“The biggest issues facing women in sports right now are visibility and respect,” six-time Olympic gold medal winner in track and field Allyson Felix said, as quoted by SheKnows Media. “Women are still not given the same opportunities as men, and it does not seem like our accomplishments are viewed as being as impressive as men’s are.”
Female athletes do not receive the same recognition as their male counterparts.
Colin Kaepernick headlined nationwide news when he began kneeling during the National Anthem at National Football League (NFL) games in the fall of 2016, explaining his motive to protest police brutality only when asked in a press conference. His actions amassed tremendous attention, prompting contentious debates over free speech rights and inspiring fellow athletes to take a knee in solidarity.
Lesser known and seldom talked about, however, are protests carried out by female athletes. In the summer of 2016, many Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) players from teams like the New York Liberty donned black clothing during pre-game warm-ups to protest police brutality. Some sported shirts with the #BlackLivesMatter slogan.
Hardly anyone from the general public noticed.
This is a flagrant example of the lack of attention that female athletes receive: the conspicuous protest of a number of WNBA players was overshadowed by a subtle and inconspicuous one. Even though both parties were protesting against the same thing, it was only the male athlete, Kaepernick, that received attention for his actions.
This is symptomatic of the dearth of acknowledgement garnered by female athletes. It is time that we examine this pattern of behavior and whether there are steps that can be taken to address it.
“Variety” reported that the 2017 NBA Finals had an average of 20.4 million viewers per game. The WNBA’s website, by contrast, reported that game one of the 2017 WNBA Finals had a record-setting 597,000 viewers.
These numbers are greatly impacting women’s salaries. A Consumer News and Business Channel report from October showed that while the starting salary for the WNBA is about $50,000, the NBA’s starting salary is approximately ten times that amount, at $500,000. This discrepancy is often justified by the leagues’ difference in popularity. But, if viewership and interest in women’s sports could be increased, heightened compensation would likely follow.
A common rationale for the dominance of male sports is that they are faster and therefore more entertaining. While we should not disregard physical differences between men and women, nor should we accept the status quo in which female athletes are grossly under appreciated for their talents. Further, it is wholly untrue to say that men are superior in every aspect of sports games. For example, statistics from the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network reveal that female basketball players held the top four positions for the highest percentage of free-throws made by any professional basketball player in the 2016-17 season.
But, a lack of fan support for female athletes is not just a problem in professional sports. Brentwood School’s newspaper, The Flyer, sent a survey to the Upper School asking students to select the five Brentwood sports teams whose games they most frequently attend. Students indicated that they most prefer to attend boys football (68 votes) and boys basketball (64 votes), both of which were chosen approximately twice as often as the highest-rated female team, girls volleyball (34 votes).
Clearly, students have made a choice. Male sports are attended with a higher frequency than female sports. The results of this survey reflect our societal preferences and should prompt us to question why they exist and challenge us to correct them.
It is time to re-examine our viewing habits, press coverage, and their underlying causes. Hopefully, shining a spotlight on this issue is a step towards increased celebration of female athletes’ talents and, ultimately, a broader affirmation of female achievement beyond athletics.