The National Collegiate Athletic Association recently faced backlash as its annual March Madness basketball tournament began. As both the men’s and women’s basketball teams arrived in their tournament cities, coaches and players noticed a discrepancy between amenities offered to the men’s teams versus women’s teams. Unsurprisingly, the backlash was swift, as collegiate coaches and players, alongside players from the National Basketball Association and Women’s National Basketball Association slammed the NCAA for its actions.
Stanford coach Ali Kershner posted on social media showing the rows upon rows of weightlifting and exercise equipment that the NCAA has offered to men’s teams in Indianapolis. At the women’s tournament in San Antonio, those players were given one set of dumbbells and yoga mats per team — nothing more. Although the NCAA made promises to improve conditions for women’s teams, these disparities revealed a much more systemic issue — a continuous disregard for women’s sports. As just one recent example, official swag bags for men’s teams contained more products and merchandise than those for women’s teams, and food options for men’s teams have also been more extensive. Women’s teams deserve the same support from fans and resources from the NCAA as men’s.
The University student body can also demonstrate their desire for equality between men’s and women’s sports teams by showing equal support to each. While it’s understandable that students were excited for potentially another men’s national championship, women’s basketball has never received the same fanfare. The cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Conference semifinal game against Georgia Tech saw students on social media expressing their grief over U.Va.’s elimination following positive COVID-19 tests in the team. However, the same grief was absent after the women’s team canceled the remainder of their regular season in January due to injuries and COVID-19 concerns. University students simply don’t give the same support to women’s basketball — a timely example that exemplifies this gender imbalance in our own community.
It seems that Virginia basketball is synonymous with men’s basketball, as the women’s team rarely — if ever — gets the same publicity. This is an issue that exists on a national level, at many different colleges and Universities. At the NCAA tournaments, men’s swag bags are branded as the default March Madness tournament, while all March Madness branding for the women’s tournament has been explicitly gendered as a variation from the supposed default men’s tournament.
Women’s sports are just as important as men’s. They deserve equal funding, equal access and equal support from students and administration. The coronavirus pandemic has put a financial strain on colleges and universities, and students have had to fight to ensure women’s sports aren’t the first programs to be eliminated. While we haven’t had to fight this in Charlottesville yet, we should stay cognizant of how the University handles its own financial strains in case it has to make more cuts to athletic programs. National organizations like the NCAA must also establish full equality between their men’s and women’s teams while protecting all players, regardless of gender or sex. Ultimately, the NCAA’s shortcomings regarding Title IX are much more detrimental to athletes on women’s teams than NCAA administrations who may potentially be punished.
While Title IX is intended to prohibit gender or sex discrimination within federally-funded sports programs, it’s clear that discrimination within athletics is alive and well. The Republican Party has used women’s and girl’s sports as a prop for its transphobic policymaking, trying to ban transgender women from women’s sports. This simultaneously exemplifies a lack of thoughtful legislation to help women’s sports and a repulsive prejudice against trans athletes. Men’s and women’s sports already isolate people who identify outside of the gender binary. Equality between men’s and women’s athletics should act as a stepping stone to further gender and sex equality.
We as students should also shift away from the men-centric focus we often place on athletics. Athletics are a jumping point for combating gender inequalities and binaries in our local communities and the nation at large. There are sports to watch outside of men’s basketball. The University women’s swimming and diving team just took home the NCAA championship title, but their success has been overshadowed by the men’s basketball team’s elimination. We must take pride in our student athletes regardless of gender or popularity. The pride that we feel for our women’s swim team should not be temporary, and the pride we have in our men’s basketball team should not be an exception — we must maintain that pride for every sport, team and player.
The Cavalier Daily Editorial Board is composed of the Executive Editor, the Editor-in-Chief, the two Opinion Editors, their Senior Associate and an Opinion Columnist. The board can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.