Kaitlyn Fulmore, Contributing Writer
After winning its first Atlantic 10 championship on March 14, VCU women’s basketball secured a position in the NCAA tournament. When they arrived in San Antonio days later, their hard work was greeted with a lack of effort from the NCAA.
The Rams, along with the rest of the competing teams, were met with lackluster “swag bags” and a singular weight rack in the training facility designated for the women’s teams.
“It was our first time here, so at first I didn’t know if it was normal,” senior guard Taya Robinson said in a March 19 press conference.
The NCAA faced well-deserved criticism after videos and images revealing the differences between men’s and women’s weight rooms, swag bags and meals began to spread over social media.
A TikTok posted by University of Oregon redshirt-sophomore forward Sedona Prince on March 18 went viral, showing a direct comparison between the men’s and women’s weight training facilities. Compared to the men’s facility, which was equipped with various weight bars, racks and stands, the women’s facility looked barren. The women athletes were only supplied with a dumbbell set and a set of yoga mats. The video garnered more than 10 million views and 3 million likes.
In the video, Prince said the NCAA claimed that space, not money, was the problem. Prince showed the extra empty space the women’s facilities had.
“If you aren’t upset about this problem, then you are a part of it,” Prince said at the end of the video.
Prince’s video, which was later reposted to Twitter, caught the attention of NBA and WNBA players. Stephen Curry reposted the video saying, “wow-come on now! @marchmadness @NCAA yall trippin trippin.”
The NCAA revealed a new weight room on March 20, after Lynn Holzman, vice president for women’s basketball, admitted during a press event that the NCAA “fell short this year.” The single weight rack was replaced with a variety of bars, racks and stands.
“As a former women’s basketball student-athlete, it’s always been my priority to make this event the best possible experience for everyone involved,” Holzman said in the briefing. “We fell short this year in what we’ve been doing to prepare in the past 60 days for 64 teams to be here in San Antonio.”
Georgia Tech women’s basketball head coach Nell Fortner released a statement on Twitter calling out the NCAA for gender inequality, revealing their true feelings about women’s sports as an “afterthought.”
“For too long women’s basketball has accepted an attitude and treatment from the NCAA that has been substandard in its championships,” Fortner stated. “It’s time for this to stop. It’s time for women’s basketball to receive the treatment it has earned.”
Gender inequality in sports has always been in an issue, and one not limited to just collegiate athletes. In 2019, the United States women’s national soccer team filed a wage discrimination action against the U.S. Soccer Federation.
Despite the women’s team winning the World Cup in the same year, the lawsuit claimed players’ contracts still paid less than the U.S. men’s team, who had failed to even qualify for the World Cup in 2018. According to the lawsuit, women’s team players could earn a maximum of $99,000 for 20 non tournament games, whereas men’s team players could earn a maximum of $263,320.
While the NBA generates higher revenue than the WNBA, the percentage of revenue that WNBA gives their players is much lower. David Berri, a sports economist at Southern Utah University, estimates that the WNBA only pays their players 34% of league revenue, which equates to about $20 million to split between all players. The NBA gives approximately 50% of their revenue to their players, which equates to about $3 billion split between all players.
Along with differences in payment, women’s sports are not being covered as much as men’s sports. Women’s sports only receive about 4% of media coverage, despite 40% of sports participants being women, according to the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport.
However, the audience for women’s sports is growing.
The 2021 Australian Open women’s semifinal match between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka peaked in viewership at 1.63 million viewers during the last 15 minutes of the game — the highest ratings for the event in the past four years. The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup recorded their highest audience for the competition with a total of 1.12 billion viewers across all platforms.
In the past 30 days, the official NCAA women’s basketball Twitter has gained over 8,000 Twitter followers, meanwhile Prince has gained over 38,000 Twitter followers and 782,000 TikTok followers, according to socialblade.com.
Prince now joins a large group of women advocating for equality in sports.
On March 24, professional soccer players Megan Rapinoe and Margaret Purce met with President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden to discuss equal pay for equal work and the importance of investment in women’s sports.
“Beyond the cheers and the gestures, there is so much real work to be done on policies that continue to support equal pay, but also continue to fight against these injustices and inequalities,” Rapinoe said.
At the White House Equal Pay event, the players addressed gender pay disparities, including those existing in their sport. The women’s team outperformed the men’s team in the World Cup in 2019 but are still faced with a pay gap.
The athletes emphasized the need for real work to be done.
“You would never expect a flower to bloom without water,” Purce said at the event. “But women in sport who have been denied water, sunlight and soil are somehow expected to blossom. Invest in women, then let’s talk again when you see the return.”