Women’s Athletics Have Never Been the Main Event.
BY SAVANNA JONES
Standing on the court I hear my coach’s voice and the voice of my teammates loud and clear, “5 out!” We run the offense and I’m wide open. Lena gives me a nice dime, and swoosh, 2 points. I get high fives from my near by teammates, and hear my coach yelling “get in it,” summoning us to get into our defensive play. But that’s it. Nothing from the audience. I shrug it off and think to myself maybe the play happened too fast and no one saw the bucket. But deep down, I know that’s not the reason. The stands are empty besides the few peers and family members. There couldn’t be more than 10 people sitting in the bleachers on the Home side. I glance over and see there are more people sitting in the Visitor’s section. We are up 15 points, but it doesn’t feel like it.
We end losing the game by 2 points. My teammates and I shake the hands of the opposite team members, and then go into the locker room, feeling defeated. Our coach gives us a speech, he feels the same way that we do. We change our clothes and walk into a gym that now looks completely different than ours. The stands are full now as the Boys’ Varsity team is warming up. The crowd is buzzing. The announcer has woken up. The Home section of the stands now outnumbers the Visitor’s section. Familiar faces of teachers, parents, siblings, administrators, students, current and alumni, smile and chat as the boys play. The cheerleaders yell and the crowd cheers along with them.
I can’t help but think to myself…What would it be like to have the roaring crowd of supporters? Would we have kept that fifteen point lead? Would we have won that game? In athletics, what happens on the court is heavily influenced by the belief the players have in themselves. When you look out to see the stands full of community, players feel empowered. It gives you the strength to play harder and to tune out negativity and refuse the temptation of choosing defeat. As a player, I know the game is more than what happens within the four lines of the court. The crowd sets the tone.
Empty stands are simply a missed opportunity.
Before you continue reading, I want to be clear that this is not just an issue for my high school. It is deeper, bigger, and reinforced by systemic disadvantage. Take for instance the fact that girls’ games are scheduled at less opportune times which prevents our peers, teachers, and administrators from being able to fill the stands. It must be recognized that this disparity goes beyond far beyond high school. Women’s athletic events are not broadcast like the games of their male counterparts. If a WNBA basketball game is being played at the same time as an NBA game, the NBA game will be the only one broadcast because it has already been determined that the men’s game is the main event.
It doesn’t stop at disparity in on-air time either. The gap in value placed upon male athletics over female athletics can literally be quantified. At the professional level, female athletes are paid a small fraction of what male athletes are paid. In 2012 the WNBA team salary cap was $878,000 compared with the NBA’s $70 million team salary cap. Similarly, NCAA female coaches make $2,257,600 less than male coaches.
Female athletes matter, and supporting female athletes matters too. Men are not the only ones who can jump high, shoot a 3, dunk, and more. Females are talented and it long past due for their talent must be recognized. However, this huge and pervasive pay gap contributes to the perception that female athletic events are intrinsically less valuable than male events. Money and credibility go hand in hand. The huge disparity implies female athletes are inferior and less worthy of compensation. Female athletes are still seen as amateurs in comparison to male players. Men are seen as the only “real” athletes whose skills and abilities have earned them the main event standing.
This inequality was only reinforced for me when I sat down to write this piece. After typing “Female Athletics” into Google, of the first eight search results five are articles are focused on the physical appearance of female athletes. My computer screen was littered with articles titled “Ultimate List of Hottest Female Athletes in the World” and “30 Female Athletes with Jaw-Dropping Beauty.”
As someone who has spent her entire life on the court and the track, I know these perceptions influence the self-image, self-esteem, and self-worth of all girls playing on my teams. We have learned the hard way that our efforts and accomplishments will often go unnoticed as we still remain in the shadow of our male peers.
I have seen girls internalize this perception of inferiority. If it is all we know, then it is what will continue.
We know we are simply the undercard. The truth is, this perception of women is not limited to the court. In the classroom, research has proven teachers interact with male students an average of eight times more frequently than they do with female students. Research has shown boys are called on more often and girls are given less time to answer when they are called on. In the workplace, women are still paid seventy-eight cents to every dollar a man makes for the same work. If the gap continues to close at the current rate, women won’t see pay equality until 2057. Like I mentioned before, it is more than just a numerical gap in pay. It influences the way women see themselves.
We are treated and viewed as less capable than men. We are deemed inferior. All women share the experience having their strength, skills, and intelligence be underestimated– whether it be on the court, in the workplace, in a classroom, or in society at large.
While sexism is not new, it has always been the norm and so it is rarely challenged. Conversations about empowering women feel limited to the one day a year when it is International Women’s Day. A day I don’t ever remembering celebrating until now, when the remarks Trump has unapologetically made about women has mobilized women to celebrate this one day a year they are given. However, this one day is not and will never be enough. Real change is not possible if we only acknowledge and discuss this issue as a side-note.
Real change requires persistence and commitment.
I know it can’t all be fixed in a day. But it starts by openly refusing to accept that women are less important, less capable, and less valuable to our society. Now and throughout history, this perception has prevented women from reaching their potential. Communities on local, national, and global scales are missing out because talents in women are going undiscovered.
Women are more than an undercard and we must act upon the belief that women are worth more. For if half of our population remains in the shadows, progress will never be the main event.