Tag Archives: women in sports

No Makeup Policy

As I pulled into the parking lot of Target in attempt to find a yellow T-shirt for our Spirit Week Colour Wars skit, my phone beeped to tell me I had a text. It was Jeff Conlon, our Athletic Director, asking me if I was watching the Olympics and quoting one of the announcers. It turned out they were talking about the women’s downhill race and the tough course, and focusing on how strong and skilled and athletic the racers were…

Just kidding. The actual quote Jeff texted me was “Maybe a bit of makeup” and it turned out the announcers were, surprise of surprises, focusing on how the women looked and what they were wearing. I couldn’t disagree with his comment, “horrible,” even if I had wanted to. Which I didn’t. As he added later in our text-conversation, “Talk about taking the focus off the amazing athletic accomplishments and making them into ‘girls.’”

Though I was certainly angry to hear of this blatant discrimination, I wasn’t particularly surprised. Indeed, shortly after my texting chat with Jeff, my Twitter feed brought up a tweet stating an official complaint was being lodged with the BBC about their treatment of silver medalist Torah Bright, as they had commented that she is “nice looking,” “feminine,” and “the full package.” (quoted by Diedrichs) In addition, on the day the Olympics were beginning, NBC posted this image on Facebook.
I originally took the figure skater’s costume to be an evening gown, but in my defense, while the three men look serious and confident, she is smiling and is standing in a somewhat sexualized posture. Plus, as my mother-in-law pointed out, she presumably also owns a winter jacket.

Earlier in the day, I had come across an article entitled “Medals Aren’t Enough: Female Olympians Still Have to Sell Sexiness.” “Have to?” I thought to myself. And clicked on the link.

With a sense of inevitability, I read, “For male athletes, it’s primarily about their performance. And for female athletes it’s definitely as much about their looks as it is about their performance.” (Adler, quoted in Dockterman) I was saddened to learn that the WNBA offers makeup seminars to rookies, and that “women who compete in sports that require helmets are spending 30 minutes in front of the mirror putting on makeup before competition preparing for their HD close-up when that helmet comes off at the finish line.” (Dockterman) And of course, whatever their sport and uniform, female athletes far too often end up posing in bikinis or other revealing clothing. And as if all that wasn’t bad enough, Ashley Wagner was accused of having only made the figure skating team because of her looks. Women, it seems, have to hit a fairly precise target in terms of appearance, a task that almost makes biathlon look easy.

As Jeff said near the end of our chat, “The system is skewed.” I am well aware, of course, that this isn’t just the sports world – indeed, as I was writing this blog, the New York Times tweeted a link to a desperately important article on a major issue of our time, “A new kind of cleavage ideal on display at the awards shows.” But that doesn’t excuse sports announcers and reporters, nor does it excuse advertisers. It really shouldn’t be that hard to focus on female athletes’ accomplishments.

Because they’re good. Better than good. They’re quite literally world class. They deserve to be treated as such. And my students who love sports and are perpetually frustrated as they repeatedly bump up against the reality that, outside of the Olympics, only 4% of sports programming is devoted to female athletes, they deserve more as well.

The #NotBuyingIt campaign has proved remarkably successful in causing Super Bowl advertisers to cut back sharply on the level of sexism in their ads in just the past two years. They have shown that grassroots activism can be incredibly powerful. Perhaps we need a similar effort to reshape TV programmers’ thinking. Perhaps, too, it would help to get more women involved in advertising (where only 3% of creative directors are women) and journalism (where only 6% of sports editors are women).

Ideally, sooner rather than later.


Filed under Current Events, Gender, Uncategorized, Women in media

Oh, joy. One whole day.

Whatever you might have thought of the Super Bowl, at least it’s a chance for the people of Seattle to celebrate their first championship in pro sports in 35 years, right?


Although you wouldn’t know it from reports from ESPN, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, or a number of other media outlets, this is in fact the third Seattle pro championship since the 1979 SuperSonics won in the NBA. The Seattle Storm of the WNBA won their league in 2004 and 2010.

Of course, the Storm are used to being ignored. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen people write about their dream of returning pro basketball to Seattle when, unlike the Sonics who moved to Oklahoma in 2008, the Storm never left. But just because they are used to being ignored doesn’t mean they like it.

In fact, Lauren Jackson, one of the all-time WNBA greats, was furious, tweeting “We were good enough then and we are certainly good enough now to be acknowledged.” They certainly were. The 2010 team went 28-6 during the regular season, and were undefeated at home through the year and undefeated anywhere during the post-season. WNBA fans of other teams (as I ruefully remember!) were reduced to hoping and praying for their teams all the while shaking their heads in admiration.

With play of that quality, if coverage of women’s sports were handled differently, things might be different. In her recent op-ed, Irish track star Derval O’Rourke noted that women receive about 5% of sports coverage, and the focus is still far too often on an athlete’s appearance. And those who offer the rationalization that “sex pays” might be interested to know that in her article, O’Rourke also notes that women athletes receive a miniscule 0.5% of sponsorship revenue. A 2012 study at Syracuse “found that American companies rarely employ female athletes as spokespeople, and when they do, they don’t do it well.” Furthermore, the study raises the question of whether or not sex even pays from the perspective of advertisers, finding that “ads highlighting sex appeal impacted consumers negatively, especially when female consumers compared themselves to the spokesperson. The authors suggested that highlighting the similarities between the endorser and the targeted consumer might be a more effective strategy.”

Not to mention, even if sex did pay, would that make it right? Certainly, the sexualization of female athletes not only belittles them but also potentially opens them up to “a barrage of online abuse,” as Rachel Oakes-Ash commented in her excellent article on Australian cricket player Ellyse Perry.

Meanwhile, the WNBA is just emerging from a holding pattern. As I was first writing this blog, their Collective Bargaining Agreement had expired, the future of the Los Angeles Sparks was up in the air, and league officials had not yet issued a schedule for the upcoming season (which normally begins in May) nor scheduled a date for the draft (which usually takes place quite soon after March Madness). David Stern, a longtime advocate and supporter of the WNBA, has retired from his position as NBA Commissioner, which added an extra note of uncertainty. However, as I am rewriting this blog, a press conference has been scheduled and it appears that a group including Magic Johnson and an owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers is ready to purchase the Sparks and keep them in LA. This would enable the league to start making their schedule, and is a relief for all involved.

Still, this is one of the premier women’s professional leagues in the world, and the longest-running women’s professional league in U.S. history. Fourteen years into the 21st century. Although everything seems to have worked out for the best, it does give one pause.

During class on Tuesday, I mentioned National Girls and Women in Sports Day to two of my students, and their eyes lit up and one bounced up and down in her seat. It wasn’t long, though, before one of them said, “We need more field hockey coverage on television.” and the other said, “Exactly. And lacrosse. You can only find men’s lacrosse.” There’s no question in my mind that we need to build support for and viewership of women’s sports, not just for these girls, not even just for girls and women, but really for all of us.

By all means, let’s take the time today to celebrate girls and women who enjoy, practice, and excel at sports. And as we anticipate the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, we know there will be plenty of opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of elite female athletes. The key will be to build on these moments until women’s sports are just as integrated into the daily fabric of our collective lives as men’s sports.


Filed under Current Events, Gender, On Athletics, Women in media

Meeting of Minds

One day in Humanities 7, class, we were talking about different ideas of what is feminism and what is feminine when suddenly their voices began to get louder and more urgent. There was an edge, and I could tell there was something below the surface I hadn’t quite deciphered yet when one of the girls told another, “You’re a dudist!” Before I’d recovered laughing from the inventive spontaneity of the word “dudist,” I knew I had finally figured out what was going on: some kids in the class viewed feminism as inherently anti-men, while others didn’t. I explained that, while there is indeed a small and often vocal group of feminists who are anti-men and who perhaps get disproportionate coverage in the media, by no means do they speak for all feminists. One could, I told the kids, in fact argue there are as many kinds of feminism as there are feminists. And that led to an inspiration.

“Some of the strongest feminists in this school,” I told the students, “are in Ms. Durrett’s Sophomore Honors English class. Would you like to invite them to join us one day to talk about all this?” They loved the idea, as did Ms. Durrett and her students. Both classes wrote questions to help frame the discussion, and on the appointed day, the sophomores came streaming into our room, the eyes of former Humanities 7 students lighting up as their faces softened with memories. The kids all settled into every beanbag chair in the middle school, some doubling up, with a look of anticipation on their faces.

Though not all the questions dealt directly with feminism, that’s where we began the discussion. There was remarkable agreement, actually, over what I think of as the core ideals of feminism: equal rights for all people, including girls and women. There was, however, a much more extended discussion of the word itself. Few students were comfortable with it, for a host of reasons including, for some, its reinforcement of a binary view of gender. The seventh graders had come up with the term “equalist” the day before, and many of the sophomores nodded slowly as they considered it. “I like it,” one said, and a sophomore who followed up after the discussion with ideas for this blog identified that as one of three specific stand-out moments for her “because [the term “equalism”] offers a wider acceptance and understanding of what feminism stands for.”

Whether and how we will be able to achieve the ideals of equalism is another question altogether, of course. Students felt firmly that the concept that we all should be seeking equality should become the norm and not the ideal, but they were deeply skeptical we would ever be able to truly achieve equality. Humans, they felt, seem to have a natural need for hierarchies, and of course different people have different aptitudes and affinities. However, they hastened to point out, that need not automatically lead to assigning gender to those roles, and hierarchies don’t necessarily have to be attached to them either.

When the topic turned to girls schools, most of the students, though definitely not all, said they came here looking to get away from the behaviors and influences of boys. They love our academic way of being and the way students listen to each other’s ideas, hear them out, and build on them. One sophomore told a story of attending a debate where a girl from another school had a long name, and shocked our student by apologizing for it to the teacher serving as a judge who had to write it down. This led another another sophomore to say, “It’s one thing to apologize for being rude, it’s another to apologize for your existence.”

One of the seventh graders observed a similar gap in confidence between students at our school and girls in coed schools, noting that some of her friends have changed a ton in just the three short months we’ve been here while she has basically stayed true to herself. It stunned and scared her how quickly that gap had opened up, but it also made her grateful for what she had. Another sophomore noted, in another high point of the discussion, that Stoneleigh-Burnham “has taught us to be more than girls and women. It has taught us to be individuals.”

Though we had not specifically planned on discussing sports culture, we segued pretty naturally to that topic while discussing girls schools. Deeply saddening was the near universality of the girls’ experiences in athletics and with their coaches before coming to our school, where they felt they weren’t taken seriously, were actively discouraged from doing sports (by their own coaches!), and were in some cases outright belittled and even bullied (by their own coaches!). The students acknowledged the differences between women and men in terms of muscle mass, upper body strength, and center of gravity, but at the same time several students also affirmed that women’s legs were stronger than men’s (it is worth noting here that, from what I’ve read, the general consensus seems to be that if a woman ever holds a non-gender-specific world record in any event, it is most likely to be the marathon). This discussion led naturally to pointing out inequities in men’s and women’s sports, and most especially media coverage of male and female athletes (both the frequency and the nature of that coverage), to general agreement and outrage.

We kept talking right up to and even a little bit beyond the bell, and as the students jumped up and hoisted their backpacks to their shoulders, many of them, sophomores and seventh graders alike, asked if we could do it again. Of course they would want to do so – throughout the period, they were uniformly respectful and listened actively to everyone. Many voices of all ages were heard, and they had created an atmosphere of equals. We had left untouched their questions about gender identity, and had only just begun to touch on issues with the media. No doubt, they have many more questions they still want to ask. No doubt, we will be doing this again.

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Filed under Gender, In the Classroom, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, The Girls School Advantage, Uncategorized, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School, Women in media

Nails in the Coffin?

As many of you may know, and to no one’s surprise who follows women’s basketball, Brittney Griner, a 6’8” Senior from Baylor, was the first player to be chosen in the 2013 WNBA draft and will play for the Phoenix Mercury. With only three rounds and only 12 teams drafting, very few players are invited to attend in person, but of course Ms. Griner was there, all smiles, in a white tuxedo.

Two days later, during the course of an interview with “Sports Illustrated,” Ms. Griner was asked why she felt sexuality was no big deal in women’s sports. She responded, “I really couldn’t give an answer on why that’s so different. Being one that’s out, it’s just being who you are.” Asked if making the decision to come out had been difficult, she said, “It really wasn’t too difficult, I wouldn’t say I was hiding or anything like that. I’ve always been open about who I am and my sexuality. So, it wasn’t hard at all.” Though the interview received a fair amount of attention on social media, it received attention more for the low-key “no big deal” feeling to the moment than for the news itself. As Wesley Morris said in his article “Brittney Griner and the Quiet Queering of Professional Sports,” “Maybe it was amazing for its utter whateverness.”

Mr. Morris continued to point out that Ms. Griner had painted her fingernails “a shade of orange that might have been awkward had she been picked up by, say, the Atlanta Dream instead of the Mercury.” To him, the combination of the nail polish and the tux emphasized that Ms. Griner was not playing dress-up but was simply expressing who she is. In his eyes, this is simply the confirmation of a quiet revolution, what he calls “the small but increasing genderlessness in professional sports.” He continues to affirm that “This younger generation of gay athletes — accustomed to degrees of cultural, social, and legal inclusion — better knows the relative personal normalcy of being gay than the crisis and melodrama of telling the world you’ve been living a lie. More and more straight ones have gay friends, classmates, cousins, siblings, and parents.”

The discussion may get a bit tricky when you consider that sexuality and gender aren’t the same thing, though of course, for most people, they are related. And of course, fashion is only significant to the extent that a person deliberately chooses their appearance to reflect their true authentic selves. But Mr. Morris’s fundamental hypothesis – that while we might have been expecting the closet to be smashed open in men’s sports, perhaps the revolution may have already been quietly going on for a while as shown by a certain breaking of gender-based fashion rules – is intriguing. Certainly, if the world of men’s professional sports can embrace gay people wholly and unequivocally, that has the potential to create a major shift in public opinion – one which has also, it must be acknowledged, already been taking place slowly but surely for some time.

And maybe women’s sports are indeed showing the way.

The Humanities 7 class, at one point last Fall, was considering holding a “Come as you are” day. They abandoned the idea for two principal reasons. One, that several people were concerned it might not be taken seriously and become just another excuse to wear sweatpants. Two, that several people were confused as to why anyone wouldn’t “come as you are” in the first place. Their honesty and self-confidence were both refreshing. For Brittney Griner, too, it seems, every day is a “Come as you are” day. Maybe those orange fingernails are helping close the lid on homophobia. Maybe transphobia will meet the same fate soon after.

And maybe my students and their generation will help nail the lid shut.

Once and for all.

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Filed under Athletics, Gender, In the Classroom, On Athletics, On Education, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Bikinis, Lingerie, and Women’s Athletics

When I click out of my Yahoo! email, I often scan to see if there’s a news item that interests or intrigues me. The other day, I was shocked and outraged to learn of the existence of something called the “Bikini Basketball Association” through an article entitled: “Deion Sanders’ daughter joins the Bikini Basketball League (sic) despite her dad being ‘kind of upset’.”

Setting aside the focus of the headline on a male athlete and his disapproval of what his daughter is choosing to do…

My initial impression of the league from its webpage did little to calm me down, as the subhead was “Basketball League for Sexy Athletic Ladies.” The statement, “Women were selected based on athleticism, personality, as well as beauty. The combination of these traits will help the BBA athletes stand out in their respective communities.” reminded me of the tryout procedures and practices for the All-American Girls’ Professional Baseball League. In the 1940’s.

The Yahoo! article mentioned that the name of the league as actually something of a misnomer, as the players will be wearing shorts and sports bras, in contrast to the Lingerie Football League, where the players actually wore lingerie. Deiondra Sanders compared the two leagues in defending her decision to join the BBA: “I just think that it’s a lot different because we actually do have players, real basketball players, that actually have played in the WNBA before. So I think that this will make a difference because people are really gonna see real-life hoopers. They just look good while doing it.” (Sanders)

Thinking about what Ms. Sanders said, I tried to put myself in her position. Woman athletes don’t have a lot of opportunities to play professionally as there are far fewer leagues. The WNBA is much smaller than the NBA and doesn’t have a Development League. If I lived for basketball, was good enough to try out for the WNBA, and wanted a second chance when I didn’t make it, would I grab this opportunity? I truly don’t know. But I do know that, whatever I decided, I would be feeling incredible anger that the only way for me to get a second chance was to use my looks. It would be a way to play ball, for fun and for pay and with other athletes of my calibre – but in a context where I could never be sure people were taking me seriously as an athlete.

Meanwhile, in what appears to be an effort to be taken more seriously, the Lingerie Football League has decided to rename itself the Legends Football League and has announced their players will begin wearing uniforms, sparking a series of smirking headlines such as “Lingerie Football League shedding lingerie, and not in the fun way.” Will they continue to draw attention as the “Nation’s fastest growing sports league” or will they go the way of the Women’s Professional Football League, disbanded in 2006 after seven seasons, or fade into the obscurity of the other three women’s professional football leagues currently playing, the Independent Women’s Football League, the Women’s Football Alliance, or the Women’s Spring Football League?

The fact is, as members of my Life Skills 8 class are now even more acutely aware after watching “Miss Representation,” women continue to be primarily judged and valued by our society as a whole by their looks. My students know they are lucky to be part of a community where women’s and girls’ voices matter, where you are actually judged more by the content of your character than by your appearance. But they are also acutely, achingly aware that it will be tougher for them to be taken seriously in the world beyond our school.

And with all that in mind, I just can’t help but think that, even if well-intentioned, the Bikini Basketball Association is going to seriously undermine women’s chances to be taken seriously as athletes. You can’t fight patriarchy by reinforcing it. And meanwhile, for those of us who truly love women’s basketball, we still have the NCAA and the WNBA. For now, those will have to do.

For now.

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Filed under Athletics, Gender, In the Classroom, On Education, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School

Growing Out of Over-Thinking

The following post was originally published in our Spring 2012 Bulletin. It was written by Bryna Cofrin-Shaw, a graduate of the class of 2010. 

20 mph sustained winds and 40 mph gusts twisted the disc through the sky in every direction. With winds strong enough to pick my entire Ultimate Frisbee team off the field, the disc seemed to have a mind of its own, making catching, never mind any semblance of strategy or “flow,” a hard task. It was a difficult day of Ultimate, and even under the warm California sun, my team – Disco Inferno, was growing frustrated. Then, in our fourth and final game, I found myself flinging my body horizontally through the air and landing with the disc firmly in my hands. In Ultimate, we call this “laying out” and while I had slid or tumbled across many fields in the past year and a half to catch a disc, there was quite a difference between these scrappy grabs and a real layout. Laying out wasn’t just jumping or falling any which way; it was its own graceful species. My catch didn’t win us the game; it didn’t even lead to a point, but for the next few days, every time I felt the soreness in my shoulders, I felt a little pride from that moment.

A week before traveling to this windy tournament at Stanford University, my coach had been reviewing proper layout form with our team. He had told us that if we constantly think, “I want to layout,” it will never happen in a game. Instead, we must stop thinking and start feeling only the need to catch the disc, whatever way we can. This was how layouts occurred. I can’t really say that my first legitimate layout was a profound moment in my life; but I can say that the more I pondered my coach’s words, the more I saw how his advice applied to much of my life these days.

When I was asked to write an essay about my own “growth” since leaving SBS, I tried to think of significant moments in the last two years, but my mind kept coming back to the present, to this semester. As a second year student at Brown University, many of my friends are feeling the stress and limbo-lostness of the “sophomore slump,” but I’ve found it hard to relate to these sentiments lately. I believe the growth I’ve undergone is realizing that the reason I’m finally able to throw myself across the field for a disc is the same reason I finally feel completely happy about how I spend my time and energy at college; I’ve stopped over-thinking. I’ve stopped trying to be the “college Bryna” I imagined for myself when I was a student at SBS, and am going after what makes me happy and fits the person I want to be today, instead, while using everything I learned at SBS.

From what I’ve heard, Stoneleigh Burnham is growing in many ways itself these days. I was so excited to hear that SBS placed second in the Green Cup Challenge, and that the school will be represented by Jane Logan in Australia, for debate and public speaking. These are things that make me so proud to be an SBS alumna. The new International Baccalaureate program is a tremendous sign of growth, and along with growing enrollment and changes throughout the school, SBS is moving in an exciting direction. But all of these changes also mean that every time we, as alumnae, come back to visit, this little school may be a little different from the one we remember. A year ago that may have made me nostalgic; today it just makes me excited to see what comes next. Real growth can’t occur without tremendous change, and though I admit I’m a little jealous the IB program didn’t exist when I was a student, I am so excited to see Stoneleigh-Burnham expand and change shape.

As I said before, the person I am now is very different than the one I imagined for myself two years ago. I thought making a positive impact in the world required that I be a serious person involved in “serious” pursuits. While I am an Environmental Studies concentrator and hope to work in this field, this is the first semester that I’ve given up over-thinking whether I’m doing the “right” things with my time. Outside of class I play Ultimate Frisbee, and though we take the sport seriously, we also wear sparkly “flair” to tournaments, play Zip-Zap-Zop with the other team during halftime, and value the Spirit of the Game more than the score. And these days, when I’m not studying or playing Ultimate, I’m writing and performing sketch comedy in Brown’s troupe Out of Bounds, or writing satire for our all-female comedy blog on campus.

I suppose I’m doing sillier things with my time than I ever imagined. But I’m also happy to see myself becoming someone who can take risks and make leaps without over-thinking exactly where she’ll land. I know I have SBS to thank for much of this, and I can’t wait to be back on campus for graduation, proud to be witnessing all the ways SBS and my fellow alumnae have grown in ways different, and better, than I may have imagined.

Bryna Cofrin-Shaw graduated in 2010. She is a sophomore at Brown University where she is concentrating in Environmental Studies.

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Filed under Alumnae, College Prep, Graduation, On Education, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Ninja Women

It’s Sunday morning, February 5, and my Twitter feed is bursting with sports news and opinions. Most are about the Super Bowl, of course, and then, somewhat less mainstream, there’s the one from Talib Kweli which links to an Atlantic article by Max Fisher on “Why Thousands of Iranian Women Are Training to Be Ninjas.”

Why, you may ask, are thousands of Iranian women training to be ninjas? In a word, power. Iran is a country where the supposed inferiority of women is so institutionalized that their testimony counts half as much as that of men. Yet, despite what we may believe in western societies, burqas and chadors hide women surprisingly resistant to 33 years’ worth of efforts to disempower them. Sports, and in particular ninjutsu, are one visible sign of that stubborn resistance. (Fisher)

Is it really that simple? Fisher makes important points but in various comments on the article, readers affirm the strength and power of Muslim women as something that should not be so surprising, remind us that Islam is not inherently misogynistic, and point out other regimes are more repressive than Iran. Additionally, it may be argued, western society is not exactly a perfect model for the encouragement of women athletes.

One of our periodic homeroom rituals is for Martha, an ice hockey player, to announce her games, invite people to come, and/or thank those who did. The rules for girls’ ice hockey are modified to discourage hits and strong checking, and Martha is quietly irritated by that. Her attitude seems to be that it’s part of the game, and to disallow girls to play hockey as it was meant to be played dishonors both girls and the sport.

Meanwhile, Women’s Professional Soccer has just announced it is suspending its season, though they hope to resume play next year. Since its release, the film “Bend it Like Beckham” has been a perennial favourite among my students. When it first came out, the idea that girls could dream of playing soccer professionally was bright and fresh and new and exciting. Then, the Women’s United Soccer Association folded, and part of our discussions became the contrast between the exhilaration and hopefulness of the film and what the reality turned out to be. Still later, WPS formed up and our discussion shifted yet again to include a sort of nervous relief that girls could once again dream of playing professional soccer – as long as the league found a way to stay open. Now…well, we’ll see.

Professional women’s soccer leagues do continue in a number of other countries, and of course professional women basketball players have a plethora of teams to choose from all around the world. Most of these pay much better than the WNBA, where the starting salary is lower than what a rookie teacher makes and the maximum salary is $105,500. Minimum rookie pay in the NBA, in contrast, was $473,604 last year. In theory, our country is at the forefront of women’s rights. Why then is the disparity in professional sports so great?

One common argument is that women’s sports just don’t pay for themselves. It is true that the WNBA has survived longer than any other women’s professional league in part because of the support of the NBA, and that WPS was trying to make it on their own. Poor fan support is often cited as the main reason. My favourite WNBA team, the Connecticut Sun, has an average attendance of 7056 per game. My favourite NBA team, the Boston Celtics, has an average attendance of 18,169. So if the critical factor is fan support, then the Celtics as a team should making a bit more than quadruple what the Sun do (their season is twice as long, a fact we’ll set aside for the moment), and player salaries should reflect that. But that isn’t even close to reality. No, it’s all the rest that makes the main difference – concessions, endorsements, TV exposure, etc. Men in this country still have more economic and political power than women, and masculinity in this country is still more highly valued than feminity. That institutionalized sexism, I suspect, is what is really at the root of the vast difference in opportunities for male and female athletes.

We spend a lot of time talking about the intangible benefits of playing a sport, and these are unquestionably important and available to any athlete of any age, gender, nationality, or for that matter skill level. I watch the JV basketball team working hard, improving, always doing their best throughout the entire game despite being probably two years younger and smaller on average than most of the teams they play. We’re always working to build resilience in our students, and certainly the basketball court is one of our most important classrooms. But at the same time, I can think of no good reason why woman athletes shouldn’t be able to look forward to some tangible benefits as well. “Congratulations and welcome to the WNBA! You’re one of the top 130 basketball players in the world! Keep your day job!” just doesn’t have the ring you’d hope it would. Our students would, I think, emphatically agree.

So now it’s time to go back to the world where most people are focused on some football game, where many of the ads will be just as stereotypically male-centric as the game itself. In the back of my mind, a thought… what if, some day, the entire country puts the rest of their lives on pause to watch, say, the WNBA final? Naah, couldn’t happen.

Or could it?

– Bill Ivey, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School Dean

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Filed under Athletics, Gender, On Athletics, On Education, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, The Faculty Perspective