I often look back and wonder if there is anything I could have done differently so that my athletic career wouldn’t have been a complete waste. But the premise that my career was a waste is because I have not profited monetarily from it. By definition, isn’t a career something that affords you with opportunities for progress?
My athletic “career” is strides behind my professional career, even though I’ve spent double the time building the former. Even when I was young, in high school, with a basketball team poised to go undefeated my senior year… I was under the impression that my studies were more important. Inevitably you cannot devote your whole self to two completely separate disciplines, with equal fervor.
I remember getting home from basketball games at 10:00 pm only to stay up until 1:00 am completing homework. When I went to school the next day, tired and groggy, I half assed my classwork and I later half assed my basketball practice. You cannot half-ass anything when there are great expectations placed upon you.
Basketball, to this day, brings me a lot of emotional pain. I am wasted potential. Every time I play I am reminded of how much better I could have been if I just devoted more time and energy to the sport. There are so many things my body can do that I can’t control. Things that I am physically capable of but unable to mentally execute.
High school basketball was miserable for me. Most of the girls on my team devoted their full year to basketball. They were clearly going division 1 and they were clearly going to start on varsity over me. My coach never thought I loved the game because I didn’t commit myself fully to it, but I never had the chance to love a game that never loved me back.
I fouled out of almost every game I played in. I cussed at my teammates. I was overly aggressive. I dove around on my knees too much. My shot was inconsistent. I didn’t take the weight room seriously.
I thought all of those things meant I wasn’t a good basketball player. Now I realize that those are things that some of the greatest athletes in the world struggle with. I also realize that the only format I was allowed to play in is the one that is most unforgiving for aggressive players.
Women’s basketball is designed with safety in mind. There is no room for physicality that is not explicitly designated in the rulebook.
Sure that’s great, I am not discounting the importance of safety. But for me, it isn’t fun and I now realize it isn’t the only way to play.
Pickup, street and men’s basketball allow for so much more physicality. They allow for discretionary contact and strategic violations. They promote intensity and dominance. You are rewarded for being tough and aggressive.
I learned that basketball wasn’t the problem, women’s basketball was. I’m not afraid to admit that the only reason I learned to love basketball was because of men. The way they play the game is profoundly different from the way I was taught.
Love underscores everything men do in the name of the game. They play because they are addicted to it, intoxicated by it. The game brings them life, brings them joy. The act of playing basketball is about personal expression and working through personal adversity. The satisfaction of a win comes from brotherhood and team excellence.
A real teammate wants to see you succeed and wants to see you grow as a player. I see that my male teammates are confused by my lack of confidence. My paralyzing insecurity disguised with hyper-aggression. I’m afraid to play the way I want to play, because I spent 15 years learning to play scared.
It’s hard to accept that the only person responsible for my failure is me. Me being afraid to exert myself fully and being unable to do so within the confines of the game.
I vow to use my failure as a vehicle for change. I will devote the rest of my life to promoting equality in athletics. I hope my failure can spark the flame that guarantees another woman’s success. Believe in yourself, above all else. And never stop fighting.
Photos by Jim Claytor