By Benjamin Rubin
New York City, New York
Women’s sports have long been wrongfully dismissed as lesser than men’s. Continually, the sports world has proven that it harbors egregious disparities, and these disparities are loosely dealt with––then promptly forgotten. There remains a significant wage gap between male and female athletes and a mistreatment overall of female athletes. Change has proved to be an elusive feat.
The treatment of players in NCAA’s March Madness Tournament exemplified a combination of incompetence, disrespect and humiliation. Ali Kershner, Associate Olympic Sports Performance Coach at Stanford University, first pointed out the discrepancies when she posted a side-by-side comparison of the men’s weight room and the women’s weight corner. Several other inequalities were subsequently publicized, the most disappointing being unequal distribution of and access to COVID-19 tests (men received PCR tests, while women received less-reliable antigen tests). For an organization “working to ensure college athletes are getting the best care possible,” the NCAA seems less troubled by the pandemic when it affects women’s sports.
Collegiate women’s sports are run by the same organization, the same universities and the same administrations as men’s. Gender-based discrimination is then not only absolutely deplorable but inexcusable.
Issues arise, however, when one starts the discussion of inequality at the professional level. The NBA and WNBA are two separate entities with different revenues that contribute to differing salaries. Based on the current situation, should WNBA players be paid the same as NBA players? No. But salary deviation is just the outcome of a more baffling problem: an uninterest in women’s sports.
I love the NBA—it’s exciting to watch LeBron James power through the paint or Kyrie Irving masterfully slice up a defence. Yet I see no reason for why I cannot also love the WNBA.
While the NBA has gravitated towards isolation play, the WNBA remains focused on team basketball. Sports analysts occasionally describe NBA teams as playing basketball the “right way” when its players are unselfish and make plays to help their teammates. In the WNBA, the “right way” is the only way.
Similarly, superteams have dominated the NBA for years. In 2010, there was the Miami Heat, with their “big three.” In 2015, the Golden State Warriors began their rule of supremacy, and in 2019, their starting lineup was made up completely of all-stars from the previous season. Now the Brooklyn Nets hold arguably the most lethal offense ever. Add them to the reigning Laker champions, and you have two teams that are highly favored to meet in the NBA Finals.
The WNBA, on the other hand, is far more balanced. With only twelve teams, superstars are less inclined to join forces with other superstars because, unlike the NBA, it’s not an impossible task for smaller-market franchises to win it all. Elite skill is spread throughout the association rather than concentrated among a select few teams. Aren’t close games so much more thrilling than lopsided ones?
If there is one element of women’s basketball that cannot be disputed, it is the players’ dedication to the sport. Virtually all WNBA players travel overseas in the offseason to play in other leagues. There, they can make up to ten times more money than they do in the WNBA, which poses the question: why do female basketball players choose to participate in the WNBA at all? The answer lies in the competition. The WNBA is the best of the best, bringing in the highest skill levels from around the world—it’s an athlete’s dream. So, while they are paid trivial amounts, female players flock to the WNBA out of love for the sport and the opposition, making for gritty, hard-fought games every single night.
Further, the WNBA’s game format adds to the idea of a consistently competitive play style. The regular season is 36 games long—each game, from start to finish, is vital to a team’s success. The playoffs begin with two single-elimination rounds, and if March Madness gives us any insight into the game of basketball, it’s that elimination games never fail to electrify an audience.
I will never understand why so-called basketball “fans” turn a blind eye to women’s basketball. If anything, their play style is more exciting to basketball lovers. Change for women’s sports shows minimal signs of arriving soon, but we can and should do our part to revamp its reputation.