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January 20, 2022
Women’s sports have historically been less prioritized compared to men’s sports in the media. According to a Purdue University study in 2019, researchers found that 95% of total television coverage focuses on men’s sports.
At the professional level, media coverage is one of the largest forms of revenue and resources for athletics. Libby believes the viewership of some womens sports is not maximized.
“I do think [gymnastics] is underappreciated, mostly because it’s not marketed very well,” Libby said. “It’s not ever really on TV. The only time it’s on TV is the Olympics and that’s only every four years. If your university or your club is going to market you well, then appreciation might go up.”
As a varsity basketball player, Zola Gross ’23 notices the difference between support for girls and boys sports at West.
“At the girls-boys doubleheader, there’s no one there for the girls game, and as soon as the boys game starts, the stands start packing up,” Gross said.
This lack of coverage can have an ongoing impact on women’s athletics.
“It’s an endless cycle,” Gross said. “If you aren’t getting views, you’re not going to get sponsors. If you’re not getting sponsors, you’re not going to be put on TV and therefore you’re back at the beginning. It’s just a hard cycle to break.”
Additionally, Gross believes there are many small inequalities behind the scenes. Last year, during the NCAA March Madness tournament, University of Oregon women’s basketball player Sedona Price went viral for documenting the disparity between men’s and women’s weight room facilities. The men’s teams were provided with a full room of equipment, while the women were given a small dumbbell rack and some yoga mats.
People should recognize [female athletes] for the success they’re having instead of the way they look while doing it.”
— Jannell Avila '23
“If that video hadn’t gotten millions and millions of views, no change would have happened,” Gross said.
After persistence from the public, the NCAA apologized and provided the women’s teams with equal equipment. Woods commends West for supporting girls athletics but believes that there will always be an imbalance.
“Everything is built around [how] guys are more athletic and successful in the sports world, and I think West does a good job of balancing it,” Woods said. “Regardless, more people will always show up to the boys basketball games than the girls basketball games because of that athleticism and success aspect.”
To draw in more viewers and promote equal media coverage, ESPN made efforts to level the online playing field by launching the sub-brand “espnW” in 2010. The brand focuses on providing viewpoints and stories from female athletes. According to ESPN Press Room, espnW and ESPN accounted for 40% of women’s sports television coverage in 2019. In October, espnW launched the “That’s a W” campaign, which emphasizes the accomplishments of women in sports and seeks to put a spotlight on female athletes.
Also in recent years, professional women’s teams have been able to establish and update Collective Bargaining Agreements to make sports more equitable for women. A CBA is a written legal contract between an employer and a union representing the employees regarding topics such as wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment.
In March 2019, U.S. women’s soccer player Alex Morgan sued the U.S. Soccer Federation, claiming unequal pay and discriminatory working conditions under their CBA. The claims under the Equal Pay Act were thrown out in May 2020, but oral arguments regarding discriminatory working conditions will be presented in early 2022.
Gross believes that gradual pushes for change are necessary for change as a whole.
“There are so many little steps that have to be taken first for any big change to happen,” Gross said. “It’s good their voices are being heard more in terms of what they want and what they need.”