Ever since the feminist movement began demanding an equal place for women in American society, the ladies have come a long, long way together, through the hard times and the good. That’s great! But some corners still require a hefty amount of work to provide equal opportunities for all women wanting to enjoy their place in this world. Sports, for example, both amateur and professional. As the oft-blurred boundary between the two realms, the NCAA sits in a prime position to change things around for a truly equitable athletic experience. Before it does so, though, it needs to address some serious gender and sexuality roadblocks of its own.
- Few coaching and assistant coaching opportunities:Title IX’s historic passing in 1972 protected women against discrimination in educational opportunities, as students, faculty, and staff alike. NCAA schools saw their number of female athletes explode by 456% between 1971 and 2005, but a disturbingly sharp decline in women holding coaching and assistant coaching positions. Since 2000, the organization opened up 1,774 head coach positions for women’s sports, but men ended up in 1,220 of them. Considering that prior to Title IX, women held 90% of these jobs and the statistic as of 2010 stood as a paltry 42.9%, it’s safe to say the NCAA has a little more work to do when it comes to equal hiring practices.
- Lower salaries for staff:Even ladies who do manage to wind up in head and assistant coaching positions wind up subjected to the exact same professional continuing to plague their counterparts in other industries — the pay gap. But, unusually enough, the same sentiment also applies to men working for women’s teams. The average salary across both genders when coaching ladies’ athletics at the Division I-A level stands at around $850,400. Definitely not chump change! But when compared to what the equivalent for the male equivalents — $1,783,100 — the difference ($932,700) awkwardly stands out. Such a discrepancy carries with it the implication that women’s sports somehow stand as less worthy of the NCAA’s attention and fiscal resources, unintentional or not, creating an absolutely unnecessary divide.
- Less funding:When it comes to tightening the purse strings funding NCAA women’s sports, salaries never fly solo. Title IX does not require equal financial support between gender-split teams, but distribution legally may not reflect a bias for one or the other. Karen Morrison of the NCAA explained to ESPN that, for example, it’s perfectly OK to spend more on men’s teams requiring heavier, more expensive equipment — the money just can’t come at the expense of inadequate equivalents for women. Despite this understandable solution, though, schools still fail to provide. During 2004-2005 school year, only a paltry 35% of athletics funding went towards women’s teams. By 2010, Division I sports for ladies received a median average of $8,006,000, while the men enjoyed $20,416,000. Once again, this major discrepancy tells female athletes and their staff exactly where they stand on the priority list.
- WOC lose out on scholarship money:For women of color, Title IX may have provided more scholarship opportunities, but ever since its passing most of the money still supports white student-athletes. Understandably, minority women so often feel almost as unprotected as they were prior to the legislation because it does not protect against discrimination based on race. Only Division I basketball and track and field (both indoor and outdoor) support a representative amount of black women, at 50.6%, 28.2%, and 27.5%, respectively. The numbers drop to 11.6% in volleyball, 8.2% in softball, 5.3% in soccer, 2.2% in lacrosse, and 2% for swimming. And things only dim when one looks into how they fare at the coaching level. Out of 300 Division I women’s basketball head coach jobs in 2009-2010, only 35 black women served in them, compared to 166 white women. Hopefully future efforts to create more equitable spaces inside the NCAA realize that diversity and acceptance means taking more than just gender concerns into consideration.
- Fans and journalists judge more on looks than talent:This is unsurprising, considering that seems to be the norm across all female public figures. Baylor basketball darling Brittney Griner stand as a recent example of a sterling talent who inspires more journalistic and competitive analysis about how she challenges perceptions of beauty in athletes rather than the fact that she absolutely kills it on the court — a privilege levied largely on her male equivalents. The issue not only poisons the NCAA, but the sporting world as a whole. And thanks to the sexualization of female athletes across the spectrum, women who truly make strides as impassioned talents see their efforts marginalized as secondary to whether or not they adhere to arbitrary (not to mention obscenely narrow!) standards of how they “should” appeal to the (typically white) male gaze. It’s impossible to assume the NCAA itself can switch the ingrained rhetoric around alone, but chipping away at it by calling journalists out for ignoring what all its women athletes genuinely offer their respective sports might be a good start.
- Homophobia:First off, the NCAA’s 2011 rule changes showing sensitivity, respect, and acceptance toward the needs of transgendered student-athletes definitely deserve applause. But just because they make progress in one area of LGBT equality does not necessarily carry over to other letters in the acronym. While outright discrimination and bullying toward lesbian and bisexual female athletes has waned at a far, far swifter pace than in men’s sports, the demographics do feel as if homophobia continues to shape their activities in more subtle ways. For one thing, the general public tends to assume and paint all women in sports (particularly softball) as inherently gay, an attitude that can harbor resentment between teammates. Many lesbian coaches and players feel forced to stay in the closet lest they face accusations of promoting stereotypes. A recent controversy at Florida Gulf Coast University erupted when heterosexual female athletes utilized slurs aimed at orientation in a frivolous manner, which LGBT students, fellow sportspeople, fans, and others (including their straight supporters) found isolating.
- Hostess programs:Issues regarding the NCAA and its track record with women extends into men’s sports as well, though female students rather than student-athletes and coaches pay the price when it comes to “hostess” programs. At their core, they utilize attractive young women to shuttle around promising male high schoolers and answer their questions about what agreeing to play for the college or university could yield. At their seediest, they basically mean a prostitution ring, with participants ordered to cater to any — and they do mean any — request the athletic recruits might make. Arizona State University hostesses notoriously plied with sex and drugs, with the coaches who should’ve reported them encouraging this behavior instead. Obviously against NCAA regulations, the implications about how the sports world on the whole views women as rewards rather than people should prove apparent. Issues relating directly to the hostesses crop up across the United States, with the most recent striking University of Tennessee’s Orange Pride. Parents of recruited students report that the women tasked with helping out rubbed their breasts against them and the boys and knew exactly how to touch and lock eyes to entice — as if they’d been trained, in other words. This doesn’t mean they did or were willing to get sexual, of course, but it definitely reveals the underlying misogyny to the whole concept. Better policing by the NCAA might help ensure these programs stay within legal and ethical boundaries and nurture societal norms painting women as equals rather than bribes.
- Prostitutes and strippers as recruitment bribes:In continuing the “women as lures, because they’re only here for our visual amusement!” theme, more desperate boosters — such as University of Miami’s Nevin Shapiro — turn to sex workers to bolster the recruitment deal. Suffice it to say, this also happens to violate NCAA rules and, in the case of prostitutes (outside of Nevada, anyway), the law in general. Trips to strip clubs obviously stand as a more common occurrence than hiring prostitutes. Once again, the organization needs to put more energy and resources towards ensuring fair recruiting practices and ending corrupt dealings. By default, this means lessening the amount of incidents fueling mindsets that dehumanize female sexuality into a prize rather than something natural and autonomous.
- Rape and sexual assault:When one blends mini-celebrity status on campus with a society (not to mention, in some cases, recruitment bribes!) painting a woman’s beauty and sexuality as her only venues of value, a recipe for an entitlement complex swells. Not all athletes are potential rapists and sexual assailants, obviously, and not all potential rapists and sexual assailants are athletes. However, a disconcerting number of stories regarding male players sexually violating their female peers — who, as it must be noted, absolutely never deserve such a horror — crop up in the news. Linked above is a story about a woman football player from University of Colorado who says teammates repeatedly sexually assaulted her, with one eventually committing rape. Here’s a case from University of Illinois. Here’s a rape charge at Boston College. Here’s one from Oklahoma State. Here’s an arrest from Boston University. Sexual assault and rapes plague college campuses, and, at Rutgers, campus officials believe the inherently unequal social mores in athletics culture contribute to the phenomenon. To the point they actually recorded an educational video on the subject and show and distribute it to any interested parties. Hopefully the NCAA takes a clue from them and begin incorporating rape and sexual assault prevention into its core values as opposed to perpetually fighting such scandals.