Covering UConn Softball changed my life

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The Huskies lost to UMass after a ninth inning run, ending with a final score of 8-1. Their next home game is on 4/2 against UMass. (Photo by Eric Wang/The Daily Campus)

In lieu of a recent Daily Scampus article that was upsetting to members of UConn’s student athlete community, as well as The Daily Campus’ apology for the offensive nature and content in the article, I would like to speak on my own experiences with women’s sports through the newspaper and my other jobs.

In the spring of 2015, as a senior in high school, I gave a persuasive speech for a humanities class blasting Title IX and advocating for its abolishment. When I was younger, I was doing a standup routine at a summer camp, “Want to hear a joke? The WNBA.” I was a sports misogynist, subscribing to the notions that women’s sports are of an inferior caliber and lacked merit. As I recently wrote for a class assignment, “I saw sexism in sport in my high school. Coming from a un-diverse and conservative community, the clichés about the inadequacies and shortcomings of women’s sports were profound and widespread. This perception that they lacked value led to poor student fan support and attendance, even for the teams that were good.” An intern for the Athletic Director, and voted “Class Superfan,” that behavior and mindset included me.

In the spring of 2016, my second semester with The Daily Campus and first time on a beat, I was assigned to cover the UConn Softball team and was admittedly less than thrilled about it. But my fellow beat writers Aaron Esposito and Pete Harasyko, who went on to become great mentors and friends, were demonstrably happy to cover the team again, and lauded the excitement of the team as well as the awesome people on it, including their media-generous manager Jen McIntyre.

Boy were they ever right. I only served on a beat three times total while with the The Daily Campus, but that experience was one of the most transformative events of my college career. College softball is great. It is fast-paced, chock-full-of-action and, when it comes to pure entertainment value, it is near unparalleled in my opinion. I would rather watch a UConn softball game over its baseball counterpart nine times out of 10, and that’s no knock on their product at all. Plus, the people were great. They still are. They play hard and fully dedicate themselves to the student-athlete experience at UConn; it shows in just casually watching a game.

Full disclosure, several members of the UConn softball program are Sport Management majors like me and are frequent classmates of mine. I point that out to say that from knowing and observing them, I can attest that they are high-quality people striving to be the best students and athletes they can be.

The recent Daily Scampus articles were upsetting to many because it was felt it perpetuated the norms of discrimination around gender and sport, while demeaning and taking away from the immense amount of work and pride that go into being a UConn athlete.

There were several “problematic” articles written, the one that seemed to get the most ire was a Point-Counterpoint titled “Softball or Lax: Which is worse?” Immediately adjacent to that article was another, still insulting, titled “Softball: Huskies finally win weekend series,” like the Point-Counterpoint, parodying the fact that the softball team has failed to win.

Objectively, this is true: In my four years at UConn, the softball team has a spring record of 67-117, a winning percentage of .364. In terms of weekend series, not tournaments, they have won three. Women’s lacrosse has gone 30-27 in that span but is only 2-7 this season.

I don’t think that means they ought to have been spoofed, but I don’t think they’re exempt from it either. The language and content in both articles could’ve and should’ve been parsed more intelligently. They were cheap hits on two teams that are struggling. There is a right way to do this; in some facets, a line was crossed.

I know that because I wrote the second one, the one about winning a weekend series. You can call me a hypocrite; I’ll respond it wouldn’t be my first time.

It was suggested that this was a sexist approach, for example the Scampus did not ridicule the football team even though their past seasons’ product was the far and away deserving of it, but on the very front page it was suggested the entire program be canceled. The Daily Scampus frequently riffed on Bob Diaco, Kevin Ollie and their inept teams, even if not this year. There was no mal-intention in juxtaposing two women’s sports teams. Any sentiment that came across as deriding the intrinsic worth of the student athletes or their experience is unjust, but I maintain the stance that the failing to win is fair game in a April Fool’s edition that rags on everyone, across all kinds of spectrums, for their shortcomings. For those reasons, I do not agree with the editorial decision of the paper to strongly condemn the different articles with such immediacy, although I understand it. I am amenable to the notion of concessions and reparations, but not in the manner that was executed. I will iterate this is a personal stance, and does not reflect the opinion of the sports section or paper at-large.

Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all and this may be one of those times, but I did not feel I could bite my tongue. The few people that actually read my writing may be disappointed, but c’est la vie. People can pick holes in what I have to say. Good for them.

After covering softball that spring, I was still not a full convert. Being assigned the women’s soccer beat in the fall of 2016 gave me some of the same apprehensions, but I cannot be more fortunate that I was tasked to that team. Seeing firsthand the determination and hard work that those players put into it was both amazing and revelatory. Stephanie Ribeiro had one of the best seasons of all-time scoring-wise, the Huskies won their conference and all the athletes we engaged with were upstanding people. Most importantly it was evident how much hard work and dedication went into winning. It really made me feel like a jackass about my preconceived notions. I listed the team as my top choice to cover in the fall of 2017 and had another great experience.

Shall I go on? I also work for the athletic department as a game operations assistant, mostly in the fall and spring.

I didn’t really know much about intricacies of field hockey—I still don’t really—but I knew that they won a lot, yet I didn’t really care. After working a few contests for games ops, I have decidedly determined a major opportunity cost of my UConn tenure was not watching more of their games. They are the elite of elite at what they do. They execute near flawlessly and represent the school at the highest levels through tremendous success and character. Last fall, in a rare loss against Princeton, Svea Boker scored a goal where she simultaneously finessed and trucked the entire Tiger defense. Outside of some Kwintin Williams dunks, it is unquestionably one of the most impressive athletic feats I ever saw here.

In the spring of 2016, I worked a home volleyball game against Houston that I was nonplussed for, because, well, volleyball. But that match, and most of their matches, are incredibly electric. It is one of the most energetic and potent sports you can watch here. That lone game seriously made me make a point to watch volleyball and beach volleyball a couple times in the Rio Olympic games. South Korea’s Kim Yeon-koung is a beast.

I could write about women’s basketball…but I think their track record speaks for itself. I don’t have as much firsthand exposure to the lacrosse team, the women’s ice hockey games or the rest of the bunch. I guess it shows you I have a long way to go from how oblivious I was. But I would be shocked if those programs don’t possess the same admirable traits of competing hard, excelling in representing UConn and being made up of phenomenal athletes who put on entertaining performances.

The UConn Sport Management program focuses heavily on incorporating social equality and equity into its framework and pedagogy. I can tell you that in my experience, just watching these athletes go to work and conduct themselves has had far more of an impact on me than any academic theory ever has.

The biggest thing that seems to be coming across is how much of a moron I was, maybe am, in regard to this subject. I am not writing this column to proclaim some self-righteousness or cast aspersions that I know how everyone should engage with women’s sport. Like a lot of self-proclaimed progressivism, I am fake woke. Nor am I writing to simply curry some favor. But too often at this school I see people I find to be as unaware or hard-headed as I was. There are never enough fans in proportion to the merit of product at hand at Burrill Family Field or Sherman Turf. I would implore more of the UConn community to go out and see what I believe they are missing.

Despite all of its plaudits, women’s sport, and all sports at UConn, are not above reproach. Any organization that covers these teams has a duty to do right by them, and I feel in my time The Daily Campus has done so, but to make a mockery for failing to win or poor play simply isn’t that unconscionable to me.

To say that “Covering UConn Softball changed my life” is a bit sensationalized, but in a way, sports truly are my life and shape the way I view the world. I am thankful for my experiences reporting and working, that started with the softball team, for shifting my paradigm in the right direction. It truly has been transformative on a personal level. I think it gets lost in the rhetoric that these are real people, on both sides of the relationship, and whatever happens will be meaningful to them. I am sorry for those who are upset, but I am not sorry for what those sports and athletes taught me.


Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at matthew.barresi@uconn.edu.

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