In this blog post, Editorial Volunteer Annie Kew reflects back on March Madness 2021 and the inequities between men and women’s sports that it exposed.
Every March, college basketball fans from across the country prepare to watch the exciting match-ups and shocking upsets that take place during the annual National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) March Madness basketball tournament. During this two-and-a-half-week period, 132 men’s and women’s basketball teams take part in a single-elimination style tournament, designed to showcase the best collegiate basketball teams in the nation. This year, while many athletes have demonstrated their capability and talent on the courts, notable accomplishments have also been made on the sidelines.
While both men’s and women’s tournaments follow nearly identical formats and take place at the same time, this year many female athletes have voiced their resentment and frustrations towards the NCAA because of several disparities between the treatment of male and female athletes. Many female basketball players took to social media to demand action directly from the NCAA. These women used social media as a tool to amplify their concerns and to hold the NCAA accountable for their sexist measures.
Social media first began to buzz with complaints directed at the NCAA due to the unequal distribution of training equipment for the duration of the tournament. To many female athletes’ dismay, their so-called training space was simply 16 dumbbells and a few yoga mats. In comparison, their male counterparts were provided with a large training facility stocked with a myriad of equipment and resources.
Image source: ABC News.
After facing a large amount of backlash on social media from the exposure of the unequal spaces, the NCAA Vice President of women’s basketball, Lynn Holzman, released a statement claiming that the unavailable amenities were, “In part due to the limited space and the original plan was to expand the workout area once additional space was available later in the tournament.” This statement was later contradicted by a University of Oregon female basketball player, Sedona Prince, who showcased via social media, the vacant space surrounding their makeshift gym. In a matter of hours, proper equipment was installed, finally leveling the playing field for women and male athletes.
Though this action was met with praise, the NCAA should not be applauded for their actions, as unfortunately, the inequalities did not start or end in the training room. In addition to the subpar training facilities, female athletes received lower-grade catering services, significantly smaller packages of merchandise, COVID tests took longer to show their results, and, to top it all off, their tournament was not branded as “March Madness,” but rather NCAA Women’s Basketball.
All of these factors further perpetuate the disrespect that many female athletes face on a daily basis. While this specific incident has been met with a great deal of support for the athletes, some still believe that these inequalities are justifiable.
Online, arguments have been made that because the men’s tournament is more anticipated and viewed so it makes sense that the women’s tournament would receive fewer resources. Even if statistically this is true, the difference in viewership is not grounds for discrimination. Female athletes fight equally as hard for the championship title, so they should in turn be met with equal respect and treatment.
While it’s unfortunate that women continue to face these inequalities and bigoted remarks, the female athletes who brought light to these issues truly showcased the power that social media has when people stand united for an important cause. Activism and social justice have a place on social media, and it’s essential that we remember to use our platforms to advocate for change.
Those who are willing to share their stories and experiences are the people who fuel the online revolution. Though change occurred in this instance, there is so much more to be done about gender inequalities in sports and we must use this story as motivation to continue to strive for more change. Here are some ways that we can use social media as a tool to support women in sports as well as to advocate for equality.
1. Watch Women’s Sports
Men’s sports receives higher viewership than their female counterparts, but did you know that women’s sports only receive four percent of sports media coverage? If men’s athletics are consistently receiving 96% more coverage than women, it’s not a surprise that their competitions would be more heavily viewed. An easy way to support female athletes is to tune into their games, showing appreciation for their competition. The NCAA Women’s Basketball tournament may not be branded as “March Madness,” but it is equally competitive and deserves equal appreciation.
2. Educate Yourself on Discrepancies
It can be easier to ignore discrimination that doesn’t directly impact you personally or is not right under your nose. Pay attention to the media, do your own research, and educate yourself on the prevalence of gender inequality in sports. Change can’t happen without awareness surrounding the issue. Let’s bring attention to the inequalities in the sports industry!
3. Change the Culture of Sports Communication
While there continues to be extreme sexism towards female athletes, there is equal discrimination found behind the scenes in sports media. Women are extremely underrepresented in sports communication and it’s important to work towards creating an environment where women feel valued and respected in this field. Whether that means seeking out female journalists to read or even working towards a career in sports broadcasting yourself, together we can change the culture of sports on and off the courts.
4. Challenge Discrimination: Speak Up and Play On
The change in the NCAA basketball tournament would likely not have occurred without the strong female athletes who spoke up against their unequal treatment. In order to keep moving forward, it’s essential that we continue to use social media as a tool to project important messages that need to be shared. But, don’t just speak up: get involved. Women belong in sports and it’s essential that women keep pushing forward until they are no longer overlooked.
Annie is a junior studying Communications at Emerson College. In her free time she enjoys exploring Boston, listening to music, and watching hockey. Annie is excited to be working with the MEDIAGIRLS team to spread positive messages throughout social media.