Intent of comments ignored by fans, media

We live in an age in which people are easily offended.

The most recent case of this modern day form of the blame game came from the visiting locker room of the McKale Memorial Center on Saturday night.

After an embarrassing 82-73 loss to the Arizona Wildcats, USC’s star junior forward Nikola Vucevic was rather candid with reporters about the team’s listless effort in defeat.

“I felt like we all played like women,” Vucevic said. “We didn’t play hard. Every single one of us just played like women.”

If you want to take those words at face value, it sounds like another testosterone-filled insinuation that female athletes don’t work as hard and are soft when it comes to collegiate competition.

But frankly, the world is not black and white, and so the frustrations of a post-game interview should not warrant judgment purely on the assumption of intention.

Would it have been in Vucevic’s best interest to have used different wording when addressing the media on the loss? Yes.

Did a cultural barrier likely distort the context and ultimate motivation behind the Montenegro-native’s English, which he just started learning four years ago? Yes.

But is the junior forward, and face of USC men’s basketball, a sexist whose comments show how the world of sports is still out of touch with the issue of gender equality?

That might be taking things too far.

Unlike Vucevic, who apologized Monday for how others interpreted his comments, I will not regret my decision not to toe the party line on this issue.

I am by no means a sexist, nor am I an apologist for vitriolic language. But frankly, I refuse to believe that the use of “women” in Vucevic’s remarks was intended to mock the role of the female athlete in sports.

The way I see it, Vucevic’s decision to employ the word “women” was largely to insist that his teammates failed to play at a level that would be competitive against a collegiate men’s basketball team.

That isn’t to say women’s basketball is inferior, or that Title IX has created a schism in the college game that on one side promotes a finesse, half-court game and on the other side promotes an aggressive, up-tempo, high-flying brand of basketball.

All the 6-foot-10, 240-pound forward was pointing out is that if you put a university’s women’s and men’s basketball teams on the same court, the outcome would probably be determined by a gross competitive advantage.

That assertion isn’t misogynistic, but simply a reality.

Apparently Javier Morales, a writer for the Tucson Citizen, doesn’t see it that way, however.

“Is this 2011 or 1971?” Morales said in his post-game blog. “Comments like [Vucevic’s] are so outdated and unwarranted in this day and age, especially when women’s basketball is covered more by the national media than ever before.”

Looking on the surface, I understand the semi-outrage at what others see as misguided sentiments But to those looking to make a claim that they were offended or felt victimized by Vucevic’s words, my advice is this: Before you castigate, try to deeply evaluate.

For instance, Vucevic’s love for basketball was not love at first sight, but more or less built on listening to the exploits of his mother Ljilana, who starred for the Yugoslavian National Team in the 1970s.

“I respect women’s sports as much as men’s sports,” Vucevic said during his apology. “[Disrespecting women] is the last thing I would do.”

It is a shame that this is the main issue getting the Trojans on local and national airwaves the past few days leading up to tonight’s rivalry game against UCLA at Pauley Pavilion.

If there is a lesson to be learned from the outpour of negativity aimed at Vucevic because of Morales’ salacious form of journalism, it’s that before you attempt to drag someone’s reputation through the mud, you should dig a little deeper.

Although I understand the quote was the quote, failing to ask Vucevic to clarify his comments leaves plenty of grey area in a field where grey area typically isn’t acceptable, and usually isn’t promoted to the front page of a well-recognized newspaper’s website.

In the case of Nikola Vucevic, the story worth reporting is not driven by masculinity or sexism, but rather an admirable sense of respect for the game and all who play it.

“For The Love Of The Game” runs Wednesdays. To comment on this article, visit or e-mail Dave at

2 replies
  1. AM
    AM says:

    Mr. Dulberg,

    Though I respect your opinion and your right to say it, I find your argument flawed on many levels. I am left unconvinced of the innocence of Vucevic’s statement, and I find it disturbing that even though he apologized, you are willing to believe that he was still justified in his comments.

    Best of luck,

  2. CS
    CS says:

    I don’t think it’s about people saying that Vucevic is sexist. We live in a very open and liberal society, especially as a liberal arts school in an American metropolitan area.
    However, that doesn’t change the fact that a specific group of people feel insulted when they are referenced in a way that associates them with a negative experience. Regardless of whatever differences there may or may not be between men’s and women’s basketball, to associate women with a loss is to blatantly say that women define the weaknesses of the team.
    America still has a lingering specter of elitism and privilege vs oppression. We’ve come a long way, but the journey isn’t over. It was only within the last century that women have become generally legal equals to men.
    People pointing out Vucevic’s quote isn’t a personal attack (in the majority of cases, I assume), but rather a way to recognize that there are still issues that we need to deal with as a society, even if they are not as gross as they once were. Why not have that discussion at USC? And kudos to Vucevic for realizing this and owning up to his contribution to something that is still a problem for many, if not all, of us.

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