I’m guilty of it. We all are. As a society, we tend to support men’s professional sports, and neglect the female counterparts.
Even if a girl is told from a young age that she can follow her love of playing sports, she must face the inevitable reality that Americans don’t appear to particularly care about women’s sports. Yes, we all supported Simone Biles during the Olympics, and we do love watching the Williams sisters play tennis, but those are particular and wonderful athletes rather than the institution of women’s sports. Very few women’s teams have attained the almost cult following that, say, football or baseball teams have amassed. But is it because of a lack of interest? Or is it instead because of a lack of familiarity with the teams and players?
A number of different outlets have espoused ideas on the troubles faced by women’s sports in America. In a column for The Washington Post, Redskins beat reporter Liz Clarke examined the facts and figures of media coverage for women’s professional sports. She deduced that there is no across-the-board gender discrimination in covering male and female sports. Rather, it appears that the media covers what is most popular, which is not at all surprising, as in a commercial-based system, they are looking to get the highest possible ratings. For the most part, men’s sports are more popular, and so are covered in the media more often.
This is clearly demonstrated by the superior ratings of the NBA versus those of the WNBA, the United States’ most popular female professional league. But there are some instances, such as the US Open, when women’s sports are given more premier timeslots. The greater the interest, Clarke found, the greater the coverage, regardless of the gender of the players.
In 2003, espnW.com reporter Graham Hays wrote a column for ESPN’s Page 2 postulating why men don’t watch women’s sports. He states that men don’t know female athletes, and in order to truly enjoy a sport, you have to know the players and follow them. This is logical and, dare I say, common sense, since sports are more enjoyable when there is a personal connection and familiarity. Of course, this also has an easy fix: we can take the time to learn about female athletes like so many of us take the time to learn about their male counterparts.
Hays mockingly proposes that “women aren’t as fast, don’t jump as high, and don’t kick as hard as their male counterparts,” a view that he believes many men have. While this may certainly be true for some who still cling to the sexist divide that was once more prevalent in America, I believe that his earlier point is more credible in the current time when more and more girls are active in sports. The seeming lack of public interest stems from a lack of familiarity with generally under-covered women’s sports.
In truth, the gender divide in sports is not so much about sexism as it is about emerging from a sexist time. More men than women watch women’s sports, just as more men than women watch sports in general. Women’s sports are in their “infancy” compared to men’s sports. People are not as attached to or familiar with women’s sports because they have not been around as long as men’s sports. Once they achieve success and become more familiar to the American public, however, it seems that support will follow, evident in the massive ratings of the U.S. women’s national soccer team’s victory in the 2015 World Cup.
Supporting women’s sports will have a positive effect on the industry, as well as on society, by giving young girls a chance to see successful female athletes. Let girls see that they can do what men can, and that people care enough to watch. We can find out about teams and players, learn the stats, and even go to a game and cheer. The only difference between men and women’s sports lies in quantity, not quality—and that quantity is in both money and support. With just a bit more of that same support, women’s sports will succeed more than they ever have.
Featured Image by Meg Dolan / Heights Editor