By Mariah Philips
Professional sports have long been segregated by sex, so what happens when men and women play on the same team? In a high-profile sport like professional basketball? We are about to find out.
The Mixed Gender Basketball Association, MGBA, Inc., has a mission of integrating both men and women on the court. Exhibition game is Jan. 24 in West Orange, NJ. I asked Paul King, National Director of Operations, about their plan to create an alternative co-gendered league.
FGN: Why is it important to start a co-gendered professional sports league?
PK: Sports and entertainment are historically one of the greatest portals for justice, forgiveness, and change. It has been proven that integrating the game by allowing the gifted and talented of all races and gender to perform at the highest level has enhanced sports. Greatness can be found in anyone and anywhere. By including talent, the game becomes more perfect. If you love something, you want to see it reach its ultimate potential. By including women, we believe this is the next progression of the game of basketball.
FGN: How big do you expect this to get? Will it catch on at the ESPN-like level?
PK: We are confident our league will reach the major sports level. All networks look for new content that will increase viewership. Our league will bring the spectator looking for the fundamentals (commonly found in the female game) as well as the flash and excitement (commonly found in the male game) together allowing major networks like ESPN to gain viewers and increase ratings.
FGN: Since it seems so far there is a predominantly male turnout, how will you reach more women?
PK: After our tryouts in NJ, word of mouth has piqued interest of female players resulting in an increase in female turnout. This will be seen in the NJ exhibition games as well as the NY tryouts. Additionally, we believe the 2014 graduating class and professional overseas players will bring a larger turnout for our summer season.
FGN: How can the concept of “equal pay, equal play” more broadly pervade society?
PK: The idea of “equal pay for equal play” will take hold once companies realize workers will be more productive with a equal pay model. We will be the proving ground for this model in sports, and with our success, it will defuse into more sectors of society.
FGN: How will this league help men abandon the shame attached with being shown up by women?
PK: Our men and women players are professionals and competitors. Competitors lose shame as they began to realize that the person they are playing against is a formidable opponent. In practice, women show up the men at times in front of cameras, spectators, potential investors and team buyers. The men are not afraid of being shown up by a “woman” because they respect them as players.
FGN: How do you think this will influence the perception of women in sports?
PK: As women have success in our league, the public doubt of women being able to play basketball at a high level will fade. It also will allow marketers to create new avenues of advertisement. We believe some sports will change their stance on women playing because of moral or financial convictions.
FGN: Do you foresee it spreading to other sports as well?
PK: Yes, co-ed sports are popping up all over the country on an amateur/recreational level. I do not think our league will cause this change alone, but it will ignite the change that has started at the recreational level. Our league is proud to take the lead on a professional level.
FGN: What is your target demographic, and how will you sustain the league?
PK: Our audience consists of basketball fans of the Millennial generation. We do not believe mixed gender basketball is a gimmick but the next progression of sports. We are building the company with that long-term view by exploring foreign markets and mixed gender youth camps in the states and abroad. We believe the next generation will see mixed gender basketball as common as my children see an African-American President. For them it is not an accomplishment but the norm.
FGN: How will the game look different than what we have come to understand as “the men’s game” and the “the women’s game”?
PK: Our approach will emphasize the flash and acrobatic play of the men’s game and purity of the women’s jump shot and style of play. Our approach spotlights interesting line-up changes (3 men 2 women quarters, 3 women and 2 men quarters), 4-point shots and a dramatic 2-minute surprise. Coaches will be scratching their heads as they plan for this unique and fast-paced game. We will restore professionalism in sports where men and women can excel equally on the hardwood.