Play ball: Women in sports face a world of hardships


Photo by J. Schweikert

Mill Stream Staff

Every year, we seem to revisit an age-old crisis involving women in sports. Regardless of a sport being considered traditionally male or female, women like Serena Williams and Sarah Fuller are heavily criticized by social media, magazines, and news outlets for their attitude, their clothing, their game play, or other trivial traits. Criticism cannot be avoided by any one woman. When popular news outlets focus on the incredible strength of athletic women, they usually erase their femininity through an emphasis on masculinity. Trolls on social media shame women for being too feminine and disgracing sports, or for being too masculine and being “unattractive” to watch. In the early 20th century, women infrequently competed in many sports. Now that their participation is more common, the immense pressure to find the perfect balance between femininity and masculinity is impossible. As a result, nothing remains but the fact that women’s sports lack support. Even if women are consistently winning more than men, women’s sports teams receive less support, both socially and monetarily.

Just this past March, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) came under fire for their treatment of the men’s and women’s basketball teams in the national championship tournament. While photos posted online showed the men’s teams with fully-equipped workout rooms, the women’s teams had only a rack of weights and a stack of yoga mats. The controversy only grew as more disparities were revealed. Men’s teams received a buffet with steak and mac ‘n cheese, while women’s teams were offered uninspiring box dinners. Women’s “swag bags” appeared to be about a third of the size of men’s. After complaints from coaches, players, and outrage on social media after a Stanford coach posted about the inequalities, the NCAA upgraded the women’s weight room, spoke to hotels about the food choices for women athletes, and finally addressed the controversy.

Although organizations like the NCAA may fix their mistakes once they’re pointed out, women’s struggles for equality don’t stop there. Female football player Sarah Fuller was widely bullied on the internet five months ago after kicking off in a Vanderbilt football game. TikTok comments included “Nice publicity stunt Vanderbilt,” “Making history for the shortest kick-off,” and “Pretty sure I saw a female kick the same field goal in a high school powderpuff game #dogwater.” Fuller did not let the comments stop her, and she continued playing through the rest of her senior year. Still, despite her struggle, she is treated as a punch line by many football fans who then turn around and praise collegiate male players at the same skill level as Fuller. Fuller is only one example of women who were barred or discouraged from male sports, either socially or physically. In 1967, Boston marathon runner Katherine Switzer was nearly pulled off the course by a race manager who believed women had no place running. Serena Williams was banned from wearing her catsuit in the French Open, despite her medical reasons for sporting it.

There is no way to win approval as a woman or girl in the eyes of some sports fans. Some women prefer to wear pink shorts while they play, while others present as masculine in basketball shorts. Either way, someone somewhere will have something negative to say. So forget about seeking approval. People play sports because of a passion for the activity, because they’re good at it, because they want to have fun. Play the sport for yourself, and ignore the naysayers.