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McGraw's words have people talking ... and that's a good thing

Tampa, Fla. — Here is what I've learned: A person's normal environment is therapeutic. This isn't necessarily good news, because normal environments could be awash in behavioral patterns that are delusional and destructive, particularly if the person in question doesn't have the bandwidth to practice self-awareness.

Nothing ever changed through the prism of comfort. It's only when people are made uncomfortable that their new awareness triggers gradual transformation.

Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw's words here at the Final Four this week have made people uncomfortable. Her oratory about inadequacies women face in the professional world was pertinent and powerful, strong words from an accomplished woman who is finding her voice. She has people talking. She has already affected change.

Example: They spent ample time Friday morning talking about women's basketball on the "Today Show." The path to their enlightenment came after running a clip of McGraw's words. Then came the epiphany from the hosts: "Why don't we talk about women's basketball more?"

Pause here to reflect: A national television program suddenly recognized women's basketball because a prominent coach addressed hiring practices, social change and the perceptions of women and men. "Today" had never done this before. That is change. That is change for the good.

And yet there are people deeply involved in the women's game — UConn coach Geno Auriemma included — that disapprove of talking about societal paradigms through the prism of sports.

Their position: Why can't we just talk about the game?

This was Auriemma on Thursday, responding to a question about the Muffet/Geno relationship.

"You think Tom Izzo has to deal with this crap?" Auriemma said with a wry grin. "I don't think so. I don't think Coach K has ever been asked a question like that at the Final Four. I don't think Dean Smith or anybody else has ever been asked a question like that.

"I appreciate you asking it, but I think the issue around women's basketball to me that I find a little bit disconcerting is the attention is always taken away from the game and the players, and it's turned onto the personalities of the involved coaches. God forbid, one coach is a man, the other coach is a woman, there always has to be some kind of friction, tension, all that other stuff.

"I think it's crazy. It's like when you watch a game on TV, a woman's basketball game, they talk more about the shoes that the coach is wearing. Who gives a damn? Really, c'mon. Let's get over that. We want to be taken seriously. Let's talk about sports, let's talk about the game. Let's not talk about the other nonsense that's on TMZ. If we want to be taken seriously, let's act seriously."

Except there's this: An earnest discussion about women's basketball on "Today" is the very example of being taken seriously. They were talking about it, though, not because coaches on the podium were breaking down Arike Ogunbowale vs. Katie Lou Samuelson, but because McGraw, who already has a tenuous relationship with Auriemma, spoke out about something important.

And do you know why Tom Izzo never gets asked about that stuff? Because the men's game has evolved to the point where the game is enough. Women's basketball, except to the diehards, isn't nearly as relevant yet nationally. Sometimes people deeply immersed in women's basketball fail to see that. But does anyone really think dry discussions about zone defenses are going to grow the game an iota?

The problem is that McGraw's words — and anyone else who addresses sports and their effect on societal norms — make people uncomfortable. They lead to uncomfortable discussions nobody wants to have anymore because we're all too busy texting.

The great Anna Quindlen, a former columnist for the New York Times, once wrote: "Readers bring conflicting opinions to various issues because their personal experiences almost always dictate the tone of the discourse. That's called being human. But it's not always about dry intellectual discussions. It's about how you feel, too. Is thought always more telling than emotion?"

McGraw cut to the core of Quindlen's belief Thursday. The whole "men are from Mars, women are from Venus" thing is perpetually fascinating. And a whole lot more poignant than the vagaries of a matchup zone.

Women's basketball has come a long way, baby. No doubt. But for the majority of this country, superficial breakdowns of who's guarding who sustains Thomas Wolfe's line about "trying to strike a spark in minds that have no flint in them."

So sorry to the guardians of the game who don't like McGraw speaking out or journalists daring to ask questions that make you uncomfortable. Sports reflect society. And if you extract your head from the sand and look around, you might realize that we need more Muffets talking about things that truly matter.

It got women's basketball free publicity on "Today."

No more evidence needed, your honor.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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