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Women and Sports

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Sarah Sherman


Intro to Crit Fem Studies

Professor Anne Dalke


Women in Sports



Women have been playing sports for a long enough time that we do not actually know when exactly they started.  However, it is much more recent that women are playing sports professionally and in college and even in high school.  Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments changed everything for women's sports and women athletes.  Title IX states that, "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." (Department of Labor)  While the purpose of the law is to provide all-around gender equality, most people only know about it in regards to sports.  While it clearly has not achieved all that it intended to in regards to all around gender equality, it has made many significant positive strides in regards to females and sports. And while we've made it so far, we still have so far to go.

While girls have long played individual sports, Title IX really made it much easier for them to play team sports, as they were finally being offered to girls and not just to boys.  Title IX requires schools at any level to have equal opportunities for female students to play sports as male students.  They do not necessarily need to have the opportunity to play the same sports; they just need to have the opportunity to play the same amount of sports, if not more.  According to the NCAA rules, each school must have a certain amount of sports to be in a certain division.  For Division I, each school must have at least seven sports for both men and women, or six for men and eight for women; for Division II, each school must have at least five sports for both men and women, or four for men and six for women; for Division III, each school must have at least sports for men and five sports for women.  Along with that for each division there are rules about how many team sports need to be offered for each gender, as well as the rule that both gender need to represented each season. (  It is a good thing that the NCAA has these requirements, as it is really impossible to compete in college sports if a school is not a part of the NCAA. 

But while there are equal opportunities for women to play sports, they do not always get equal funding and still do not have the same opportunities as men, especially for coaching.  For example; men still receive about ten percent more athletic scholarship dollars than women, women's teams receive a little more than a third of college sport operating dollars and only about a third of recruitment spending. (  Along with that, women only coach two percent of men's teams and only make up nineteen percent of athletic directors, and in Division I, they only make up less than eight percent of the athletic directors.  (  But at the same time if you look up any statistics about women playing college sports and female college sports team, they all show that women's college sports programs are growing at a rapid pace, while men's programs are staying relatively stable.  (

Even though we have grown up in a generation where girls have always been able to play sports, it does not mean that we really thought we could go far with sports.  Or maybe they wanted to play a sport that boys play, like baseball or football.  Most girls do not grow up with the dreams that lots of little boys do, that they will one day play a professional sport.  And even if they did, I think their parents thought it would never happen, especially since when we were born there were no well known national sports leagues for team sports for women. 

All of the professional sports leagues that are still up and running were established after the 1996 Olympics.  It has been pointed out that at the 1996 Olympics the first generation of women affected by Title IX were playing, and at that Olympics, the American women teams won the gold medal in basketball, soccer, and softball. (Hughes, Kathleen)  In 1997, the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) was founded, and it exceeded expectations in its first year.  This was due in part to the amazing American team that won the gold medal in the Olympics, and the fact that they all signed on to join the WNBA in its inaugural season, and the amount of fans they already had, that eased the NBA's fear about starting a women's professional basketball league. (  The league has now been around for more than ten years and is still very successful.  There are fourteen teams, and there are young and talented college athletes joining every year.  Also, the founding players of the WNBA were among the first group to benefit from Title IX and therefore they went through strong college basketball programs and therefore the US had a strong Olympic team and in turn, a great start up for a women's professional league.

The start of a women's professional soccer league has similarities to the start of the WNBA.  While the American women's soccer team also had a gold medal win at the 1996 Olympics, the sport did not really catch on like basketball did until the World Cup in 1999.  The American women won a great victory at the World Cup that year and everyone remembers the iconic image of Brandi Chastain ripping her shirt off after she kicked the penalty kick that won the game.  After such a well-known event, it was believed to be time to start a league.  2001 was the Women's United Soccer Association's (WUSA) inaugural season and there were eight teams that were competing with some of the best players from the World Cup team. (  There was a $64 million investment to start the league up, mainly by the television industry and people who had worked in the television industry, which was helpful because that guaranteed all games were broadcast on TV, albeit on cable, but it's always hard to get media broadcasting, so this was a very effective way of working around that problem. (Hughes, Kathleen)  The organization was excellent, it was a "single-entity structure" which means that the "founding players" (the 20 former World Cup team members/Olympians) were spread out among the eight teams in order to create equality throughout the teams, who also had an $800,000 salary cap, in order to further the equality they were trying to create. (Hughes, Kathleen)  Unfortunately, even with the initial investment, there was not enough money to support the league and they had to suspend it after the 2003 season.  In 2004 a committee was formed to try to organize a way to revive the league, and in the beginning of 2008, there was an announcement made that there would be a new women's professional soccer league starting in spring 2009, named Women's Professional Soccer. (

One of the positive aspects of women's professional sports (though I can't think of many negative aspects) is that it puts out a better image of women to be role models for girls growing up.  Too many stars in the entertainment industry are such bad role models, with underage drinking, eating disorders and nude pictures.  The professional athletes are great role models, all of them are being recruited from colleges, so they are showing that education is important, they are strong and in shape without being too skinny, and they also give a different view of motherhood.  They show that it is possible to a professional athlete and have children, and that being pregnant isn't the end of a sports career.

But just because so many positive strides have been made in regards to women in sports, does not mean that there is not any way for things to improve, or that there is equality in most aspects of women in sports, because there clearly isn't.  There is a large purse gap between men and women still.  In many cases male champions are paid more than female champions.  Or champions of either gender may get paid the same amount, but there is still a disparity in pay for the runner-ups.  For example, while the French Open has started offering equal prize money to the male and female champions, the females who aren't champions still get paid significantly less than the males who aren't champions.(  There is a large gap in the minimum and maximum salaries of the WNBA and NBA players.  But the fact that I found most astounding was the fact that in the 2003 Women's World Cup for Soccer, the each member of the US National Team received $25,000 for getting third place, and if they had won the Cup, they would have each received $58,000.  Yet, the US Men only reached the quarterfinal of the World Cup in 2002 and they received $200,000 each. (  That is particularly astounding just because of how much farther the Women's Team got than the Men's Team, yet they only received an eighth of the what the men's team received.

One of the other aspects of the sports world that really needs to have more women in it is the coaching and administration.  Before Title IX, women used to coach 90% of female sports team, but now that number is down to only 44%, which is close to the lowest representation of females as the head coaches of women's teams in history, and they only coach two percent of men's teams. (Women's Sport Foundation)   Along with that, in NCAA Division I-A, the head coaches of women's teams earn $932, 700 less than the head coaches of men's teams. (WSF)  Also in the administration standpoint, 17.8% of schools have no females in their administration at all. (WSF)  Also among the NCAA divisions, there still aren't large amounts of female athletic directors.  In Division I only 8.7% of athletic directors are female, along with only 16.9% in Division II and 27.5% in Division III. (WSF)   But one of the more interesting facts that I found was that in Division I-A schools there are more female college presidents than female athletic directors. (WSF)  That statistic is especially surprising to me.

So as can be seen, we've come so far, but we still have quite a ways to go.  Girls are finally growing up knowing that they can play sports and in college and possibly even afterwards.  Women are being allowed to play the sports they want to play in college, and some women's college sports are bigger deals than their male counterparts.  But women's teams still receive less funding all round in comparison to men's teams, and are still viewed to be easier than men's sports.  As well, there is still the prize amount difference that seems to be slightly moving towards equality, but is not there yet.  And despite all the wonderful female professional athletes there are, the female leagues are nowhere as popular as the male leagues, which makes it tough to keep them going.  So, we're making progress and women's participation in college and professional sports is growing, but we aren't there yet.


Works Cited:


"About: Divisions" NCAA.

"About WUSA". WUSA.

Acosta, R. Vivian and Linda Jean Carpenter. "27 Year Study Shows Progression of Women in College Athletics". Women's Sports Foundation. 6/8/04.

"Celebrating the 1995-96 Olympic Team Ten Years Later". WNBA.

Hughes, Kathleen. "Sporty Spice". The Boston Phoenix. 5/24-5/31 2001.

"Pay Inequity in Athletics". Pay-Equity.

"Title IX, Education Amendments of 1972". U.S. Department of Labor.


Anonymous's picture

Females and Professional Sports Coverage

No one watches female sports cuz unless they know someone playing, youre far better off watching the males, our bodies were built for brute force...and typically our brains (or shall i say heads) directly reflect that!
Deal with it!

Anonymous's picture

Equal Rights

Well feminists want equal rights. Make the Olympics co-op and see who qualifies.

Anne Dalke's picture

Still having far to go


For a couple of years--a couple of years ago--I helped to teach a course on Women, Sport and Film that was co-sponsored by the Bryn Mawr and Smith College Athletics Programs. That was really the first time I'd thought much about women's sports as a social justice issue, and that was when I learned many of the facts and figures you cite in your essay. That was also when I began thinking about how much of an impact Title IX had had – not just on athletes, but on the culture of access and equity for women's participation in any area that has a history of male dominance.

This is an excellent review of --as you say--"how far we've made it, and how far we still have to go." You actually repeat that claim quite a few times in your essay--enough so that I finally I found myself wanting to ask you to go "further," too. Here are some of the directions your essay suggests to me:

1) Why is it that the female leagues are "nowhere as popular as the male leagues" (which is what of course makes it tough to keep them going--and might explain many of the persistent financing issues that you discuss elsewhere)?

2) What do you make of your "most surprising" fact, that there are more female college presidents than female athletic directors? Does it suggest that women in this country have advanced more rapidly in intellectual than in physical arenas? why might that be?

3) (This is the big one:) what is distinctive about the particular form of "cultural feminism" that you have chosen to highlight for this essay? You write it with no reference to any of the conversations we have been having in class, and I found myself curious to know how you see the culture you describe here in reference to all the others we have been discussing (and to those your classmates review in their papers). Are you describing an arena were "liberal" feminism is still most operative? One where women are still trying to get access to the perks men have long enjoyed? Without challenging the system itself?

4) All your data comes from organizational websites; what might women athletes themselves say about the story you have to tell here? What do you have to say? Where are you located in relation to your object of study?
Anonymous's picture

1. Female sport leagues aren't

1. Female sport leagues arent as popular as male leagues because they aren't as good! Snowboarding for example, A women does a 360, and wins the gold. A man does a double backflip 360 and wins silver.
2. Theres more females college presidents because their bodies aren't built for sports.
3. Feminism nowadays is "getting over-equal rights in areas that only benefit themselves."
4. The females should work on their sport rather then blog on some useless essay about why females aren't recognized as much (Probably because they aren't as good!)

Feminism is fascist.