Gender disparity in athletics

Written by:  Jaylin Hardin | Sports Editor, Libby Thoma | Staff Writer

Gender disparities are common in the world of sports. Female athletes are generally broadcasted less, paid less and pitted against others disparaged in the weight and size category. This problem is international and does seep its way into Western — although Western is better about these disparities than other schools and professional sports. 

One issue within the sports world is how limited professional sports teams have been for women. The first professional men’s sports league was Major League Baseball, founded in 1869, after the Civil War, with its first team being the Cincinnati Red Stockings — now the Boston Red Socks. The National Football League — NFL — followed suit in 1920. The United States eventually joined the Federation Internationale de Futbol and founded the National Basketball Association, known as FIFA and the NBA respectively, in 1930 and 1946.

Women’s sports, on the other hand, did not have the same starts or even advantages as their male counterparts did. For a period of time during the forties and fifties, there was the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which was created over concerns about Major League Baseball’s viewership during World War II. After this period, women’s golf became popular, and is currently the longest-running women’s professional sport — the first Women’s Professional Golf Association Tour started in the 1950s.

In June of 1972, Title IX was passed, which prohibited discrimination based on sex or gender. From this point on, women began to get a leg up in, not only education, but also athletics and other federally funded programs. Professional Tennis also became very popular among female athletes at this time.

It was not without its faults, however. Following the passing of Title IX, women still faced misogyny in athletics, as well as the struggle to establish their leagues. The Women’s NBA, Women’s FIFA, Pro-Softball and Volleyball leagues were not founded until the nineties, with many struggling to stay afloat throughout their history. 

Another issue in the professional sports world is that the women’s leagues are paid less than their male counterparts. For example, NBA players receive 50% of shared revenue from their teams and leagues, while WNBA players receive only 20%. In numbers, the average NBA player’s salary is $7.5 million a year. The average WNBA player’s salary? $116,000 a year. That’s a $7.3 million difference.

Further, discrimination is still strong against female athletes and their level of play and abilities. For collegiate softball, one of the most common sayings against the teams is, “450, dead center.” This refers to the differences in field size and pitching style in softball and how most men believe they could easily hit a home run off the softball pitchers.

Western’s sport disparities are minimal but still exist. Although Western seemingly handles any disparities well, they do not handle it perfectly. 

One thing Western excels in is its treatment of male and female athletes. Throughout interviews, female athletes report being treated well, an equal part of the athletic population and happy to be involved with the sports. 

“If there was inequity or inequality in treatment, I would know about it,” said Michael Gonzalez, the Student-Athlete Success Advisor. “Any problems, they come to me.”

Western also does a phenomenal job at broadcasting and advertising female sports — equally to male sports, if not more so. This is extremely important for funding, as advertising and broadcasting boost funding. 

According to Randi Lydum, the executive director of intercollegiate athletics, funding is distributed based on schedule and number of athletes and coaches on the team. Those with a more demanding schedule will receive more funding, while those who may travel less or have fewer athletes receive less funding. 

Scholarships are divided based on the NCA framework that gives the maximum of scholarships that Western can offer. “We try to make sure that the number of scholarships we’re giving… matches the percentage of student participation,” Lydum said. 

The school tries to ensure that female-dominated and male-dominated sports receive the same amount of scholarships, percentage-wise. Lydum states that they take equity in funding and scholarships seriously. Lydum also states that there haven’t been any actual complaints about the amount of funding from athletes or coaches to her directly. 

“…if there is a problem I want to get it figured out. Although Western does equality well, it is not done perfectly. An anonymous athlete states that “There should be changes in the budget according to which sports are more successful,” said Lydum. 

Western’s 2023 Budget Reports state that football received 14,282 in general admin overhead, with baseball and softball getting 6,290. Football gets 165,000 in travel with baseball and softball receiving 85,000, which is the most out of all the other sports. Football exceeds all other sports in recruiting, receiving 12,240 with the other sports getting 1,700–5,100 at most. 

It is easily seen how much of a discrepancy football funds receive in comparison to other sports. Why is that the case when football is easily not the top-performing program?

Football game outcomes are highly disappointing — losing eight of eleven games, with a winning percentage of .273. This is comparatively lower when compared to women’s soccer’s record of 8-5-6, with a winning percentage of .579, or even men’s soccer’s 11-3-3, .735. 

This may be a gender issue, or this may be an issue of putting money towards ‘needed’ costs rather than wins. 

Gender disparities have been found in athletics throughout history, dating back to the very beginning of these sports. It is extremely important to ensure gender equity in our athletics department to set an example for others, and although Western is more careful about equity than other colleges and professional sports, Western can continue to discuss equity. 

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