She. He. Athlete.
Written by Ashlyn Sparks // Edited by Chelsea DuDeVoire
In my personal experience as a female athlete, there has always been a heightened expectation to prove myself. From middle school PE to college co-ed basketball leagues, I have to play each game as if every point I score goes unremembered, as these points are not attributed to my ability to play, but rather to the inability of those who fail to successfully defend me. I could drive past the best male athlete on the court, but that drive would be seen as a consequence of his bad day, and not as a credit to my level of skill. This toxic mentality extends well past recreational and community leagues, and continues to be disturbingly present in professional athletics today.
Through such adversity, women continue to prove resilient. Most recently, the U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team fought (and won) a tough battle with USA Hockey over contract negotiations leading up to the world championships last Friday. Their demands were pretty simple: to stay on par with their male counterparts and receive equal wage, injury insurance, and treatment in travel arrangements, among other things. Such requests don’t seem outlandish, especially for such a powerhouse of a team, but USA Hockey put up a tough fight. So how did these women respond? Not only did the USWNHT refuse to play, but so did every woman whom USA Hockey contacted to fill-in as a replacement. The force of women standing together is one to be recognized, and USA Hockey learned just that.
The US Women’s National Soccer Team as well as Professional Women’s Tennis are also fighting similar battles. So here’s where I get confused: why should an international champion be paid less than members of a team who couldn’t even qualify for the tournament? Why should professional (female) tennis players be paid 80 cents to the dollar of their male counterparts annually, even after winning the same caliber of tournaments? It just doesn’t make sense. Or cents. Pun intended.
To say that women’s athletics has improved in treatment over the years is an understatement, however. Skirts as uniforms are no longer the (mandated) norm, and I think that’s something we can all appreciate. But with teams like UCONN Women’s Basketball – who are setting all-time records with their winning streak of over 100 games – such dominance seems to be appreciated not because they are rewriting athletic record books, but simply because they are women. These women are redefining the word "success" and overcoming feats no male athletes have been able to, yet are still subject to the patronizing perspectives of those reporting on such triumphs. How many more records must be broken before their impact is fully recognized?
While there has been a good deal of improvement for women in athletics, there is still a ton of work to be done to ensure fair recognition for future generations. So in order to see change happen, we have to start at the beginning. We can no longer accept a pay gap for international champions just because they are women, and we can’t stand by as girls continue to get the last pick for school PE games simply because of their gender. The word "athlete" does not carry a gender connotation; so neither should the expectation of success for women who call themselves one.
Ashlyn is a Junior at Jacksonville University whose main hustles include pretending to write poetry, involving herself in everything JU-related as possible, aspiring to one day change the world of education, and hoping that her parents don't change their Netflix password anytime soon.