Are there double standards for women in collegiate and professional sports?

By: Aminat Sanusi

It is no secret that women in professional sports are paid significantly less than men in the same sports. For example, the average pay for a player in the NBA in 2022 was $5.3 million per year but the average pay for a player in the WNBA was $130,000 per year. Not only are there pay gaps between male and female athletes in professional basketball, but the same goes for professional softball players and other sports as well. In addition to receiving lower wages than their counterparts, women are also held to a double standard when it comes to the way they are expected to conduct themselves in the sports they play. Women are often seen as emotional when men are seen as passionate, or women are viewed as aggressive when men are just seen as playing the game.

          A couple of years ago Serena Williams, the greatest female tennis player of all time, received backlash for her actions during the US Open Tournament against Naomi Osaka. Serena accused the umpire of sexism and treating her more harshly than men. She ended up losing the tournament in part because she lost a point from destroying her tennis racket and calling the umpire a thief. Serena has even said herself that if she did some of the things male tennis players do on the court she would be in jail. She stated that she has heard men call the umpires worse names without being penalized for it. This shows that though Serena has won multiple championship titles, it does not change the fact that she was held to a double standard throughout her career as a tennis player. Although Serena is now retired, she continues to fight for women’s equality off the tennis court.

A recent example of double standards in women’s sports comes from the 2023 NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship. Louisiana State University (LSU) NCAA Women’s Basketball 2023 Most Outstanding Player Angel Reese received both praise and criticism for her response to First Lady Jill Biden’s invitation to have both LSU and the University of Iowa come to the White House for a visit. Angel called the First Lady’s invitation a joke because traditionally runner-ups never get invited to the White House, so the invitation to both teams diminished LSU’s historic win. When the First Lady’s press secretary walked back the statement, Angel stated in an interview that she did not accept her apology. Some viewers claimed that she should have accepted the First Lady’s apology and was being rude and disrespectful by not doing so. However, other viewers found it refreshing to see her stand up for what was right and not be afraid of what the naysayers may think of her. Throughout her season, Angel Reese was characterized as “ghetto”, “classless” and “disrespectful”. Many viewers that watched her play claimed she did not have respect for the game or good sportsmanship because of certain actions she would do on the court. Angel’s response was that she was always going to be her authentic self on and off the basketball court and they would not be calling her those names if she was a male basketball player. Many people took to social media post-championship game to show their support for Angel and call out her critics on their misogynistic and racist double standards.

Following the 2023 NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship game, United States Representatives Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11) and Maria Salazar (FL-27) introduced the Women in NCAA Sports (WINS) Act, a bipartisan bill that promotes and addresses fairness for NCAA women’s sports programming. The NCAA has made some corrections to the inequities between the men’s and women’s Division I Basketball Championships, but there are still inequalities that need to be fixed to ensure that women collegiate athletes have the full representation they deserve. The goal of the WINS Act is to achieve equity in women’s college sports. The Act will establish a sixteen-member congressional commission to comprehensively study inequality in the NCAA’s operation of tournaments and other programs where there are men’s and women’s divisions. The commission will include members appointed by House and Senate leadership with special consideration for individuals with expertise and experience in college sports. The commission will give its final report to Congress. The report must include three provisions. First, a comparison of how the NCAA operates men’s and women’s championship tournaments across all sports and other student-athlete programs with the respect to the treatment of the participating men’s and women’s teams. This includes evaluation of the equipment and venues provided for games and practices, lodging and transportation, media exposure and contracts, sponsors, and overall budgets. Second, would include studying the NCAA constitution, policies, and practices that affect gender equity between men’s and women’s college sports teams. Third, is an overview of federal government support for the NCAA and recommendations for improved federal oversight of the NCAA’s promotion of equality.

If the WINS Act is passed, it has the power to be very beneficial in changing the way people perceive women athletes’ behaviors. For example, collegiate women’s sports such as basketball, volleyball, and swimming would get the same amount of funding and media airtime as men’s collegiate sports. Also, there would be less pressure put on women college athletes like Angel Reese for playing the game how they want and being scrutinized for every little thing they do. It is important to note that the WINS Act would only apply to college-level sports and not professional athletes. Therefore, there is still more effort required and additional rules that need to be changed to be able to allow women professional athletes, like Serena Williams, to be able to play the games they love without being criticized or penalized for how they choose to play the game.

With this year’s NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship game being the most watched game in NCAA women’s basketball history, now is the perfect time to take advantage of the momentum and fight for a change in women’s sports.

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