The same year that Olympic Women's Volleyball players have been freed from the requirement that they wear revealing uniforms, a new women's sport joins the national scene: bikini basketball.
The newly-formed Bikini Basketball League consists of seven teams in major metropolitan cities: the Chicago Desire, Orlando LadyCats, Miami Spice, New York Knockouts, Hollywood Hotties, Atlanta Fleet Angeles, and the newest team to form: The Los Angeles Ice. These ladies will travel the country competing with each other for a chance at scantily clad victory.
The viewership for professional women's basketball is so low that tickets to Los Angeles' WNBA team, the Sparks, are given away on Goldstar for free. Because women's basketball makes so much less money than men's, there are few opportunities for women athletes to continue playing professional ball after college. So why not promote a concept that's going to get butts in seats and allow more women to play? Do the ends justify promoting bared midriffs and bouncing breasts?
We visited a tryout at UCLA on Saturday to try to find out.
What we saw was not a bunch of models bouncing a ball around for show. These girls had serious skills. Many played Division One in college, and all of them were excited to have a chance to play the game they loved.
Initial tryouts for the L.A. Ice practice squad were held in San Diego, Orange County and Los Angeles. About twenty girls were chosen, and from these players, ten to eleven will be offered contracts in January to play for the professional team.
One twist to the moral dilemma of promoting the team based on its sexual appeal, is that the women are not actually playing in bikinis. "The outfits that they're wearing are not as revealing as one would expect from the title of the league," said Gilbert Martinez, the marketing and publicity manager for the team. (His wife is actually on the practice squad.) "They're in sports bras and spandex shorts, so it's not that far off from what the volleyball players wear in the Olympics."
Niki Gordon, a former college basketball-player-turned-model who snagged a place on the practice squad, agreed. "We're not going to be out there in pasties," she said. "We 're going to be out there in clothes, playing a game we love to play. I don't think there's anything exploitative about it."
Eric Thomas, co-owner and interim coach of the L.A. Ice, believes the team promotes a positive image for women. "I see a bunch of women out here who are physically fit, very competitive, and very passionate about something. In my book, those are three things that generate a very positive outlook for women," said Thomas. "I have a daughter, and I would not be involved if I felt it was exploitative."
The team will be involved in community service in their hometowns and participate in outreach when they go on tour. "Once fans come out and see that they aren't actually playing in bikinis and that they're good at basketball and good people," said Thomas, "I think that's gonna do a lot."
Still sweating and out of breath from a rigorous practice, practice squad playor Tamora Whitfield defended the bikini hook. "Why not make a kick-ass basketball team and have it be sexy at the same time?" she said. Whitfield works at Beach Body and as a personal trainer. "I'm in the gym two hours a day," she said. "Why not get out here and show it off?
Sabrina Martinez, a spokesmodel for cosmetics line Secret Agent Beauty, who won a basketball scholarship from San Jose State, had another take.
"I think it helps deter the notion that pretty girls can't play ball," said Martinez. "People think we're just worried about make-up and shopping. I like that stuff, but I can also get on the court and school a few people."
Whether you feel the concept is empowering to women or degrades them, the Bikini Basketball League is coming. Players chosen for the final teams will sign their contracts in January and the season will begin in May 2013. And who knows? Maybe someday the playing court will be leveled and we'll get to see the men promote their sport with sex appeal too.
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"Diesel has some really cute spandex undies for men," said Martinez. "I'd like to see that." Me too, Sabrina. Me too.