Stigma Surrounding Women in Sports: From DGN to the Pros

January 2, 2021

Sarah Fuller led the Vanderbilt women’s soccer team to an upset victory over top-seeded Arkansas in the SEC Championship game Nov. 22, their first SEC Tournament title since 1994. However, Fuller is now known for being the first woman to play in a Power Five football game, suiting up for Vanderbilt’s team as a kicker Nov. 28. When she kicked the third quarter off with a squib kick, she was met with a flood of negative comments on social media.

High School and College girls’ sports:

Females like Fuller being criticized or getting the short end of the stick for stepping into the sporting world is not a new theme. Many high school and college girls are not given the same amount of opportunities as boys to play sports. 

According to the National Women’s Law Center, “Schools are providing 1.3 million fewer chances for girls to play sports in high school than boys. In 1972, only 295,000 girls competed in high school sports, a mere 7.4 percent compared to 3.67 million boys. By the 2009-2010 school year, the number of girls had swelled to 3.2 million, while the number of boys was 4.5 million.”

Even when girls get the chance to play sports for their high school, they often don’t get a fair amount of equipment or have to practice on the “unwanted” field. 

Title IX:

In the same article by the NWLC, there are many examples of ways that some state athletic administrations. All of these instances are in violation of Title IX, a federal civil rights law that was passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972. 

According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, “Title IX was established in 1972 to provide everyone with equal access to any program or activity that receives Federal financial assistance, including sports. This means that federally funded institutions, such as public schools, are legally required to provide girls and boys with equitable sports opportunities”

The article from the NWLC said, “Parents of female high school students brought a class action case in 1998 against the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA).” They stated that the Association “provided inferior athletic facilities for girls’ teams; required girls, but not boys, to play under rules and/or conditions differing from those in the NCAA; allocated more resources to publicity for boys than for girls; and refused to sanction additional girls’ sports.” … “After trial on the season’s issue, the district court held that MHSAA discriminated against girls because placing them in non-traditional seasons limited their ability to be recruited for collegiate teams and their access to athletic scholarships.” 

The situation was resolved when a circuit court required MHSAA to schedule girls’ basketball and volleyball in their traditional seasons, and required that they do the same for the other four girls’ sports.

A similar situation, that was mentioned in the same article, took place in Florida in 2009, “in an effort to save money, the Florida High School Athletics Association implemented cuts in the numbers of games scheduled for teams statewide. But they specifically spared football from any cuts, ensuring that girls would shoulder a greater burden of the reductions made due to the economic crisis.” 

Parents sued the FHSAA and their response was that football is a coed sport even though eight of the state’s 40,400 football players are girls. The FHSAA later reversed their decision after the successful Title IX complaint, however some districts said they will still limit their games which puts the female students at a disadvantage.

Even though both of these cases took place over a decade ago, there has not been a significant amount of progress toward cases like these ceasing to exist. Female student-athletes are often not given the recognition and support from their school communities that other teams get, and can be put at a disadvantage because of it. This problem hits close to home for some female student-athletes at DGN. 

DGN Female Athletes:

Just like many high school female athletes around the country experience discrimination because of the stigma around women in sports, DGN female student-athletes often feel that they don’t receive the same recognition as their male counterparts.

Senior Melissa Jachim is a runner for varsity cross country and track. She and the rest of the team have had successful seasons the past few years but she doesn’t feel that they get the recognition they deserve.

“I feel like the boys’ cross country team does get recognized more than the girls. While they have placed higher in state more recently than we have, I feel that their success shouldn’t diminish the girls’ team’s improvements,” Jachim said.

Although Jachim is one of the top runners on the team, there are still times when she isn’t taken seriously. 

“While talking to guys about my sport and my times in races they often underestimate me because my times sound slow to them. Most people are respectful about it but there will always be a few that don’t take the sport seriously,” Jachim said.

Senior Lindsay Ringbloom plays varsity soccer at DGN, club soccer with Joga Bonito SC, and just committed to William Smith College to continue her soccer career. Although she doesn’t believe that her opportunities have been limited, it’s clear to her that she still has disadvantages. 

“It’s just harder to be able to have those opportunities and boys high school sports are watched a lot more than girls but a lot of the time the girls team is better,” Ringbloom said. 

Junior Ryann Wendt plays golf, varsity basketball, and varsity soccer. Even though she is a three-sport athlete, she still feels like she has limited opportunities because she is a girl. 

“We do not get enough recognition and we do not get noticed by our classmates and we tend to miss out on the fun things about our sports like having a big student section cheering us on, because everyone seems to care mostly for the bigger boys sports like football and basketball,” Wendt said.

“I have felt that girls teams do not get enough recognition for achievements and skills; we often get overlooked,” Wendt added. “I’ve not been taken seriously about my skills and abilities in my sport because I am a girl and I have heard many degrading comments about girls sports being easier than boys sports.”

The Sports Fans Gender Gap:

An effective way to get rid of the stigma around women playing sports is for there to be more sports media coverage of professional women’s sports, and therefore more female sports fans. In the last three years according to two surveys, one conducted in November 2017 and the other in January 2020, there has been a significant increase in female sports fans due to more female leagues getting greater exposure and airtime.

According to The Gemba Group, “In 2020, across a basket of 13 of the world’s most popular sports, women make up 47% of highly engaged, passionate sports fans. This is up from 45% three years ago, so the fan gender gap is closing.”

According to Forbes, “The WNBA did recently [in 2019] add a multi-year partnership with CBS Sports Network to air 40 games next season, and the new pact is an addition to the league’s existing deal with ESPN. More TV exposure for the players will lead to more visibility, and more visibility could lead to major deals with endorsers in the future.”

Deals like this will give female athletes more opportunities for major partnerships with companies and more exposure to gain a bigger audience and receive recognition for their skills and achievements.

Professional Female Athletes:

Professional female athletes are just as subject to discrimination as high school female athletes are. They are severely underpaid and mistreated compared to professional male athletes. For example, the US women’s national soccer team (USWNT) claimed their second World Cup title in a row last year. The US men’s team did not even qualify for the world cup in 2018. 

The Forbes article added that, “In 2019, ‘USWNT players made $99,000 [a year] or $4,950 per game, while similarly situated USMNT players would earn an average of $263,320 [a year] or $13,166 per game.’ The players claim they face discrimination when it comes to where and how often they play, how they train and travel, the medical treatment and coaching they receive, and obviously their salaries.”

Things may change soon for U.S. Soccer because the USWNT filed a gender-discrimination lawsuit March 8, 2019. The two sides will pursue mediation to correct the uneven treatment of the two teams to stay out of a courtroom.

Recent Women in Sports Achievements:

Within the past year, there have been many breakthroughs in women taking positions of authority in sports. Kim Ng became the first woman to be a General Manager for a Major League Baseball team, the Miami Marlins. Alyssa Nakken is the first woman to be a full-time member of the coaching staff for an MLB team, the San Francisco Giants. And Blake Bolden became the first Black woman to be a scout for an NHL team, the Los Angeles Kings.

There have been massive strides made in the last few years to level the playing field so that female and male athletes, at all levels, can have the same opportunities. The stigma around girls being athletes and sports fans is slowly dwindling with more recognition and more airtime for professional female athletes. One day it will get to the place where women playing in male-dominated leagues is just as valid as them playing in women dominated leagues.

April Goss, a kicker for the Kent State football team from 2012-2015, in an interview with the New York Times, said it best when she was asked how she felt when a woman’s presence in a men’s sport was viewed as a publicity stunt.

“You have to always prove it’s not. Until it becomes commonplace, until it’s not a news story, I feel like that’s just going to happen.”


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