commentary + critique

from tamryn spruill

Connecticut Sun star Alyssa Thomas deserves a damn chair

May 11, 2023

By Tamryn Spruill

Against the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday, the Boston Celtics unraveled before a booing hometown crowd. While analysts, pundits, and brokenhearted (infuriated?) fans debate the particulars of the C’s 115–103 collapse — from Jayson Tatum’s shooting and Joe Mazzulla’s coaching to the silliness of James Harden’s flop-centric play — it was worth remembering that the last time the Celtics won inside TD Garden, Alyssa Thomas was in the building.

Yes, that Alyssa Thomas: the Connecticut Sun forward who has competed for years at an All-Star level despite torn labrum in each shoulder, missed the 2021 WNBA season following an Achilles injury, and returned the next year to power the Sun to the 2022 finals, where she became the first player in WNBA history to record a triple-double in the finals.

It was Wednesday, May 3, and Thomas joined Brian Scalabrine and Tom Giles on the set of NBC Sports Boston’s Celtics Pregame Live ahead of tipoff to Game 2. Dressed in black jeans, white t-shirt, and army-green jacket, Thomas stood as one of the crowd behind the seated Scalabrine and Giles. At 6’2”, she also towered over the majority of the cheering Celtics fans gathered around her. Thomas appeared for less than two minutes, during which Scalabrine hit all the requisites: Thomas’s history-making WNBA Finals, the start of the 2023 season on May 19, and that fans can watch Sun games on NBC Sports Boston. Sure, the three-time WNBA All-Star had to share airtime with the felt-capped season ticket holder who goes by the name “Black Leprechaun,” but her appearance was a win for women’s sports (and an apparent lucky charm for the C’s, who snagged a series-tying 121–87 win in Game 2) — at least on its face.

Women’s sports still receive just 4% of all sports media coverage in the U.S. Thus, it was a boon to see Thomas there at all. But the quality of the niggardly 4% of coverage that producers, editors, advertisers, and stakeholders deem sufficient for women requires critical examination. For too long, mainstream media’s approach to women’s sports has been to offer a bone-bare minimum, and bounce. It was only in hindsight, during Tuesday’s Celtics Pregame Live broadcast, that I realized I’d mistaken stale crumbs for a loaf of freshly baked bread.

The series returned to Boston with the Celtics needing a Game 5 win to reclaim a series lead. Prior to tipoff, Eddie House joined Giles and Scalabrine on the broadcast, and the three convened around the Pregame Live table with: Devin McCourty, the newly retired three-time Super Bowl-winning Patriot great, who spoke at length about both the Celtics and the Patriots. McCourty was not required to stand as a member of the crowd, as had been required of Thomas the week before. He was invited to the table to sit alongside Giles, Scalabrine, and House. Thus, there was no issue of space: a broadcaster, two former Celtics, and a former Patriot all fit just fine, with the distance between their broad shoulders suggesting that each person in the quartet had ample room.


This means Thomas would have fit easily, and the merits of her superstar career warranted her being given a seat at the table.

Research shows that people do not tune into women’s sports because they do not know the storylines or which teams to follow. Even a five-minute sit-down with Thomas would have revealed much about what promises to be an action-packed 2023 WNBA season, in the wake of an offseason marked by blockbuster free agency signings. People pay lip service to equity, and at times feign convincing anti-bias performances, but the bald truth is that equity is a choice that is achieved one seat at a time.

Parity’s crux comes down to offering women chairs. Not proverbial ones, but actual furniture they can sit on and pull up to literal tables. Thomas and the league deserved better than what these men provided — the story of the WNBA’s history with mainstream media. Isn’t it time we all hold them to account?