Last night, the University of Connecticut Women's basketball team won its 89th game in a row, breaking a record set by a men's team. This obviously means that now the Battle of the Sexes Just Got Serious.
Although I have yet to meet one of these mythical pissed off sports fans that the media keeps insisting exists (it might just be one super cranky guy, for all we know), it's surprising that in this day and age anyone could still think that any strides made by women are a direct threat to men, or that any achievement by women is somehow delegitimized due to the permanent asterisk of being female. My god, can women achieve anything without having it be perceived as About Proving That Ladies Are The Best or About Showing The Men Who Is Boss?
There's room for both UConn's women and UCLA men in the sports pantheon; it's not as though America's love of sports has a one-in, one-out policy (Like, for example, when Percy Harvin was picked up by the Vikings, we all simultaneously forgot about Horace Grant. Sorry, Horace. One in, one out). College basketball isn't the goddamn Highlander; there can be more than one. Acknowledging the achievement of a group of women isn't saying that the achievement of a group of men is diminished; it simply means that room needs to be made at the top of the podium, and being threatened or annoyed by a women's team taking over a men's record is a pretty hater-y way to view achievement.
Dozens of articles over the last couple of days have asked whether or not it's fair to compare UConn to the previous winning streak recordholders, John Wooden's UCLA team of the early 1970's (and thus, in asking whether or not it was fair to compare them to Wooden's team, uh, compared them to Wooden's team. Very tricky, newspapers!), but at this point, fairness is a non-issue as this entire affair has been riddled with inequality. Is it "fair" that the hard work and skill level of women's basketball has been consistently downplayed in favor of the more aerial and dunkadelic men's version of the sport? Is it "fair" that coach Geno Auriemma has had his masculinity questioned because he coaches a team of ladies? Is it "fair" that a month ago, the UConn women were only discussed in passing, if at all in mainstream sports coverage, even when they were knocking on the door of a nearly 40 year old NCAA record? None of these things are fair, and nothing can be done to prevent the fact that people will do them anyway.
There are always going to be people who think that making jokes about women's basketball is hilarious and original (hint: neither. Be funnier, jokesters). There are always going to be balding middle aged former DII college players who, in their heart of hearts, are convinced that they could beat Maya Moore one-on-one simply by virtue of their being male. There are always going to be people who will question the sexuality of any woman who spends her time and energy doing something that isn't a performance designed to attract men, and there are always going to be people who believe that the word "female" before the word "athlete" denotes inferiority. The achievement of the Huskies isn't that they're better than the UCLA Bruins of the early 70's or that they're better than men, it's that they're better than the negativity that they've had to face and that all women have to face in some iteration. Throughout their winning streak, the University of Connecticut women's basketball team members have excelled in the face of negativity and conducted themselves with grace and dignity; tough, hard working, and humble. Like fucking champions.