September 27, 2023

Eating alone at a Bennigan’s restaurant in Steubenville, Ohio, on Tuesday evening, I couldn’t stop watching a sports event on one of the TV screens. That’s not unusual for me — that is, eating alone or watching sports. I typically dine alone when on the road speaking somewhere, and I like doing so. I also like finding food establishments where I can catch football or baseball on one of the many TVs at such places. But this night I was focused on the women’s volleyball match between no. 4–ranked Nebraska and no. 5–ranked Stanford. And if you think my interest in women’s volleyball was odd, then you need to know about what happened two weeks ago in Lincoln, Nebraska.

On Aug. 30, a gigantic crowd of 92,003 paid attendees filled the Nebraska Cornhuskers stadium to cheer the university’s five-time NCAA champion women’s volleyball team. The huge attendance, at levels theretofore experienced only by the university’s storied football program, broke the all-time world record for a women’s sporting event. The prior mark was set in April 2022 in Barcelona, Spain, at a Champions League women’s soccer match.

Think about that: over 92,000 for volleyball. Those are crowd sizes you see only with some NCAA football teams — Big Ten programs like Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan. You don’t even see those numbers at NFL games. For 92,000 to show up in the heart of Midwest corn country for women’s volleyball is staggering. This occurred in a low-population Republican state, not in New York City, Boston, San Francisco, or Washington, where liberals bark at us about supporting women’s athletics while not lifting a finger to personally buy a ticket and put their butt in a bleacher seat.

Most importantly, what happened in Nebraska genuinely reflects legitimate interest in the sport. That’s what most impresses me about the success of women’s college volleyball nationwide. It’s authentic. The popularity is real, not contrived. The games are broadcast increasingly on one of the ESPN channels (not only the ESPNU channel), and people are tuning in.

By contrast, politically correct promoters at ESPN and other sports networks for years have shoved women’s pro basketball down our throats. You can’t watch March Madness without enduring ad after ad pitching the WNBA, which no one cares about. (Quick: Name three WNBA teams. Can’t do it? How about one?) The only WNBA player I know of his Joe Biden’s favorite, the vaper-doper Brittney Griner, whom our president loved so much that we swapped the Russian Merchant of Death for her last year. (READ MORE from Paul Kengor: Brittney Griner’s Russian Mugging)

I say that while happily acknowledging the outstanding women hoopsters who can literally run circles around guys in a basketball game. My wife and I have two good female friends who played college ball and set records with assists and points. They’re terrific shooters, dribblers, ball handlers. Nonetheless, the frank reality is that people aren’t going to fill 17,000-seat arenas to watch the Washington Whoevers play an WNBA game. (Does Washington have a WNBA team?)

Generally speaking, men and women alike will not throng stadiums to watch women play basketball, and certainly not to watch them toss footballs. And yes, there are women’s football leagues.

But rejoice, ESPN and feminist fighters for women’s athletics, you have a winner in women’s volleyball. Count me among the fans.

I first watched a women’s volleyball match at Grove City College, by accident. I was beating around campus on a Saturday afternoon with the kids when we happened upon a game in the arena. “Wow,” I said to my kids. “These girls are really good.”

Years later I picked up again, when my alma mater, Pitt, had the top women’s team in the country. I caught a few matches on ESPNU, blown away by the skill level. These women are immensely talented at a high level — the digs, the serves, the spikes/kills, the set ups, akin to a gifted shortstop-second baseman combo in baseball, which is something rare in its finesse.

I think what also resonates with fans is that volleyball seems a natural fit for women. It’s so unlike the grotesque spectacle of women punching each other in the face in female boxing or mixed martial arts, an aberrant behavior hideous to see. Likewise, women are a natural for gymnastics and for the beauty of figure skating.

Yes, if you haven’t figured me out, I’m a fan of femininity, and also of masculinity, the way the good Lord intended us. I’ll watch girls figure skate, but not dudes, and I want to see guys on the gridiron and not chick linebackers. Capisce? If that offends you, then go read the Huffington Post. (READ MORE from Paul Kengor: Italy Rejects Transgenderism and Upholds Female Beauty)

Women’s volleyball seems a best extension of femininity. The girls look like girls. They don’t look like a 1970s Soviet Bloc-East German powerlifting dame drugged up and pumped up with steroids and testosterone. To the contrary, they have long hair, ponytails, hair ties, earrings, lipstick, makeup. They’re pretty, while also strong. (Quite opposite of pretty: I don’t know of a “Lia Thomas” situation — the “transgendered” college male swimmer — trying to corrupt NCAA women’s volleyball, but I suppose it’s only a matter of time before the Left’s cultural revolutionaries find one to sully the sport. Don’t forget to infiltrate women’s volleyball, vigilant wokester! Put that on your hit-list!)

The femininity is further displayed in how these volleyball players react to one another. They do group hugs when they score every point (there are a lot of points in best-of-five matches). They console crying opponents after a loss. Unlike guy hockey or football players, they don’t knock senseless and brood over victims laying in agony groaning at their feet. They’re compassionate, even while drilling the ball over the net. They care for each other. While watching Stanford vs. Nebraska, I read the lips of one girl saying to another after a bad serve, “Are you okay?” She replied, “I’m fine.” They’re girls, in the finest sense. That also means they’re not modern feminists, in the ugliest sense of modern feminism.

In all, these character traits have allowed college women to carve out a niche for themselves. They own volleyball. Here’s a sport where male counterparts aren’t even on the radar.

To be sure, I’m not such a fan that I’ll start checking the schedule to tune in regularly, as I would for the NFL or NCAA football. But given a choice between college women’s volleyball and certain other sports — such as, heaven forbid, male figure skating — I’ll take volleyball. Clearly, many people agree. Just ask the folks in Nebraska.