As the NBA 2K League’s 23 teams prepare for the third season of competition, it’s hard to miss out on the tremendous diversity among the league’s coaches and players. There is a great variance of ethnicities and nationalities in those consumer-facing roles.
That medley of humanity fades away completely, however, when you take gender into the equation.
Every person on an NBA 2K League team roster is a man.
Additionally, all the league’s coaches are men as well.
When “The TIPOFF” tournament opens on March 24 at the league’s new Manhattan studio, it will mark the second time in the league’s short three-year history that a season will open with no women rostered in coaching roles. A year after Warriors Gaming Squad made Chiquita Evans the first woman drafted in league history, there seems to have been some regression on this issue.
Three women made the draft pool for Season 3 but, like most of the men in the pool (there were only 68 spots for 229 qualifiers) teams passed on them. Evans, who mostly played a reserve role for Warriors Gaming Squad in Season 2, was not retained by the team and opted not to complete the qualification process.
The three women who did qualify for the draft pool recount experiences sadly similar to that which Evans shared, though none of them said they experienced overt misogyny in the draft process itself. The later stages of said process—featuring a combine and interviews with teams—are controlled by the NBA 2K League, however.
Getting to that point has been a whole different story.
— Brian Mazique (@UniqueMazique) March 13, 2019
Evans, Hazel Childress, Wendi Fleming and Amber Sammons all recount the misogyny they experience in a “minor-league” system called the NBA 2K Pro-Am. It’s a must for league hopefuls to compete in that structure, as they must record a certain number of wins to be considered for the Draft Combine.
It’s in that unregulated space that the somber stories emerge.
The four women have recounted being passed on for roster spots (you have to be part of a team to play in Pro-Am), being denied the ball in gameplay and being the butt of misogynistic slurs. Every woman who has made a serious attempt at playing in the league has similar stories to share.
“When they find out you’re a female, it goes downhill from there,” said Childress.
“My first combine was pretty rough. Just going in and listening to the things guys had to say was pretty discouraging,” Fleming said.
“Sometimes they try to flirt with you. It’s crazy,” said Sammons, who told The Post she would try to steer the discussion back to the game.
“Hey man, let’s just hoop, the common goal is to win,” she recalls saying.
The league isn’t unaware of the issue. Not only has it enacted and enforced rules against such behavior during its combine structure, but the league also hosted a developmental camp especially for female players after Season 2. As the league grows, there may be room for more of what has become a controversial take on this issue.
That’s because misogynistic behavior among the amateur ranks of popular esports titles certainly isn’t isolated to the NBA 2K franchise. It’s pervasive regardless of the game title. To address that, other leagues have created separate structures, especially for women players.
Opinions vary on whether that is a positive solution or whether it further casts women as second-class competitors in the esports industry.
Proponents of the idea argue that doing so creates a safe space and provides women in the amateur ranks with an attainable goal. Opponents say there’s no need to structurally segregate women and such a structure gives corporate sponsors license to devote fewer resources to the top women in the industry.
Could there someday be an all-female NBA 2K League team? Might the league someday host a version of Pro-Am just for women?
Those are possibilities. but right now the question seems to be whether those steps would be net positives. Regardless of what steps the league takes in the future to ensure a path for women, the problem does not lie with the women involved.
The blame lies squarely and wholly on those men who act immaturely and inappropriately in the amateur ranks.
The path to the Draft Combine should not be one that requires a pound of flesh from women who, like their male counterparts, just love playing the game and have aspirations of doing it for a living. A broken spirit should not be among the cost of playing Pro-Am for female players. That’s on the men in that structure.
The competitive nature of the game does not excuse narrow minds displayed in deed and word.
And for those men who have matured and put their personal biases in check, there is a responsibility to call out misogynistic behavior among their peers and communicate that it won’t be tolerated.
Until there are serious consequences in Pro-Am for sexism, the culture won’t change. Until the culture changes, the road to the league will continue to be a painful one for women.
The easiest solution to this problem is men stepping up to combat misogyny in the amateur ranks. When a player making a misogynistic remark results in him being passed on for a Pro-Am roster spot, that culture will have evolved.
Could the league be doing more to promote diversity in Pro-Am through educational programs and messaging? Sure. The league doesn’t have the resources to police Pro-Am right now, however. In reality, they shouldn’t have to.
On this matter, the men in Pro-Am should police themselves.