Discover more from Anti-Knowledge by Christian Schneider
The Emerging Giant in Women's Sports
Women's athletics advocates might have found their breakthrough sport
A few months ago, I was settling into my seat on a flight back home when I looked over and saw the feet of the woman who would be sitting next to me. I started to look up…and up…and up.
I immediately recognized my seatmate as 6-foot-9 University of Wisconsin women’s volleyball star Anna Smrek, who somehow managed to jackknife herself into a seat next to me in coach.
As a freshman, Smrek had been an important cog in the Badger team that won the national championship in 2021. Before that season, I had never really been a voracious viewer of women’s volleyball, but during the NCAA tournament, I got hooked, and was on the edge of my seat all throughout the Badgers’ title run. (I also knew of Smrek because her father, Mike, was a seven-footer that had been a bench player on a couple of Los Angeles Lakers championship teams in the mid-1980s.)
Since the Wisconsin championship two years ago, I often find myself stopping and watching women’s volleyball in a way I don’t normally watch women’s sports. It combines all the best aspects of a sporting event - athleticism, tension, and violence. It has a wonderful rhythm, almost like it’s a Pixies song - there are quiet moments, such as when a team takes two gentle hits to set the ball, that are then paid off with a loud roar at the net when a player tries to spike the ball over the outstretched arms of the opponent. And then, sometimes, just when you think you’re about to get a thunderous kill, a player will switch it up and barely guide the ball over the net, catching the opponent completely off-guard and out of place.
And, of course, there is always the possibility some player will get smoked in the face with a spiked ball, which always adds the element of danger. Which is fun.
Evidently I am not the only one recognizing how fun a volleyball match can be. A few weeks ago, 92,003 people showed up in a football stadium to watch Nebraska’s volleyball team beat Omaha three sets to zero. That obviously isn’t sustainable - no doubt many people showed up because of the uniqueness of the event - but just two weeks later, a match between Marquette and Wisconsin drew 17,000 fans, a record for a women’s sporting event in the state.
So how has women’s volleyball begun to succeed in a way other women’s sports have not? Sure, lots of people watch the women’s NCAA basketball tournament, but regular season games are sparsely attended everywhere except at a number of the most elite programs. Suddenly, regular-season volleyball games are selling out and players are becoming stars.
For one, volleyball’s popularity is because there isn’t really a male analogue to the sport. As a way to comply with the federal Title IX law passed in 1972, universities began adding more women’s sports (and cutting men’s sports, which is why there is no Wisconsin baseball team, for instance.) Volleyball was one of the women’s sports that grew most quickly; currently there are over 330 Division I women’s volleyball teams, while there are only 21 men’s volleyball teams.
That means women have the volleyball lane completely to themselves, as opposed to basketball or soccer, where men’s sports dominate. Sports fans only have so much time to watch their favorite teams, and history has shown most fans (predominantly men), will tune in to the product they consider superior - in the case of basketball, that means the NBA and men’s college games.
But women’s volleyball has a feel that is even missing from men’s sports. (And I am not referring to the reason men end up being huge beach volleyball fans during the Olympics every four years.)
Volleyball games just feel more…fun. Men’s college sports, while great to watch, are infused with a seriousness (and often angriness), because many of the male athletes are playing for their future careers. For the best players, college basketball is just a quick stop-over until they can start making millions of dollars in the pros. Certainly the competition is fun, but given the pressure put on the athletes by their booster, the games themselves can be joyless.
Women’s volleyball, on the other hand, has a completely different vibe. The players know they aren’t going on to play in a professional volleyball league - they are most likely headed to becoming doctors and lawyers and engineers. So it feels like they enjoy the time they have on the court with their teammates as much as they can, knowing the time they have together is limited. There is so much encouragement and hi-fiving and occasional joking around, that it almost feels like a performance more than a sporting event.
Combine this all with the fact that there are now infinitely more cable and streaming channels hungry for content, so it is currently possible to watch volleyball in a way it never has before. The more people who see it on TV, the more it will catch on.
As our flight landed, I leaned over to Smrek and quickly told her that I enjoyed watching the team play and wished her luck this year. (It clearly worked, as the Badgers are the number one team in America.) Before she could grab her pepper spray, she responded very nicely with a “thanks.”
But we should be the one thanking them for providing us with such a fun sport to watch. While women’s sports advocates have spent decades trying to get the American public to watch women’s basketball, the real sleeping giant was a different sport that uses a much larger net. And while the male college stars may be the ones making off with most of the Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) money, someone should start shelling it out to Smrek and her pals.
Every few years, there’s a discussion of who the best “grunge” bands were. For the youngs, “grunge” refers to the music of the Seattle scene of the early 1990s, when bands like Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam ruled.
But there’s a problem with lumping those bands together as “grunge.” For one, none of them actually sound like one another. Earlier Soundgarden had a bottom-heavy Black Sabbath feel to it. Pearl Jam sounded a lot like popular bands like The Who, Neil Young, and Led Zeppelin. Nirvana had a speedier, hook-laden punk sensibility like bands like the Ramones or the Buzzcocks.
It makes it even more ridiculous when publications like Pitchfork issue lists like “The 25 Best Grunge Albums” and include artists that had absolutely nothing to do with the so-called “grunge” scene.
The Smashing Pumpkins were not grunge. PJ Harvey was not grunge. Stone Temple Pilots (especially after they stopped imitating Pearl Jam) were not grunge. Not only was Sonic Youth not grunge, their sound predated the “grunge” scene by a decade. (Pitchfork also includes some albums from 1994, well after the grunge scene was dead.)
This requires a re-examination of what “grunge” actually was. It is pointless to ascribe it to music, as the albums are stylistically diverse. It seems we should save the term “grunge” to apply primarily to the fashion of the time, not the tunes.
What did Pearl Jam and Nirvana and Soundgarden all have in common? They all basically wore the same stuff. They threw on Doc Martens and flannels and grew long hair. The thread that linked them was the style they carried, not the songs they wrote. (The style that would soon be commodified, as places like J.C. Penney’s started selling grunge clothing in their catalogues.)
So when someone starts telling you about a “grunge band,” they are telling you almost nothing about how the band sounded - they are basically telling you what they looked like. Which, 30 years later, shouldn’t make any difference in whether you choose to listen to them.
A few months ago, I announced a new Saturday Night Live podcast hosted by me and Scot Bertram, in which we watched every episode and rated individual seasons and casts. We are now up to Season Seven, having covered the original cast’s five years and the subsequent season that ended up being a complete disaster for the show.
We have gotten an incredible response to the show (including the chance to interview a former cast member), so make sure you go sign up here. We still crank out some content for free members, but you’ll have to be a paid subscriber to hear the main episodes of the podcasts. But they are well-worth the subscription.
Here’s a clip of me complaining about the disastrous cold open sketch from the first episode of Season Six:
I have written a bunch of National Review pieces since we last visited. I most recently penned a column on comedian Hasan Minhaj’s fabulism and how we keep falling for people who lie to us about others being mean to them.
Minhaj has defended making up the stories, telling the New Yorker that they represent “emotional truths” — an oleaginous term comedians well below Minhaj’s status would easily rip to shreds. For those keeping track, “emotionally true” is shorthand for “not actually true at all.”
Of course, when you go to a comedy show, you don’t expect the full truth. When comedian Steven Wright says he doesn’t have to walk his dog anymore because he walked him “all at once,” a fact-checker isn’t on site to disprove it.
But in his various shows, Minhaj has adopted the role of “discrimination truth-teller” — highlighting racial unfairness through personal experience. As one writer who worked for The Daily Show said, “so much of the appeal of those stories is ‘This really happened.’”
Minhaj is trying to meet a demand for victims when the supply of actual victims is low. To earn respect and cultural gravitas today, one need not be particularly funny (Minhaj is middling at best) or smart or skilled. Just having the right people attack you is enough for people who think like you to rush to your defense and boost your profile.
Read the full thing here.
And you can find all my NR articles here.
The new Palehound album is good. Here’s “Independence Day:”