Sports Budgets Should Address Women’s Disadvantages

Sami Mericle, Opinions Editor

While reading two Review articles regarding the College’s failure to create a women and trans hour in Philips gym, I was faced with another instance of gender inequality within the realm of athletics at Oberlin. These articles (“Women, Trans, Non-Binary Gym Hour Cancelled” and “Gaining Accessibility: Weight Room Causes Anxiety for Many,” Feb. 19, 2016) refer to the sexism that women experience in the gym, and as a member of the Oberlin College softball team I can attest that these inequalities extend beyond the weight room and into athletics at Oberlin and Division III as a whole.

I should begin by saying that I love being a female athlete at Oberlin. For the most part, I feel entirely supported by the coaches, staff and administrators in the Athletics department. From school playgrounds up to the professional leagues, sports is an arena plagued with sexism, and I am grateful that our Athletics department does a great deal to resist it. But there are places where we could do better.

If you want to see some of these inequalities, take a walk out to the softball and baseball fields. Our softball field is beautiful: It’s flat, drains well and we have a shiny scoreboard that’s only a few years old. But the baseball field has all that and more; they also have a press box, a stadium with real seats, customized windscreens with action shots of the team and a neat row of trees behind their outfield fence. This isn’t the Athletics department’s fault, exactly. I’m sure that they award team budgets fairly and in accordance with Title IX laws. But on top of the budget given by the Athletic department, each team also does its own fundraising.

Naturally, a baseball team with 45 people on their roster is going to raise significantly more money than our softball team, which is going strong at 12. That means 33 more sets of relatives to solicit and a vast network of alumni to contribute — all in the context of a culture that legitimizes spending on men’s sports while too often regarding women’s as mere hobbies.

That’s also how the football team can have a television, couch and armchairs in their locker room, and the men’s lacrosse team can afford to give their players free sweatshirts and sweatpants and catered meals after home games. At Oberlin, the stereotype about lacrosse being a sport for rich boys holds true, as the team’s parents provide many of the free things to which the players are treated. The men have 33 people on their roster, while women’s lacrosse only has 21. Meanwhile, on the softball team, our players have been expected to come up with hundreds of dollars each year to pay the team’s way to Florida. This trip isn’t a vacation but a necessity, as we play a quarter of the games in our season there while our home turf is covered in snow.

Then there are the small, individual actions taken directly by the Athletics department that all add up; much of it is promotional. Last fall, for instance, the football game against The College of Wooster was pegged as the grand opening of the Knowlton Athletics Complex, despite the fact that women’s field hockey actually played the first game on the new turf. The current cover photo of Oberlin College Athletics’ Facebook page was taken last winter when women’s basketball hosted their first home playoff game since 1990 — but the photo does not feature them. It shows instead a dozen football players in the normally barren stands. Then there are the towels that some of the men’s sports are offered for showering in season, while the women bring their own. Not to mention that for my job in Sports Medicine, I have spent hours pouring Gatorade and water into paper cups for the football team, a service that no other team receives.

These problems are not confined to Oberlin athletics. My team is lucky to even find a porta-potty by the softball field when we travel for away games, often having to jog over to the nearest bathroom, which is usually located — no surprise — by the baseball field. I’m certain female athletes at any other D-III school could share similar stories and worse. I haven’t even touched upon the inequalities trans athletes face.

As with affirmative action, this is a scenario in which overcompensation is necessary to fix centuries of discrimination against women in sports. Perhaps the athletic department should consider enacting policies that would balance the spending for men’s and women’s sports, taking into account individual team’s fundraising ability. The recruitment efforts for women’s teams should be bolstered to build the programs, and the student body can help by coming out to support women’s sports. The more excitement that is generated, the more seriously we’ll be taken.