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Sexism in Sports

Updated: Jul 21, 2021

By Anna Jang and Ryan Kim

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, sexism is defined as “prejudice or discrimation based on sex, especially discrimination against women.” Sexism has always been a serious issue that has had widespread consequences. Women have been repressed from the dawn of time, and even today they face many challenges and unfair situations due to their sex. Women are victims of misogyny, and all women, including successful athletes, have experienced some level of prejudice that involves inappropriate name-calling, oversexualiation, and more. In the world of sports, there has been much controversy over whether female athletes face a double standard or not. It has only been a few years since women have even been allowed to participate in professional sports, but there is very little coverage of the patriarchal nature of sports. This includes the unfair biases and stereotypes that female athletes are subjected to as well.

An example of how women have experienced sexism in their respective sports is the incident that occurred in the 2018 U.S Open Semifinals. Serena Williams, former world No. 1 in women’s single tennis, was given a code violation for supposedly coaching and was given a point penalty after smashing her racket. Williams thought this to be unfair and called the chair umpire a “thief” for stealing points away from her. This eventually led to a whole game penalty for verbal abuse, and Williams received a total fine of $17,000 on Sunday after all of her code violations. This sparked public outrage as male tennis players have said worse in previous men’s matches and have never been penalized as harshly as Williams had been. Many people, including male tennis players, stood by her and defended her throughout this whole scandal. Andy Roddick, a former World No. 1 professional tennis player, admitted that he “regrettably said worse and [he’s] never gotten a game penalty,” according to NBC Sports, a broadcast network responsible for the coverage of major professional tennis tournaments. In addition, other female athletes took a stand, such as Billie Jean King, another former World No. 1 professional tennis player. She tweeted out saying that “When a woman is emotional, she’s “hysterical” and she’s penalized for it. When a man does the same, he’s “outspoken” and there are no repercussions” (NBC).

Another more recent instance in which women were victims of blatant sexism was the unequal treatment female athletes received at the 2021 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) March Madness Basketball Tournament. Photos showcasing the different resources women and men received, such as workout facilities, meals, treatment, and swag bags, surfaced. Male players got an entire workout facility, whereas the female players received far less equipment in their so-called “workout facility,” which consisted of a rack of weights and some yoga mats. The food that the women received was also of lower quality than the food provided for the men. In response to a letter that the NCAA’s committee for women’s athletics wrote, the NCAA president, Mark Emmert, responded, saying that the situation was inexcusable and there was some miscommunication due to COVID-19. However, this should not have occurred in the first place, because the two genders were playing in the same tournament. Therefore, they should have received the same treatment. Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, and many other professional basketball players supported the female players and called the situation beyond disrespectful.

To continue, it is a known fact that female athletes are paid less than their male counterparts. In 2019, the disparity between men and women in sports was drastic in sports such as basketball and golf. The average NBA player made $8,321,937 while the average WNBA player made $75,181. The average PGA golfer made $1,235,495 while the average LPGA player made $48,993. These numbers show startling disparity that must be addressed. A popular argument used by those looking to discredit this inequality is that the unequal pay between men and women can be simply explained by consumer interest and differing amounts of revenue brought in between the sexes. Although it is true that female sports leagues typically do not bring in the same amount of income as their male league counterparts, there is an underlying issue when further examined. The budget distribution between the sexes for marketing and advertising is unequal, limiting the capacity for female sports to make a significant return on the investments put into their league. If we chase arguments that focus on equal pay, we are ultimately avoiding the root of the problem: the system is set up against various women’s sports leagues. The sports industry is a multi-billion dollar industry that allocates millions into advertising and promotion. Yet, this allocation is unequally distributed, with male leagues more frequently than not getting the long end of the stick. The fact that women in sports make less than men in sports should not be our focus; rather, our focus should be on the reasons and factors that have led to this inequality.

When we look at an aspect of sports like sports media, we see a male-dominant field of work. Males make up over 90% of anchors, commentators, and editors in sports media. Until 2017, a woman had not even announced a March Madness or Monday Night Football game, both huge events which rack in lots of revenue every year in the United States. Lesley Visser, a female sportscaster who was in the business for four decades and served as a reporter for the Boston Globe in the late 1970s, stated that she was often ignored and belittled with the sexist idea that “women and children in the press box” should be forbidden. To equate women with children is both humiliating and disgraceful, although Visser has said that she hopes there will be many more female trailblazers who follow her steps, she sees women still being inhibited from pursuing this line of work.

In conclusion, sexism in sports is a deeply rooted issue that has many facets surrounding it. Whether it be sexist phrases and ideas perpetuated in the sports world to blatant inequality between the sexes, sexism in sports is still very much alive. Female athletes experience this firsthand, having to deal with constant pressures to prove their capabilities to the general public simply because they are women. The unequal allocation of funds between the sexes is an example of the broken system set up to benefit male leagues and give female leagues the short end of the stick. Even in sports media, there is prejudice and sexism present through the lopsided representation among the sexes. Although progress and activism have made their presence felt, the fight for true equality between men and women in the realm of sports leaves much to be desired.

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