The hottie to the left is Candace Parker, the Tennessee forward and number 1 WNBA draft pick. She's the first female to dunk in a college game, but that alone isn't why she is expected, by some, to raise the entire profile of the WNBA. Candace has already signed endorsements with Adidas and Gatorade, and, according to Adidas flack Travis Gonzalez, "She's unlike any other athlete...You look at Candace and she's the first female to dunk in a college game, probably the best female player ever. On the other side, she's an attractive girl. She's a beautiful young lady and she has a savvy sense of fashion." As the Chicago Tribune points out, the WNBA gets a fraction of the airtime that men's sports get, and so in order to maximize their marketing potential, as part of rookie training the WNBA has offered hour-long sessions on, yes, make-up and fashion tips.
Susan Ziegler, a sports psychologist, thinks that the focus on the players' appearances isn't healthy for the athletes, as it diminishes their legitimacy. "Once you begin to worry about how the person looks as opposed to how she plays, you've crossed the line into dangerous play," Ziegler said to the Trib. "We're not really focused on marketing them as athletes but as feminine objects."
We live in a looksist society — you can be sure that Michael Jordan made so much money on endorsements not only because he was the best player in the NBA, but also because he was gorgeous. You think Larry Bird made anywhere near that kind of dough? But the WNBA's assumption that the perceived attractiveness of their players will draw men — and otherwise disinterested females — to the court seems foolhardy. Whenever I hear a man complain about women's basketball, he's whining that the quality of play is somehow inferior to that in the NBA, not that the players are "ugly". The Chicago Tribune asked Ziegler for advice on how to market Parker, and she offered, "As a pure athlete... As the top athlete in the country. Leave it at that."
WNBA Offers Advice To Rookies [Chicago Tribune]