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July 25, 2008 at 8:43 AM

Mailbag: Thoughts on the melee

The WNBA has turned into a circus. How else do you explain the aftermath from the melee in Detroit?
A one-game suspension for Los Angeles rookie Candace Parker? Watch the entire game and she sneakily started the whole thing by irritating Shock forward Cheryl Ford way before Plenette Pierson mowed Parker over and escalated the tension into a pseudo-brawl.
But wait, glance at the Sparks schedule and it seemingly becomes clear why she was really only suspended one game. Los Angeles plays at New York tonight, and Parker is the reason most teams have at least one guaranteed sellout this season. Think the WNBA is going to let L.A’.s only trip to the Big Apple pass without Parker on the court? Nope. So, some weak reasoning is given in a teleconference call by league officials and – presto! – Parker will suit up at the historic Madison Square Garden while Pierson continues to serve her four-game suspension.
What a joke.
Only it all doesn’t stop there.
Playing a televised game on ESPN2 with an understaffed squad, Detroit coach Bill Laimbeer decides he needs more help on the bench. Of course, that means signing the best option out there to a seven-day contract. And that player is 50-year-old Nancy Lieberman, who hasn’t played in the league in a decade? Somewhere Kimberly Beck, Doneeka Lewis, and Sharnee’ Zoll just punched a wall.
Again, instead of showing professionalism, the WNBA acts desperate for attention. Are you really telling me that you need to vacuum the dust, mothballs, and cobwebs off Lieberman to get people to watch? Her playing was an insult to Houston’s Tina Thompson, and the Shock’s own Deanna Nolan and Katie Smith, who could have finally received some attention. But no, they’re overshadowed by a sideshow.
But back to the suspensions. Storm forward Sheryl Swoopes agreed they weren’t right, wanting more equality between the teams, since the actions were the same. Or worse when it came to DeLisha Milton-Jones hitting a coach – which should never happen.
Robin Roberts, co-anchor of Good Morning America who’ll be honored with the WNBA’s 2008 Inspiration Award on July 30, reflected on her own pop to a player’s nose while playing in college because the officials didn’t make a call when the opponent was swatting at her face.
“The player was all in my grill, so I put the ball under my arm, reared back and popped her,” she said in a phone interview. “But in the heat of the moment, you’re never supposed to let a team get to you, let them see you sweat. That was the last time that it happened and I think it helped me be a little calmer when I’m on air and the things that I do.”
Roberts, a former WNBA commentator, also doesn’t believe it’s a good publicity move. I agree, even though others see the melee as some kind of turning point for the WNBA. Clearly these are the people that don’t attend or watch games on television. You don’t need a fight to see passion from the players. Just watch them go for a rebound or how excited a Diana Taurasi gets after a third consecutive three-pointer.
As a regular viewer, lack of passion is the furthest thought when thinking of the WNBA for me. Those who want it seem to not understand sport in the first place. They want fringe stories, like extramarital affairs, doping, and player brushes with the law. Not that you can ignore these stories when they happen with the athletes, but opposing sides hating each other is only going to make me tune in more when it comes to boxing. Otherwise, yes, I want a heated rivalry, but I want one side to defeat the other with acrobatic play, trash talk, aggressiveness, and have it all be monitored by officials who aren’t afraid to make the call.
I don’t even mind Detroit’s style of play before the melee. In fact, I like the tough, bullying aspect. Especially against a princess rookie whose red carpet walk to the Rookie of the Year award now needs to be in question because of her lack of conduct.
Players need to keep their cool. And if they can’t, the league should punish them equally.
“When I woke up that morning and saw the replays, I was like, ‘Come on, no, we don’t need this'” Roberts said. “The players, game, and league is better than this. And I understand about being passionate and in the heat of the moment, but eyes are on them. You can’t give people ammunition [because] they want to see the league fail. Is that fair? No, but that’s just how it is. And there’s no way to explain or forgive those actions of the players. Like all of us, I do not want to see that happen again.”
True, because it’s making a league I love into a joke. And that’s not funny.



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