Sport and Society for Arete -- Woman and Sport

What is it about women's sport that some people do not get? How long has it been since the passage of Title IX? When was it that Billy Jean King convinced the USTA to give equal prize money to women? The answer is much longer than Apple has had an 'I" or a "phone." Yet with mind-numbing regularity someone still pops up to challenge equality in sport, be it in prize money or some other dubious measure outside of sport. In general those "someones" are men who like to think of themselves as sportsmen and expert commentators on sport.

Two weeks ago I watched the NCAA Women's Hockey championship on my computer because it was not available on television. No matter, it was still a great game as the skills on display were of high quality, and the excitement was high. For the second consecutive year the Minnesota Gophers won the NCAA championship and now have won it four of the last five years, and six times overall. The Boston College team they faced came into the game with a perfect season at 40-0 seeking to match the 2013 Minnesota team that went 41-0 on their way to a national championship in the midst of a 62 game winning streak.

There were many great story lines in the game which included superb goal tending, and the return of Amanda Kessel who had been away from hockey for nearly three years. She had been unable to play following concussion symptoms after the Winter Olympics. She returned to the Gopher lineup for the last month or so of the regular season. It was an altogether memorable event on several counts.

A week later Raymond Moore, the tournament director of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, California, marked the end of a very successful event with his remarkably obtuse statement that "If I was a lady player, I would go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born." His contention was that women were "riding the coattails" of the men in tennis.

This is tennis, a sport in which women stars are everywhere, and which for long stretches of time were considerably more popular than men, and indeed carried professional tennis on the international stage. There have been times, and we are now in the middle of one, when women have carried professional tennis in the United States. Where have you been Mr. Moore?

Then this past week the once, and now once again, well known sportswriter Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe sent out a tweet proclaiming that the University of Connecticut is bad for women's basketball because they are too dominant. He is now the leader in the clubhouse for the title "Twitter Twit of the Year." Connecticut is about to win its fourth consecutive NCAA Title and are outscoring opponents by wide margins.

So apparently excellence is bad for sport. Is that for sport in general, or is it bad for this particular women's sport only? When a team or individual dominates a sport over a period of time the result is usually an increase in the quality of all those chasing the perennial winner. Generally these periods of dominance do not last very long and some challenger comes forward to change the subject.

If all of this were not enough, a few days ago members of the U.S. Soccer team went into court charging the U.S. Soccer authorities with discrimination on pay. The men are paid considerably more for their services than the women. Why is that? Are the women not as competitive internationally as the men? No, they are more competitive than the men. Do the women bring in less money to U.S. Soccer than the men? No, they bring in more. Are the U.S. men more popular than the U.S. women? No, the women are more popular.

So what is the problem here? Why do the women of U.S. Soccer get paid considerably less than the men? Why do they get lower per diems than the men? And why do they get less in appearance fees than the men? The problem is embedded in the culture of U.S. Soccer and indeed in the culture of sport in general. Women's sport is less valued than men's sport regardless of the popularity of any particular women's sport.

In the U.S. Soccer culture there is a long history of discrimination against women. Over twenty years ago the U.S. won their first world championship in China. The reaction in U.S. Soccer circles was anger. The men were supposed to win, not the women. What were these women trying to do?

When the U.S. players returned to the United States most of the U.S. Soccer officialdom stayed away. Having left China where they were cheered on by 70,000 fans, the U.S. women were greeted by almost no one at the airport in New York. Michelle Akers, the star of the U.S. team and the best woman soccer player in the world, told me that they were shunned because officials were angry with them for upstaging the men. They hadn't read the script as written by the U.S. Soccer suits.

Apparently little has changed over the years inside U.S. Soccer. The culture still devalues the women's game and that is expressed in dollars paid rather than dollars earned. And indeed, as has been demonstrated in many ways over the past couple of weeks, the culture of sportsworld continues to devalue and diminish women's sport.

So instead of celebrating the achievement of the Minnesota Gophers hockey team, I have been distracted by reality. Much has changed, but as the French put it, "The more things change, the more they remain the same."

On Sport and Society this is Dick Crepeau reminding you that you don't have to be a good sport to be a bad loser.