Michelle Obama, Lisa Leslie...and Clair Huxtable.

. Saturday, March 21, 2009

How cool is it that Lisa Leslie was invited to stand with Michelle Obama in inspiring black girls in DC's predominately black Anacostia High School to reach their potential as leaders?

This is not necessarily important in terms of pure basketball news, but I think once again highlights the political importance of the WNBA.

Way back in the 80's, Clair Huxtable (aka Phylicia Rashad) was easily one of the most prominent black female role models in the mainstream. She was damn near perfect -- a brilliant lawyer, who didn't take anything from her husband, and simultaneously managed to keep the household together despite Cliff's aloofness...

While I fully recognize the harm of the black superwoman image in pop culture, Clair also represented a "black career woman", something I would argue society still struggles to comprehend today. Although the Cosby show was not perfect -- it was clearly more of a black middle class fantasy than a representation of how much progress the "average" black family was -- and Clair sets up these ridiculous expectations for what it means to be a successful black female professional, Clair Huxtable was as important a figure as any in pop culture.

This is what makes Michelle Obama so important -- the mainstream no longer has to draw upon fantasy to find images of strong, intelligent, black women who do not define themselves by their families, even if they choose to take care of them.

So when I saw that Michelle Obama, Phylicia Rashad, and Lisa Leslie -- among others -- have come together to encourage young girls in the predominately black DC public schools to see themselves as leaders -- however they may choose to do so -- I was even more enamored with Michelle as a black public figure. She has fully embraced this role as a public figure role model and making a huge statement in her willingness to connect DC's local issues to a broader national agenda.

The significance of this event is not only that Michelle Obama is a relatively powerful black woman using her position to make a statement, but also that she would even visit Anacostia High School, a "failing school" in DC that most national politicians would just ignore...and really aren't expected to do anything beyond that.

How many even first ladies (or presidents for that matter) even know where Anacostia High School is way down there at the end of the green line, let alone are willing to go? Even for the leftists out there who see Mr. Obama as too centrist for their liking, this represents a powerful commitment to doing something different while occupying the White House.

But what's more is the group of black women she assembled for this event:

The group included Grammy Award-winning singers Alicia Keyes and Sheryl Crow, actresses and sisters Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad, actress Fran Drescher, Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes, WNBA star Lisa Leslie Lockwood and Mae Jemison, the first black woman to travel into space. Also participating were Gen. Ann Dunwoody, the first woman to achieve the four-star rank; actresses Alfre Woodard, Kerry Washington and Tracee Ellis Ross; and Debra Lee, president and CEO of the parent company of the BET cable network.

She didn't just grab political friends, or doctors, or entertainers, but is communicating a clear message that there are multiple ways to be a successful black woman.

Lisa Leslie's involvement is what caught my eye and her willingness to embrace her role as a black female role model is also impressive. However, when we put her in broader context of this group Michelle Obama has assembled, I think we understand a bit better how important the WNBA is in the context of women's history month; it's not just about equitable access to professional athletics in society, but part of a broader movement in shifting how we see black womanhood in this country.

So while the message of individual responsibility and hard work is problematic and I know as well as anyone that speaking engagements will likely not end up changing DC Public Schools, I applaud Obama, Leslie, Rashad, et al. for making this effort. And I am particularly impressed by Obama's recognition of herself within a historical continuum of black women who push to expand the boundaries of black womanhood.

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Should the NCAA Slash the Women's Tournament to 40 Teams?

. Friday, March 20, 2009
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Once the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament starts tomorrow, March Madness will be in full swing.

Of course, if you ask the "average lunkhead male" about that, they would probably tell you that in fact March Madness was in full swing as of yesterday when the Men's tournament started.

But not so if you believe Martin Johnson who writes for The Root.com.

If you accept Johnson's claim that the women's tournament is easily the third best college sporting event behind the men's tournament (definitely best in all of sports) and college football (despite the ridiculous BCS system), then March Madness isn't truly in full swing until we get the men and women going.

So if we start with that premise, then why shorten the field as Johnson suggests?

While the games are worthwhile to the devotees of the sport, they don’t recruit casual fans by commandeering their attention to drama....the women’s tournament would do itself a favor by slashing the field to 40 teams. The top two seeded teams in each of the four regionals would get a bye into the round of 16, and the other 32 teams would play on Saturday through Tuesday for the right to join them at the regional round. A smaller championship tournament would heighten the drama of the regular season and the conference tournaments. The bye weeks would make top seeds even that much more valuable, and the first round would feature more quality matchups. In other words, there would be much more drama that is accessible to the average sports fan in the preliminaries of the tournament, and it would ramp up an even larger audience for the big events down the road.

I don't read this as slamming the women's tournament as much as an argument for how to increase the game's popularity among the average lunkhead males out there: showcase the best and the fans will pay attention.

Do I agree? Not sure... I see the argument. I was also talking with a friend the other day about the idea of changing the men's tournament with a little round robin system instead of the current brackets because it's entirely too long... don't know if I like that really either.

Bottom line is this: March Madness is the most exciting sporting times of the year and the women get no pub... would Johnson's suggestion change that?

Transition Points:

Haven't posted in a while, but something that's caught my eye is the state of black coaches in women's collegiate basketball. Of particular interest to me is ex-WNBA'er Tia Jackson who coached the University of Washington Huskies team to a last place finish in the Pac-10. The question of whether she'll be ousted keeps coming up...and whether she deserves to be, I think it brings up an issue worth discussing -- why are there so few black female coaches in NCAA women's basketball?

My picks for the tournament this year
: On the men's side I have to pick with a caveat -- if Ty Lawson's foot doesn't prevent him from playing, I go with UNC. If not, Louisville. On the women's side...Maya Moore...'nuff said.

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