Why is gender inequality in sports still a thing?

Treating women not the same but of equal value

By Anna Walker, Columnist and Viking Fusion Events Coordinator

MOUNT BERRY, Ga. – The year has brought yet more controversy around the issue of equal pay for female athletes.

We have seen more women fight against the stereotypes and degradation present throughout sports and media coverage of sports. The U.S. women’s national soccer and hockey teams brought attention to fair pay this year, for example, with the hockey team winning big concessions from its governing body and a lawsuit filed by some of the soccer players for fairer compensation still pending.

Kelly Wallace, editor-at-large for CNN, brought our attention to some of the more subtle differences in media coverage.

The men’s Final Four teams in the NCAA basketball tournament got front-page attention in the New York Times. The women? A story without a photo buried deep in the sports section, Wallace pointed out.

Wallace also highlighted the fact that the average salary for a WNBA player is $72,000, whereas the average salary for an NBA player is around $5 million. 

These numbers clearly show that there are still significant inequalities in sports with respect to gender.

The causes likely run deep.

Consider the ways women are talked about by sports broadcasters and reporters. Think also about the kind and quality of dreams little girls can reasonably have about careers in sports compared to those of little boys, from coaching to running athletics programs to appearing on a box of Wheaties.

Yes, there are athletes such as Alex Morgan and Serena Williams, but they are the exceptions that prove the otherwise male rule, and I mean “rule” in both senses of that word.

The average sports fan cannot rattle off stats about even Morgan or Williams as they might for a big name male athlete. This average sports fan likely wouldn’t even see a problem with that. 

NFL Network’s Stacey Dales

The numbers of women in the sports-media industry are shockingly low. Even for those few who have carved out successful careers still are subject to articles about them with titles such as, “50 Hottest Female Sports Broadcasters from Around the World.” (This was an actual headline at Bleacher Report.)

How can female athletes fight for equal pay when representation of them by media often seems so objectified and trivializing?

Some will argue that men’s and women’s sports can never be treated equally because men’s sports are so much more popular. If that’s the case, we might ask ourselves why men’s sports became more popular in the first place. Is it because they are intrinsically more entertaining? Could it be that men’s sports became the norm because men decided that’s the way it was going to be?

Others will argue that, well, you have the WNBA and espnW, so what are you complaining about? Yes, these are examples of opportunity for women in sports, but notice each has to be designated by gender. The default is male – the NBA, not the MNBA; ESPN, not espnM. And not that the percentage of coverage ESPN’s many networks gives to women and women’s sports is actually dropping.

As Serena Williams said in an interview, “If I were a man, I’d have been considered the greatest a long time ago.” With this quote, she sums up the feelings of so many female athletes. Women do not want equality in the form of a “women’s section” of ESPN or through “letter of the law”  Title IX provisions.

Women want true, meaningful, sustained equality. We want to be treated of equal value, which is what Williams is really saying.

To both arguments, I present the Utah women’s gymnastics program, which both makes money and draws fans by the tens of thousands. It’s that rare women’s sport resourced at a level even comparable to men’s sports, showing us just what can happen when that is the case.

Utah’s gymnastics meets sell out a facility that seats more than 15,000. In fact, the facility also hosts the Utah men’s basketball games, which do not sell out. And the meets are the third most-viewed events on the Pac-12 Network, right behind football and men’s basketball, according to the New York Times.

And Utah’s popularity is not a new development; it has been this way for years, with little to no attention from media.

If it is possible to build up a giant fan base for a Utah women’s gymnastics team, why can’t it be done for more women’s sports teams all over the country? Cue the crickets. 

When people argue that women’s sports do not make as much revenue as men’s do, why isn’t more money invested in women’s sports to test that theory? Men’s sports create so much profit because they have been developed into spectacles interwoven into the fabric of American culture. Well, women want the same opportunities.

A promising year on some of these issues will hopefully further deliver. Maybe 2017 can become the year women’s sports finally receive the respect they deserve?

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