There is a Problem, So Acknowledge it

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It would be ideal to live in a world where “sports” doesn’t indirectly refer to the men’s game. Where saying “basketball” doesn’t mean you are talking about the NBA. Such a world would bring great relief to my life, and the many people fighting for the visibility of women’s sports.

But it’s 2020, and we’re not there yet.

I do believe, as a society, we have become oversensitive in some ways. I think being a comedian in this era provides some difficult choices regarding where the line is drawn, and how far it can be crossed. But there are many subjects that no matter what context you put them in, they are no laughing matter.

The fight for equality for women’s sports is not of the ancient past. Women have only had the right to vote for 100 years, yet our country has been established for 244. It is frustrating having to justify why acknowledging women’s sports is important. We are told by men, “well, things have come along way,” who do not experience the comments, the judgement, the obstacles we fight through every day. When did it become against the norm to show empathy?

Sometimes I feel as though I simply cannot write anymore, because I am close to running out of ways to describe this feeling. I understand it is not always easy to put yourself into someone else’s shoes, when you have no way of knowing what it truly will feel like. But hey, could you at least try?

I am completely aware that for years when people spoke about “sports” it wasn’t even a question if they were referring to men or women. I am aware that the WNBA was established only 24 years ago and is still considered young. But what I don’t understand is why pointing out mistakes in people’s actions and words immediately turns someone like me into an emotional-sensitive-angry-feminist who needs to calm down. Do any sport’s fans enjoy being told to calm down?

If you are a fan, then there is a 100% chance you know that women do in fact play sports at the professional level. If you don’t then you have more problems than I am equipped to educate you on. In a time where women have made great strides in earning respect and notoriety and have been given opportunities to show that we are capable of performing the same jobs as our male counterparts, it is incredibly aggravating to still face ridicule for wanting to sit closer to the table.

Women such as Becky Hammon and Becky Bonner, to name a few, have made a name for themselves within the NBA. Yet, whenever ESPN, SportsCenter, BleacherReport, etc., reports any news about Hammon stepping in to coach the Spurs, she faces the same ridicule that women have received ever since the barriers were broken. The “who cares,” the “get back in the kitchen,” the questioning of her qualifications; these remarks have yet to change.

People make mistakes. Absolutely. People say things without realizing how their words may come off to other people. I completely understand. But that does not mean that if I see something that disrespects women’s sports, I will not point it out. Because people cannot unlearn bad habits if they are not brought to their attention.

When grown men like Joe Budden tweet things such as, “Seattle deserves a basketball team,” he deserves to be called out. If it was a mindless mistake and he meant no harm, he should not be bothered by the fact that someone who plays for an extremely successful basketball team in Seattle, Breanna Stewart, was offended by his remarks. Instead, he defended himself, saying he had been watching “The Last Dance” and was suggesting an NBA team. No apology, no “of course I know about the Storm,” nothing. These seemingly innocent comments lead to more, such as, “he meant one that people care about,” or “women’s basketball isn’t a sport.” If you are in a position where your words, thoughts and actions are viewed by thousands of people, the intent, content and context matter.

This problem is educational, societal, generational.

I have sat in numerous classes in college centered around sports, and the content either contained very little about females, or none at all. Often, as one of the lone females in the class, I was looked upon to educate my peers on these issues, as well as defend myself and my female classmates from those who chose to live their life in denial that these issues exist. Some may not see this as a problem, which is frightening. There is a perpetual cycle of how women are treated and viewed in the sports industry, and while there have been breakthroughs and progressions, change is not speeding up anytime soon.

The phrase, “it has gotten better,” needs to be tossed aside. Why are we continuingly being told that? Just because circumstances have improved from what they were 20 years ago, doesn’t mean we should be satisfied. Instead of being physically assaulted, such as when Lawrence Taylor threw a hairdryer at Jackie MacMullan because he refused to be interviewed by a woman, the insults are verbal. Just as recently as three years ago, former Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton said, “it’s funny to hear a female talk about routes. It’s funny.” Newton did apologize for his remarks, but again, women were told they were being sensitive for taking offense to his comments. These initial reactions, usually by men, are due to the educational and societal issues that most people do not even notice.

I cannot speak for every type of sports course at every single school, but my classes were mostly male. An educator’s job is not to teach to the room, but to teach the necessary material. By teaching that the conversation should center around men’s sports and the men within them, you are teaching the future members of this industry that men’s sports are more important, and that only men are capable of understanding them.

The examples and lessons used and taught in class should be split between genders. The struggle and ridicule female athletes face should be taught, absolutely, along with the accomplishments, records and triumphs. The future of the sports industry should see Serena Williams not only for the trailblazer she has been for women, but as the dominate tennis legend she has become. When people talk about aging athletes, it should not be a table for two of Tom Brady and LeBron James, women like Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Carli Lloyd (to name a few) need to be part of the conversation.

Through education we can change the societal view that men’s sports are the standard to which women should be measured, that men’s sports are more important, that the term sports only refers to men.

To live in a world where women don’t have to constantly fight to be seen, heard, and listened to is a dream for some, but also a glimpse into the future for those willing to battle in the trenches.

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Hannah Nelson
Hannah is a Graduate Student, and Graduate Assistant in Athletics here at NEC, working towards her Masters in Sport & Recreation Management. She is a member of NEC's class of 2020 where she earned a BA in Communications, as well as Sport & Recreation Management. She was a member of the women's basketball team, the Sports Editor & Co-Editor-in-Chief of the NewEnglander, a Peer Leader, Student Ambassador, and President of the Class of 2020 during her undergrad. Her hopes are to land a job in the sports industry, either in front office management or as a journalist, after receiving her Masters.

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