The Invisible Athletes

Why is it that the news media offers women’s athletics such little coverage?  On any given day, I can open the New York Times Sports section and see one article about Serena Williams (insert any female athlete who has managed to creep close to the ‘glass ceiling’ here), a handful of 3 sentence articles about the WNBA or women’s soccer, and one tiny corner devoted to the standings or results of women’s athletic events.  Overwhelmingly the coverage is on men’s sports.
Even during times when there is supposedly equal participation by both men and women, such as the NCAA basketball tournaments, reporting on women’s results is paltry and embarrassing.  Last I checked, the women played a tournament with the same number of teams as the men and at the same time.  But they are relegated to late-night television slots, back-page reporting in the papers, and small-market cities with little interest.
In the past months there was an NFL lockout and currently there is an NBA lockout. But instead of taking the free time to show other sports and focus on underrepresented athletes, the networks gave ALL THEIR TIME to reporting the news of the lockouts. I don’t want to sit around watching 5 old men holding footballs and discussing their favorite NFL jerseys. I want to watch athletes compete.

The few women lucky(?) enough to play professional sports see themselves making pennies compared to male athletes.  The maximum salary in the WNBA for a six-year player is just over $100,000, while the NBA minimum (think: you are the worst player in the NBA and this is what you might make) for six years is just over $1 million.  That’s a difference of TEN times.  And this is not an improvement – it’s a marked decline.  Since five years ago, the difference has more than doubled!  Maria Sharapova is the highest-paid female athlete at $25 million in 2011, whereas Tiger Woods (despite his dearth of success) still raked in $75 million.  There is clearly a problem!

Floyd Mayweather is clearly a suffering athlete.
Floyd Mayweather is clearly a suffering athlete.

When I bring up these issues some people are quick to provide counterarguments – namely, that Title IX has provided collegiate women with plenty of opportunities, or that the market for women’s sports is simply smaller and that as a business women’s sports cannot grow without revenue.  But these issues skirt a larger problem concerning the American concept of gender and what it implies.

Women in America have long been considered to be weaker, more delicate, and more inclined toward domestic activities than their male counterparts.  It was the men who were the explorers, the builders, the warriors, and the athletes.  As more opportunities were offered to women – the right to vote, sports competitions and leagues, advancement in the workplace and in the armed forces – the opinion above was no longer publicly acceptable.  Despite the fact that this seems to be an age when women are more equal to men than ever before, I think that gender typing has doomed women to near irrelevance in athletics (not to mention other areas).  The fact that Title IX has provided college women with sports to counter football is not important here – rather, it is the fact that these women are ingrained from an early age with the mentality that football is a man’s sport and their bodies and minds are not built to handle it.  Women do not have the opportunity to play football (or other male-dominated sports) and grow up without the thought that they could play and this mentality creates a cycle negatively affecting future generations of women and attaching them to the patriarchal society of athletics in America.
These cycles are present throughout women’s sports and little is being done to alter them.  Investors do not give money to women’s professional teams because they see little interest, both from fans and female athletes, but if they did, there would be more female athletes advancing and likely a larger fan base due to available marketing resources.  There must also be a greater effort to equalize college sports teams – for example, Amherst’s mascot is Lord Jeff, and all Amherst’s teams should be the ‘Lord Jeffs’.  Why is it necessary to have ‘Lady Jeffs’?  It’s patronizing and implies that the women are playing a different game than the men – attitudes that should be discarded.  Female athletes should be able to expect equal recognition for their athletic accomplishments and respect for their considerable skills without having to deal with condescending male attitudes and a deep societal bias against them.