Female March Madness athletes met with sexism and discrimination

The National College Athletics Association (NCAA) 82nd annual March Madness highlighted what many see as deeply rooted sexism and discrimination against women in sports. The immense gender disparities between the women’s tournament in San Antonio, Texas, and the men’s tournament in Indianapolis, Indiana, sparked an outcry for gender equality across social media platforms such as Tik Tok and Twitter. 

Public outcry arose following photos and videos showing contrasting training facilities, NCAA gifts, and COVID-19 testing between the men’s and women’s tournaments.

On March 18, the first day of March Madness, Sedona Prince, a sophomore forward for the Oregon Ducks, posted a Tik Tok exposing the NCAA’s gender inequalities, a video that has accumulated 11 million views and counting. In her Tik Tok, Prince uploaded a video recording of the training facility provided to the women’s tournament, which included only 12 weights, yoga mats, and a singular stationary bike. She contrasted this equipment with photos of the men’s training facility, where they were provided a large, expansive space equipped with weights, racks, and benches.

Many NCAA fans defended the organization’s choices, but Prince challenged them, stating in her TikTok, “Now when pictures of our weight room got released versus the men’s, the NCAA came out with a statement saying that it wasn’t money, it was space that was the problem,” said Prince, while panning to the ample amount of unused space surrounding the women’s weight room. Prince concluded her TikTok criticizing the NCAA and its supporters, saying, “If you aren’t upset about this problem, then you are a part of it.” 

A day after Prince’s Tik Tok as social media exposure gained momentum, Senior Vice President for Basketball Dan Gavitt released a public apology, in which he said, “I apologize to the women’s student-athletes, coaches and committee for dropping the ball on the weight room issue in San Antonio, we’ll get it fixed as soon as possible.” 

The Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) was not satisfied with this apology, writing that “The issues raised by the treatment of the teams in San Antonio are symptoms of a much larger attitude that women’s sports are second class to their men’s counterparts…. This attitude is best demonstrated by differences in how the NCAA manages, funds and markets its two preeminent events — the Division I Women’s and Men’s Basketball Championships.”

The WBCA took action 11 days after Gavitt’s apology, and sent a letter to the NCAA President, Mark Emmert, stating that the inequalities were “insufficient to meet the needs of the WBCA’s member coaches.” 

The WBCA further argued for an independent “Commission on Gender Inequity in College Sports,” which would be led by members selected by the WBCA and NCAA. The WBCA called for an “in-depth review of the NCAA’s organizational structure, its governance of women’s and men’s sports, and its administration of women’s and men’s championships with a focus on the documented inequities that exist with the treatment of women’s basketball.” The NCAA responded, stating that they were going to begin a gender equity review across all divisions of all sports.

The WBCA further stated that the NCAA’s behavior is demoralizing to women athletes and coaches and that “This is a longstanding, deeply ingrained systemic problem; it is not one that just happened to occur last week. For this reason, we cannot accept an external review that is conducted by a law firm of the NCAA’s choosing.”

A week after Prince’s Tik Tok went viral, CNN journalist Fredericka Whitfield conducted an interview with Prince. “I think there’s this big misconception that women don’t need to lift weights, and especially at my level if we don’t, then we can’t perform to our best. And so, with the weights that we were provided, we can’t become the best of our abilities, and so that message of ‘you don’t need it’, the men need it was portrayed,” Prince stated in the interview.

A day after Prince’s Tik Tok, Lynn Holzman, Vice President of NCAA Women’s Basketball, publicly said, “We fell short this year in what we’ve been doing to prepare in the last 60 days for 64 teams to be here in San Antonio, and we acknowledge that.” 

Former Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw is in agreement with the WBCA, tweeting that gender inequality within the NCAA is “hardly breaking news,” but rather women “have been fighting this battle for years and frankly, I’m tired of it.”

McGraw further stated that “What bothers me is that no one on the NCAA’s leadership team even noticed.… While corporations across the country are scrambling to hire women and set up diversity & inclusion teams, the NCAA had an opportunity to highlight how sport can be a place where we don’t just talk about equality but we put it on display. To say they dropped the ball would be the understatement of the century. This is the issue we have been battling for decades.”

Kate Bossert ‘21 is a four-year varsity athlete and tri-captain for the Dana Hall soccer team and will be continuing her soccer career at the University of Vermont. Kate has been playing soccer since she was very young, and although she has not had direct experiences with unequal treatment between men and women athletes, Kate says that she has noticed “that boys’ teams always get more fans than the girls’ teams. That was always pretty clear.” Kate also said that “The last time I was coached by a girl was in fourth grade, and I do actually have a female coach for college, which was surprising because they are almost all men, and I don’t think I can think of one female coach for an all-boys team.”

Kate has been following the recent NCAA scandal of gender inequality, commenting that “I am disappointed, but not surprised, unfortunately. Especially in basketball, men have gotten a lot more attention than women have for playing the same sport.” Basketball is not the only sport that has undergone a similar scandal, as Kate said, “I think this relates to the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, which has won a lot more than the men’s U.S. National Team, and yet they still get paid a lot less. These patterns have been seen over and over again but are finally being brought to light.”

Senior Caroline Keating is a varsity basketball player and co-captain at Noble and Greenough School. Like Kate, Caroline has been following the NCAA’s gender inequality very closely, especially over social media. Caroline reflected on the scandal, saying, “It was very disappointing to see how the NCAA provided for the women’s tournament and then to see how they provided for the men’s tournament. From food to gear, to equipment, there was a huge gap in the quality and quantity of materials the women received compared to the men. It was definitely good to see how quickly the NCAA changed and brought the women more gym equipment and a larger space to do their workouts. However, I believe that they should have already done this before the women had arrived. I think that for the women’s basketball players and for all women in sports watching the commotion on social media and seeing how the NCAA gave women a singular set of dumbbells and one bike was upsetting and unacceptable.”

Caroline has never personally experienced gender inequality as a female athlete herself, but highlights the importance of the issue, saying, “All in all, gender inequality in women’s basketball and in women’s sports in general is such an important and preeminent issue that needs to be addressed.

Photo: The fitness resources for men and women at the NCAA. Source: BYU Universe Sports.

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