If Brittney Griner Can’t Do It, Who Can?
by Julia Manning | University of Missouri
She’s huge! I reached into my purse for my glasses so I could get a double take. I never thought I would find myself at an Elite Eight NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament game, but I was stuck in Des Moines for spring break, so I thought I might as well take advantage of the opportunity to see Brittney Griner in person and witness what all the buzz was about. Never an avid fan of women’s basketball, I was pleasantly surprised with how entertaining the game ended up being. Having watched the men’s games the day before, I will admit the game was played at a slower pace, and the rate of conversion was worse, but I don’t think it justified having an arena filled at 1/2 capacity.
Looking around, the fan base consisted of what seemed to be family members, alumni, and a large amount of people over the age of 60 who had nothing better to do. Even with Griner, who is the second woman to ever dunk in a NCAA Tournament game and is said to be “revolutionizing the game of women’s basketball,” the arena was only filled with about 9,000 people. This got me thinking – seriously, why don’t people care about women’s sports?
I looked to Twitter for some opinions and found pages and pages of responses just like these —
I’m not going to lie, I cracked a smile on that last one. In all seriousness, though, I find these comments to be sad and disrespectful to the athletes. And as if those weren’t offensive enough, social media exploded in an uproar Monday night over ESPN’s top coverage of the Lady Bears’ victory over the Lady Vols on Sports Center.
If the potential last game of legendary coach Pat Summit, another captivating performance from 6’8″ phenom Griner, and an ejection at the end of the game don’t garner a top story, I don’t know what does.
This lack of respect clearly shows there is still a severe gender gap in the sports world. Women are receiving the short end of the stick in jobs in sports administration, scholarship and recruiting funds in collegiate athletics, professional pay, endorsements, media coverage and attention. However, when these differences are referenced, most will cite the Title IX legislation and say that, since it is in place, the appropriate measures are being taken.
This is also wrong. While Title IX did make tremendous improvements to the amount of opportunities for women, as well as increased participation, it has yet to change the mindset of the American people. Athletics pull a lot of weight and value in our society. As said in Eileen McDonagh and Laura Pappano’s book Why Separate is Not Equal in Sports, “Some sociologists will even argue, sports have replaced formal religion as a dominant force in the lives of many Americans.” That being said, when Americans are enticed by the professional male sports world, they are being encouraged to enforce male dominance and confirm female inferiority. Athletics can then become a comfortable companion to power.
Males like to make it very clear that their athletic abilities will always be greater than females. They are right. Men were created to be more physically capable of performing at faster paces and higher levels than women. However, women are not trying to argue against this fact, and these dissimilarities in capability are not the problem. As explained in David Salter’s book “Crashing the Old Boys’ Network: the Tragedies and Triumphs of Girls and Women in Sports,” the problem lies in the way society has viewed and treated these differences. Men view this as an overall weakness in females and use it to build an even greater sense of dominance for themselves. Their attitudes imply that by including and accepting women equally into athletics, their sense of that dominance is slipping away from them and could cause them to lose the last domain of male exclusivity.
Whether we’ve realized it or not, the notion of women becoming dominant in the sports world has become a threat to men. According to Jackson Katz, project director of the Mentors in Violence Prevention Project at the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University, women in sports can be very threatening to men and their masculinity. Men like excelling in sports and having optimum strength because it makes them feel manly. Therefore, if women can play the sport, the status of the sport and activity become devalued. If women can do it, it must not be manly. The resistance to women in this field is not out of fear that women cannot succeed, it is out of the fear that women can, thus reducing the status of men doing it.
These ideals in men need to be changed. While I do believe that men and women view sports within different parameters, this does not justify unequal opportunities. Men have broken in and are dominant figures in the the “female” industries of fashion, cuisine, and beauty with equal the success of women, and while Title IX has allowed women to break into the sports world, it still remains the industry where equal success has been unattainable.
Not only are men threatened by women making headway as athletes, they are also having a hard time handing over power and control in the administrative and coaching sect of the athletic spectrum. According to a long-term study by the retired college professors Vivian Acosta and Linda Jean Carpenter, who have tracked the numbers since 1977, the percentage of females coaching women’s college teams is at an all-time low of 45.6 percent. The percentage of women coaching male teams has been just under 2 percent for the last three decades. This is a problem. I noticed this exclusively while at the Elite Eight game. Glancing down the about 20-30 seats that made up the team and staffs of both squads there were only two males in sight. This holds true with media coverage as well. Both the commentators and the live reporters were females. While this is great, and first hand examples of Title IX’s progress, the overwhelming female presence makes one question if the event was just not good enough for males?
Whether or not if this is the case, many will agree that the root of the issue is not based on sexism, but rather can be attributed back to the talent, ability and excitement factors of the event taking place. It purely comes down to the fact that while women might be doing everything they’re physically capable of, men still outperform them, and people would rather pay to see that.
“I think a big part of the problem here is that people don’t see the athletic value in women sport compared to the value of men sports and I agree,” Winona State football player Kenneth Damron said. “ Women’s sports are just not as entertaining, not as high performance — nobody wants to watch a second class activity when they can watch the real deal.”
While that might be true, where does that leave us? Women are practicing for the same amount of grueling hours, putting their bodies through just as much pain and sacrifice as the men, just to play at the collegiate level in front of their parents and a small fan base and be done? Not to mention facing the public ridicule and sentiment that what they’re doing is a “joke?”
I realize I have yet to address a main, and perhaps the most important factor involved in the whole issue — money. In the collegiate and professional spectrum, sports are a business. It seems that women athletics are just incapable of keeping a business successfully afloat. Recently, the WPS (Women’s Professional Soccer) league suspended operations for the year with no sure sign of a revival for the 2013 season. That leaves the struggling WNBA, the WTA, and the LPGA. I would wager to say the only people watching the WTA are doing it to see whichever model turned tennis star is competing for the day, and I’ll give $10 to anyone who can name a LPGA player that isn’t Michelle Wie…
However with the 40th anniversary of Title IX approaching in June it is still important to be thankful for the opportunities that have been created. In a recent interview with ESPN’s Andy Katz regarding the legislation, President Obama said he feels female athletes today don’t realize all of the opportunities the legislation has created.
“They take it for granted,” Obama said. “If they become interested in a sport and they want to pursue it and they get good enough, they can play it in college, and that’s not something that was taken for granted when I was a young boy and that’s directly attributable to the legislation.”
I agree. Title IX being in place has shaped the person I am today. Growing up,Julie Foudy was my hero and I could easily tell you every name, number and hometown of each member of the 1999 Women’s World Cup team, not to mention the fact that I’m clearly obsessed with sports and don’t know if that would be the case if the legislation weren’t in place. Maybe, after 40 years of progress we have reached the pinnacle of the legislation’s intentions.
While thriving professional leagues might not ever be a reality for women’s athletics, the way women are still being treated by the male dominated administrations, colleges, professionals and media doesn’t seem fair or right. However, to crush these treatments we must first crush the subconscious engraved ideologies of our society that tell us women athletes are second rate.
I could bridge off on a highly feminist route here but I want to stay realistic. Will this ever change? Will the masses ever genuinely care about women’s sports? Honestly, I don’t know and I don’t have a solution. I have given this issue serious thought on all sides and I don’t know what, who, or if women’s athletics will ever reach a day where they will be as celebrated as male athletics. Regardless, women athletes do deserve respect and attention for more than just their looks.
As a female athlete I would love nothing more than to see the day where women’s March Madness is just as talked about and watched as with males, and a “HA” won’t be associated with women’s sports. But, let’s be real… I think I’m just dreaming.Julia, a Sports & Culture editor for NGJ, is currently a sophomore at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. She hopes to pursue a career in broadcast production with an emphasis in sports documentaries and features. She is originally from Johnston, Iowa and loves Friday Night Lights and Dave Matthews.