Can the double standard in sports be stopped?
David Skarupski, Sports Editor
It’s late in the morning on September 7 at Kent State University as a women’s field hockey match is inching closer to a dramatic finish at Murphy-Mellis Field.
Excitement fills the air, as the University of Maine Black Bears and the Temple Owls are locked in a defensive battle, with the score knotted at zero as time runs-out on the first overtime period. The teams take a short breather and strategize their plans, desperately trying to find an advantage. The clock is reset for the second overtime period, and as the women prepare to charge onto the field to claim their glory, everything stops. And play doesn’t resume.
Kent State officials took the field and put a halt to the deadlocked affair, which ultimately led to the match being declared a no-contest. With no natural disasters in-sight or imminent dangers looming, the women’s match was called-off. The reason: a contractual obligation to clear the field for a firework display prior to Kent State football’s home opener for the season.
Three days later in Tehran, Iran, a woman was trending on social media as hashtag “blue girl”, due to her allegiance to the Iranian soccer club Esteqlal of Tehran. The woman, Sahar Khodayari, attempted to sneak-into a soccer match in March, but was detained and arrested. She was not armed or raising a ruckus. All she did wrong was be a woman, automatically excluding her from entering the stadium by a law that has been in-effect in Iran since 1981. On September 10, “blue girl” died from injuries caused in the prior week, when she set herself on fire in lieu of facing prison time for attempting to attend a soccer match.
While these cases show the extremes of female subjugation in sports in America and around the world, they both lead to the same question: is the sports-model set up in a fashion that makes an entire gender second-rate?
Temple’s field hockey coach, Susan Ciufo brought these sentiments to the forefront after her aforementioned team was ushered off-the-field.
“It wasn’t necessarily Kent versus Temple and Maine” said Ciufo in an interview made public by Temple University. “It wasn’t necessarily field hockey versus football or fireworks. This was something that felt deeper.”
The deepness referenced by Ciufo can be directed towards how the importance of games played by men trump those played by women. Unfortunately for females of all ages, the most recognizable and readily-available sports figures are almost always men and the superstars that are women are given to the world in the forms of sports that only receive exposure during abbreviated marquee events and operate under conditions that makes long-term continuity and stability an issue.
American men have dozens-upon-dozens of male superstars consistently dominate sports headlines for a large portion of the year. American women have Serena Williams on an annual basis and her relevance usually is contingent upon the four major tennis tournaments she participates in.
The New England Patriots, the most successful professional men’s sports team, are never too far from America’s conscience or tv screens, as the NFL has a whole major network with loyal fans, even in the offseason. The U.S. women’s soccer team, the most successful professional women’s sports team, gets massive exposure every World Cup and Summer Olympics and then goes two years with almost none.
The majority of people have more of an opinion about how Tom Brady cheats than how Megan Rapinoe makes significantly less money than her less successful male counterparts. What most people don’t know is that the women’s soccer team made a higher percentage of overall revenue than the men, earning 13-percent against the men’s 9-percent, but the overall prize money offered between men and women playing the exact same sport varies greatly due to profitability margins. According to an article by John Glynn for The Federalist, “the total prize money for the Women’s World Cup in France this July was $30 million; the total prize money for the men’s 2022 World Cup in Qatar will be $440 million.”
Profit margins and marketability issues aside, sports are meant to provide outlets for self-expression, while strengthening interpersonal relations while teaming with others, cheering with others and competing with others. Being stripped of this ability in any fashion can put a significant damper on the powerful and uplifting effects sports can create at their best.
While it is debatable that the strength and physical attributes men hold a slight-advantage over creates a better and more watchable product, the overall structure of the sports market is set-up for women to fail. Even if it does so unintentionally, consistently giving the spotlight to men’s sports figures and leagues creates a world where women’s sports are viewed as watered-down and second-rate. With more exposure for women’s sports on a nationally-broadcast level, the level of importance attributed to female athletes would rise, and fewer fireworks shows would be ranked over a field hockey game.
However, the world of sports is one that is dominated by men, and even with advances over the years that have placed younger girls in boys’ leagues and women in important organizational and media roles, the products seen and discussed by the most people are dominated by men. It is why boys have a plethora of truly household names to idolize and aspire to be and girls have Williams and a soccer team that plays every two years. It is why, despite the lamentations of many Iranians, a woman cannot cheer for her favorite soccer club in person. The truth is women can cheer and participate all they want in sports, but the market belongs to and is geared towards men.
I’m not saying that sports are evil or that they should be put to a halt. On the contrary, sports provide a necessary outlet that allows people to channel their innate desire for conflict, fulfill their needs to socialize with others and distract themselves from the often-daunting aspects of life, in a relatively healthy manner.
What I am saying is that in a world in which a considerable amount of young people constitute equality and the progression of human rights as the driving forces behind the future of our society, sports are severely lacking in developing a product that bridges the gap between the perceived value of men and women.
Until there are no countries where women would rather set themselves aflame than face the consequences of sneaking into a soccer match, sports cannot be described as the great unifier. Until the most popular leagues adopt a system where the product created by women isn’t compensated or promoted as second-rate to their male counterparts, sports cannot be claimed as an equal-opportunity employer. Until the blood, sweat, and tears of a fullback on a women’s field hockey team garners the same organizational respect as the blood, sweat, and tears of a fullback on a men’s football team, sports cannot be passed-off as an all-inclusive endeavor.