In honor of Women’s History Month, let’s take the opportunity to talk about something the media won’t: female athletes. Around this time last year, collegiate female athletes attracted public attention to disparities in the NCAA based on gender. Recall the viral TikTok video where University of Oregon forward, Sedona Prince, showed the stark and jaring differences between the weight room for the males and the weight room for the females at the tournament facility.
The differences extended to the food and “swag bags” the NCAA provided to all the athletes. Looking back, it might seem like we’ve come a long way — and we have made significant improvements, like the U.S. women’s soccer team winning an equal pay settlement — but when taking a closer look at issues that are deeply rooted into sports culture as a whole, there are still pivotal areas of the conversation that are lacking dialogue.
We should get into why it is that women must prove that they are undeniably, without question, the best at the sport they play to even be considered as entertaining to watch as men, that women must be exceptional to be seen in an equitable light.
But let’s start with the facts. It is a fact that Brittney Griner, two-time Olympic gold medalist for Team U.S. and WNBA star since 2013 has reportedly been in prison in Russia for over a month. According to the New York Times, she is facing an extended prison sentence, which could include time spent in a labor camp, for alleged drug charges.
It is a fact that she plays overseas in Russia during the offseason and that other women in the WNBA also play overseas because they barely make enough money playing basketball in America to constitute a substantial income; the minimum starting salary for a WNBA player is $57,000.
It is a fact, according to a recent article from the Washington Post, that even though she was arrested on Feb. 17, she met with a representative from the U.S. Embassy for the first time yesterday.
It is a fact that when she was arrested, she was wearing a sweatshirt that read “Black Lives for Peace.”
Since Griner’s arrest, there have been subtle mentions of her story here and there on mainstream media, yet most sports coverage is focused more on March Madness brackets, recent trades and the MLB lockout.
If this were any other, particularly male, athlete, it wouldn’t be hard to argue that ESPN, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, Yahoo Sports and more would bombard their viewers with coverage of day-to-day updates on the situation.
However, there are other situations in this same area of discussion happening right in front of us. In recent news, University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas is making headlines and not necessarily for her first place 500-yard freestyle in the NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships.
Thomas is a male-to-female transgender athlete. Parents, coaches, teammates and competitors alike have raised concern that her victory was unfair, in an article from the Washington Post.
Biologically, Thomas has an advantage, her teammates pointing out in an open letter that she was ranked #462 as a male and jumped to #1 as a female. Whether or not you think Thomas won fairly or unfairly, what cannot be argued is that Thomas competed within the NCAA’s rules.
So why is her biological makeup the cause of concern for so many of us? In reality, we should be outraged and appalled that a national organization such as the NCAA is placing the responsibility and backlash of this fight on female college students.
The world of sports has pushed female athletes to the back of the conversation for so long, that they throw them into situations that organizations like the NFL, NBA, NCAA and more would not be and are not equipped to handle.
They don’t have the answer because the conversation hasn’t been addressed. Read that again with the emphasis on addressed.
Griner and Thomas are making headlines. They may not be making all of the headlines but they are there, meaning we have clear grounds and reasons to have the important conversations surrounding gender equity in sports.
There is power in media coverage, and coverage is driven by reader engagement. We have the power to direct the conversation.
Any excuse to not talk about gender inequality related issues in sports is just saying female athletes don’t deserve your time. Women are valued for their internal and external identities, whatever those may be. A woman’s ability to play a sport does not change how much she is worth, but it most definitely should not put her in the position to be seen as lesser either.