Discrepancies in gendered NCAA treatment real ‘March Madness’

Discussions surrounding inequalities between men’s and women’s sports, both collegiate and professional, are nothing new. This week, yet another instance proving the disparities in collegiate sports was put on blast after Stanford University sports performance coach Ali Kershner posted a photo comparing the weight room set-up for the NCAA women’s and men’s March Madness basketball tournaments

Sedona Prince, a forward for the University of Oregon, posted a TikTok video calling out the differences in equipment provided in the respective men’s and women’s weight rooms and later team meals provided, both of which quickly went viral. 

Following the initial posts outing the differences, other female athletes shared additional photo and video evidence of clear disparities in meals provided, weight room equipment and ‘swag-bags’ for participants in the respective programs. Further evidence uncovered the women’s teams clearly being provided less substantial treatment and resources from NCAA organizers than men’s participants. 

Prominent athletes like NBA star Stephen Curry and NCAA National Player of the Year Sabrina Ionescu weighed in with their disappointment in seeing the level of inequalities, calling them unacceptable and demanding immediate change.

This is just one example in a series of dialogues involving inequality within women’s sports. Professionally, female athletes have been fighting for equality on the basis of equal pay for years. 2019 was a defining year for the U.S. National Women’s soccer team, who performed exceedingly better than their male counterparts, and whose athletes took a stand against ‘institutionalized gender discrimination’ against the team, calling for equal pay following their win. 

In another professional sports example, the Women’s National Ice Hockey Team, prior to their historic gold medal in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, were fighting for equal pay and treatment to that of the men’s team. 

Most talk around inequality in women’s sports has stemmed from unequal pay, but this most recent collegiate sports exposure brings to light the issues that exist within funding and appropriations to teams in college sports in terms of providing support in the form of training rooms, supplemented meals and nutrition programs. These disparities prove that more funds and attention are clearly being given to men’s sports, furthering the fact that women’s sports are underfunded and underappreciated.

A larger discussion surrounding the viewership and popularity of women’s sports is at play here as well. For decades, there has been a consistent dialogue describing women’s sports, both professional and collegiate, as a joke and insinuations that they are not to be taken seriously. While this connects to lower viewership and attendance in women’s sports, the mindset only serves to further the divide and reinforce gender misogyny in favor of men dominating the sports world. 

The thing is, these issues shouldn’t have to matter to just the athletes involved in collegiate and professional sports. It’s far past time that we hold institutions and professional organizations accountable for their lack of respect for women in sports. 

Luckily, today there are more people – and not just women – speaking out about issues like gender inequality in sports. To make change, there should be collective anger over these glaringly obvious differences in treatment. 

Now is the time to start giving women’s sports more of your attention, and giving an ear to the women who have been vocal about the mistreatment and discrimination they’ve faced. 

Luckily for the NCAA and the female athletes, sports conglomerate Dick’s Sporting Goods tweeted a statement saying they have truckloads of fitness equipment ready to send to the women’s basketball bubble, and the NCAA would be smart to take advantage of their thoughtfulness. Not only that, but putting in an effort to make systemic adjustments inside the institution’s program will be key in making up for these differences. 

It shouldn’t take women’s sports organizations endless wins, consistently exciting games, high viewership and attendance tallies to garner proper treatment and resource allocation for their programs. Equal treatment and access to resources should be the standard within sports, and if it’s not, organizational failures like the NCAA’s should rightly be put on blast. 

Making a difference for these athletes shouldn’t be impossible, and if anything, equality in programs and funding will only serve to improve the quality of play and the level of competition within female athletics. This is an issue worth fixing and a group of women worth fighting for, and watching for that matter, and we shouldn’t make them fight for themselves.