The Status of Female Athletics Tuesday, June 07, 2011 By Meklit Girma
In 1972, the passing of Title IX began building a narrow road towards the success of women’s athletics. Although it paved the way for female athletes, women’s sports still had a long way to go before reaching the subtle popularity level they are at now. The true beginning of women in sports occurred during the Victorian era: Because women had more educational opportunities, they had more opportunities to participate in different activities. Women’s sports gradually made their way to the United States, where they grew exponentially and, for many years, found itself in the courts fighting for equality. Thus, the increased desire of female athletics led to the enactment of Title IX, which provided more opportunities and increased participation worldwide. The law required gender equality for boys and girls in every educationally funded program that receives federal funding. This legislation was a great opportunity for women because it gave female athletes access to better equipment, coaches, playing fields, and travel budgets. Before Title IX, interscholastic competition for females had actually decreased over the years. In 1970, only one-out-of-27 girls played high school varsity sports. Now, partly because of Title IX, that number is one-in-three. “I think female sports have come a long way,” says Paint Branch High School Varsity Basketball Coach Mr. Walter Hardy. “Title IX has provided equal opportunity for women’s sports.” The recognition of female athletes began rising with the creation of women’s professional leagues. Females were not considered strong enough to play a full-court basketball game in the United States until 1971. Now, in every public educational facility females receive the same rights to participate in the sport of their choosing, regardless the physical dangers. Paint Branch High School Athletic Director Ms. Heather Podosek explains, “We have to have equality in sports at this school. We have to allow any girls that want to wrestle, wrestle. We’ve even had girls play football.” Again, due in part to the influence of Title IX, women’s sports leagues reached their highest level ever in 1996. In 1996, when the Women’s National Basketball Association began as a counterpart to the NBA and, in the same year, the NBA board of governors officially approved the league. With women’s basketball on the rise, people began recognizing star female athletes like basketball players Lisa Leslie, Tina Thompson, and Sheryl Swoops. Their faces became iconic, and girls across the nation wanted to be like them. In the United States, physical education programs required student participation in sports, guaranteeing that all girls had exposure to athletics at an early age. With the WNBA on the rise, the participation in women’s sports increased. Professional athletes differ from other athletes in primarily one way: they are paid. Throughout the world, most top female athletes are not professionals and work full-time or part-time jobs in addition to their practice, training, and game schedules. Though women have been pro athletes in the United States since the early 1900s, paid teams, leagues and athletes are still uncommon and, as of 2006, those who are paid are compensated at a level far below male athletes. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, for a WNBA player in the 2005 season, the minimum salary was $31,200, the maximum salary was $89,000, and the team salary cap was $673,000. For NBA players in the 2004-2005 season, the minimum salary was $385,277, the maximum salary was $15.355 million, and the team salary cap was $46 million. For finishing in third place in the 2003 Women's World Cup, each U.S. Women's National Soccer Team member was awarded $25,000. They would have received $58,000 if they had won the Cup. For reaching the quarterfinal of the World Cup in 2002, the U.S. men's national soccer team members received $200,000 each. “Society still hasn’t fully adjusted to the equality of women, and I think it’s going to take time for men and women to fully and completely be accepted and respected on the same level,” comments Paint Branch High School junior Nicole Money. “If women put in the same amount of effort and time on something as men do, then they certainly deserve to be paid the same amount. “ In the ancient Olympics, women were not allowed to even watch sports competitions let alone compete as athletes. Women’s sports were added to the Olympics in the 1900 Olympic games in Paris. Only eleven women were allowed to compete in lawn tennis and golf. In these modern Olympics women win gold medals, set world records, and become iconic figures in today’s sports world. Mia Hamm is a well known name who transformed soccer with her numerous record-setting performances, like leading her college team to the NCAA National Championships for four consecutive years and helped the United States Women’s National Team win the gold medal in the 1996 and 1994 Olympics. The 1999 Women’s World Cup moved women’s soccer and several of its best players to the spotlight when midfielder Brandi Chastain scored the winning goal for the U.S. in the penalty kick shoot-out against China. In 2000, the very first women’s professional soccer league was established: the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA). WUSA was a division-one league, which attracted many soccer players (especially young girls) to come watch. National team players like Kristine Lily and Hamm, joined adding a vast amount of excitement to the league. But in 2003, the association did not make enough money to continue and folded due to lack of public interest and finances. In 2009, a new women’s soccer league was founded: Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS), which is currently fielding six teams but had to drop multiple teams because of financial difficulties. Media coverage of women's sports is considered important because it increases the level of participation among girls — some of America's future athletes. More than 658,000 fans and 1 billion worldwide television viewers watched the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup soccer championship, the most successful women's sporting event ever. However, this success could not be sustained over the long haul. A 20-year study of network and cable by University of Southern California sociologist Mike Messner and Purdue University sociologist Cheryl Cooky published in Gender in Televised Sports find men took up 96% of sports news in 2009. Even the ESPN website gives women the short stick as the study found that 96.4 percent of the information scrolling along the bottom of the screen was dedicated only to men's sports. American women have struggled to be taken seriously as athletes for more than two centuries. Today, women compete professionally and as amateurs in basically every major sport, though the level of participation usually decreases when it comes to more violent, contact sports like football, boxing, or wrestling. In the years to come the participation in female athletics will continue to increase but only if they are given the encouragement needed to reach the same level athletically as men.