Weight Can Be A Touchy Subject For Female Athletes

UConn Women Vs. Penn State

UConn's Breanna Stewart is fouled by Penn State's Alex Bentley in a tough defensive game against Penn State. (Stephen Dunn, Hartford Courant / December 6, 2012)

STORRS

On my first day as sports columnist for The Courant, after 15 years covering the NHL, I approached one of the most admired women's basketball players in the world. I had a question.

"Ask me anything you want," Rebecca Lobo said that November day in 1995. "Except how much I weigh."

Only months out of UConn at the time, Lobo's weight would soon be a matter of public record as she headed to Atlanta with the Olympic team and then on to the WNBA. Still, I think about her remark every time I glance down at the roster of college women's teams.

There's height.

There's position.

There's class.

There's hometown.

There is no weight.

Weight is no secret in the WNBA.

Diana Taurasi is listed at 6-0, 163 pounds; Maya Moore, 6-0, 175; Lindsay Whalen, 5-9, 160; Lauren Jackson, 6-6, 187; Tina Charles, 6-4, 198; Kara Lawson, 5-9, 150; Renee Montgomery, 5-7, 143; Ashja Jones, 6-3, 196. Allison Hightower is listed at 5-10, 139, right alongside the not-as-lithe Courtney Paris at 6-4, 250. The numbers are all there to see. Erin Phillips raised eyebrows with some provocative modeling photos a few years back. Some, like me, didn't like ropes used in the photos. Nobody said that Erin looked bad. Phillips is listed at 5-8, 165 pounds.

I bring this up because of an email I received from a reader, Remy Zimmerman. Zimmerman's point was that articles this week focused on UConn's toughness and how after Maryland it became more apparent that teams will try to challenge the Huskies physically. Zimmerman was dead-on. Penn State did the same thing. So much so that coach Coquese Washington said she found the officiating unworthy of a matchup between Top 10 teams. The officials called everything for 30 minutes. Teams looking to get into a rock fight against UConn would prefer they call nothing.

"Both opponents were really aggressive this week," said Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who overcame a quad bruise that knocked her out of the Maryland game to lead the Huskies with 25 points in a 67-52 victory over Penn State. "With all the offensive weapons we have on this team, people are going to have to be super-aggressive and take us out anyway they can."

Zimmerman wondered why the weights of women's college basketball players aren't used when it's relevant to how they play the game, especially with the banging that goes on in the post. There has been plenty written this week trying to quantify the Huskies' mental toughness, but in such stories about college men there are references to weight gained or lost to help quantify strength or conditioning.

Patrick McKenna, from UConn athletic communications, said he knows of no official edict forbidding the listing of weights. It's just the way it has been done for a long time in college.

If women deserve to be treated as equals, doesn't it stand to reason that their body weights should be listed, too? Whether paternalism to protect young women from ridicule was the initial reason — who knows? — the no-weight listing continues. The question is, is it a disservice by not demonstrating and spreading the word to younger girls that beautiful, athletic women can stand 5-11, 180 pounds?

"I don't think it's that simple," Lobo said Thursday night. "I've had teammates and friends with eating disorders and I don't know what kind of an impact a listed weight would have had on them. Coaches know their players' weights and keep track of that and body fat percentage, so I'm not sure that it needs to be listed."

Debbie Fiske, a guard on UConn's first Final Four team and the WTIC analyst for the women's game, had a similar sentiment as Lobo's. Fiske and Lobo had me wondering. Does the scale, which doesn't account for actual body fat, etc., only add to the pressure that women, even elite athletes, feel about their body?

"Weight is a sensitive matter to women," said Fiske, the associate athletic director at the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford. "You want women to be confident and that weight isn't the determining factor. There's a mental wellness to consider. Whether it's athletic trainers or even coaches, you have to be careful. 'Oh, I need to lose some weight,' becomes an eating disorder.

"I don't mind they don't list the weights. It also doesn't matter necessarily what the scale says. Athletes come in all shapes and sizes. I'll give you an idea at the University of St. Joseph. We had a holiday challenge contest. The idea was just to work out, maintain your weight, plus or minus 2 pounds over the holidays. The email I received [from around campus] was it was a bad thing, you're encouraging women to be anorexic or bulimic. It was perceived differently than I think we'd see it in athletics."

When I sat down before a WNBA game at Mohegan Sun in 2011, Sue Bird was open about talking about how she felt as if her career had hit a plateau in 2006. She talked about looking in the mirror and asking herself, "If this is what you want your career to be like? Is this all you can do for your team?'"

Her answer was to change her diet. She dropped 10 pounds. She said she had lifted weights so much in college, she gained muscle weight. She played at 155 pounds at UConn. After she graduated, she maintained it. Ultimately, she leaned her diet. She stopped lifting as much. In 2011, she played at 145 pounds.

"If I were to talk to an elite high school athlete and they asked me, 'How can I get to the next level?' I'd say conditioning is No. 1. If you can run faster longer or longer faster, if you can do things at the end of the game as well after playing 30 minutes, that's when you can last in this league."

"I'm open about it," Bird said that night. "I refer to my fat days very fondly."

Mosqueda-Lewis, Zimmerman observed, seems to have added a few pounds since last year and thought it has slowed her. KML said she lifted a lot during the summer and preseason. She freely says she got bigger. She is not buying slower.

"The coaches said they wanted to post me up more this year," KML said. "They want me to be one of the leading rebounders. It's really important for me to be bigger. Tonight I had to guard one of their bigger post players, so it helped."

No, I didn't ask her how much she weighs. I didn't ask Lobo in 1995 or Bird in 2011. I still don't want to be rude.

"[Listing weights] is one of those things that never have been done," said Meghan Culmo, the SNY analyst who also played on the first Final Four team. "But at this point, it might be an oversight as much as anything."

"Women's players now, versus to when I played, I don't think they give a [darn] anymore. Being bigger is more acceptable now."

And then Culmo paused for a moment, gave thought to the eating disorder and said, "Weight has always been a weird thing for women."

Or they could just do what a lot of male athletes do. Fib about their weight.

 

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