Gender inequality is defined by “acknowledging that men and women are not equal and that gender affects an individual’s living experience.” This complex, far reaching form of prejudice is deeply rooted in many industries, including sports.
The U.S. women’s national soccer team have recently brought attention to gender inequality in sports, and with additional awareness, more change can be affected. Beyond the overall problem of inequality, though, there are systemic causes embedded in the sporting industry that perpetuate gender discrimination. While we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment this year, a major achievement towards gender equality, let us look at the fight that is still ongoing.
Female athletes and teams are undervalued, undersupported and unequally compensated in part because of the way we associate value to female teams.
An all female group co-authored an article titled, “Paying the Way: The Ticket to Gender Equality in Sports,” an article concerned with the correlation between ticket pricing and perceived value. The authorial group studied NCAA Division I programs and the consequences of differing ticket prices for men’s and women’s basketball games. The results showed the gender of a basketball team is a primary indicator of the price of a ticket — resulting in women’s tickets being significantly less expensive than men’s nationwide. The article also pointed out that “if ticket offices charge lower fees for entry into women’s games than for entry into men’s games, they may be perpetuating differences in the perceived value associated with each team.”
A major source of gender inequality in sports, as well as in other professions, is the pay gap. One of the major reasons argued in support of a pay gap between male and female athletes premises on how male sporting games bring in more revenue and media attention to the sporting industry. This argument is losing traction though, since female athletes have started to dominate in certain sports like tennis and soccer. The U.S. Women’s national soccer team has won four World Cup titles while the men’s national team has not won any. Despite this and increased media attention the women’s national team has attracted, the athletes of the women’s soccer team has been paid considerably less than the men’s team. The Wall Street Journal recently analyzed the financial statements of the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) and found that in 2016, women’s games brought in $1.9 million more than the men’s games did. Since then, the women’s games have consistently yielded more revenue than the men’s. The amount of revenue the women’s team brought in is central to the team’s recent gender discrimination lawsuit against the USSF filed in March of 2019. The lack of change present in how the USSF monetarily rewards their players is one pretext for why gender inequality has persisted in soccer despite the incredible success female athletes have had playing soccer. The argument that male athletes bring in more revenue does not hold up anymore in the case of the U.S. national soccer teams.
Women’s athletics is a fairly recent development thanks to the Title IX movement. Title IX is a civil rights law that protects people from discrimination based on sex in educational programs that receive federal aide. This law greatly impacted sports in schools. Amanda Ross tells us in her article, “Why Sport? The Development of Sport as a Policy Issue,” about how Title IX was first implemented. Title IX was enacted in 1972, only about 50 years ago. There were many historical developments that made the 70s the optimal time for this policy. Ross writes, “On the one hand, the social context at the time highlighted women’s athletic abilities; on the other, it is important to note that Title IX would not have passed if it had been legislated much later. . . the lack of social and political awareness in the early 1970s helped Title IX’s passage and the shift to athletics. Because of the “newness” of the issue and the uncertainty at the time as to how the feminist agenda would play out politically, the battle lines had not yet hardened.”
Though the policy was implemented about 50 years ago, true equality has not been reached. The Women’s Sports Foundation released a report in 2017 concerning Title IX implementation in schools. The report showed “73% of U.S. adults believe that high schools and colleges provide better support for boys’ sports programs than girls sports programs.” The way Title IX is carried out in our education system is extremely important, since it sets the stage for the professional sporting industry. The possibility of girls pursuing sports as a career depends on the opportunities and support they are given while in school.
Kent State Incident
Though the examples referenced above are mostly concerned with the professional sporting industry, gender discrimination is felt locally as well.
On Oct. 19, the women’s soccer teams of the University of Maine and Temple University battled it out to break a 0-0 tight at Kent State University. The tie lasted all four quarters and the teams were about to start an impressive second overtime when they were forced off of the field. Kent State forced them to end their incredible feat of endurance so a fireworks display could be set up for a football game later in the evening. UMaine’s team captain Riley Field said of the incident, “You kind of expect it. Maybe, if it’s just a recreational game, they’re telling us, ‘Well, you have to have at least four girls on your team.’
It’s the little things like that that we experience all through high school because otherwise nobody would put girls on the team. Because why? Well, they think boys are better at sports. So if they want to win, they’re going to put more boys on their team.” The National Field Hockey Coaches Association condemned the decision to end the women’s game, but UMaine and Temple did not get to play a rematch.
This incident is just one of the many obstacles female athletes face. It comes down to the value people associate to a team. The responsibility is on spectators as well as the sporting industry. To achieve equality in sports, people have to be willing to contribute just as much money and support for female athletes as male athletes. We see people wearing Wentz or Brady jerseys all the time, but what about Tobin or Rapinoe?
Maria Marabito is a third-year student majoring in English and minoring in journalism. MM883631@wcupa.edu.