would be paying attention. Barely anybody blinked when this same team broke the women's record. It's a sad but true commentary on where women's college basketball fits into the sports landscape: It took an extraordinary accomplishment to put it on the agenda. Critics may claim what Geno said detracts from women's sports, but he only said what many know to be the truth.
It's important to take a step back and examine the context surrounding his comments. First, let's look at the question posed by a reporter (name and affiliation are unknown to me). "Is there a way to look at what you guys have done here and wonder if it's unnatural or should the rest of women's basketball have caught up with your program by now?" Talk about putting the already feisty and outspoken coach on the defensive. The reporter essentially baited Auriemma into defending his program's success in front of what had to be the most crowded postgame press conference in UConn's history.
The room was packed with media beyond the typical beat reporters and basketball writers. NPR, Time Magazine, people.com and countless other media outlets sent reporters to cover this event. Auriemma talked earlier in the press conference about reminding his team of the opportunity they had on a national stage. No doubt he was in his own way responding to his chance to speak his mind in front of a huge crowd. I do not hold it against Auriemma for a second. I don't think he should be criticized for taking advantage of unprecedented media exposure in order to make a point or speak his mind. When else in his 25-year coaching career that has he had this large of an audience? He has every right to call out the media for just now paying attention to the great things his team has been doing for years. He may have used some stereotypes and generalizations, but isn't that what the media has been doing in discrediting the streak?
As anybody who knows me can attest, I am not a big fan or regular watcher of women's basketball. I'll check out the women's Final Four or a big midseason marquee matchup between Tennessee and Stanford or UConn and Baylor. But even I have been watching this UConn women's team. They are the consummate team. They are also dominant. It's easy to tell the story of the underdog. How about the story of the dominant power that forces you to respect them because they are just so good at what they do day in and day out? That is Geno Auriemma's UConn women's team.
The UConn women didn't just win 88 straight games. They crushed 86 of their opponents, and 29 wins were against nationally ranked teams. And they won back-to-back national championships along the way. This is a great team. We should be talking about the Huskies for their own remarkable achievement. Unfortunately, it's been framed as a "respect" and gender equality issue when it shouldn't be. Geno is right to call out the media. This team is great and they have reached an impressive athletic milestone. Enjoy this team. We won't see another run like this again.