Picture this: It’s a chilly Friday night in October. You enter the stadium of the local high school and the lights are shining onto the crisp turf field. The players, who have been practicing all season, do their pre-game warm-ups. They jog, they stretch, they pass. The officials meet with the captains and coaches to discuss the evening’s competition. The whistle blows and the fans cheer loudly in the stands. The bleachers are packed and you can feel the energy from the crowd, something a little like this one. If you’re like most people, the scene in your head probably features a men’s football game about to start. Or maybe, men’s soccer. Women’s soccer or field hockey, however, probably never crossed your mind. Why not?
As a two-sport varsity athlete in high school, I can tell you why, because that scene is generally nonexistent. I spent countless nights supporting other teams at my school, boys’ and girl’s soccer, boys’ and girls’ basketball, boys’ and girls’ lacrosse, and of course, football. The men’s sports had higher turnouts without fail. The theme of men’s sports being superior to women’s goes farther back than the professional and collegiate level discussed in the chapter titled Being a Woman And Other Disabilities by Professor LaVaque-Manty. It begins in high school athletics, the first level at which big crowds are attracted. And although Title IX bans sex-based discrimination in education programs, the SHARP Center’s report titled “Gender Equity in High School Sports” gives data that questions the effectiveness of Title IX. From 2000-2010, “boys received disproportionately more opportunities than girls did.”
And besides opportunities, the boys’ teams at my high school received more special treatment as well. Their locker room, for example, was recently renovated and is undoubtedly nicer and more updated than the girls’. My team was
forced to change in dusty, dingy rooms, and one season two teams even had to share the same team room (a room in which each team stores their uniforms and equipment, which are usually given out one per team). The boys were also frequently allowed to leave their last class early on game days so they had time to get dressed, set the field, and prepare, even when the girls had the same exact things to do and the same game time. This was something that frustrated me throughout my high school career. I practiced six days a week, just like the boys did. I dedicated my time to my sport, just like the boys did. My team had a winning record and collegiate-bound members, just like the boys did. My most memorable game of high school field hockey was my Senior Spirit Game, when all the other athletes were required to come watch. My team definitely fed off the energy from all our supporters, and we beat our rival team in a close game. As Professor La-Vaque Manty points out, “Surely… it matters for a person’s interest in a pursuit what sort of incentives are associated…with it. Social appreciation from admiring spectators is one such incentive.” While I never played field hockey or lacrosse solely for this reason, my one night with an excited crowd showed me exactly what I had been missing out on.
It is unfair and upsetting to me that the culture in high-school, college, and professional sports is this way. I loved the sports I played, but it was disheartening that no one seemed to care about the effort I put in like they did about boys. And as pointed out by my classmate in the blog post, Women’s Sports and Coverage in the Mainstream Media, this type of culture sends the wrong message to young girls. It tells them that “society doesn’t care as much about what they do as compared to a boy,” which is not the way it should be. The point of youth sports is to build confidence and character, not tear it down. The change needs to start from the bottom and work its way down. If more people care about women’s youth and high school sports, they will follow those sports to the collegiate and professional levels. While society has taken steps in the correct direction, I think we can all agree that we have a long way to go.