So now I'm a basketball fan?

The NCAA is starting to work it's magic on me

I’m not typically a big basketball fan, but Jr. Played his first season this year and worked at it harder than I’ve ever seen. I started watching basketball documentaries and games with him (and of course, his games!) out of admiration for my second grader’s dedication. Stereotypically, this writer isn’t huge on “big” sports, and I’ve often questioned the core philosophies behind the amount of time and labor that goes into high school and college leagues. Two things have started to turn me around, though.

A'ja Wilson signing autographs for the younger kids on signing day. image via The State Newspaper. credit: Tracy Glantz

A'ja Wilson signing autographs for the younger kids on signing day. image via The State Newspaper. credit: Tracy Glantz

First, there’s A’ja Wilson, the freshman dynamo playing for the University of South Carolina’s Lady Gamecocks. A’ja actually graduated from the same school Jr. attends (which is also my alma mater). It’s not often that a small, private Episcopal school can claim the nation’s number one women’s basketball recruit as their own, so it’s not surprising that the school community has been swept up and A’ja-mania for quite some time. On signing day, Jr. begged for me to let him go. The ESPN cameramen surely had a blast in our gym, which was filled with screaming kids ages 3 - 18, plus parents and teachers. When A’ja’s first game came around this year, the kids had their parents buying up tickets for the women’s games, which outsold the men’s games most days. Jr. was starstruck even before A’ja graduated, reporting A’ja sightings when I’d pick him up from school, which was particularly funny considering the close-knit nature of the community. Everyone has easy access to everyone, whether they’re in first or twelfth grade.  When I recently told Jr. that I’d met A’ja’s dad and we’d become friends I thought he was literally going to do a backflip! I take a special pride in knowing that my son’s extra enthusiasm and hard work during his first basketball season can be directly tied to a smart, accomplished young woman who dominates the court. 

The second thing that has me seeing the big world of sports in a new light is the way the NCAA has been publicly stepping up to the plate to be leader on recent issues in the news. During the men’s Elite 8 I was heartened to see a commercial encouraging campus communities to prevent sexual assault. The #ItsOnUs commercials are the result of a partnership between the NCAA and the White House to promote the goals and findings of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.  

Then, the other night, I read that the NCAA has threatened to move the organization's offices out of Indianapolis over the so-called "religious freedom" law signed in Indiana last week. In the words of the fake (wish he were real) President Josiah Bartlett, from his Twitter account:* "Forget putting the Christ back in Christmas. How about putting the Christ back in Christianity?"

On one hand, I’m not sure how I feel about our country having to look to its athletic institutions to show us how to have a moral backbone, but but it makes me feel a little better about our culture’s dark (or willfully uninvolved) side when I see the NCAA utilize its influence upon a large and impressionable audience to do some good. I know someone out there may wonder about my Pollyanna side on this issue, arguing that the NCAA is trying to save face and/or prevent a PR nightmare. But here’s the thing… they don’t have to. As long as they’re pouring big bucks into universities and generating kabillions of dollars in sales for advertisers, television networks, apparel companies, and endless other entities, they’ll be fine. The NCAA is one of the elite groups sitting atop our capitalist society’s food chain, but they’re opting to publicly speak out on some very hot-button issues. So for that, I’m applauding them today. Just don’t get mad at me when my March Madness tweets make little sense… I’m still learning about the game through an 8-year-old!

*how the main character from a show that was cancelled 9 years ago has a Twitter account will be saved for a lively discussion involving dinner & wine…