The world around us is seemingly progressing every day, but there are some elements in the sports world that remind us that not much has changed in terms of gender equality in athletics.
The Professional Golfers Association Masters at Augusta National in Augusta, Georgia, just wrapped up last week, and every time this tournament comes around, I’m reminded that it took until 2012 to allow women to become members of this golf club.
When I began competing in college cross-country, I was not aware that the women ran races anywhere between 4 kilometers and 6 kilometers, while every men’s race was 8 kilometers or 10 kilometers for some Division I and II races.
To me this separation in distance did not make any sense. In high school, typically men and women ran the same course, which was a standard 5-kilometer race. Most track and field events are the same, but there is still inequality. In indoor track, female multi-athletes compete in the pentathlon — five events — while men compete in the heptathlon — seven events. In outdoor track, the men move up to the decathlon — 10 events — while the women move up to the heptathlon.
This isn’t an issue limited to track, either. Look at golf, where women typically play at the red or forward tees that are often referred to as lady’s tees, or volleyball where the net is shorter than the men’s. Basketball has a smaller ball and closer 3-point line for women.
Take a trip to Higgins Stadium in the spring and watch a men’s lacrosse game and a women’s lacrosse game, and even though the objective of both teams is to score more goals than the other, it’s like watching two different games. The men are suited in full upper-body pads with helmets, mouthguards to protect against body contact. The women wear goggles, a mouthguard and no required pads, simply because of a 125-year-old rule that only allows for stick contact between players. Even if more finesse is required in the women’s game, intentionally removing contact in my view speaks to a common belief that women cannot handle rough play like the men.
On top of that, playing lacrosse without helmets is an inherent danger in itself. Even with reduced contact, wearing goggles is not going to protect a player when a roughy 80 mph shot is launched toward somebody’s head. The women’s game is just as physically demanding and even with newer head protection, helmets are the best way to truly increase head protection.
I understand that different classifications of sports call for some gender modifications. At the same time, it’s hard to deny that the NCAA and international sport organizations are sending a subtle message that women are as talented as male athletes. A 2010 report in the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports stated that fewer than 20 percent of NCAA athletic directors in all Divisions are female, which is the lowest rate for NCAA administrators, aside from sports information directors.
With such limited diversity and turnover within athletic programs, there is an increased chance that programs keep things the way they are. When half of the NCAA-sponsored sports have different rules and modifications for men and women, its seems sports are intentionally unequal.
Any athletic department, including the one here at Ithaca College, will tell you that the goal of the department is to provide comparable opportunities, resources and facilities to all of its student-athletes. But with different rules and formats, it’s clear that men and women are still not playing the same game.