What Aliyah Boston’s snub tells us about ESPN — Must-click women’s basketball links —

The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, July 20, 2022

Happy Basketball Wednesday. I’ve spent a lot of it puzzled over the decision by ESPN not to invite Aliyah Boston to the ESPYs, which is annoying, because I truly do not care about the ESPYs.

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But we need to drill down a bit. This gets at a basic truth about how ESPN, and essentially any media outpost controlled by outdated thinking, treats women’s sports.

For those who don’t follow Dawn Staley on Twitter (why, by the way, go do that!), Aliyah Boston was nominated for best college athlete, yet wasn’t invited to ESPN. Subsequent to this, multiple efforts to reach out by her camp yielded indifferent-to-no responses, and even after ESPN was roundly criticized for this, the best they could do was this spin in the Meredith Cash piece about it, that the venue was just too damn small.

As Meredith pointed out (you should be following her, too, btw): “Still, there’s room for famous faces like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Allison Brie, Ciara, Jon Hamm, Lil Wayne, and Aubrey Plaza — all of whom are listed as expected attendees in a recent ESPN press release.”

Look, I love Jon Hamm, and Allison Brie — I just miss Mad Men, basically. But come on now. The ESPYs are a self-created thing by ESPN. They PICKED the venue! They air tonight for a very specific reason — and Wikipedia explains it. See if you can spot what’s missing here.

“Between 2002 and 2019, the ceremony was conducted on the Wednesday in July following the Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Star Game; as it marks the only day of the year that none of the major North American professional leagues or college sports programs have games scheduled for that day—the National Basketball AssociationNational Football League, and National Hockey League are not in-season (though the NBA does have its post-draft training camp NBA Summer League going on and NFL teams are getting ready for training camp), colleges are in recess for the summer, and MLB does not contest games on the day following its all-star game—major sports figures (except for cycling, which has the Tour de France, minor league baseball, and golf, where The Open Championship usually starts that evening)- are available to attend.”

Apparently: women playing sports wasn’t in the equation.

Put simply: ESPN could have emphasized women’s sports that night. Hell, you think Storm-Sky was a matchup in 2022, for instance, that might have been attractive to a wide audience on ABC this evening? Instead, it is a camp day game, all so a made-up event can be emphasized, instead.

And that’s really the point here. Every time someone gets slighted in women’s basketball by one entity or another, there’s always this pass-the-buck element to it when those of us who try to get questions answered before criticizing on Twitter.

But the ESPYs are an ESPN creation. They can put them on anywhere they choose. They can broadcast them anytime they choose. They can invite anyone they choose! And they matter, for whatever reason, to many athletes. So Aliyah Boston, who is going to matter in the women’s basketball space for a long, long time, could have been embraced by the network that purports to care about covering the sport.

Instead, this decision-making process led to insulting her, and then failing to fix it when it became clear ESPN had erred. The responses have been faceless. The folks at ESPN who could have told the network they were making a huge error were either sidelined or never consulted.

Here’s the thing about that pass-the-buck part I mentioned earlier: a lot of times, unsatisfyingly, it’s true! Coordinating behemoth companies like television networks and leagues and teams, it’s all a lot. It’s complicated!

That’s not this.

So leave aside the financial implications of the upcoming media rights deal negotiation from the WNBA. If ESPN cannot be trusted to prioritize women’s basketball in a moment it created out of nothing because it viewed the prime of the WNBA season as a sports wasteland and will not correct it’s public error in the year 2022 to snub a generational talent who features in both its current women’s basketball property (ESPN holds the rights to the NCAAW tourney, after all) and the future one (guess who’s going number one in the 2023 WNBA Draft unless the earth crashes into the sun)… why exactly should the WNBA partner with them on a deal that could mean sacrificing money for exposure?

Because I have news for you, friends: that exposure is not coming. And it is aggravating as hell! ESPN could have flipped a switch years ago, by itself, and changed the landscape of women’s basketball coverage and exposure. (Look at what they did with ESPN Summer League, games that don’t count that run alongside the WNBA season, and try not to curse. I dare you.)

It’s still powerful enough to do it. There are fantastic parts of this world who cover the game at ESPN, from Alexa Philippou to Katie Barnes, just to name a few. It’s infuriating that ESPN has such voices within, and still makes these kinds of decisions, routinely.

So we know this, too: there are folks at ESPN, for reasons nobody, and I mean nobody can fathom from a business perspective (but likely have their roots in the very race/gender constructs that are roiling the nation writ large) who will see to it that women’s basketball is always, always, always an afterthought. This is not an ESPN-only problem. (We’re working hard on a fix over at The Next, too.)

But it matters a great deal at ESPN, where the games are televised principally, which drives the larger sports conversation. Is not being in the conversation really worse than having it programmed into people that women’s basketball doesn’t matter?

The sport, at every level, needs to figure out the answer to that question, and act accordingly.

This week in women’s basketball

These pods by Erica McCall continue to be excellent.
Loved this from Maya Goldberg-Safir and Sue Hovey on Brittney Griner.
Sabreena Merchant talked Mystics with Kareem Copeland. Need I say more?
Matt Ellentuck and Marissa Coleman are voices to listen to, period.
Agree with Adam, three tiers of WNBA teams this season.

Five at The IX: James Kay with big Sky news!

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.