How Women and Girls Are Marching Toward Equity in Sports

Paige Robnett, senior program associate of AAUW Campus Leadership Programs, in a team photo with her college basketball team.

Paige Robnett, senior program associate of AAUW Campus Leadership Programs, in a team photo with her college basketball team.

March 16, 2016

March is one of my favorite months and the reason is simple: March Madness. This tournament brings out the best of the best in college basketball. It is a time of celebration, heartbreak, and Cinderella stories. My alma mater, Denison University’s, basketball team made it to the NCAA tournament in 2011 after we won 28 games straight, and the memories I have from that season are some of my best memories from college.

When I first started playing basketball, I never imagined that women’s sports would be as popular or marketable as they are today. Still, the United States has a long way to go in order to achieve gender equity in sports. Girls have 1.3 million fewer opportunities to play high school sports than boys have and are offered only 43 percent of the opportunities to play sports in college. Despite the passage of Title IX, many girls and young women lack access to safe practice conditions, appropriate equipment, reliable transportation to and from games, and the funds needed to participate in organized athletics. These setbacks cause girls to drop out of sports at twice the rate that boys do.

Though there’s still much more work to be done, it’s important to celebrate the recent progress that has been made in women’s sports. Here are a few of the most notable recent wins for women athletes.

U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Dominates

Wins: In 2015 the U.S. women’s national soccer team became national heroes after their show-stopping performance in the Women’s FIFA World Cup broke television ratings records. Team members were featured in advertisements and Alex Morgan became the first woman on the cover of EA Sports’ FIFA video game. Even President Barack Obama commented on how “badass” this team is.

Losses: Despite the team’s accomplishments and the overall increase in popularity of women’s soccer, the general media coverage of women’s sports remains depressing. In 2014, ESPN’s SportsCenter dedicated just 2 percent of its airtime to women’s sports. Additionally, compared to their male counterparts, women soccer players are paid significantly less and exposed to poor practice conditions. Abby Wambach, the team’s former captain, was paid far less in her career than her male peers were, despite having scored more goals than any man or woman in professional soccer history.

Serena Williams Continues to Crush It

Wins: Williams was named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year in 2015, making her the first woman in more than three decades to nab the title as well as the first solo woman of color to ever hold the honor. As the number one women’s tennis player in the world, Williams earns more than $13 million in endorsements and is a trailblazer for women athletes all over the world. She continues to empower girls and women, especially women of color, every step of the way.

Serena Williams’ excellence rebels against ideas that minimize the success of women athletes with bodies that do not meet mainstream definitions of beauty.

Losses: Even with her many achievements, Williams often receives harsh media criticism about her body image and physique. Williams is also subjected to limitations on her ability to obtain endorsements and is paid less than professional male tennis players. Her endorsements fade in comparison to male tennis stars like Rafael Nadal, who made $28 million over the last year, and Roger Federer, who was paid $58 million in endorsements.

Women Coaches Gain Visibility

Wins: It’s no secret that there is a lack of women’s representation and visibility in major sports, but a few coaches are challenging the traditional notion of what it takes to be a leader and coach in men’s professional leagues. Across the country, women are getting hired to coach men’s professional sports teams. Last year, Jen Welter became the first female assistant coaching intern in the NFL and Kathryn Smith was hired as the league’s first full-time woman coach.

Browns Bills Football

Photo courtesy Buffalo Bills

Ouch!

Hilary Knight, one of the most talented and experienced players in the National Women’s Hockey League, will be paid just a quarter of 1 percent of what Patrice Bergeron, the highest-paid player on the Boston Bruins, will make this year. Read more about the gender pay gap.

Losses: Even with the progress that has been made in hiring women coaches, professional leagues have a long way to go to reach gender equity. Women lack serious leadership roles in professional sports leagues across the board and remain vastly underrepresented on the coaching staff of both men’s and women’s professional teams.

Women’s Hockey League Is Finally a Thing

Wins: In case you missed it: There is now a professional women’s hockey league in the United States. That’s right; for the first time ever, professional women’s hockey players will be paid for their talents on the ice. This is big!

2014 U.S. Olympic Women's Ice Hockey Team. Photo courtesy Hilary-Knight.com

2014 U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Team. Photo courtesy Hilary-Knight.com

Losses: As in other women’s sports, reaching equality in athletics doesn’t just stop with the creation of a league. Women hockey players face one of the most dramatic pay disparities in professional sports, with the typical player being paid a meager average annual salary of just $15,000. Hilary Knight, one of the most talented and experienced players in the National Women’s Hockey League, will be paid only $22,000 this season. This salary is just a quarter of 1 percent of what Patrice Bergeron, the highest-paid player on the Boston Bruins, will make this year. Ouch.

 

The recent achievements of women in sports show that women athletes are no longer sitting on the sidelines. But even my beloved March Madness has a long way to go to reach equity for women’s athletics. AAUW found a significant pay gap between coaches of men’s and women’s basketball teams, and a gender pay gap among graduates from nearly all the schools competing.

Title IX is best known for helping to ensure gender equity in athletics, but the law goes deeper than sports, preventing sexual discrimination in all areas of education. Title IX requires that every school designate at least one employee to coordinate the school’s compliance; however, many coordinators don’t have the resources to do their job effectively. In some cases, many don’t know they’ve been assigned the role. Help AAUW enforce this critical law by pledging to deliver resources from the U.S. Department of Education to your school’s Title IX coordinator.

This blog was written by AAUW Senior Program Association of Campus Leadership Programs Paige Robnett.

 

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Paige Robnett By:   |   March 16, 2016

1 Comment

  1. Peggy Woods-Clark says:

    Great article Paige! I’ve noticed lately that ESPN plays substantially more women’s games — basketball, volleyball, softball, and soccer — than ever before and not just during tournament season. It’s still not enough, but it is certainly progress. My son plays AAU basketball and he is regularly encouraged to watch women play to gain a greater understanding and respect for the fundamentals of the game. At times the women’s game is not as flash and dash as the men’s play, but his IQ for the game has certainly increased watching women play. Hyperdunks can come later (see Brittney Griner and Elena Delle Donne) once you’ve mastered the fast break and man-to-man defense. = )

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