UConnRow.jpg

Let’s get this out of the way early. Women’s sports are incredibly entertaining, and female athletes are not second-class athletes whatsoever.

Now, you would think, in the year 2021, those statements would be obvious, but all you have to do is take a look at the women’s NCAA basketball tournament fiasco from earlier this year, or just glance at the comment section any time ESPN posts a highlight pertaining to women’s sports on social media, to know that definitely isn’t the case.

IMG_4857 (2).jpeg

What inspired me to write this column was actually neither of those things, though. One of my final projects at UConn was on the women’s rowing team’s fight to save its program, and last week, that fight paid off.

Here’s some background info for those unfamiliar with the situation. Last year, UConn was exploring budget cuts in the athletic department, but the rowing team was assured it was safe because of Title IX. However, the day before the cuts were announced, the rowing coaches and athletes found out they were on the chopping block, and there was nothing they could do about it on such short notice. That was June 2020.

Fast forward to this April, and the story was getting traction again because current and former UConn rowing athletes were coming together to file a Title IX lawsuit against the school. In addition, the rowing team arranged a protest on campus to bring awareness to the situation. I thought this was definitely a worthy story to look into, so I got the opportunity to talk with a couple of current rowers and a rowing alum, and I also got to see the letter that the lawyers wrote to the school threatening the lawsuit.

The message was clear. UConn was technically in violation of Title IX, even with the rowing team, because of skewed participation numbers. Therefore, UConn legally could not get away with cutting the largest women’s team at the school. Not only that, the rowers I talked to also told me about how poorly they were treated by the university. They weren't given adequate space to practice as a team on campus, and the boathouse where they row out of has been badly in need of repairs for some time now.

It was eye-opening to hear this about a school that prides itself on being a destination for female athletes. The athletic department also blew off my questions and issued a blanket statement saying the decision was made in compliance with Title IX.

Well, last week, this story broke, in which the school basically admitted it was lying through its teeth the whole time. Not only did UConn agree to reinstate the rowing program for two years, it also plans to “assess costs associated with a program upgrade and potential long-term reinstatement.” Seems like they were scared into submission by the lawsuit. By the time I was done reading the story, I had a grin on my face a mile wide. I was so happy that the fight and legal action had paid off for these young women.

However, my happiness didn’t last for long because female athletes shouldn’t have to file lawsuits to get the respect they deserve from their own university. If this was happening at a school whose two most successful programs are women’s sports (women’s basketball and field hockey), I can only imagine how bad it must be elsewhere.

Then I thought back to the basketball tournament in March, where it took a viral TikTok video by Oregon’s Sedona Prince for the NCAA to take ownership of the glaring disparities between the men’s and women’s tournament amenities, from the weight room to the food to even the type of COVID-19 tests being administered — the women were given less effective antigen tests.

It was a completely unacceptable situation, and the NCAA basically had to put its hand up and say, “I messed up big time.” The women ended up getting better amenities, but that’s not the point. The point is the blatant sexism that goes on when it comes to women’s sports.

Defenders of the status quo like to make the argument that it isn’t sexism, it’s capitalism and women’s sports don’t make as much money as men’s sports, so therefore, they shouldn’t be treated equally. That’s the lamest cop-out of all time, and it pisses me off every time I hear it.

First of all, as it pertains to the NCAA, that argument doesn’t hold any water because the NCAA is a billion-dollar industry in which the workers (the athletes) don’t get to see a dime in profit. Fortunately, that is finally going to change now with the updated name, image and likeness rules. But regardless, if the NCAA isn’t going to pay its workers, the least it can do is provide them all with equal perks.

But even outside the NCAA, that capitalism argument is crap. Why do you think men’s sports are more popular than women’s sports? Maybe because that’s all that has been promoted since the beginning of time. Men’s sports are completely ingrained in our society, while women didn’t even have a way to play organized sports at any level until Title IX passed in 1972 and have been fighting tooth and nail for even semi-equal treatment ever since.

Most of the problems in women’s sports stem from the refusal to invest in them the same way men’s sports are invested in. It’s a vicious cycle. Networks and sponsors favor men’s sports over women’s sports, so men’s sports are given the prime time coverage and promotion. Then when women’s sports don’t get the same audience because they’re not promoted in the same way, networks and sponsors use that to justify not investing in women’s sports.

Now, I’m not saying things haven’t improved, because they have. Women’s sports, especially basketball, have made amazing progress in the last 25 years. The WNBA and NCAA women’s basketball ratings are at an all-time high this year, and it’s not hard to see why. They’re actually starting to get some prime time, national TV coverage. But there’s still so far to go.

The Women’s College World Series final game this year aired on a Thursday at 3 p.m. while the men’s aired prime time. The National Women’s Hockey League still doesn’t have a linear TV deal six years into its existence. Women’s sports barely get a mention on sports talk shows. I can go on.

The general perception that women’s sports aren’t as exciting or aren’t as fun as men’s sports comes from a place of ignorance because people aren’t exposed to women’s sports nearly enough. The way to fix that? Promote and invest in women’s sports, and give them the respect they deserve.