Same Sport, Different Recognition

Whenever I turn on the television these days, most of the same themes ring throughout all the sports channels. Men get all the flash and media coverage, analysts talk about the NBA Finals but forget the WNBA even exists. Since the beginning of women’s leagues across the globe, a societal problem among the media and sports fans everywhere has been evident. Sports like soccer and basketball are identical in both the men’s and women’s games. Sports media outlets are culprits of glossing over the women and giving all their TV time to the men’s sports. Once women’s basketball players graduate college, the media creates this idea that they don’t exist anymore. Leagues like the NWSL, WSL, WNBA, and USLW exist in reality, but in regards to credit and coverage, it’s like they aren’t even there. This to me is sad, being a big fan of all the women’s leagues around the world, it is so hard to watch games on a regular basis. How many times do they put the WNBA on primetime television? Like once a year. To watch any women’s soccer games you have to buy a subscription, which you don’t need to do for the men’s game and that is a problem. The world needs to change, and women’s sports need to finally be on the front pages of newspapers everywhere. But with the world that we live in today, I have little hope that anything will change. 

I am sick and tired of critics saying that women’s sports just can’t compete with men’s sports. That is only because they are not given a chance to do so. On a podcast called Snacks, hosted by USWNT players Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams, Megan Rapinoe stated, “That sometimes is a little unfair because men’s sports just don’t get asked about that. If LeBron James doesn’t wanna talk about whatever, no one is just gonna randomly ask him that question or ask him questions about that.” She continues, “I’m like, ‘Oh, all of a sudden, now you care about women’s sports?’ Because like, we haven’t seen all of these people care about our sport the whole time.” Nowadays media outlets try to cover women’s sports, but it comes off poorly  sometimes. These groups of people never cared about women’s sports in the first place, why are they trying now? Rapinoe makes a good point in that many people didn’t seem to care the entire time. Watching sports talk shows from around the United States, I am ashamed. The only reason men’s sports are more popular is because of the extensive coverage they get across all of its leagues. Yes, men are faster and stronger in some ways, but why does that make their game more exciting? Women’s sports stars all over the world aren’t even talked about. Take Jess Fishlock for example, the 2021 NWSL Most Valuable Player. She scored five goals and had four assists, and played in every match but one for OL Reign during the 2021 season. I have not seen a sports talk radio show or a sports television show that is accessible bring up her name even once. All this talent and none of it is recognized, which is a real shame. The sports world as a whole should be embarrassed, as there are so many examples of this.

The money that men’s sports bring in is a substantial amount, the women’s game cannot compete. Women make the same amount of sacrifices to become successful in that same sport, work just as hard if not harder, but are practically shoved to the side. Men are paid more even though each party is doing the exact same job. According to a study done by Adelphi University, men get paid between 15%-100% more than women do in sports. Former two-time WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne stated, “ The power is female, all that … But if you’re not putting your dollars behind it and your marketing behind it, then it’s just lip service. So, I’m waiting for the dollars to actually get behind female athletes.” Dollars and marketing are the essential terms that Delle Donne is emphasizing, and putting the right amount of money and marketing behind women’s sports could bring it to the next level. Again, I understand the money men bring, but it is completely inequitable to the women who do so much to not be given their fair share. A recent study was done by “YouGov”, exploring the reasons why people do not follow women’s sports as much. The results are surprising given the stereotypes that people in this generation have dubbed women’s sports out to be. The highest percentage of the study said that 40% of global consumers don’t engage in women’s sports because of the lack of media coverage. 27% say they can’t easily find games on TV, and 24% say the coverage that is present is not high quality. This study is extremely informative, explaining that the biggest reason why people don’t watch women’s sports is that it isn’t covered at all really. I would much rather watch the NWSL Championship than the MLS Cup, but I need to buy a subscription in order to watch the NWSL, while the MLS is free to watch the entire season. The fact that women’s sports are so inaccessible in the world today shows how little progress we have made as a country in terms of equality. 

Credit: New York Post

When I walk around on my college campus, even a school like mine that tries so hard to publicize equality, most of the time it has failed to engrain it in its students. Students walk around in NBA jerseys or any major sports league jersey, but I have never seen anyone with a woman’s name on their back. Men’s sporting events are more regularly attended than women’s sports even though both teams put forth the same amount of effort and work to play in their respective games. I find society today to be incredibly one-sided. While men’s sports are extremely fun to watch and deserve attention, women’s sports are in the same category. Even with all the progress we have made as a world when it comes to gender inequality, it still feels like we have so much further to go. Cheryl Cooky, an American studies and women and gender studies professor at Purdue stated, “On the rare broadcast when a women’s sports story does appear, it is usually a case of ‘one and done’— a single women’s sports story partially eclipsed by a cluster of men’s stories that precede it, follow it and are longer in length.” In a study done by Professors Cooky and Messner of USC, they stated, “it isn’t just the quantity but also the quality of coverage that needs improvement.” The researchers have also documented several dramatic shifts in the ways that women’s sports are covered, though the issues have never been addressed and it has been decades since their study was conducted.

So how do we change this situation that our own nation has put itself into? Create an entire sports program dedicated to women’s sports around the world. Make the games accessible to watch, and create specific talk shows for each sport. Will this happen? Most likely not, people at the top are too ignorant and greedy to make smart choices like this. The only thing important to them is making money, but why isn’t a nation with more equality more important? It is so entrenched in the world today, and high-level businessmen are way too stubborn to see the recurring problem at hand. According to a study by Brookings, 75% of the ticket buyers for the WNBA are women and girls. The majority of men are not interested in women’s sports because of the appeal and excitement men bring to the athletic arena. Looking at it from an arena perspective, why would women be willing to play better if the arena is so small, and the coverage of their games is horrid. The quality of play might improve if our culture gives it the chance it deserves. 

Looking at this problem as a whole, people like to shove it under the rug and forget about it. It seems to be extremely polarizing in the world today. Men bring in more money, yes that is true, but we can’t just ignore women because men’s sports create more revenue. The answer cannot be just money, if that is, this world is corrupt. The majority of the blame goes to sports media and news, and their gluttonous unbalanced view. Professor Micheal Messner sums it up nicely, stating, “Our analysis shows men’s sports are the appetizer, the main course, and the dessert, and if there’s any mention of women’s sports it comes across as begrudging ‘eat your vegetables’ without the kind of bells and whistles and excitement with which they describe men’s sports and athletes.” Equality and equity should be more valuable in society, but material things like money take the cake over the ladder. Attitudes must change, and for the first time, the sports culture needs to shift in order to embrace both genders’ sports equally.