An illustration of pro-tennis player Serena Williams set in the center of text. Illustration by Míceal Munroe-Allsup.

Sports Commentary: Women in Sports Day

“You throw like a girl” is a common insult perfected by insecure middle school boys and is sometimes even used by coaches to motivate players to toughen up. This phrase is an assured challenge  to masculinity, but it also effectively implies that males are superior and should perform accordingly. As a politically correct feminist, my instant reaction to hearing such blatant sexism is outrage. After all, U.S. women’s sports have grown to be largely more appreciated. Despite significant progress, the prevalence of derogatory language exemplifies the fact that there is still prejudice holding women back in the sports world.

A 2007 United Nations report illustrated that, in the early formation of organized sports, most people thought exercising was harmful to women’s overall health without any scientific evidence. Simultaneously, it was accepted that sports were remarkably beneficial in improving men’s health.

The U.S. has come a long way since those days. Recently, National Girls & Women in Sports Day was celebrated at Lewis & Clark and across the nation, recognizing the extent to which women have advanced in the sports world. There are now professional leagues for women’s basketball, soccer, ice hockey, softball, golf and tennis. Serena Williams, a four-time Olympic gold medalist tennis player, is widely considered one of the greatest athletes of all time. Additionally, the Women’s National Soccer Team has won three World Cup titles and four Olympic gold medals.

If the measure of women’s success in sports is measured by their ability to achieve notoriety on a national level, that has been accomplished. However, it is important to realize that fame is not equivalent to equality. We still live in a world where women have to achieve unheard-of excellence in order to be recognized, while male mediocrity in sports is often national news. For example, ESPN spent more time analyzing a missed dunk by basketball player Zion Williamson at Duke University than discussing how an unranked women’s basketball team at the University of North Carolina defeated the previously unbeaten team of North Carolina State. Sports networks debated whether the New England Patriots quarterback, Tom Brady, was becoming too old to compete for months, while Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) superstar Maya Moore retiring for a season was scarcely acknowledged.  

The blame for these discrepancies should not be placed on the news station. They have made significant progress in covering women sports; for example, ESPN has an entire section dedicated to women in sports. In order to truly understand the U.S.’s perception of women’s sports, we need to look at the people’s opinions of what is being presented to them rather than just the presentation.

Ultimately, news stations cover what people want to see and frankly, our country prefers to watch men play sports. The most watched sport in the U.S. is football, a sport only played by men. The National Basketball Association (NBA) games have an average of 1.46 million viewers, while their female counterpart (WNBA) only average 416,000 viewers on ESPN.

This phenomenon may be connected to the sensational drama commonly associated with men’s sports. Using the example of basketball, NBA players consistently dunk, jump exceedingly high and shoot from half-court. Conversely, while some WNBA players have dunked, their games are generally played below the rim.

The tendency to only appreciate the spectacular is natural and forgivable. However, somewhere along the way, sports fans started to make the assumption that if it is not “above the rim,” it is not good basketball. If a man can make the sport look more exciting whatever women are accomplishing in that same sport is deemed inferior. However, if one really spends the time to watch women’s sports, they will see that it can be just as exhilarating as men’s.

Unfortunately, the general public tends to be actively adverse to fully appreciating women sports. Disparaging language found on sports social media pages such as Bleacher Report exemplifies this larger problem. Posts about women athletes are incessantly followed by degrading comments like “they belong in the kitchen” or that they “should go make me a sandwich.” Despite an increasingly aware world, sexism in sports has pervaded by cowardly hiding beneath the surface.

Thankfully, this trend of disrespect seems to be changing with the rising generation of kids. There is now merchandise that can be bought by girls proudly declaring that they “throw like a girl.” Mo’ne Davis, the first girl to ever pitch a shutout in the Little League, starred in a documentary by Spike Lee called “I Throw Like A Girl.” Most girls now grow up playing sports right along with boys and are taught they can do anything that boys can. Perhaps if fans of professional sports followed this example, women in sports could achieve complete equality.

LC is in many ways proof that the condemnation of derogatory language can contribute to athletic equality. At our school, women’s and men’s sports are appreciated alike, receiving relatively equal amounts of respect, opportunities and media recognition. While LC may not be remembered as an athletic powerhouse on a national level, our approach to athletic equality should be revered and emulated by other institutions.  

However, this trend has not yet translated from youth to the professional leagues, as seen in the social media posts. If children are capable of speaking with equality, avoiding phrases like “you throw like a girl,” than adults should be too. Just as often as harmful language is thrown around, we should throw it away like the garbage it is. Maybe then professional women’s athletics will receive the respect it deserves.

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