Sexism in Sports Extends Beyond Olympics Coverage

Maureen Coffey, Business Manager

This summer, like many of you, I watched the Rio Olympics. As the games wore on, I was happy to see many of my Oberlin peers enraged by the blatantly sexist remarks by reporters and the subpar treatment of female athletes. It is terrible to watch Katinka Hosszú have her successes attributed to her male coach and husband, as suggested by NBC commentator Dan Hicks. It’s equally enraging to hear Rowdy Gaines, also of NBC, say that Katie Ledecky is good at swimming because “she swims like a man.” Hearing announcers say that the best gymnastics team in the world looked like they should be in a shopping mall because of their excited chatter should upset most viewers.

I know just how real what Katie Ledecky, Simone Biles and the many other phenomenal female Olympians experienced is. Sexism in athletics does not begin at the international level, it just culminates there for the world to see. The problems women experience in sports are even worse at amateur levels when the whole world isn’t watching. Sexism in athletics begins when you are 5 years old and want to play tee-ball with your best guy friend but are told you should sign up for softball instead. Or in fourth grade gym class when your class plays kickball, but only boys get to be the pitcher.

Then in middle school, you start to notice: the baseball field has stadium lights, but the softball field doesn’t. The women’s soccer uniform is a white t-shirt with numbers printed on the back, but the men have Nike jerseys. The women’s volleyball coach is a seventh grade science teacher, but the football team has four coaches and football is their primary job.

These discrepancies only increase as you get older. My junior year of high school, my field hockey team went to the regional tournament for the first time in school history, but we still had fewer fans than an average men’s soccer home game. As my teammates and I became more aware of not only the attendance differential, but also the facilities, the equipment and the funding problems, we naturally started asking questions.

Throughout my life I have received a number of answers to questions like these. I’ve been given blatant denial that there is any inequality at all, circular talking points about how these decisions are too complex to be easily explained and the implication that women’s sports don’t draw as much interest from the community. Whether true or not, it doesn’t change the underlying message that has built up since I first played sports as a child: I am less of an athlete because I am a woman.

By the time I came to Oberlin, I had grown used to the sexism. Few people would be in the stands at my field hockey games unless I personally bribed them to be there. Oberlin College athletics is so small and close-knit that I know at least one other team will stop by to give us a cheer. But at the end of the day when we walk off the field, after giving everything we have for the school and the sport, we’ll be greeted by a mere handful of parents and a largely empty set of stands.

At Oberlin, I have a fiercely loyal band of sisters that stand with me through this. Playing on Oberlin’s women’s field hockey and lacrosse teams has truly been one of the best experiences of my life, but the struggles you see at the Olympics don’t start or stop there.

The issues at the Olympics are all instances that did not go ignored. However, issues in on-campus athletics are not so high profile. The grand opening of the Austin E. Knowlton center and the Bailey Turf was announced as the first home football game, complete with a dedication ceremony that coincided with Homecoming. Yet the field hockey team had already played on the new field, with little celebration or acknowledgement that we were the first to compete in the new facilities. There was no media coverage, no Twitter outburst. So I ask you to channel the support for female athletes you felt this summer into your own community.

There are so many different women’s sports at Oberlin, and as one of the many members of Oberlin Athletics, I know how much it would mean to see just two or three more supportive faces at our home games.

So this year, grab your roommate or a few friends and see if you can make it out to just one game. Your presence will mean more than just having a bigger crowd. It is a way for you to show that female athletes matter to you and the community.