Is Sexism in Sports Here to Stay?

By Grace Pointner

Sexism in sports exists. If we continue to let things like unequal pay or marketing discrimination survive, the atrocities that female athletes have to put up with will continue to run rampant.

Cheerleaders, traditionally known for their Barbie-doll-like figures and their cheery smiles, receive the worst treatment in the world of sports, with more mainstream athletes not far behind. Within the last five years, stories have surfaced telling of the mistreatment NBA and NFL dancers put up with. Not only are cheerleaders paid less than $100 per game, some teams only pay their dancers with comp tickets and parking passes. Beauty supplies, fitness and costumes are all out of pocket expenses, and yet, these women are expected to pass weight tests two to three times a week.

Furthermore, the dancers can be expected to pay fines when rules are broken, show up to charity events in bikinis ready for lap dances and dunk tanks, and still remain unpaid for practice hours. Posing for swimsuit photoshoots, learning how to use a tampon correctly, being told how to eat and being given glamour requirements are all expected of many cheerleading teams as well.

Perhaps you remain unconvinced. Or perhaps you view cheerleading as “not really a sport,” probably because there is no male equivalent. But this kind of sexist treatment happens to all different kinds of female athletes.


Serena’s Body Suit

Most recently, pro tennis player Serena Williams had to put up with criticism she received for wearing a tight body suit in her U.S. Open match to win the final. Having recently recovered from having a child, Williams was suffering from blood clotting. To help prevent this, she and her fashion team developed an outfit that would help her with circulation. Although the outfit was wildly different than traditional tennis skirts and tank-tops, she wore the it and the internet exploded.

Looking like a character from Marvel’s Black Panther, Williams powerful figure had never looked so glorious on the court. She played glamorously. She won. And then she was chastised.

Unfair treatment of women has been highlighted in the entertainment world, in the business world and in the academic world; why isn’t it mentioned in the world of sports? Do cheerleaders have to keep putting up with humiliating “jiggle tests” just to make a team that pays them minimum wage? Do female soccer players still have to fight for equal pay? Can female athletes still be mothers without fearing body shaming or unfair rules that inhibit their ability to play? How much more of this do we have to put up with before change in made?


Equality Can be Grasped

In a moving letter written by beloved NBA player Stephen Curry, a world is depicted in which sports are just sports and they’re not defined by gender: “eventually we can get to a place where the women’s game, it isn’t “women’s basketball.” It’s just basketball. Played by women, and celebrated by everyone.”

Although this world looks impossible now, because female athletes are only being known for their spouse or their body. But I believe that equality can be grasped. Women can be recognized for their skill if we just give them more time to show us.

Let’s air women’s sports on prime time ESPN; let’s let the women play their games at night, “under the lights” on college campuses, not at 4 p.m.; let’s appreciate the grace and beauty of dance, not the sexiness of the dancers; let’s give them a chance to prove their harassers wrong. Because currently, the world is doing the opposite of these things. Women are being forced to fight a losing battle.

How can pay be raised if no one is watching the games? How can the dancers be kept safe and respected if no one can look behind the alluring facade of beautiful women? How can female athletes be mothers, if their return from labor is made harder by stubborn athletic insitutitions?

That being said, changes are slowly being made. World class skier Kikkan Randall said of being a mother and an athlete, “Men can have families, and they don’t ever have to miss a single race…. Knowing we were all having babies, we lobbied to have some support for moms that first season back. It’s the first time the international federation has provided that kind of support.”

World Cup and Olympics Soccer champion Christie Rampone echoed Randall’s sentiment, saying “Suddenly, you gain all of this confidence because you can do it all. Yeah, I’ve come back from having two kids. I’ve played games with no sleep because I’ve been up with a sick kid. I can handle anything that’s thrown at me.”

Brave women are paving the way into equality in sports and an end to sexism. But this issue is still not discussed widely enough. We, the watchers, the fans, the supporters, need to continue coming out to games, cheering on our favorite athletes, and taking an interest in the inner workings of female teams.

We need to see female athletes for who they and what they’ve accomplished, not just what they look like. Just as we put male athletes like Tom Brady, Michael Jordan or Roger Federer on a pedestal for their athletic and personal achievements, so we should support athletes like Serena Williams (Women’s pro tennis)  and Julie Ertz (Women’s pro soccer). And not for their bodies—how hot they are—but for their talents and passion for their sport.

Let’s support women everywhere: at home, in the workforce and on the field. See you there!