What gender equity in sports might actually look like

By Cole McCreary, Columnist

MOUNT BERRY, Ga. – Something that Americans pride themselves on is the notion that no matter how humble your beginnings or where you come from, you can become anyone. Parents tell their kids that they can become a firefighter, a school teacher, the President of the United States. Parents want more than anything to make sure their kids know that they are loved and can reach their goals.

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Berry’s Marie Collop, pitcher on the nation’s No. 3-ranked program
in Division III

This is especially true for athletes. Parents want their athletic children to have every possible opportunity for athletic success. In reality, though, not every young athlete is going to have equal access to athletic opportunities. Many factors vary the quantity and quality of opportunities a young athlete might enjoy: race, economic class, geography. I want to address perhaps the biggest of them all: Gender.

From youth leagues all the way up to the professional ranks, girls and then women are denied equal status with boys and then men. The most glaring metric of this is a simple one: money. Or rather, budgeting. Most people are probably aware of the money awash in college football. Colleges devote millions of dollars to their football programs. On the women’s side, however, programs receive substantially less. For example, the median salary for Division I head football coaches is around $1.9 million dollars. The median salary for women’s head basketball coaches, arguably the most lucrative women’s sport, is $414,000 dollars.

Division I colleges devote roughly 45% of their athletic budgets towards maintaining and improving men’s programs (facilities, staff, etc.) while devoting roughly 18% to women’s programs. (The other 32% was devoted to administrative and “non-gender” expenses. In other words, to things outside or above men’s or women’s programs.)

These disparities indicate that women’s sports do not have access to the same level of resources that men’s sports do. While college football teams are afforded the money to build huge training facilities, hire even $1 million assistant coaches, and offer full scholarship rides to long snappers, women’s sports fight to fund even basic line items.

But the women don’t bring in the same revenues that men’s sports do.

True, but this is a circular argument. Women’s sports do not bring in the revenue that men’s sports do because they aren’t resourced in the same ways. Women’s programs don’t boast the same caliber of training facilities or market and recruit in the same ways because they can’t afford it. Because of this, the product that these women’s sports programs put on the field isn’t what it could be.

Another counter to the revenue argument is that oftentimes colleges operate men’s football and basketball programs at a loss. Only a few top college programs, like Alabama, end up with a profit at the end of a season. So, if it was really about revenue, why aren’t men’s programs budgets artificially kept down, as well?

If for even Title IX equity reasons, women’s programs should be funded at the same levels as the men. Women’s sports programs could then develop on par with men’s programs and, more importantly, offer the same level and quality of opportunities to collegiate women athletes as they do the men. It’s that basic.

Harder to correct will be societal perceptions and norms, particularly the tendency to frame athletic success around male success. Take for example this last NCAA women’s basketball tournament. When South Carolina won, ESPN posted a picture of the team to its Instagram account. Men then posted about how the USC women’s achievement did not matter. Or that they didn’t give a crap about what the women had accomplished. Imagine this happening to the Tar Heels, the men’s champs this year, or to any men’s team.

Society unfairly devalues its female athletes. The perennially successful U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team and the U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team each lobbied for fair treatment this year. Both have enjoyed great success, but they are still paid (much) less than their male counterparts, who win far less frequently and never on the big stage. The only possible explanation? The women’s successes aren’t valued as much. It doesn’t matter (enough) that the women’s soccer team won the World Cup; they did it against other women. It doesn’t matter that the hockey team won several gold medals; they did it against other women. Now, what would really be impressive, society says, is if these same women could beat a men’s team.

Female athletes don’t have to prove their worth by playing against men. The South Carolina women and the UNC men are both champions. There is no need to devalue the women in order to properly or adequately celebrate the men. It doesn’t matter how many men’s tennis players Serena Williams might be able to beat. That’s a distraction. It shouldn’t matter whether Ronda Rousey could have beaten a man in her weight class while at the height of her achievement. Brittney Griner, a member of the U.S. Women’s National Basketball Team, was asked during the 2016 Olympics if she could beat a man one-on-one.

It should be enough – it is enough – Williams, Rousey and Griner are the world-class athletes they are. Male athletes are never asked these sorts of questions. Male athletes do not have their success compared to female athletes. They are only compared to their peers. The same should be the norm for female athletes.

This isn’t a “women’s issue,” it’s a basic human rights issue.

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