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The NCAA Weight Room Controversy and Gender Disparity: Female College Athletes Are Not Surprised

The infamous “weight room” controversy was first covered when Oregon women’s basketball player Sedona Prince filmed a TikTok video that went viral. The video shows a measly rack of weights designated for the women basketball players in San Antonio. The video then cuts to a screen recording of the men’s weight room, spacious and filled with several weight racks and other workout equipment. 

 

So, is it really surprising that despite the legal requirements of Title IX, women athletes and male athletes were given completely different and disparate accommodations during the NCAA March Madness tournament? And that the NCAA spent $13.5 million more dollars on the men’s tournament than the women’s in 2019?

 

But how did we even get in this situation in the first place?

 

To figure out the answer to this question, I interviewed four college female athletes to see how ingrained sexism permeated their experiences in athletics in the hope that articles like this can spotlight women athletes’ voices. They discuss their relationship with sports and its effect on their lives and provide statements on their views concerning the latest on sexism in sports. 


Naomi Osaka playing tennis
Photo by Andrew Henkelman distributed under a CC-BY-SA-4.0 license

Photo by Andrew Henkelman distributed under a CC-BY-SA-4.0 license

Why are sports important to you?

 

1. Molly Carbone, Seton Hill University Class of 2020, Field Hockey, Defense

“Sports are important to me because it is a phenomenal way to be social, be healthy, and to relieve stress. Sports provide something to look forward to while instilling a good work ethic. Sports taught me how to be a human. Sports taught me the importance of making good, healthy decisions. Mandatory community service through the various athletic teams I’ve played on in my life time taught the importance of giving back to the community.”

 

2. Ciara Potter, Freshman at Southeast Missouri State University, Track and Field, Jumps

“Sports are empowering as a woman because athletics separate societal expectations from ability. When I am on the track, I’m not focused on my femininity or my appearance, but on how far I can push myself physically. Thankfully, in my experience, I have not encountered sexism due to the inclusivity of my sport, but I have heard of women who have.”

 

3. Addie Hermstad, Tulane University, Senior, Beach Volleyball

“Both my parents played competitive sports, with my dad winning a National Championship in water polo at Cal, so my brother and I were always required to play some kind of sport. Growing up, my parents pushed my brother and I equally to be successful in our sports and sports was always a priority in my house. It was always my dream to play Division I volleyball and it is my greatest accomplishment to have played for the last four years at Tulane. I am a walk-on (meaning no scholarship) and I’ve been a four year starter. I play because I love competing and I really love to win.”

 

4. Anonymous Tulane Athlete

“Sports are important to me because competition and physically pushing myself are crucial parts of me. Gender affects my sports because I compete co-ed, so constantly I’m being compared to men at my position as we compete for the same roster spot. We all push each other, and being co-ed makes us better, more understanding, better people, and better athletes.”

 

How have gender norms shaped views on women’s sports?

 

Molly:

“Gender undoubtedly plays a major major role in all athletics but especially college athletics. Everything is always for the boys. They receive more funds, more apparel, etc. and they are the first to get to choose time slots for practice and lift…. The most prominent [example] in my mind happened in the Fall of 2019. My teammates and I were out on the turf practicing at 6:30/7:00 AM. Fall is field hockey season. The men’s lacrosse team (a spring sport) came out after we had everything set up and we’re running drills. Even though we have a perfectly good practice turf field next to the game field, the men’s team kicked my in-season sport off of the “good” turf and made us move to the other field. They said if we didn’t move they were just going to practice around us and it wasn’t their fault if we got hit with flying balls. There was nothing my coaches or teammates could do about it.”

Ciara:

“Women are expected to remain feminine while competing. An example of this is the tennis player Serena Williams. She has received criticism for her appearance, attitude, and playing style. A male tennis player had never been under such a big spotlight and criticized so harshly. I think that women are judged more often than men in society which then reflects in sports.”

Addie: 

“I think that gender norms have defined nearly every aspect of sports. Let’s think about the most popular women’s sports: gymnastics and volleyball. Arguably the two most sexualized women’s sports, where the least amount of clothing is worn, and women still fit what society deems as ‘feminine’. When men play these sports, they are told they’re playing a “girl” sport and often, these men’s sports are underfunded at many levels…The message this sends me is that I am not worth investing in to the same extent as any male athlete. It all comes down to whether or not institutions like the NCAA and academic institutions like universities want to invest in women’s athletics and women as a whole.”

Anonymous Athlete:

“Men are perceived as strong, competitive, and aggressive at times, all of which are viewed as positive attributes in sports. These norms mean that women’s games are seen as less interesting or less skilled. Men are seen as better athletes anyway, so respect for the women’s game overall is lower.”

 

How did you find out about the NCAA Weight Room Controversy? What is your view on the matter and how can we rectify disparities in sports?

Molly:

“I found out [about the NCAA Weight Room Controversy] on Twitter [and] I’m furious about it. Gender norms play a huge role in sports. The Nike commercial about women has it right. Any emotion a woman shows in any athletic competition is bad. If they are incredibly muscular, they’re unattractive and that’s bad…No matter what they do, they’re wrong. Frankly, I have no idea how to fix it. Women’s sports is a hot mess. I do think social media is a good tool to hold people accountable but I also think it has the ability to go too far. I’m afraid it’s a fine, fine line.”

Ciara:

“I found out about the NCAA Weight Room through social media and I was appalled [because] I believe that all genders should receive equal resources. In recent years, women’s basketball has gotten unfair hate over viewership. I think that it is harmful when claims are made that women are ‘not as athletic’ or don’t deserve the same amount of pay as men.

Sports are beginning to shift into a new era of inclusivity. I believe by holding organizations accountable, we can move forward. Without the exposure and backlash, I think the NCAA wouldn’t have taken the issue as seriously.”

Addie:

“I found out [about the NCAA weight room controversy] on Instagram Stories from a post on ESPNW. I don’t think there is a woman that competes at this level that wasn’t deeply upset by the photos and videos circulating, but I also wasn’t the least bit surprised. It is obvious to me that college athletics treats its women competitors as second class to our male counterparts. Besides the blatant disrespect the NCAA showed to the women’s basketball competitors, the most upsetting thing to me was reading the comments under the instagram posts highlighting the discrepancies. Many people questioned whether women’s teams actually could or should be lifting weights, undermined the women’s basketball players’ legitimacy as athletes using the fact that few women’s players dunk, or commented that they didn’t care, this wasn’t an issue, and women should just feel grateful for the opportunity to play. …This idea that women don’t deserve adequate facilities because they make less money is not only wrong, but specifically not allowed in NCAA’s Title IX article. It specifically states that programs cannot be discriminated against using difference in revenue as justification. People are justifying discrimination by saying women’s programs make less money, without questioning why women’s programs make less money. Why, as a society, within the NCAA, and within professional programs like the NBA and WNBA, have we subscribed to this notion that male competition is better to watch. Is male competition inherently better, or has this idea been cultivated through greater marketing for men’s athletics and the continuous underfunding of women’s sports at all levels?

And as women athletes, we need to hold our institutions accountable in the ways that they prioritize, or don’t prioritize us. I think if any issue impacted male athletes and ‘high revenue earning’ athletes to the same percentage, steps would be taken to insure care for the athletes. We have worked our entire lives to get to, for many of us, the peak of our athletic career. We wake up at 5:30AM for lift after studying until 1AM and PR on our cleans or squats….I’m over society acting like a man’s passion for his sport somehow inherently supersedes my own passion for my sport. I’ve sacrificed and given everything to be able to compete at this level, but I’m repeatedly reminded that somehow my sacrifice isn’t valued in the same capacity as my male counterparts. Our dedication and commitment to compete at the highest level is equal to the men and it’s time the NCAA dedication and commitment to it’s male and female athletes is equal as well.”

Anonymous Athlete:

“I saw [news about the NCAA weight room controversy] on Twitter. It’s ridiculous – the NCAA is built on amateur athletes, so at least providing us the equipment to compete is a bare minimum. I understand that the women’s tournament doesn’t generate as much profit as the men’s tournament, but the NCAA is a nonprofit and women deserve the same chance to succeed as men.

It takes universities and private companies investing in these programs. If ESPN begins airing more women’s games, or even creating mock brackets with the same frenzy as they do with men’s brackets, these disparities will hopefully be rectified.”


Photo via @markusspiske/unsplash

Photo via @markusspiske/unsplash

Where do we go from here? Now that we’ve begun to give women athletes a platform to speak, it is time for change.

Change begins with filling in the gaps in opportunities, budgeting, and media coverage. Change persists when we introduce role models for young women to follow in their footsteps. Change transforms when we fight against the notion that women’s sports are inherently more boring and shift the focus onto women’s athletic ability instead of judging their bodies. 

We still have a long path ahead, but speaking out and holding organizations accountable brings us one step closer to equality in sports.

Hannah Ellis

Tulane '22

Tulane Junior majoring in Latin American Studies and Finance.
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