If you know me, then you know there are about four things I need to survive in life: Drake, Lush Cosmetics, Buffalo Wild Wings’ chicken wings and basketball. I can remember one of my first birthday gifts being a basketball and creating an entire imaginary team I would play against in tournaments. As the years passed, I started collecting NBA jerseys, starting with Michael Jordan, then after that Allen Iverson, LeBron James, Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo. After my first honor roll report card in elementary school, my dad bought my first hoop, and I spent hours outside practicing my shot. Though I am only 5’4’’ on a good day, I was able to join both my middle school and high school teams, serving as a member of the starting lineup and was a captain for both teams.

I have always been a fan of the NBA and WNBA. I remember asking my mother to purchase extra sports channels from DirecTV so that I, a Chicago native, could watch the Boston Celtics, my favorite team, play. Some of the best memories I have from my childhood include going to the United Center and seeing the Chicago Bulls play. Sitting at the game, I was able to feel the excitement and energy of the crowd, the passion of the players and the overall love for the game which makes any sporting event a blast to attend — as I am sure anyone who has been to the Big House on gameday can attest to. I am excited to tell my children that I was able to witness Derrick Rose’s campaign to winning the 2010-2011 NBA MVP, along with the rise of LeBron James — the 2nd greatest basketball player of all time, the awe of Stephen Curry and the seemingly unstoppable Golden State Warriors or even the farewell tour of one of the greatest players the game has ever seen, Kobe Bryant. I have seen so much in relation to this sport, yet when it comes to women in it, I have seen so little.

Just a few weeks ago, my boyfriend sent me a text which said, “If I were a girl it would suck creating a MyCareer because I couldn’t design a player to reflect my own identity.” As a recent Playstation 4 owner, he had been tinkering around with the different features on the game “NBA 2k17.” One of these features was the widely popular “MyCareer” where the gamer creates a customizable player and develops a story/career in the NBA through gameplay. Knowing that I too play “2k12,” he shared his thoughts regarding the lack of diversity within the game, which inspired me to write this piece. Though he is a writer for male sports and, as I put it, a “know-it-all,” I was impressed with his refreshing reflections, as he usually does not consider female perspectives regarding professional athletics. His text was referring to the fact that each of the NBA 2k games which have been released to date with the “MyCareer” feature lack the ability to customize and develop the career for a female basketball player. Instead, the game limits the gamer to customizing from default settings a man’s identity/persona, and then pursuing his dive into the professional basketball world. You would think, “Of course there isn’t an option to design a woman on ‘NBA 2k’ because it reflects the likeness of the NBA, which does not include women athletes.” This is a reasonable argument, one which could be easily settled if there were a “WNBA 2k” game to reference. However, there is a complete lack of any WNBA related video games.

I can reflect upon the days my cousin and I would battle it out on the game “NBA Street Vol. 2” using the original Xbox console. As a young girl admiring the sport and the fun of the games, related toys and other fan paraphernalia, the fact that women were left completely underrepresented in regards to it all went completely over my head. Now, in my older age, as I sit with my younger sister, who is also a basketball player and complete our career on “NBA 2k” as men or lace up our Kyrie Irving basketball shoes designed and marketed for men, I wonder, “What happened?” These inequalities don’t just exist in video games, or in the basketball world, it reflects real life. In real life, women experience unequal pay and restricted reproductive rights, access to health care and education, and many women around the world are subjected to violence without ever receiving justice.

These issues contribute to gender inequality and plague our world and women every second. It isn’t virtual. It isn’t a game. It is damaging, discriminatory and a threat to women everywhere. We are targeted. We are exploited. We are unprotected and underrepresented, and one of the worst aspects of it all is that we are told this is how it is supposed to be. We are told that we should be subservient. We are told we should be inferior. We are told that we cannot and will not ever be equal to men. It starts with relatively small things like video games or sports, then it slowly infiltrates the infrastructure of our everyday lives. Therefore, it is crucial that we pay attention and open our eyes to both overt and covert messages. Awareness is the catalyst to both problem solving and change.

Are your eyes open? 

Contact Stephanie Mullings can be reached at srmulli@umich.edu

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