SI Vault
 
SPORT IS UNFAIR TO WOMEN
Bil Gilbert
May 28, 1973
America invests a billion dollars a year in athletic programs with the conviction that games are good for people, developing sound minds and bodies. But the female half of the population has never gotten a run for its money. Now many parents are becoming exercised, schools are growing increasingly concerned and big changes are in the offing
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
May 28, 1973

Sport Is Unfair To Women

America invests a billion dollars a year in athletic programs with the conviction that games are good for people, developing sound minds and bodies. But the female half of the population has never gotten a run for its money. Now many parents are becoming exercised, schools are growing increasingly concerned and big changes are in the offing

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

There may be worse (more socially serious) forms of prejudice in the United States, but there is no sharper example of discrimination today than that which operates against girls and women who take part in competitive sports, wish to take part, or might wish to if society did not scorn such endeavors. No matter what her age, education, race, talent, residence or riches, the female's right to play is severely restricted. The funds, facilities, coaching, rewards and honors allotted women are grossly inferior to those granted men. In many places absolutely no support is given to women's athletics, and females are barred by law, regulation, tradition or the hostility of males from sharing athletic resources and pleasures. A female who persists in her athletic interests, despite the handicaps and discouragements, is not likely to be congratulated on her sporting desire or grit. She is more apt to be subjected to social and psychological pressures, the effect of which is to cast doubt on her morals, sanity and womanhood.

As things stand, any female—the 11-year-old who is prohibited from being a Little League shortstop by Act of Congress; the coed basketball player who cannot practice in her university's multimillion-dollar gymnasium; the professional sportswoman who can earn only one-quarter what her male counterpart receives for trying to do the same work—has ample reasons for believing that the American system of athletics is sexist and hypocritical. There is a publicly announced, publicly supported notion that sports are good for people, that they develop better citizens, build vigorous minds and bodies and promote a better society. Yet when it comes to the practice of what is preached, females—half this country's population—find that this credo does not apply to them. Sports may be good for people, but they are considered a lot gooder for male people than for female people.

Opportunities for women are so limited that it is a cop-out to designate females as second-class citizens of the American sports world. "Most of us feel that being second-class citizens would be a great advance," says Doris Brown. A faculty member at Seattle Pacific College, Brown has devoted 15 years to becoming the best U.S. female distance runner. She has been on two Olympic teams, won six national and five world cross-country championships and set a variety of national and international records in distances from a mile up. Despite her talent and success she has had to pay for nearly all her training and, until recently, all her travel expenses. She was forced to resign from a job at a junior high school because the principal did not believe in women teachers devoting a lot of time to outside athletic participation. She has received far less recognition than male runners who cannot match her record of accomplishment. "Second-class citizenship sounds good," says Brown, "when you are accustomed to being regarded as fifth-class." This is not the whine of a disgruntled individual but an accurate description of the state of things in sports. To document the situation, consider the following:

MONEY TALKS

?In 1969 a Syracuse, N.Y. school board budgeted $90,000 for extracurricular sports for boys; $200 was set aside for girls. In 1970 the board cut back on the athletic budget, trimming the boy's program to $87,000. Funds for the girls' interscholastic program were simply eliminated.

? New Brunswick ( N.J.) Senior High School offered 10 sports for boys and three for girls in 1972, with the split in funds being $25,575 to $2,250 in favor of the boys. The boys' track team was allowed $3,700 last spring, while the girls' squad received $1,000. This might be considered a better-than-average division of money except that 70 New Brunswick students competed on the girls' team and only 20 on the boys'.

?The Fairfield area school district in rural south-central Pennsylvania is small: 800 students are enrolled from kindergarten through 12th grade. Nevertheless, in 1972-73 the school district budgeted $19,880 for interscholastic athletics. Of this $460 was actually spent on girls' sports, $300 of it on a "play day" in the area and $160 on a volleyball team, which had a one-month season. Boys in the school district are introduced to competitive sport as early as the fifth grade with the organization of soccer and basketball teams that are coached by members of the high school athletic staff.

?In New York a woman officiating a girls' high school basketball game is paid $10.50, a man receives $21 for a boys' game. Throughout the country and with few exceptions, women who coach girls' sports in secondary schools receive between one-third and one-half the salary of men who coach comparable sports for boys. The woman coach often is expected to supervise candy sales, cooking contests and raffles to raise money to purchase the girls' uniforms and pay travel expenses.

There are many communities where tax-supported school systems offer absolutely no athletic programs for girls. In fact, until recently no money was spent for girls' interscholastic sports in two entire states—Utah and Nevada.

?In colleges the disparity between men's and women's athletics is even greater than it is in the secondary schools. At the University of Washington, 41.4% of the 26,464 undergraduate students enrolled are women. However, when it comes to athletics women get only nine-tenths of 1% of the $2 million the university spends annually on sports. The women's intercollegiate budget is $18,000 a year, while the men have $1.3 million to spend over and above the income-producing sports of football and basketball. Despite the enormous discrepancy, the situation at Washington has markedly improved. In 1957 there were no women's intercollegiate athletics at the university. Dr. Joseph Kearney, director of sports at Washington, says, "We want to develop the women's programs that are now in an evolutionary stage." Evolutionary is a clinically accurate term. If the current rate of progress were maintained, women would reach financial parity with men in the year 2320.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7