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Jermaine Every on women in sports: Times are changing

Serena Williams has helped change the way women are viewed in sports. Clive Mason/Getty Images

Women are a critical part of life. Understatement of the millennium, I know. Without them, life as we know it doesn’t exist. Men can’t get pregnant, and we can’t pro-create with one another. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em.

However, in society, we have been slow to give them the respect they deserve. They were not given the right to vote nationally until 1920. To this day, women still fight for equal pay and fair treatment. The whole #MeToo Movement was sparked by a rash of sexual assault and abuse, starting with higher profile cases being brought to the public’s attention.

In the sports world, women have been marginalized as well. Little attention is paid to women’s athletics. Most of the time when men pay attention to them, it’s more for the eye candy aspect instead of an appreciation for their athletic ability. Sure, the women aren’t as athletically gifted as men in any given sport in which both genders compete, but they can be just as (in some cases more so) competitive and hungry as the men.

The intensity at which they compete hasn’t translated into respect and better pay or conditions. Recently, WNBA players have been more vocal about equal pay. NBA players get roughly a 50/50 split, while their WNBA counterparts get a 20/80 split. That is where their beef should lie. Venus and Serena Williams have always spoken out about better pay for ladies’ tennis players. The USWNT (national soccer team for those that don’t know) easily won their fight for better pay. But why is there a discrepancy in the first place?

To look deeper into the issue, we have to look follow the paper trail. Men’s sports typically generate higher and more diverse revenue streams. For example: you’ll see jerseys, shirts, purses, etc. geared for women consumers from men’s pro sports leagues, but you’ll find a unicorn before you find a men’s jersey from a women’s league. It’s as simple as a Google search to find out where to buy them, but I can find a guy wearing a basketball jersey from the 1980’s at an NFL game before I find a guy wearing a jersey from a women’s league at a women’s game.

Perhaps the biggest source of income for men’s sports is television contracts. The NBA has $2.6 billion dollars worth of television contracts annually, compared to the minute $12 million dollars the WNBA brings in annually from its television deal. Longevity of the leagues is apparent with the NBA existing 50 years before the WNBA was brought into existence.

Tennis was one of the sports in which women achieved pay parity with the men. Looking at the majors, here’s when they achieved that status: U.S. Open (1973), Australian Open (2001, although there was a period in which the women were paid more in the 1980s), French Open (2006), and Wimbledon (2007). Tennis is the one sport in which the women are sometimes more exciting to watch. Pay parity can be attributed to the Williams sisters rise in the rankings and popularity, as well as their outspokenness on the subject.

To be clear, I’m no feminist. However, I’ve always had an appreciation for women’s sports. Women’s tennis, in particular, held my attention at an early age because it was the one sport in which their storylines - Steffi Graf’s Grand Slam in 1988 - were more exciting. Graf’s dominance and looking to see if anyone could unseat her was akin to fans nowadays wondering if anyone can knock off the Golden State Warriors.

The idea for this article came from the WWE announcing the first all-women’s pay per view. Wrestling is sports entertainment, not a sport. But they clearly have their hand on the pulse of what their fans want. They’ve created a buzz for women’s wrestling by promoting their product. Women’s tennis has done a great job of this as well. Women’s soccer in this country took off the same time Brandi Chastain took off her jersey after they won the 1999 World Cup at the Rose Bowl.

Ladies are continuing their fight for equality in the sports world. Even sports journalists and reporters are fighting for their place as well. Am I looking to see equal pay and television time? No. I simply want to draw attention to what women are doing on the athletic front, and behind the cameras and mics. Give them a chance. You never know. You might end up liking it.

 

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