Why Is Gender Inequality Accepted as the Norm in Sports?

From the collegiate level to professional play, female athletes are denied the attention they deserve. Then they do receive recognition, the focus is on outward attraction over athletic talent. In the modern era of social change, what is stopping us from bucking these trends?

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Two months ago, I covered a women’s basketball game between the Florida Gators and the LSU Tigers, here at the University of Florida’s O’Connell Center. There was a great deal of blue in the stadium, but it wasn’t the clothing of the fans in support of the home team.

It was the backs of the countless uninhabited chairs around the stadium.

sports ineq

This phenomenon is nothing new; it is an issue rooted in a society that regularly propagates gender inequality. Although we see this everywhere, sports is, perhaps, the best lens through which we can judge these trends on multiple levels – the entertainment industry, the business of networks and television, and social interest from the college age to the professional world.

What, after all, is the difference between Michael playing basketball and Michelle playing basketball? And why don’t we care about women’s sports?

That, of course is not a statement to take lightly. According to information from USC’s database supplied by Ted Spiker – dean of the University of Florida’s journalism department – 3.5% of newspaper stories are on women’s sports and six percent of local television coverage is dedicated to female athletes. A measely two percent of ESPN’s sports coverage features women’s sports – this coming from a network that typically leads employment of social minorities, namely women.

Research from the Tucker Center at the University of Minnesota indicates that 40 percent of athletes are women. And yet while programs starting at the college level are increasingly trying to create and enviorment of fairness, the amount of coverage is actually dropping.

The same USC research study suggested that there was a decrease in media attention towards women’s sports from 6.3 percent to 1.3 pecent.

Folks, we’re going the wrong way.

When women finally break the barrier, when they finally garner attention, their portrayal is demeaning. Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit addition is a prime example, as the Playboy-level annual edition depicts women in promiscuous, revealing swimwear. I don’t believe it’s far-fetched to suggest that a woman can get her deserved attention as a sports figure with the caveat that she is shown in such a way.

In other words, the videocameras roll her way on the basis of her physical attraction, not necessarily the level of her physical talent or mental toughness.

How many of us have heard of Brittney Griner? Diana Taurasi? If the name sticks, what else do you know about her? The difference is that you have to specifically follow women’s basketball to repeatedly hear the name, whereas even the most casual of fans can usually name at least a dozen of the top players in major men’s sports.

There exists two exceptions. The first is the Olympics, where the coverage is actually closer to even between men and women athletes on the international level. Similar to this international situation is the World Cup, which the women’s team won last year. However, while the first deviates from social and business norms, the second enviroment of women’s soccer doesn’t have to compete with a men’s sport equivalent.

Basically, we’re content with fairness once every four years. After we’ve filled our social quota, we retreat into the same tendencies of gender inequality that have plagued the social lives of female athletes.

I revisit the basketball game two months ago. My memory returns to all of those empty seats. This is a bottom-up process. Starting from a young age, eveything we watch on television, everything we preach in youth sports, everything we see in society acknowledges a false greater significance in men’s sports. And I realize I’m a part of it – I realize that I can’t tell you the names of my own college’s women’s sports stars, while I can name almost every starting member of the baseball team. But I also realize that fault isn’t found on an individual level here as much as it is on an institutional level.

The problem is that only we as individuals can affect the institutional respect given to our female athletes. So while it doesn’t end with us, that’s where it starts.

In an age of social change, when are we going to stop accepting gender inequality in sports?

Let us know what you think!