By Ally A.L. ’23
As I scrolled through Instagram one morning last week, I came across a surprising post: a video of a weight rack. Curious, I clicked, and watched as a woman proceeded to explain that these were the training facilities bestowed upon the women’s basketball teams in the upcoming National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) sponsored March Madness tournament. In a big empty room, the women had just one single small rack of weights. The video then cut to a clip of the men’s facilities, showcasing a large, well-stocked room with a variety of high-tech equipment. I swiped right across the screen and proceeded to discover other photos displaying shocking inequities between the meals, free gifts, and coronavirus testing methods for men and women. Like many in the comments, I was shocked. After such a momentous surge in the push for gender equality in the past years, something as basic as providing equal training facilities and amenities still could not be fulfilled by such a prominent, wealthy organization? This clear instance of disrespect brings rise to a larger conversation about gender equity in the NCAA and the sports world as a whole.
The NCAA is a collegiate athletic organizaiton that organizes sporting events for 1,268 institutions and over 480,000 students. It is arguably most well known for its annual March Madness tournament, an event which raises nearly 79% of its annual revenue of one billion dollars. The men’s tournament is far more popular than the women’s– their championship in 2019 had 19.6 million viewers in comparison to the women’s 3.6 million, and in 2019, the men’s tournament brought in a staggering $800 million contrasted with the women’s $35 million. Many have argued in response to outrage about the women’s treatment that it comes down to popularity based funding, and that since the men bring in more viewers and profit, it is a valid explanation for the amenity difference. This is not the case. “If the men’s teams are getting access to this type of weight room so should the women’s teams,” Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a litigator and the founder of a legal non-profit advocating for women in sports said in a statement. “They’re supposed to be spending equal amounts of money and equal effort on women’s teams.”
Outside of just the March Madness tournament, it should come as unsurprising to most that many statistics regarding women in sports demonstrate a dramatic gender gap. Despite a surge in female athletes participating in athletics, according to a report undertaken by the Women’s Sports Foundation, women still had over 60,000 fewer participation opportunities than men at the NCAA level in early 2020. In three NCAA divisions, 87% of colleges provided a significantly higher number of athletic opportunities to men compared to their enrollment. And in the realm of professional sports, 60% of women admitted to experiencing discrimination in their workplace and another 60% to getting paid less for doing the same job as their male counterparts.
A big part of the fight for gender equality lies in enforcement of Title IX. Under law, Title IX prohibits discrimation on the basis of sex in athletic endeavours and requires equal opportunites to be provided for all genders. However, 83% of college coaches say they have never received formal training on its history or proper execution, and 31% of female coaches admitted to a fear of losing their jobs if they spoke up on gender equality. Even though a Supreme Court ruling states that the NCAA is not federally funded and therefore not required by law to follow the rules of Title IX, in our current era there should be a baseline understanding that institutions are responsible for ensuring that the benefits and opportunities allotted to athletes should be equal regardless of gender. The fact that basic facilities and conveniences cannot be provided to female athletes by the NCAA, when budget is clearly not an issue, sounds the alarm that despite our twenty first century times, sexism, fear, and gender-based discrimination are still pressing issues that require immediate attention.
In response to the weight room situation, the Senior Vice President of the NCAA made a promise early Friday morning to immediately address the issue and apologized to the student-athletes affected. Journalist Jemele Hill responded with her take on the situation, asserting, “When they got caught and this video went viral, suddenly within 24 hours they have a change of heart. The money was always there. The money isn’t the issue. The issue is they don’t think these women are worth it.” This comment perfectly encapsulates the situation. The issue is not a simple oversight that can be corrected and forgotten about, and it speaks to the reality of the large organizations’ views of women’s athletics. Nearly fifty years after the passing of Title IX, women are still overlooked and undervalued by male-dominated institutions. Hopefully, instead of being viewed as a one-off, this incident can inspire a surge in demands for the much needed equity female athletes deserve.