Last week on Saturday Night Live, a few prominent cast members and SNL’s host for the evening, Idris Elba, performed a sketch called “The Gold Diggers of the WNBA.” The sketch centered around a few unfashionable men in a club trying to become a “kept man” of WNBA players. There were a few decent jokes about the vast disparity in pay between WNBA and NBA players, but primarily the sketch coasted on stereotypes that WNBA players are all butch, have deep voices, and are lesbians.
The last “joke” of the sketch was that 90 percent of WNBA players are lesbians. And, for the most part, WNBA players weren’t laughing.
“I wasn’t really offended so much as I felt they phoned it in. They used really tired jokes and did them badly at that,” Imani McGee-Stafford, a center for the Atlanta Dream, told ThinkProgress.
“I found it offensive and frankly, lazy – especially because I’ve never seen anybody in that skit – or even on the SNL cast at a game,” Las Vegas Aces’ star A’ja Wilson, the 2018 WNBA Rookie of the Year, told ThinkProgress in an email. “You can’t make fun of something you know nothing about or have never genuinely tried to support. It just blows my mind how nobody stands for racial or homophobic jokes when it comes to the Oscars, but when it comes to the WNBA all of a sudden it’s supposed to be funny and a joke.”
The Seattle Storm’s Breanna Stewart, the 2018 WNBA MVP, also shared her disapproval on Twitter.
Y’all crossed the line with this one. This ain’t it, sis. https://t.co/UMD8CGvz0d
— Breanna Stewart (@breannastewart) March 12, 2019
The skit featured Elba, Kenan Thompson, and Chris Redd as the men pursuing the WNBA players. Leslie Jones and Cecily Strong both played WNBA players, while Kate McKinnon played the woman that leaves the club with Jones. Wilson was incredibly frustrated that some of the cast’s most prominent supporters of women’s rights were in the skit.
“I’m especially disappointed in Leslie,” Wilson said, referring to the fact that during the 2018 Winter Olympics, Jones was an incredibly vocal social media supporter of the U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team, which won the gold medal in PyeongChang. “For all she did around women’s hockey and championing female athletes at the Olympics, it would have been nice to see her, Kate and Cecily push back on being used to perpetrate harmful stereotypes.”
Amber Cox, the vice president of the Connecticut Sun, expressed similar frustrations on Twitter, calling the skit “tone deaf.”
Disappointed in the @SNL women who participated in the WNBA skit. Female comedians have been vocal about the fight for equality. Sad they were tone deaf re: female athletes in the same fight & silly stereotypes. I’ll still watch & support. Hope they will do the same. #dobetter
— Amber Cox (@MoheganMaven) March 10, 2019
Cheryl Reeve, the head coach of the Minnesota Lynx, also expressed disappointment with the skit. Reeve is one of the most vocal advocates calling for the media to provide the WNBA with more coverage but she felt that this crossed a line.
“The SNL skit about the WNBA was a poor attempt at satire,” Reeve said in a statement to ThinkProgress. “Instead, it served to perpetuate the stereotypes that are used to hold women in sports down. Unfortunately, the naysayers are once again fueled to continue the negative narrative around female athletes.”
Many viewers also felt the skit was outright homophobic. McGee-Stafford agreed, saying that she’s sick of the constant speculation about the sexuality of women’s basketball players.
“Like, I honestly couldn’t care less whether people think I’m gay or straight,” she said. “But like, damn, aren’t y’all sick of this subject matter?”
Wilson sees this is an offshoot of the way society focuses on the sexuality of all women, but added that when it comes to women’s basketball players, the speculation often comes from a place of fragility.
“I think there is an obsession with the sexuality of all women and it’s ridiculous, but it seems especially with female athletes,” Wilson said. “It’s like guys need to find some justification for why we are better than them at sports. It can’t just be that we are more talented. It’s just a very prehistoric way of thinking about the world and women who play sports.”
Holly Rowe, a women’s basketball commentator for ESPN, pointed out another problem with the skit: It didn’t acknowledge the fact that thanks to how much the talent of WNBA players is valued overseas, most players actually live a nice lifestyle.
I LOVE SNL but this isn’t funny. Super sexist. Do your research @idriselba Our @WNBA players drive Maserati, Tesla baby! They are business owners, investors. Best wishes for your new Luther & Netflix show Turn Up Charlie. I support everything you do. Be better to these women. https://t.co/ruTVlLbDXj
— Holly Rowe (@sportsiren) March 12, 2019
Wilson knows that many will look at this criticism and think the WNBA players are simply over-sensitive women who don’t know how to laugh at themselves. But that’s not the case, she said. It’s simply that the skit missed the mark.
“We can take a joke better than anybody. It’s SNL and a lot of us laughed at some of the lines. We might even use the skit as a teaching point or lesson but it’s just an unfortunate commentary,” she said. “We can shine a bright light on the WNBA to spark more conversation and laughs. We own businesses, we have started foundations, we love our job and play at the highest level in the world but we continue to be bashed and it’s just annoying and childish.”
Ultimately, players stressed that the media needs to remember that it can be a force to help change narratives, not perpetuate them.
“You control the narrative, therefore when you choose to treat the WNBA as a joke or repeat the same tired [jokes], its not our fault. It’s yours,” McGee-Stafford said.