Trust me when I say that I am very, very aware, after nearly a decade in this niche in cyberspace, that GetReligion readers are stunningly uninterested in sports news. However, I am a sports fan and I have noticed, as a religion-beat reporter through the years, that religion and sports often get shoved into the same blender in the American marketplace.
Can you say “Tim Tebow”? I knew that you could.
Anyway, even the most oblivious of GetReligion readers, when it comes to sports, will have noticed that quite a few tall people — male and female — can be seen on legions of cable channels at the moment bouncing and shooting basketballs. The words “March” and “Madness” are often connected with good cause. Millions of Americans are in hoops heaven, these days.
Now, as Baylor University alum, I am primarily tuned into the women at this point (although the guys are in the NIT, which staggers on year after year). The Baylor Lady Bears are the defending national champions and are the favorites to win it all once again, due in large part to the superstar center in her size 17 sneakers.
There has been quite a bit of good writing lately about 6-foot-8 senior Brittney Griner who, at this point, has clearly established herself as a gamechanger in her sport, especially on defense. It is not a stretch to call her the Bill Russell of women’s basketball. I thought that, in particular, this Kate Fagan at ESPN.com — “What Brittney Griner Says About Us” — did a great job of digging underneath much of the online hatred that Griner has faced through her remarkable career. Read it all.
The articulate young woman from Baylor also received some recent attention in The New York Times. Here is a key sample from that news feature, near the end:
As a freshman, Griner sometimes appeared to grow flustered by the taunts of opposing fans and by jostling from opposing players. After being flung in the lane, she punched Jordan Barncastle of Texas Tech, breaking her nose. But Griner has since grown largely inured to the catcalls and the strong-arming (though she drew a flagrant foul this season for grabbing Connecticut’s Stefanie Dolson by the arm and seeming to yank her down).
“I think she’s developed a really poised demeanor,” Stanford Coach Tara VanDerveer said. “I watch men’s games and I’m like, ‘That doesn’t happen to the best male players, the way Brittney gets beat up.’ She doesn’t seem to get discouraged. She doesn’t tank. Some players, things don’t go their way, and they tank.”
If opposing fans try to rattle Griner, they are also drawn to watch her in large numbers. When Baylor traveled this season, home attendance for opposing teams rose an average of 3,642 fans. She attracted the largest crowd ever to watch a game at West Virginia — 13,447, a ballooning contrast to the Mountaineers’ home average at the time, 1,894, lowest in the Big 12.
Asked to name Griner’s biggest influence, Gary Blair, who coached Texas A&M to the 2011 national championship, said, “Putting butts in seats at road games.” …
But there is one team that can stand up to Baylor, Griner joked Monday, pressed by ESPN commentators.
“The Miami Heat,” she said.
Now, all of this for me raises an interesting question, a question that — for four years — I have been waiting for a major newsroom to ask: Why did the No. 1 recruit in the recent history of women’s basketball, a girl who was already dunking the basketball dozens of time in competition while in high school, choose to go to Baylor University in the media hotbed of Waco, Texas?