Equity in Sports Coverage Will Help Level the Playing Field for Girls and Young Women

Leveling Playing Field

You don’t have to dig too deep to find a commonality among some of the most widely covered sports stories of the past year. Whether it was Kawhi Leonard leading the Toronto Raptors to the team’s first NBA Championship, Tiger Woods completing his comeback to win another Master’s, or the Washington Nationals achieving their first World Series victory—each of these stories revolve around men and men’s teams.

What does this say about the state of our sports coverage? Stories like these are filled with drama and excitement—athletes at the top of their game overcoming the odds, digging deep within themselves, and achieving something greater—yet the headlines are largely absent of the athletic accomplishments of women.

Around the world, women’s sports are often either secondary to the major men’s teams or overlooked entirely. Here is just one example: following the team’s Stanley Cup Final victory, the NHL’s Washington Capitals congratulated their D.C. neighbors, the Nationals, crowning the town the “District of Champions” in a tweet.  This congratulations failed to recognize the accomplishments of the city’s own Washington Mystics who just weeks earlier were victorious in the WNBA championship, led in thrilling fashion by MVP Elena Delle Donne, a graduate of NCGS member Ursuline Academy of Wilmington.

Another example, where the consequences are more profound than going unmentioned in a tweet: the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNST), the most celebrated women’s team in the country, continues fighting for pay equality despite their hard-earned place on the world stage. Abby Wambach, a retired member of USWNST and an alumna of NCGS member Our Lady of Mercy School for Young Women, calls her former teammates “a beacon of hope for women everywhere.” Today, Wambach travels the U.S. as a crusader for equal pay across all industries.

Children and young adults look up to professional athletes, and the representation they see is important. Girls need role models to inspire them become their best selves as it is critical and powerful for girls to see it in order to be it. Girls everywhere deserve better representation of women athletes reaching the top of their game.

Positive female role models are essential for girls to grow into confident women, especially as they choose university majors and career paths in today’s world, and sports can play an important role in that journey. Many factors, such as lack of exposure to female coaches, can be attributed to limiting girls participation in sports. Nearly 80% of female leaders report not having female coaches as role models limited their athletic participation. Research also shows that an overwhelming majority of women executives—82%—participated in a sport at one time in their lives beyond the elementary school level. In the same study, 60% of women executives credited sports participation with helping them develop a competitive edge that helped them succeed professionally. It is proof positive that starting from early ages, sports serve as an important vehicle for girls to learn the value of perseverance, teamwork, and other foundational skills that can help them succeed on any path they choose.

Even though access to athletics for girls is on the rise, gaps still persist according to a just released Women’s Sports Foundation report. The findings indicate “girls enter sports later, participate in fewer numbers, and exit earlier than boys.”

This is not the case at girls’ schools.

Parity in sports representation and the importance that institutions place on both men’s and women’s play are so critical. Education and sports go hand in hand, and the inequity between how our society views and discusses male versus female athletes starts in schools. At girls’ schools, girls’ take center court. Every dollar invested in athletics is supporting a girl from the sports facilities to the booster clubs. Every coach and athletic trainer at a girls’ school has expertise in the strength, conditioning, and injury prevention of female athletes. Every fan cheering in the stands under the Friday night lights are there to support and celebrate young women athletes.

In my work with girls’ schools, I have seen first-hand the positive impact when girls and young women take center stage at their schools—in the classroom as well as on the court or field. They learn how to be resilient, to advocate for themselves, build confidence to take healthy risks, and develop the courage and conviction to make contributions that will lead to more fulfilling lives. Girls’ schools allow girls to grow into the leaders they are destined to become.

Girls’ schools operate on the belief that when girls and young women have strong female mentors and positive role models starting at formative ages, we can better prepare them to tackle their future with confidence and imagination. Sports are an important part of that journey, which is why we need equal coverage and celebration of both men and women at the top of their games.

Megan Murphy, Executive Director, National Coalition of Girls’ Schools

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