The world of women’s sports is ever-changing and dynamic. Every sport, from basketball to football to soccer, has offered new opportunities for women of all backgrounds. However, in light of recent events, some lingering obstacles continue.
In the past few years, women have undoubtedly broken glass ceilings in the world of sports. For example, on Sept. 27, 2020, women made history in the National Football League during a game between the Washington Football Team and Cleveland Browns.
For the very first time, an NFL game involved female coaches on both sidelines and a female referee on the field. These women include Browns’ chief of staff Callie Brownson, Washington’s full-year coaching intern Jennifer King and NFL official Sarah Thomas.
Similarly, in the National Basketball Association, coach Becky Hammon of the San Antonio Spurs made history on Jan. 4, 2021 as the first woman to hold the role of head coach in a regular season game.
On Mar. 5, 2021, Maia Chaka became the first Black woman chosen for the NFL officiating development program.
Together, this group of women mark a step forward toward gender equality in athletics and provide hope for girls who have grown accustomed to sitting on the sidelines and believe they deserve more opportunities in sports.
Yet, great disparities and concerns when it comes to the role of women in professional sports still exist.
In 1990, U.S. Gymnastics compiled a list of permanently banned coaches and personnel due to allegations of sexual abuse. However, allegations in regards to national team doctor Larry Nassar did not come out until 2016. In 2015, Maggie Nichols, known as “Athlete A,” was the first gymnast to report Nasser for sexual abuse. Then, in 2016, Rachael Denhollander came out as the first (former) gymnast to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual abuse. Following these accusations, Nassar resigned from his position at Michigan State University. After this accusation, over 250 girls and women accused Nassar of sexual misconduct, including 2012 Olympic gold medalists Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney.
In 2017, Nassar pleaded guilty to seven counts of criminal sexual conduct charges in Ingham County, Michigan. He then faced a federal judge and received a sentence of 40 to 175 years in prison.
After Nassar’s sentencing, officials arrested more USAG personnel such as Steve Penny and Lou Anna Simon on charges of evidence tampering and lying to the police. Recently, former head coach of the 2012 USA Women’s Olympic Gymnastic Team, John Geddert, faced charges of multiple felonies including 20 counts of human trafficking, first and second-degree sexual assault and rackeering. After officials released the charges to the public, Geddert committed suicide on Feb. 21, 2021.
Still, with the wrongdoings of the USAG officials, women in professional sports face disparities in regards to pay.
In sports, women receive significantly less compensation than their male counterparts. Many argue that women do not generate enough revenue to receive the same pay as males, and this may be the case in some situations. However, statistics continue to disprove this disparity, as evident in the case of the United States’ Women’s National Soccer Team.
In 2019, the Wall Street Journal obtained audited financial statements from U.S. Soccer which demonstrated that in 2016, the women made $1.9 million more than the men did. From 2016 to 2018, the women generated approximately $50.8 million while the males generated $49.9 million.
After winning the Women’s World Cup in 2015, five prominent members of the team filed wage-discrimination complaints against the U.S. Soccer Federation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, using these financial records to bolster their claims.
Then, approaching the World Cup again in 2019, the team filed a federal lawsuit alleging “institutional gender discrimination” in March. In this case, the team also highlighted the unequal playing conditions, citing the use of artificial turf during games as unequal compared to the men’s use of real grass. Artificial turf has earned notoriety for increasing injuries and causing inconveniences throughout games.
Winning four World Cups, four Olympic Gold medals and ranking number one in the world, the USWNT are arguably the most successful team in women’s soccer history. The team has also become a symbol of feminism and strength in women’s sports, inspiring young girls around the world to stand up for their rights.
In Dec. 2020, the USWNT and U.S. Soccer reached a settlement over playing conditions, but it did not touch upon equal pay, meaning that the fight rumbles on for these women and women in other sports too.
It can be easy to focus on the successes made by and for women in professional sports this year. However, the needed changes and reforms have become more evident in light of recent events.