On Saturday night my husband and I had tickets to watch the Minnesota Timberwolves play the Memphis Grizzlies. The Timberwolves didn’t win; we’re having what I think is called a development year. Even so, it was a fun evening for a lot of reasons, but with one major PR disappointment.
For the record, I love the Timberwolves. I love Kevin Garnett (whose jersey I wore Saturday night), I love remembering him as a skinny 18-year-old right out of high school, I love his privacy and his intensity and that we have grown (older) together. I love the new kids: Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony Towns and our own Tyus Jones. I’m sad at the terribly premature loss of Flip Saunders to a largely curable cancer. I think I love interim coach Sam Mitchell best of all: his fatherly patience, his arm around a player’s shoulder, his nearly always upbeat comments to the media.
I know I’m a bad feminist for not following the Lynx, but let’s face it: I don’t really follow the Timberwolves, either. On game night, my favorite things are walking from our downtown condo to the game holding my husband’s hand; getting a big, salty pretzel before finding our seats; fist-bumping Crunch and waiting for a free T-shirt to be bazooka-ed my way. I also am generally a big fan of on-court TV-commercial break antics and a good half-time show.
The half-time show this past Saturday didn’t appear to be anything special, at first: a whole crowd of girls from a local dance school, ages 3 or 4 all the way up to teens, pranced out onto the court in the usual flurry of sequined costumes and too much eye make-up. Some of the music and even a few of the dance gestures were a little age-inappropriate, and I was getting ready to be cranky about it, until something dawned on me: These girls all looked like they were having a blast. I mean, just about every one, and there must have been 100 girls out there. And maybe I was influenced, too, by the fact that they weren’t perfect. Not perfect Barbie-doll types, not perfect execution of dance steps, but big smiles–real smiles, it seemed–abounded. I don’t know why, but their performance brought me to tears.
What brought me to literal sobs (OK, I was a bit on the emotional side that night) was when I saw their teacher walking up and down the court, discretely guiding them with eye contact and sharp, clandestine gestures of the next move. I could tell right away she was the reason for the girls’ smiles. Her smile was absolutely empowering. It said, Look where all our practice has gotten us. It said, You’ve got this, ladies. It said, You are so very important to me.
So while I thought I might have to call myself a bad feminist for attending a men’s basketball game and watching little girls dance in too much make-up, I decided I could agree with Roxane Gay (you must read her book, Bad Feminist) and set my own standards for feminism. All of the performers that night–the men playing basketball, the girls dancing, had worked hard to be successful. The love and guidance of a good mentor empowered them, even when they weren’t perfect. These things are good for people, not just boys or girls or men or women.
There was only one off-note for the night, and that was less about feminism and more about exploitation of a child and its resulting bad impact on everyone: audience members, team members, and I fear, worst of all, the little girl selected for the “honor.” Frankly, I think it’s in poor taste for a team to poke fun at an opponents’ mascot, but there he was, a rotund and ugly grizzly bear engaged in a series of contests with the Timberwolves’ Crunch. The Grizzly mascot lost all the competitions, of course, except for the final one in which a little girl (maybe 8 or 10 years old) was plucked out of the audience to theoretically line up in some kind of cheerleading pyramid to further demonstrate the Grizzly mascot’s inadequacy.
Instead, this little girl was instructed to kick the Grizzly mascot in the groin. Which she did, in front of thousands.
Clearly, Minnesotans and the Timberwolves and all those lovely dancers and this blameless child lost this contest, big time.
I was ashamed to witness it.
Timberwolves PR people, you should be ashamed, too.