Punishment is the crime in Sue's bet with Mitch

Sue Bird has agreed to be spanked. In public. By sports talk host Mitch Levy. Bird has even agreed, if she loses a bet with the morning maven of misogyny, to cry, "Harder, Daddy, harder," during the spanking.

She says it's all in good fun. That it's just between Levy and her. But it isn't fun. It isn't funny. And the entire community, not just Levy and her, is involved.

"It's terrible," said State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, who teaches women's studies at the University of Washington and is a regular at Storm games. "Oh, my gosh, it's really dreadful. It undoes so much of the good she represents for young women in the game.

"It helps feed into the images of violence against women and stereotyping. I don't condemn her. I appreciate that she doesn't have the experience in life that other women have had. But this could be very hurtful. Not just to the WNBA, but to other women and girls."

The bet goes like this: If Bird has better than a three-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio at the end of the season, Levy, a broadcaster's Bobby Riggs, will buy a Storm season ticket next year. If it is better than or two-to-one, Levy still has to buy the tickets, but they can be cheaper ones and he still gets to spank her. If it is lower than two-to-one the spanking will begin and Bird must say "Harder, Daddy, harder," during the spanking.

Bird believes that if she can get Levy to a Storm game, she can make him a convert.

"He symbolizes that guy the league is trying to attract," she told Seattle Times staff reporter Jayda Evans. "He's talking to that guy every morning. I believe that if I can get him in a seat to attend a game, then maybe his opinion will change and he'll talk about it on the air."

The WNBA is having little luck attracting males age 18-35. And the truth is it always will. And it never will attract Levy and his minions.

But this bet isn't promoting the league. It is mocking the league and mocking Sue Bird.

Even if Levy comes to the games, he's not suddenly going to become warm and fuzzy. It's not his style. His yahoo following would abandon him quicker than Lakers fans on a losing Friday night. His ratings would drop and his future in his prime morning-drive-time slot would be in danger.

If Levy started coming to Storm games, he would find other ways to talk about the anatomy of players. He will start other contests and other bets that would degrade women. He's as predictable as a Tim Wakefield knuckleball.

"I don't blame her for this — Sue may not be getting it," Kohl-Welles said. "But it's important to me that athletes who serve as such good role models for girls as well as boys shouldn't be participating in this type of media event."

Nobody should blame Bird. She's 22 and enjoying her life. But the Storm should be blamed.

Everyone involved in local sports knows Levy's act. He's not inviting Bird on his show to discuss the science of the pick-and-roll. He's looking for some angle that involves sex and humiliation. The Storm should have known that, should strongly have suggested that Bird not go on the show.

"We've talked about it with Sue," said Storm coach Anne Donovan, a Hall of Famer and a pioneer in the game. "I mean it's typical Sue. Happy go lucky. She thinks it's all fun and games. And it's her decision.

"We're always trying different avenues to get men into the games. This probably isn't the best avenue. I'm not saying I agree with it. For myself it's not the way to go. But I don't think it's promoting violence."

But it is.

Whenever the bet is discussed on the show, it is accompanied by a sick sound effect that suggests a whip-cracking.

Levy is offering to hit a woman, as part of a bet, end of discussion.

And, in an era when so many male athletes are being accused of so many assault crimes against women, there is something wrong with one of the most visible female athletes agreeing to a bet that involves violence.

It's exactly what the WNBA shouldn't stand for. It's inappropriate. It's Stone Age behavior. This is a league searching for legitimacy with one of its stars submitting to a bet that not one legitimate male professional athlete, or for that matter, female sportscaster, would condone.

"We've tried not to make an issue of it," said Karen Bryant, vice president of Storm operations. "I don't want to give it any more attention than it deserves. He (Levy) is who he is, and that's his audience."

Bird, who has been hobbled by a sore left knee, is on pace to win the bet. After 19 games, she has 137 assists to 62 turnovers. But this isn't about winning or losing a bet.

It's about a young league and its young star making one of those terrible youthful mistakes. It's about the girls who come to the game who might hear of this stupid bet and wonder what it really means.

The league needs to find creative ways to get more men into the seats. But this is not the way to go. Women's basketball's act is better than Mitch Levy's.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com