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Gender Inclusivity and Equal Opportunities for Women in Sports

If you’ve watched the news lately, you’ve likely heard about Sarah Thomas. Thomas was the first woman to officiate a college bowl game, and most recently, became the first woman to officiate an NFL playoff game. Headlines read, “Sarah Thomas makes history as first female referee at NFL playoff game” but why is this a role that has seemingly been so illusive to women in the past? We live in an “equal opportunity employment” world, but why is it that in sports, oftentimes it seems like there are anything but equal opportunities?

Athletics has long been a male dominated industry, men dominate on the field and on the court. What women’s sport owns an entire day of the week (we’re looking at you, NFL)? That’s not to say that there are absolutely no opportunities for women in sports. Thanks to Title IX, opportunities for female athletes at the amateur level have increased immensely. Universities nationwide are obligated to offer an equitable amount of women’s sports as a proportion of the student population, and as an offset to some of the massive rosters for men’s sports such as football and baseball. But what about professional opportunities? Not just to play professionally, but to make an equal salary to men playing the exact same sport. Or, at the very least… a livable salary playing professional sports.

One of the most notable gender-based wage inequities in sports in the past five-years has been brought to the forefront by the women’s USA National Soccer Team. In 2015, the women’s soccer team won their third world cup and earned $2 million, while the USA men’s team, who lost in round sixteen, earned $9 million. The women were paid roughly 4-times less for winning than the men’s team was for losing. Some argue that men’s sports bring in more money, so why shouldn’t they get paid more? While it’s true that on average men’s sports do bring in more money, we can’t help but to ask, why? Why are women’s sports undervalued so significantly by fans, advertisers, and sponsors that female athletes make less than half of what their male counterparts make playing the same sport, even sometime to higher levels of success? Female athletes are speaking up on this issue and using their platforms to affect change. 

Some sports such a professional beach volleyball, have consciously taken steps to pay men and women the same prize money. 2016 beach volleyball Olympian and JoPro, Lauren Fendrick, commented on being a women in the sport,

I am so grateful for the long list of people involved who made equality of pay across genders come about for the FIVB in 1998 and the AVP in 2001. I believe when change like this happens it’s not only the people directly involved who deserve recognition—it’s the early beach volleyball female athletes who put their sweat and passion into creating a good product as athletes when the money wasn’t there, it’s my mother-in-law and her teammates who rowed for Syracuse in men’s hand-me-down jerseys and practiced at off hours when the boats weren’t used by the men—it’s all these little efforts, I think, that combine and create momentum for big change. Most recently, I loved hearing about the efforts that USA women’s hockey has put forth to get a salary increase, among other positive changes.

There are still strides to be made for sure within athletics and beyond—only 4.8 % of CEOs in the Fortune 500 are female, the huge discrepancy between USA women’s and men’s soccer salaries, the legality of females attending male sporting events in Iran—but I’m inspired by the efforts of the people who came before me.”

It’s now more than ever that young female athletes need to be supported to pursue their athletic dreams and goals, through college and beyond. We need to support women’s sports by going to games, cheering on races and watching on TV. We need to invest in women’s sports to show that we care, and to show the sports governing bodies and the world that female athletes are, in-fact, worth it.

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