OPINION: Give women in sports the respect they deserve

Two female NCAA basketball players contend for the ball during a game.
Abby Loiselle PO ‘23 writes that female athletes are neither respected nor recognized for their accomplishments, as demonstrated this week by the actions of the NCAA and people at the 5C’s. (Courtesy: Peter Aiken via Getty Images)

CW: Sexual abuse, eating disorders

I don’t remember the first time I was told I would never be as fast as the boys, but I do remember my outrage. As I continued to participate in sports through middle school and high school and eventually into college, I became numb to those words.

I was constantly reminded that my level of dedication was not equivalent to male athletes’ because I was not running the same times in races. The anger diminished, and eventually, I started to believe what I was told. 

Perpetuating the stereotype that all women are physically inferior to men in athletics and don’t work as hard endorses the sexist notion that females in sports are less deserving of respect, ultimately minimizing their accomplishments and discouraging them from recognizing their full potential.

This problem was exemplified by Pomona-Pitzer athlete Skylar Noble PZ ’22 and one of his recent TikTok videos that came under fire, which implied that Serena Williams could not be biologically female because of her athletic success. 

As the NCAA so blatantly displayed this past week regarding March Madness, women are not nearly as respected in sports as men are. By supplying female athletes with a singular stack of six pairs of weights and a handful of yoga mats while male competitors were greeted by an enormous weight room stocked with training equipment, the NCAA is encouraging female athletes to believe not only that they are less important, but that they are not worth training equally. 

This was not an oversight or an isolated incident. There was clear inequality in the standard of food, swag bags and even COVID-19 testing

Much like the recently publicized TikTok by the P-P football quarterback, these actions by the NCAA should be called out for what they are: active outright continuation of sexism in women’s sports. 

There is an overt contrast in promotional strategies between the men’s and women’s national basketball tournaments. The NCAA declined to use the “March Madness” brand, an iconic marketing tool, when promoting the women’s tournament. 

This name transformed the men’s tournament into an incredibly lucrative production, and yet the NCAA unexplainably withheld the trademark from women’s competition. Inequality in promotion is one of the many explanations for the drastic difference in revenue between the two groups. 

I question how stark the profit difference would be between women’s and men’s NCAA events if the media stopped disregarding statistics for women’s basketball while discussing the two tournaments. Perhaps if the social media accounts run by the NCAA that track the basketball tournament provided updates on the women as well as the men, the female games would draw larger crowds.

These incidents underscored the lack of credit society grants women in sports. On a daily basis, female athletes must endure a heavier load of emotional labor, a burden unparalleled to that of male competitors. 

The sexual abuse scandal surrounding USA gymnastics brought to light in 2016 demonstrated the lack of value attributed to female athletes, given that the toleration of violence is prioritized over safety in the pursuit of winning. The exposé by professional runner Mary Cain chronicled the relentless body shaming of female athletes and resulting prevalence of eating disorders

The lack of maternity protections for professional athletes such as Olympian Allyson Felix promote the fear of having children for risk of facing pay cuts

These disrespectful actions impact teammates, friends, peers and idols. They are exhausting to both experience and witness, and yet female athletes persist. Women in sports are not given the room to make excuses, and they don’t ask for them. 

In the few instances that women do hold dominance in a sport, male insecurities prevent those athletes from receiving proper recognition. Serena Williams became a household name in the sport of tennis after winning more Grand Slam singles titles than any other man or woman, securing four Olympic gold medals and becoming the only female to break Forbes’ Top 100 Highest Paid Athletes in 2017 and 2019. 

Despite facing public scrutiny through persistent body shaming and sexist attitudes, she rose to the spotlight within the sports industry as a cultural icon. Yet, despite the medals to her name, a D-3 football player was so deeply offended by her powerful frame and athletic success that he felt the need to attribute her talent to male biology. 

The notion that females are weaker than their male counterparts is evidently maintained not only at a higher institutional level with the NCAA but within our own community at the 5Cs. Noble posted those videos publicly, arguably without fear of repercussion. His actions likely indicated he felt others were in support of the same sexist and transphobic opinion. 

This is an issue that extends beyond the P-P athletics department; discussions about how to best support female athletes across the 5Cs are relevant and necessary. 

Going forward, we must hold individuals accountable and call them out when they make derogatory and offensive statements. A single player is representative of the entire team the moment they step into practice or competition. Ending the rhetoric that women are undeserving of respect in sports begins at the individual level.

Just as crucial is the ongoing commitment to support women’s sports, especially at the community level. I encourage everyone to go to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and P-P women’s sports games, follow their team pages and post about their achievements online, because they deserve to be recognized. 

Finally, a parting piece of advice: Next time you want to make a TikTok about women in sports, it better be about how they kill the game. Every time. 

Abby Loiselle PO ’23 is a runner for the Pomona-Pitzer cross-country and track and field teams. 

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