Most people would agree that there’s a subtle difference between a basketball player standing 6’9”and weighing in at 220 pounds and one that measures 6’2” and 250. Communicating this information to the public has different degrees of trickiness, depending on what kind of media is used.
This weight difference may not have any effect on what happens in the game itself, but if it does, it’d have to be pretty significant to include in a newspaper article or internet post. Television viewers can see the physical matchup between two players, making references to players’ weights less than necessary. On the radio, however, weights and other numbers complement descriptive words and eliminate the vagueness that could come with continually using only adjectives.
It is curious, then, that the weights of female athletes are not printed in college media guides or disseminated otherwise. Athletes’ weights are not important in most sports, tennis and water polo among them, but neither men’s nor women’s numbers are released to the media when that is the case. In basketball, though, where size definitely plays a role, the media prints men’s weights, but not women’s.
“Traditionally, when college sports started, there was just football and it was very important for them to know the weights,” UCSB Assistant Director of Athletic Media Relations Diane O’Brien offered as a reason. “I’m sure that there are some societal factors, and women tend not to want their weights publicized.”
The social taboo of asking a woman her age and weight could be at work in this withholding of information, but isn’t one of the goals of women’s collegiate sports to promote equality and celebrate women’s athletic ability? It seems that women would want to challenge the social pressure to weigh a certain amount by unabashedly embracing their physical stats, but some sensitivity still remains among the ranks of female athletes.
“Having a high weight could be a positive thing, but not everyone on a team might feel that way,” Gaucho sophomore Amy Haapanen, a star in the throwing events for the track and field team, said. “You can’t just publish some weights and not others.”
Even if these numbers were available, would they mean anything to the casual listener or viewer? It’s easy to look at a man and guess his weight, but since it’s such a secret for women, it would take time to create benchmarks and figure out just how much a woman’s weight might have to do with her performance.
Another characteristic of men’s and women’s sports is that male athletes tend to want to beef up and gain strength while females work on skill, a seeming stereotype that holds true at least for the Gaucho women’s basketball team and its approach to game preparation.
“So much of our practice is based on technique, and when we do work on strength, we’re working on core strength and not purely on building biceps and other muscles,” UCSB women’s basketball Assistant Coach Carter Shaw said. “Strength is important, but it’s not the biggest thing.”
One only needs to look at the number of young girls that show up at the Thunderdome to watch the women’s basketball team play to know that the Gauchos serve as role models for female athletic accomplishment and character. In this day and age of concern over eating disorders and negative self-esteem, would knowledge of the athletes’ weights have any bearing on these small girls’ self-images?
“The only stats that are available to little girls are Hollywood stats for singers, movie stars, and Victoria’s Secret models,” Haapanen said. “The entertainers aren’t always the norm, and I guess that knowing athletes’ weights could show them the other side.”
Distributing these statistics will not erase the messages that the rest of the media sends to American women young and old, and knowing female athletes’ weights alone will probably not attract enough attention away from these damaging ideas.
“The reality is that there are still going to be those ads and billboards that project women as objects,” UCSB women’s basketball Associate Head Coach and former Gaucho guard Cori Close said. “I can never remember a time when I heard an athlete’s weight and looked at them as a hero because of that alone.”
The broadcasting of women’s weights won’t even come close to solving the problem of the pressure on women to be Barbie-thin in America, but it could be a step in the right direction.