The role of women in professional sports

May 19, 2017

“Don’t tell girls they can be anything they want when they grow up. Because it would have never occurred to them that they couldn’t.” -Sarah Silverman

Are women given the same respect in professional sports (or just sports in general) as men are? It’s a tricky topic to tackle- uncovering layers and layers of sexism that women in sports deal with on a daily basis.

March brought about the NCAA Final Four, an event that has people talking all month. The upsets are exciting, and everyone wants to see their team’s progress throughout the tournament. And while everyone is hyping up the men’s March Madness, the Women’s Final Four is happening quietly in the background- only when Mississippi State upset UConn this year and ended their 111 winning streak did the anyone seem to care about the Women’s Division.

South Carolina ended up winning the championship in the NCAA Division 1 Women’s Basketball bracket, ending UConn’s consecutive reign. Yet why was there such a lack of fanfare compared to the way the media covered the North Carolina Tarheels when they won in the Men’s Division 1 bracket? Why are men’s sports so heavily covered and talked about and we don’t care at all about our women athletes?

To be fair, according the the NCAA website, a record high number of people watched the Women’s Championship game this year, with 4.5 million minutes of action being streamed per game.

This is up 57% from 2016. Still yet, the general public isn’t nearly as interested- the Championship game of the Men’s Division is considered a nation-wide event, and the Women’s Division is always considered something in the background, catering to a very specific demographic. (Hobson)

That being said, can you name at least one player in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA)? Maya Moore is an exceptional forward, Brittney Griner a dominant center, and people argue that Sue Bird is perhaps the greatest WNBA player of all time.

Now naming a player in the Men’s National Basketball Association (NBA) may be a little easier. Michael Jordan is a household name- Lebron James is the king of the NBA. Stephen Curry is arguably the best shooter ever- Kobe Bryant will undoubtedly go down in history as an NBA legend. The NBA is just so much more dominant in our media- we talk about the NBA way more than we talk about the WNBA. These athletes are able to make a name for themselves through the sport.

The WNBA is struggling to stay on it’s feet. It doesn’t make money- stands are sparse and empty. In 2016, the average number of fans was 7,318 per game- the viewership was “just below” 200,000 on ESPN in the 2015-2016 season. As a comparison, the NBA gets $930 million from ESPN and TNT for broadcasting- the WNBA only gets $25 million. (Sandomir)

Maybe all the WNBA needs is time. Maybe it’ll develop into something huge and viable later on. But right now, we aren’t treating these two leagues the same. We need to give the WNBA a platform to grow- a platform that’ll expose the WNBA to broader audiences. So if you like the NBA, maybe give the WNBA a shot- start tuning into games, start talking about the teams, start giving them the attention we give their male counterparts.

To believe in equality is to support women. To be an ally is to give women a platform. And that doesn’t just apply to women in sports- it applies to all women, in all careers.

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