By Glenne Fucci, IATG ContributorMay 13, 2016
“In my next life when I come back I want to be someone in the WTA [Women’s Tennis Association] because they ride on the coattails of men. They don’t make any decisions and they are lucky. They are very, very lucky. If I was a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that [insert top men’s players] were born, because they have carried the sport.”
This statement may give the appearance of having been ripped from the sports section of the decades ago. However, it was made this past March by the Director the BNP Paribas tennis tournament, shortly after Victoria Azarenka defeated Serena Williams in the final match. Although Mr. Moore has since resigned, his statements demonstrate the pervasive sexism that exists in sports today. Now, Mr. Moore’s statement was particularly incorrect as evidenced by tickets to Serena William’s final match outselling men’s final tickets at the 2015 US Open, but putting aside the factual falsities of Mr. Moore’s statement, his comments were deeply offensive to female athletes and women in general.
Shortly after this incident, five USA women’s soccer players sued USA soccer for underpaying them in comparison to their male counterparts. Recently, the media discussed that while Title IV requires schools to equally fund men and women’s athletics, the NCAA is not beholden to those rules. As a result, March Madness produces a million dollar payout to the winning men’s team, while the winning women’s team gets approximately nothing. Unfortunately, despite the transformation in women’s sports resulting from the implementation of Title IV and the instant electronic access of sports programming, sexism is still alive and well in athletics.
The sexism faced by women in sports is certainly not unique to the US, and, in fact, our female athletes have more opportunities than many women in the world. However, because athletics have become a money-fueled machine in the United States, we often forget why sports are so important in the first place. Sports bring people together; they put people who otherwise have nothing in common into one room to support the same team. Sports bring cultures together, nations together (just look at the Olympics), and bridge language barriers. Just as math is the same in every language, so too is soccer (or football) and swimming and basketball. We forget that there is a value to sports that is far greater than money, and that value transcends sports regardless of gender affiliation.
For example, I recently had the privilege of attending the Women in the World Summit hosted in New York City. One of the talks featured a young woman named Maria Toorpakay Wazir, a professional squash player. Maria grew up in Pakistan, a place where, in many parts of the country, it is considered inappropriate for girls to play sports. As such, Maria would dress up as a boy and head down to the squash courts to practice each day. However, the Taliban eventually found out that the boy playing squash was actually a girl and began sending death threats to Maria and her family. For the following three years, Maria was under a self-imposed house arrest, practicing squash in the confines of her parents home and pleading with someone in the Western world to sponsor her so that she could continue playing. Eventually her emails were answered, and she now trains with one of the top male squash players in Canada and currently ranks as one of the top 50 female squash players in the world. She explained to the audience that sports can bring east and west together and promote understanding between cultures who believe themselves to be wholly different from each other. She said she felt lucky to be able to continue playing in the Western world and how, as a female, her accomplishments would not have been possible back home in Pakistan. Sports bring people together and make dreams come true, and nothing about that is unique to one gender or the other.
Sports also teach girls invaluable lessons. They promote confidence, instill discipline, and teach teamwork. In some instances, sports help girls attend college and in others they help channel frustrations or anger in a productive and safe way. Sports also give young girls positive role models. In an era where the media is overflowing with negative body images, unrealistic standards of thinness, and oversexualization of women, female athletes play a vital part in helping girls develop confidence and self-worth. Even my friends who didn’t pursue sports past elementary school can still admit that at least one of their childhood heroes was one of the great female athletes of the late 90s/early 2000s. Sure, female athletes are not perfect, but they teach girls that if you work hard, stay focused, and make good choices, you too can be successful in whatever you do. However, as we grow older we begin to learn the second-class status that most female athletes occupy; we learn they earn less (both in salary and prize money) than their male counterparts, they rarely grace the covers of sports magazines, and they garner far less respect and admiration than male athletes. And so we’re left feeling more than a little dejected.
That dejection shouldn’t make you throw up your hands and give up though. Despite Mr. Moore’s commenting that men paved the way for women to become major athletes, women actually paved their own way. Women fought for equality in college sports, more television time, and a place on the infamous Wheaties box. Women continue to fight for equal pay, equal prize money, and equal respect. Men did not make women good athletes. Yes, male coaches may have helped coach you or guide you along your athletic path, but YOU are the one who works hard, puts in the time and effort, and dedicates yourself to a sport you love. Hard work and dedication is certainly gender neutral.
And so as a competitive runner, I would like to say this to Mr. Moore: “I will not get down on my knees and thank men for my ability to do what I love. I am an athlete because I work hard, put in the time, push myself to be better, and persevere through the most adverse conditions. No man made me a great athlete; no man paved the path to make me a runner. Furthermore, only the world’s most elite runners earn money from running, and so there must be another reason why millions of people run. If women played sports for the financial, payday we would only have a handful of professional female athletes in our world today. Sports are about more than money. Sports are about bringing people together. They are about inspiring people and encouraging them to dream big, and they are about building confidence and self-worth. Those are things you cannot put a pricetag on, and those are things that have nothing to do with gender.”
And so ladies, we have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. Don’t be discouraged by the inequality, the unfairness, or the lack of respect. Let that be the fuel to your fire. Let that be the reason you run or jump or swim or skate. Let that inspire you to make the changes you want to see in women’s sports, and maybe, just maybe, this issue will be history in another few decades.
Do you play a sport? What inspires you to play your best? Go out this week and share the sport you love with someone you love!
Glenne is a third year law student hailing from NYC, University of Michigan ‘13 grad and Beyonce enthusiast. Currently residing in Korea, my interests include duathlons/triathlons, traveling near and far, documentary films, consuming sugary cereal, watching mid-2000s teen dramas and singing my heart out at Betty Who concerts. You can watch me attempt to navigate Asia and beyond on Instagram @glennefucci.