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The best thing I saw last week: Paige Bueckers, NIL and representation in women's sports

The following is an opinion column written by a Forum New Service editorial staff member. It does not necessarily reflect the views of this publication.

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Jared Rubado

DETROIT LAKES– There were so many things that stood out to me about the unveiling of the Lakeshirts Fieldhouse on Tuesday night. But one thing caught my eye, and it had absolutely nothing to do with the new gym.

You can get me to watch just about any kind of sport or game, and I won't have a problem with it. It's probably a good thing I enjoy watching any and all sports. Otherwise, I wouldn't be a good fit for this job. But everybody had their favorites they watched casually.

I'd say my top three are hockey, college football and college basketball, which is why I was all the more intrigued to see a young girl wearing a University of Connecticut basketball jersey in Detroit Lakes.

She was wearing a No. 5 jersey. Growing up, I remember guys like Kemba Walker, Hasheem Thabeet and Shabazz Napier playing for the Huskies in the old Big East–the best conference in American sports history. However, for the life of me, I couldn't think of who wore No. 5. Then I saw the back of the jersey read "Bueckers."

The best thing I saw last week was a girl wearing the jersey of the best college basketball player in the country. The former Hopkins standout and top-recruit in the country took her talents to the East Coast to play for Geno Auriemma and the UConn Huskies two years ago. Here's a list of her accomplishments from just last year, her freshman season.

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  • 2021 Wooden Award winner

  • 2021 Naismith Trophy winner

  • 2021 AP Player of the Year

  • 2021 USBWA Player and Freshman of the Year

  • 2021 WBCA, AP and USBWA First Team All-American

  • 2021 WBCA Freshman of the Year

  • 2021 Final Four All-Tournament Team

  • 2021 NCAA Tournament River Walk Region Most Outstanding Player

  • 2021 BIG EAST Player and Freshman of the Year

  • 2021 BIG EAST Tournament Most Outstanding Player

  • 2021 All-BIG EAST First Team

  • 2021 BIG EAST All-Freshman Team

  • 2021 espnW Player and Freshman of the Year

She's the best college basketball player in the world, and she's clearly a role model for young basketball players everywhere. But seeing a girl wear a jersey isn't that special until you actually think about what it means.
College sports have entered the era of Name, Image and Likeness (NIL), which means athletes can finally make money for their talents instead of the NCAA sucking every last dollar out of young adults. If you're opposed to this idea and think a scholarship to play at a school is enough, you can take a hike. Kids profiting off of their talents and their skills shouldn't be debatable.

I think this goes a step further. Women's sports are grossly misrepresented at all levels. Even in our own state, some sports get state-wide TV rights at state tournaments and others that don't. The most egregious example is the state high school hockey tournaments. KSTC rolled out the red carpet for the boys tournaments, but you had to watch the first rounds of the girls tournament online last year.

If people are allowed to buy the jerseys for women's athletes such as Bueckers, Aliyah Boston, Caitlin Clark, Haley Jones and so many more, then the exposure to the sport naturally increases. These athletes get paid, promotion for the sport grows and we take tangible steps towards equal representation in sports.

This column's purpose isn't to make a statement saying you need to go watch women's sports and that's the only way to support them. The problem with representation in sports is that women's leagues don't get an adequate chance to become these marketable superstars kids look up to ever. NIL gives kids a chance.

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