It’s outrageous, and yet somehow unsurprising. This week the NCAA kicked off both their men’s and women’s March Madness tournaments, and in the process revealed deep disparities in the amenities, planning and investment that have gone into each event. The NCAA provided the men with a full weight room, supplied with several large racks of dumbbells, numerous benches and at least 15 workout machines. The men also received swag bags filled with March Madness branded merch, totaling to about 35 items. On the other hand, the women’s “weight room” included only 12 dumbbells and a stack of yoga mats. Their swag bags included about 16 items, with the words “March Madness” not appearing anywhere. The NCAA opted to label their merch solely with the phrase “women’s basketball.”
When the reality of the situation was exposed on social media, the NCAA released a statement saying that they lacked the space to set up an adequate weight room for the women’s tournament, as if this were a valid excuse. As the organizer of the tournament, the NCAA has a legal and ethical obligation to secure facilities that are suitable and provide enough space to meet their athletes’ needs. The women’s needs are not any different from the men’s; they are all Division I athletes, competing at the highest collegiate level.
the women’s “weight room” included only 12 dumbbells and a stack of yoga mats.
But the worst part is, this is not new. The exposure of the NCAA’s discrimination is just another instance of women’s sports continuing to be under-resourced and not taken seriously. Now that they are under fire, the NCAA has vowed to rectify the situation by creating a fully-stocked weight room, but the point is, this never should have happened in the first place. Whether it was a lapse in planning or an assumption that 12 dumbbells would meet all 64 teams’ needs, this situation just reveals the NCAA’s failure to value and respect the women’s game and athletes in the same way they do the men’s. The NCAA, as a powerful organization with a large following, could set a precedent for equality in sports, but instead is perpetuating the same toxic narrative that the women’s game is less valuable or lower quality than the men’s, which is simply not true.
If I wasn’t already enraged about the NCAA’s oversight (which I was), I was certainly even more infuriated by the response of people, predominantly men, defending their actions. I should know by now to stay out of the comments section on sports Twitter, as the misogynistic trolls can’t keep their thoughts to themselves, and it only angers me more, but alas, I read them anyway. On every post calling out the NCAA for their indiscretion, there are comments affirming the outrage, but there are also comments justifying the treatment of these women. I read comments stating that “women can’t/don’t want to bench anyway,” that “women don’t need to get buff” and that “women can’t play basketball,” so giving them only 12 dumbbells is totally acceptable. These are all gross generalizations that are objectively false.
However, another recurring justification, that the men’s game brings in more revenue, while technically true, is perhaps even more damaging. Yes, the men’s March Madness tournament does make more money, but would that still be true if sports organizations actually invested in and fully supported and properly marketed the women’s game? If women’s sports were actually covered in sports media and were given even close to the same air time as men’s, a rise in popularity and revenue would follow. A discrepancy in revenue cannot be a justification for such blatant unequal treatment.
The NCAA needs to be an organization that is leading the charge towards a world in which the women’s game is revered in the same way as the men’s. Right now, they are not. They need to do better, but so do all of the sports fans out there that aren’t calling out the organizations, the players and their fellow supporters when they continue to devalue and disrespect the women’s game. It’s past time for the sports world to leave behind the idea that the men’s game is the only game that holds merit.