Female athletes face competition on and off the field
Monday, April 04, 2016
They practice, work out, manage their nutrition, sweat, struggle, compete hard and win — often on a global field. They're among the best athletes on the planet.
Their accomplishments have earned them the adulation, prizes, medals, Sports Illustrated covers and rewards — financial and otherwise — that our sports-minded society has become accustomed to laying at the feet of our sports heroes.
But those rewards don't always add up to respect or fair treatment for female athletes. When they walk off the field, they're forced to compete against an opponent for which they have no scouting report and no scoreboard.
Women's sports have drawn the spotlight once again, with members of the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The players allege to have received less pay than their male counterparts, even though the women's team has generated more revenue.
If it's being judged on its on-field success, there's this: The U.S. women's team captured the World Cup last summer and has been the world's dominant program for years. If it's being judged on marketability, there's this: The Cup-clinching victory over Japan was viewed by more than 25 million TV viewers, which The Washington Post cited as a U.S. record for soccer-game viewership.
The federal action came a little more than a week after a disparaging comment by a tennis tournament director regarding the women's game. Raymond Moore, who heads up the Indian Wells tournament, stated women's pro tennis players should be grateful to male players because the women "ride the coattails of the men," according to CNN.
Women's tennis superstar Serena Williams countered Moore's statement, saying, "I think there are a lot of women out there who are very exciting to watch."
Williams' is a voice worthy of acknowledgement. On Forbes magazine's list of the world's highest-paid athletes for 2015, she is one of two women — the other is fellow tennis star Maria Sharapova — who made the top 100. A large number of the men on the list benefit by playing team sports such as football and basketball whose bottom lines and available salary dollars are bolstered by large, long-term TV deals obtained through bidding wars involving the networks and cable companies.
Sharapova and Williams bring versatility to their status. In addition to the highest-paid athlete list, Williams was No. 69 on Forbes' Celebrity 100 for 2014 and No. 55 on Power Women for 2010. Sharapova made the magazine's 30 Under 30 list for 2016 and was No. 88 on the Celebrity 100 for 2015.
Both are regulars on magazine covers, among them Williams' recent appearance on Sports Illustrated's cover after being selected Sportsperson of the Year. But they also hit the newsstands on more than sports publications. Williams has appeared on the cover of magazines ranging from Wired to Fitness. Sharapova also has appeared on covers such as Cosmopolitan and Esquire.
When it comes to amateur athletes, the women on the University of Connecticut basketball team stand tall, figuratively as well as literally. The Huskies this year are making a run at their fourth consecutive national championship and sixth in eight seasons. No men's team can say that.
Women's sports in the past five decades have been spurred by the federal government's adoption of Title IX in 1972. The intent was to provide equal opportunities for women by banning sex discrimination at schools receiving federal funds.
A large benefit of the legislation has occurred on athletic fields, where schools added or expanded women's programs to meet the requirements. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 1 in 27 high school girls participated in school athletics in 1971, the year before the law was adopted. That number changed to 1 in 3 less than 25 years later.
Yet, for all of these advancements and accomplishments on the field, female athletes are still competing for gains off the field.
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