Amid WSU’s confetti, a message for sports
As confetti floated down onto a basketball court the other day in Las Vegas, the news was startling: Washington State had just become the first women’s program in the history of the school to claim a conference championship in the NCAA era of women’s governance – about 40 years worth – in any sport.
What happened about then was equally jarring: Here was a team having the time of its life, bananas over a title that will remain etched in its collective minds and in WSU lore forever. From Rwanda native Bella Murekatate’s non-stop, euphoric chatter to the old-soul glow of savvy guard Charlisse Leger-Walker, the Cougars did what Cougars do – they partied it up gloriously.
But wait? How are we supposed to accommodate sheer bliss on a sports menu that’s mostly a grim trudge of frown wrinkles, from load management to contract renegotiations to coaches accused of domestic violence and racial insensitivity to gun violence?
You mean this sports thing can be fun?
Kamie Ethridge, the fifth-year coach, added to the festivity when she was asked about the vision she might have had when she took over a program that’s never won an NCAA-tournament game, that somehow, in an eight-year span from 1999-2007, went 44-182. Rather than spout any our-rebuilding-blueprint-was-proven nonsense, Ethridge basically said the whole thing surprised the hell out of her, too.
“I would never have thought we could do it,” Ethridge said. “I didn’t even think, when I took the job, that this was possible in this kind of league, with these kinds of coaches and athletes we’re going up against.”
The story is extreme, yes. Not every saga is the Pittsburgh Pirates winning 119 games and sweeping the Yankees to win the World Series. But the WSU women suggest that the other stuff is just background noise, and sports, at its core, is supposed to be fun.
Money narratives often get in the way of that, so USC and UCLA are somehow off to the Big Ten, with all the principals assuring us this is best for everybody.
Of course, sports is inseparable from the impulses of society, and with our insane gun ethos, we have incredible headlines like the New Mexico State basketball player who got into a gunfight that killed a young man on game’s eve in Albuquerque. You know, because when you go on the road, you pack your sneakers, your jersey and shorts and your Glock.
And we have Brandon Miller, Alabama’s star freshman, accused of bringing a gun to a teammate that killed a 23-year-old woman. In the NBA, Memphis star Ja Morant is on the griddle for an Instagram post showing him boogieing at a nightclub, brandishing a gun.
Ah, social media. Sports plays to a soundtrack of morning-show yardbarkers on ESPN, underscoring how we’re supposed to accept sports as a zero-sum game. One team successes means the loser will never win the big one. And naturally, the winner prevailed because he didn’t get any respect.
It’s a murky, often lamentable arena, sports. Somehow, Washington State’s women carved out a little sliver that reminds us how good the essence can be. Nicely done, Cougs.