Closing the gender gap with intent

Published on March 24th, 2021

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
Gender disparity is a popular topic in sailing, mostly because there is no reason for it. Check that, there is reason for it, just no good reason. Sure, there might be physical requirements for certain jobs, but the significant hurdle is opportunity.

So rules are needed to provide opportunity. The Volvo Ocean Race did it. The Olympic Games is doing it. Ensure women have opportunity to build experience and advance. And that’s fair opportunity, not token opportunity. This is about closing the gap with intent.

But even when we think we’re trying, we don’t always recognize that we aren’t. If you follow college basketball, there was a recent reminder.

It’s tournament time, and when the teams arrived to compete, there was stark differences between the women’s and men’s weight room facilities at their venues in Texas and Indiana, respectively.

The women’s tournament weight room appeared to consist of a single set of dumbbells and some yoga mats, whereas the men’s more-lavish tournament weight room was stocked with rows of weights and training equipment.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association was quick to correct the situation, but they couldn’t correct the messaging. While the NCAA is mandated to ensure men and women have equitable participation opportunities, it must go beyond that.

Georgia Tech head coach Nell Fortner reminds the NCAA, and the rest of us, that to promote women in sport you need to eliminate any inequality that may have contributed to the imbalance. Here’s Fortner’s letter:

To the NCAA: Thank You!

Thank you for using the three biggest weeks of your organization’s year to expose exactly how you feel about women’s basketball — an afterthought.

Thank you for showing off the disparities between the men’s and women’s tournament that are on full display in San Antonio, from COVID testing, to lack of weight training facilities, to game floors that hardly tell anyone that it’s the NCAA Tournament and many more.

But these disparities are just a snapshot of larger, more pervasive issues when it comes to women’s sports and the NCAA. Shipping in a few racks of weights, after the fact, is not an answer. It’s a Band-Aid and an afterthought.

Isn’t the NCAA a non-profit, devoted to running championships with student-athletes that must be academically eligible to compete in those championships?

In what other non-profit educational endeavor is it acceptable to treat young women as a less valuable financial commodity?

At what individual university would it be acceptable to give women inferior text books and cheaper cafeteria food because of their perceived cash value?

While our TV contract isn’t in the billions, it is in a package worth half a billion. We do command a massive and loyal TV audience that post ratings on par with some of the largest sporting events in our country. We are a valuable asset that has consistently earned the right to be marketed, promoted and conducted as a great championship rather than an afterthought.

If the NCAA and its sponsors are wanting more eyeballs on the women’s game, then let’s look at Oregon’s Sedona Prince’s Twitter and Tiktok numbers when it comes to that. As of 8:45 a.m. on March 21, 2021, her Twitter account had 16.4 million views on the weight room disparities in the women’s tournament, 187,000 retweets and 613,000 likes. Her Tiktok had 7.6 million views.

For too long women’s basketball has accepted an attitude and treatment from the NCAA that has been substandard in its championships. It’s time for this to stop. It’s time for women’s basketball to receive the treatment it has earned.

Thank you for the exposure.

Thank you Nell!

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