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December 7, 2017

Beyond Title IX: Achieving meaningful, lived gender equality in sports

By Zach Guzi, Columnist

Title IX ensured that college athletic programs offer women equal play opportunities, but the law isn’t a panacea. Still vastly unequal are levels of exposure, financial resources and quality and number of facilities made available to female athletes, and at all levels. 

For example, more than 97 percent of sports broadcasting is devoted to the men. Some might argue that there isn’t as much interest in watching women in sports, but how do we know there’s a lack of interest if people have no way of watching them? Such scant attention prevents people from having an interest in women’s athletics.

If women’s sports were televised more, more people could become familiarized with the sports and their athletes and cultivate an interest in them. On the other side, everything about men’s sports are televised: Draft day, NFL combines, LeBron James deciding to change teams.

At a macro level, consider the countless major men’s sports available on TV. Only a couple of major women’s sports (soccer and basketball, primarily) get any sustained attention. More inclusiveness of even whole sports would create more airtime for female sports and their athletes.

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Britney Griner throwing it down in college.
 
Photo by Eric Smith, Creative Commons license

At a micro level, why is it the WNBA? Why do the women have to be designated, while the default, the NBA, is for the men? Why are they not both referred to as the NBA, or perhaps WNBA and MNBA? This disparity is a subtle but not unimportant form of discrimination in sports.

Look at the sophistication with which the NBA creates characters and story lines. LeBron leaving, then returning to the Cavs. The Cavs struggling in the beginning of the season, yet always turning it around and making the finals. Villains. Heroes. These Disney-like moves make it seem as if the NBA is a scripted drama; it gets and keeps the fans interested. You do not see this level of narrative in women’s sports.

Another manifestation of what are ingrained inequities are the big name shoes. It is easy to name countless NBA players with their own shoe, but you’d be hard pressed to name women’s basketball players so celebrated. There isn’t a single WNBA player with her own shoe line, according to the New York Times.   

Shoes play a major role in the NBA. They draw attention to the players, and they are a way for consumers to own a literal piece of the celebrity athlete. Consumers can “be like Mike,” but they can’t be like, say, Britney Griner.

Yes, we have a long way to go.

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