UPDATE April 17: WNBA All-Star Allie Quigley made it close but the Chicago Bulls’ Zach LaVine won the semifinals in Thursday night’s NBA HORSE Competition on ESPN.

And the network not only made it abundantly clear her wife and Chicago Sky teammate Courtney Vandersloot was on hand, they did the couple and VanderQuigs fans everywhere proud by acknowledging their marriage and their individual accomplishments in the WNBA.

It did not go unnoticed.

The Chicago Bulls and Chicago Sky official Twitter accounts had fun reacting to the outcome of the HORSE semifinals competition.

Watch the video of Quigley vs. LaVine by clicking here (or below starting at 2:23) and read all about it by clicking here. And if you missed Quigley outshooting Chris Paul on Monday, relive that contest by clicking here!

LaVine was ultimately defeated in the final by Mike Conley, Jr. of the Utah Jazz. Conley scored an “A,” according to ESPN, LaVine an “A-” and Quigley a “B.”

But to us, Quigley, Vandersloot, Paul, LaVine, the NBA, WNBA and ESPN deserve high marks for representation, effort and pure entertainment in a time when we are all starving for sports. Kudos to all involved.

ORIGINAL REPORT: You’ve probably noticed there’s not a whole helluvalot of sports on television right now, other than reruns of “classic games,” thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. So, let me begin on a positive note by saying, “THANK YOU, ESPN!”

Thank you for creating the NBA HORSE Challenge. It’s entertaining. It’s fun. And it’s fresh.

Thank you for including WNBA players. Showcasing Indiana Fever legend Tameka Catchings and Chicago Sky 3-time All-Star Allie Quigley in Monday’s fourth round was awesome. It was overdue. It felt good.

Thank you for briefly mentioning in a promo, early in the two-hour show, that Courtney Vandersloot is married to Quigley and that she would be on hand for her wife’s round of HORSE against NBA star Chris Paul.

But then… poof! Where’d she go, ESPN?

Apparently Vandersloot, a WNBA star in her own right, was behind the iPhone taking video for you. Writer Lindsay Gibbs of the Power Plays newsletter was among the #VanderQuigs fans like us who noted her absence. Or maybe I should say, “erasure.”

As Vandersloot was shooting video, her wife and teammate outshot the Thunder’s Paul. But throughout all 30 minutes of that competition, announcer Mark Jones made not one mention of Vandersloot, or of her two years of marriage to Quigley. Gibbs was incensed.

And she wasn’t alone.

Dear readers, spare me all the “why does it matter?” arguments. I’ve heard them all: Quigley’s 2018 marriage to Vandersloot has little bearing on the HORSE Challenge. The fact that they are one of two same-sex married WNBA couples doesn’t factor into the final score. The presence of her wife behind the camera and on the court isn’t as important as the outcome of the competition.

Here’s why it does matter: Because someone can be fired today just because they’re gay, because they married someone who’s the same gender they are, because they’re lesbian, trans, or bi, or queer. It matters because marriages like Vandersloot’s and Quigley’s may be legal now, but our rights to employment, housing and other opportunities as Americans are still not equal.

As Gibbs noted, Jones did interview Paul’s son, while Vandersloot was erased. What, cute kids get air-time, but lesbians don’t? Of course, no one is accusing ESPN of intentional homophobia or bigotry. Yet, as Gibbs wrote, sexism and erasure are what happen when non-LGBTQ decision makers fail to consider how they can lift up a marginalized community with positive coverage, rather than — inadvertently or intentionally — overlooking our place on a sports television program, in society and around the world.

Fortunately, this kind of thing is not typical of ESPN, and let’s agree that these are not typical days. Everybody makes mistakes; I am human, too. So, I’ll give the Disney-owned world leader of sports coverage the benefit of the doubt here, and anticipate that tonight on ESPN, we will see and hear Vandersloot when her wife faces the Chicago BullsZach LaVine.

After all, this kind of thing is what we have come to expect from NBC, not ESPN, the network that has failed the LGBTQ community over and over again.

  • At the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Australian diver Matthew Mitcham won gold in the 10-meter platform in Beijing, but the NBC Sports announcers failed to mention Mitcham’s partner in the stands. The only network with the rights to the Olympic Games through 2032 highlighted the partners of straight athletes, but not Micham’s, and NBC also failed to mention that Mitcham was the only publicly out gay-male athlete at the Games.
  • It happened again in 2016: The network failed to identify Dustin Lance Black in the audience of the men’s synchro diving finals as bronze-medalist Tom Daley’s fiancé. Not boyfriend, not long-time friend… fiancé.
  • When NBC broadcast the match of Brazilian volleyball player Larissa França, the cameras followed her to the stands where she embraced her wife. NBC’s Chris Marlowe provided color commentary: ”That is her husband. She married Lili in 2013 and Larissa is celebrating with her pals.” Husband?!
  • At the U.S. Olympic diving trials, diver Jordan Windle was accompanied by his two dads. ”They wouldn’t say ‘Jordan’s dads’ during the finals of Olympic Trials,” Jerry Windle said. “They just said ‘parents.’ Then they wouldn’t show both Andre and I together like they showed other parents.”

When Outsports co-founder Cyd Zeigler wrote up that laundry list of offensive coverage by NBC Sports, he concluded with a hope that ESPN might one day steal away the Olympics.

That’s my hope, too, and with each opportunity, we’re counting on ESPN to do right by us.

ESPN’s coverage of the semifinals and finals of the NBA HORSE Challenge starts at 9 p.m. EDT. Click here for more.