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Friday, October 15, 2021

Female athletes deserve equitable recognition, support, opportunities

Organizations, including universities, need to do more to advocate for their female athletes, provide them with the support needed to achieve success and highlight their success, just as they do for male athletes

The members of this Editorial Board have grown up watching male athletes dominate the media. We all have attended Super Bowl parties, dressed up in themes for high school football games and heard someone say “Kobe” after managing to accomplish throwing a wadded up piece of paper into a trashcan. 

Women athletes are rarely talked about with such reverence as Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Tom Brady, Tiger Woods, Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps and so many more. Even if you aren’t interested in sports, chances are you’ve heard those names but are less familiar with Billie Jean King, Katie Ledecky, Yolanda Griffith and Diana Taurasi. 

To the Aggie fans reading this, did you know the women’s basketball team has been the Big West Conference regular season champion five years in a row? Or that the women’s lacrosse team will play in the Mountain Specific Sports Federation championship for their third straight year and are the top seed this year? But you may more easily recall the electricity and packed stadium when the UC Davis men’s soccer team played in a Second Round NCAA Tournament

This is such a large societal problem, it’s difficult to even pinpoint where the system is failing women in sports. In their P.E. classes, through the media and even at home young girls learn at an early age that aggression, especially in sports, is meant for men—nearly one-third of American parents think that boys are better at sports than girls. This reflects a cultural understanding that girls and women will never be the same athletes that boys and men are, no matter how hard they try.

Even girl athletes have less exposure to positive role models in their sports—almost every member of this Editorial Board who participated in sports had mostly if not all male coaches. At the college level, coaching is consistently male-dominated; as of 2019, only about 40% of women’s college teams and 3% of men’s college teams are coached by women. This sends the message that not only is playing sports male-dominanted, but coaching sports is as well.

These cultural values systematically reinforce themselves in practical ways that prevent female athletes from reaching their full potential or keep women out of sports altogether. Girls have fewer opportunities than boys in sports at young ages, which often stops them from reaching their full athletic potential, allowing people to point to what seems like “lesser play” to justify inequitable gender treatment. Not only do many Americans hold the belief that women athletes are inherently worse than men athletes, but also these beliefs translate into practical implications when women athletes at the collegiate and professional are treated poorer, given less attention to and paid astonishingly less than their male counterparts. 

Most recently, the NCAA came under fire for the stark differences between the weight rooms provided to female basketball players and male basketball players at the biggest tournaments in college basketball. This discrepancy was exposed in a video by University of Oregon forward Sedona Prince. In the video, it can be seen that the women had only a small rack of dumbbells while the men had extensive state-of-the-art bars, racks and stands at the March Madness tournaments. Rather, the March Madness and NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournaments, because the NCAA has refused to brand the women’s basketball tournament similarly. 

In addition to the lack of equitable equipment, the NCAA also provided less accurate COVID-19 tests at the women’s tournament than the men, packaged meals to the women and buffets for the men and differing quality and amount of player gifts. How many inequities do women athletes face that do not go viral and do not receive widespread outcry?

This issue extends further than women student-athletes. The gender pay gap between professional men and women’s sports teams is simply unacceptable. The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) have back-to-back defending world titles, while the last time the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team (USMNT) qualified for the World Cup was 2014 and the team has never won a world championship. 

Yet, the USWNT players would make 89% of what the USMNT players would make if both teams won 20 straight matches. After losing a World Cup qualifying match, USMNT players receive $3,000 more in bonuses than USWNT players would make after winning such a match. This is all despite the fact that the USWNT brings in the same or more revenue from games than the USMNT. The pay gap is even more extensive in other sports—on average, WNBA players make $116,000 while NBA players make $7.5 million in a season. 

We believe there needs to be a societal shift towards accepting that women belong in sports just as much as men do—this needs to be reflected in equalized pay, media coverage and opportunities for women in sports. Although structural changes are needed, we encourage you to make change on the individual level simply by attending and watching games by female athletes. There are 16 NCAA Division I women’s teams at UC Davis that are filled with extraordinary Aggie athletes who deserve your attention and support just as much as our men’s teams. 

Written by: The Editorial Board

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