Gender Differences in Sports — It’s All About Fairness

You may recall reading about the U.S. Women’s National Team in soccer protesting about not being treated equally with the men’s team. You may remember their 2019 gender-discrimination lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation over pay and workplace issues (https://www.nbcnews.com/news/sports/u-s-soccer-reaches-settlement-world-cup-women-s-team-n1249603).

Well, it’s come up again, this time in softball. The Women’s College World Series is a major event in college sports. The annual eight-team tournament draws a major TV audience on ESPN. And yet, according to the New York Times, the NCAA continues to treat women’s softball as a second-class sport.

The host stadium in Oklahoma City only seats 13,000 (after a recent expansion) and sells out quickly. There are no showers in the locker rooms. The tournament schedule is condensed, with rare days off; sometimes teams play twice a day. This saves the NCAA on expenses, but is exhausting for the players.

In contrast, the men’s College World Series eight-team baseball tournament held each year in Omaha provides off days, a golf outing, a free massage day, and a celebratory dinner.

In my younger days, I played softball and have been in weekend tournaments. It can be quite a grind, playing as many as five games in a weekend, accumulating abrasions from sliding into bases and bruises from getting hit by errant throws. By Sunday night I felt wiped out. So I fully sympathize with the women. That’s the best we can do for the top collegiate players of a major sport?

Soccer, softball — unfortunately the pattern continues across women’s sports in general. At the moment, the NCAA forbids women’s basketball from calling itself “March Madness”; the term is reserved solely for men. In lacrosse, the Division One men’s games are all televised and staggered so fans can watch them all; most women’s games are available only online, and many overlap. And so it goes.

When challenged, sports officials defend the differences in gender treatment as a matter of money; men’s sports usually bring in more revenue. Yet the differences usually aren’t great enough to justify such a disparity in treatment. And the gap has been shrinking. So you can look forward to more stories about how women athletes just aren’t going to take it any more.

For more detail, see “Massages for Men, Doubleheaders for Women” by David Leonhardt (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/04/briefing/college-sports-gender-inequality.html).

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