Women’s School Sports Beat Pros by Long Shot

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(Publisher’s note: On March 8, join Women’s eNews at our offices for a 40th celebration of Title IX with New York Liberty legend Kym Hampton, Joanne Smith, executive director of Girls for Gender Equity, and more. The panel discussion takes place on March 8, at 6:30 p.m., at 6 Barclay St., 6th Floor, New York NY 10007. Register here.)

(WOMENSENEWS)–Title IX, the gender-equity law for schools that turns 40 this year, has plenty to show for itself in gyms and playing fields where young women are shooting hoops, scoring goals and getting plenty of press.

But beyond the reach of Title IX–in the professional arena outside school–it’s a whole different game.

ESPN’s SportsCenter–a major hub for mainstream sports fans–provides an indication. Only 1.4 percent of coverage there in 2009 went to women’s sports, down from 2.2 percent in 1999, according to the Center for Feminist Research.

An analysis of intercollegiate athletic websites finds women’s sports winning far more attention by campus media. Female players are most neglected by multimedia technology, where they claim only about 22 percent of audio and video coverage. Otherwise, however, women’s sports command about 40 percent of article and photo coverage.

Kym Hampton, a former WNBA player who spent three years with New York Liberty, doesn’t blame the sports media for overlooking women.

Sports coverage is tied to fans, Hampton says, and those fans start young. Families and teams take more boys to the bleachers and stadiums. "They’re seeing it, they’re watching it. They’re students of the game."

Girls might be playing more basketball–feeling the pressure of the shot clock or savoring an unexpected win–but they aren’t encouraged to become fans of professional teams.

Hampton doubts women’s sports coverage will improve until more women–even those not interested in sports–start going to sporting events in greater numbers. "We have to do that for each other."

For women’s professional sports to be viable, tickets must be sold, says Hampton. "The bottom line is dollars."

At the end of the WNBA season last year, only three of the basketball league’s 12 teams had made a profit. Women’s Professional Soccer, only a few years old, recently announced that it would not have a 2012 season as it battles a legal case with a team owner. A women’s professional softball league, National Pro Fastpitch, was created in 1997, folded in 2001 and restarted in 2004. The league has four teams.

The ailing condition of women’s pro sports stands in night-and-day contrast to school sports.

Three million young women participated in high schools sports teams last year, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. That’s a huge leap from 300,000 in 1972, before the passage of Title IX, which bars public schools and colleges that receive federal funding from discriminating on the basis of sex.

And college women scored big too–185,000 players in 2009-10, according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association–way up from 30,000 in 1972.

Despite its transformation of school sports, many — including school administrators — don’t know what Title IX is.

Joanne Smith is executive director of Girls for Gender Equity, a New York nonprofit. She contacted 200 New York City public schools in order to find the names of their Title IX coordinators, the people to whom students would turn if they felt they had suffered discrimination. Few school officials knew what Title IX was.

"There’s still a gap, a lack of recognition and understanding of federal policy as a law and as a right," Smith said.

She finds that Title IX is poorly implemented, especially in matters other than sports, such as sexual harassment and gender violence in schools. "It’s a real educational moment…when we talk about Title IX and sexual harassment," says Smith.

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Samantha Kimmey is a writer based in Brooklyn, N.Y.

For more information:

National Collegiate Athletic Association:

Girls for Gender Equity:

5 thoughts on “Women’s School Sports Beat Pros by Long Shot

  1. This article highlights aspects of deep-seated socialization that still exist today. Kym Hampton, the former WNBA player, discusses how sports coverage is tied to fans and how “more boys” are brought to games from a young age. Hampton makes a valid point that while women have similar opportunities to play on the high school and collegiate levels, more boys are “encouraged to become fans of professional teams.” This is rooted in the traditions of the past. Men take their little boys to the game to bond, not their little girls. The culture of professional sports, especially football, exude an all male/ more male pattern. Today, socialization breeds the idea that men’s sports, and not women’s sports, are more interesting, bring in more money, and are more fun. This belief reverberates around offices, homes, bars, and permeates our culture. The same games are played. The only difference is gender and the ill-conceived notion that “men play harder”. It is an unending cycle – more people attend men’s professional sporting events, more money is brought in, the money circulates back into the experience/ advertising of the men’s sporting event, leading to higher viewership.

    While Title IX allowed women to take monumental steps forward and to have a career after high school, this article brings light to the fact that men have greater opportunities for long-term careers in sports than women. In pay, in positions, in viewership, women lag behind men in being able to shore up equal opportunities.

  2. Kym Hampton is right when she says “the bottom line is dollars.” But this doesn’t only include ticket sales, it includes sponsorships as well. The ability to advertise and bring in fans, as well as have giveaways for kids to take home and remind them about the game (giving them some incentive to become a fan), relies heavily on corporate sponsorship. Teams like the WNBA have high profile sponsors, in 2011 that included Boost Mobile, Adidas, American Express, Coca-Cola, Gatorade, EA Sports, and many more (http://www.wnba.com/news/sponsors.html), however, I assume based on their lack of advertising (and the like), that the dollar amounts aren’t very much, and certainly are not comparable to the NBA.

    Whether or not a corporation sponsors a sports team or event of course relates to a cost-benefit analysis of what they’re going to get back. However, I think that women in sports should be a priority on a social level as well as economic.

    The growth of women in both secondary and higher education has proven to have great benefits to both those women as individuals, as well as the institutions that promote them (http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/15/as-girls-become-women-sports-pay-dividends/). Giving young girls more role models in sports, showing that women too can be the best of the best, can only help them reach higher, focus more, and be proud of who they are.

  3. There are a lot of really important statistics in this story. I imagine that to understand why professional women’s sports are struggling, one must look at the male/female psychology of America.

    America loves heroism, and the American ideal of male psychology includes the idea of man as hero, which includes man as saviour of woman. From what is she to be saved if not from herself and other males and females less than the male who is saving her for a better life with him? Sports traditionally show men vying with one another for the most fit male, in body and spirit – thus, we do not like drugs or other signs of cheating in sports. Thus, also, boys and men are taught that the lessons learned in sports are applicable in life, fending off all others, and working sometimes as a team to defeat ‘bad’ people to save and support the women (poorer in body and spirit) who need them. Next, therefore, what good is it for women to play these sports? How can we be saved if we save ourselves? When we play together are we rejecting all that men hold dear? If so, what parents would send their sons to watch girls’ games and what adults would watch girls games? And if girls all help each other is this not lesbian, and therefore wicked, and that from which a girl should be saved? If these were not possibly the problem, I believe that there would not be a fan problem in women’s sports, because women’s sports include many amazing athletes and teams. Or perhaps this is just a foolish rant.
    Today, we hear much of women’s rights, which is good. But, how far below the surface of the American psyche does this extend, when compared to that for men, women and girls clothing is often so demeaning in many ways, and when employers and educators are still discriminating against women so severely in America?

  4. What makes me want to go to sporting events in college are free food, beverages and gear. For me to know about a sporting event takes publicity. For the sporting events I have been to in high school and college, women’s sporting events lack the promotion that men’s teams get. For instance, men’s basketball games at my school often have free pizza. I wouldn’t mind going to a sporting event that has free food. In contrast, the women’s games hardly have freebies for students and often do not have the food stand open during women’s games. This is not because women are not being socialized to attend games; this is due to the college not appropriately allocating resources to the women’s and men’s teams equally to draw in fans. Publicity is a key component for schools to reflect on regarding Title IX, and the amount/type of publicity heavily affects the turnout of fans. With regard to pro sports, I see repetition with how women’s teams are publicized throughout high school, college and pro sports. Men continue to have the upper hand, and therefore also have more fans turn out to games.

    As far as college teams go, there needs to be something more for the students. In this case, I have been to more men’s games than women’s because of the promotions. I am more aware of the men’s games due to higher publicity, and men’s games more frequently because of the free food. I am not alone in my shallow desire for free food, and when I am among other fans that would not have come otherwise, we create the school spirit by turning out in larger numbers. At the college level, this is an institutional inequality that needs to be addressed. If fairness in all methods of participating in an athletic event is not explicit in the actual law itself, fairness regarding access to playing times, publicity methods and frequency, and competitive facilities for practicing are implicit and are equally important to what is explicitly stated. All of these factor into the overarching equality of a team, whether it is a men’s or women’s team, athletics deserves nothing but the best, and it is obvious that women’s teams are suffering in fan turnout because of institutional inequalities. If these changes at the high school and college level, maybe turn out to women’s pro sports events would be higher.

    As for school officials not knowing what Title IX is, I think that is a disgrace. Title IX should be discussed annually or more frequently so that employees are up to date on their school’s compliance and other issues. Maybe talking more about Title IX and discussing what it really means would help schools’ faculty and staff understand the other components associated with Title IX, such as sexual harassment and gender violence Smith said. At the very least the athletic department and office staff/admissions department should be aware of what Title IX is, and know if there school is compliant or fixing their methods so that they are compliant.

  5. As a female student-athlete, I cannot say that I am shocked by anything stated in this article. The sad truth is that society just does not care about women in sports. Sports are something, along with politics and military issues, just to name a few, that has become gendered thanks to expectations of society. The article makes a great point about women not being encouraged to support professional teams. Growing up, I was very lucky in regards to sports because I have a family member who works in sports media. I was one of very few girls who would spend their lunch time discussing the Giants game from the weekend before or the great win by the Yankees. But even then, those are professional MEN’S teams. I knew about them because of my family member and the coverage given to those professional MALE sports teams. After reading this article I talked to that family member about the coverage given to male sports teams compared to female sports teams. They told me that the coverage depends strongly on what the public wants and since more people follow professional male sports teams that are what they are going to report about. This just goes back to the emphasis that is placed on males in sports rather than females. Fathers take their sons to sporting events and encourage them to pursue sports which reflect in how the sons then raise their kids. It is an ongoing cycle which is caused by the influences of society. It is not our fault that very few people care about women in sports compared to men, it is a learned trait.