Why this matters
The 2021 NCAA Basketball tournament brought forth several call outs on the disparity between the men's and women's marketing, accommodations, and more. Dr. Ahada McCummings asserts that while this is an age-old battle, it's past due to give women and girls in sport the respect they deserve.
This past week, we witnessed our esteemed and talented sisters, the women of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, experience being forgotten, disregarded, and disrespected. Yes, here we go again with women in sports being forgotten, devalued, and disregarded.
This is not a new phenomenon, but one that centuries of women have been working to challenge and change. We know what it is. We feel what it is. Regardless of the excuses or the explanations, it all boils down to the pervasive belief within male-dominated circles that we as women and girls should be happy with whatever is given to us. We should quietly accept that things are not equal, nor will the establishment work as hard as we will to make it equal.
South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley said it so eloquently. The outrage is not about the stuff – the weights, the food, the swag bags. No, it’s about the fact that “every (women’s) team has earned and deserves, at a minimum, the same level of respect as the men…All the (women’s) teams dealt with the same issues as the men’s teams this season, yet their ‘reward’ is different.” So, how are we as women and girls supposed to internalize that? Should we internalize that? What do we as women and girls do with that?
What we do as women and girls, and as men who wholeheartedly support us, is what Staley and countless others have done. We reject the notion that somehow “some things fell through the cracks,” as the NCAA half-heartedly responded (on ESPN.com).
We call it what it is – systems and establishments rooted in sexism and misogyny.
We no longer ask to see changes, but rather we demand changes, and when the action isn’t swift or to our liking, we become bold enough to take our talents elsewhere or to create our own opportunities or to align with those who are interested in dismantling the sexist and misogynistic systems that remain comfortable with the status quo.
Although 2020 presented its challenges, it also presented opportunities to connect with women and girls who are making their marks in history as individuals who will ensure that things are being done differently. No one will ever be able to say that, in the face of adversity and inequality, they sat quietly and did nothing. I have been honored to meet girls like the athletes from Oakland Lacrosse who participated in an Up2Us Sports’ Young Voices Series: She Changes the Game. Here are a group of outspoken young ladies who talked about the stereotypes and biases that people hold about girl athletes – and more specifically girl athletes who play and compete in sports that are often seen as masculine.
While these girls were outraged by the ignorance that they encounter on a regular basis, they were not deterred from speaking up, speaking out, and supporting one another while dispelling the myths about girls in sports. For them, I am so grateful. In them, I see the future of girls and women changing and why we at Up2Us Sports created our She Changes the Game Initiative. To ensure that girls and women are getting into the sports pipeline to lead one another, mentor one another, and change the face of what sports can and should be for everyone.
I’ve also been honored to meet the youth who are from Fair Play and who also participated in one of our Young Voices Series: Leveling the Playing Field. This group of young people are not only athletes but also activists, dedicated to ensuring that youth from underserved communities in New York City are afforded the same opportunities as their more affluent counterparts. They also spoke about the inequities in high school sports that exist for girls and for athletes of color.
These Fair Play athlete-activists are instrumental in a recent lawsuit against the New York City Department of Education to level the playing field for girls and athletes of color. Their voices and their actions are resounding throughout NYC and across the country. Again, in the face of adversity and inequality, no one will ever be able to say that this group of young people sat by and did nothing.
These two groups of youth are the prime example of what can happen when we get girls involved in sports. Rarely, if ever, are the lessons learned solely focused on the sport itself. It is through sports that we learn about who we are, what we stand for, and how we will move through this world. For young girls, their entry into sports is the beginning of the pipeline that for many women will end in a boardroom, seated at a “table” where decisions are being made.
At that “table,” we decide our value, and when someone from the establishment attempts to undermine or disrespect us and who we are and what we bring, we will sit in the position to speak up, speak out, and require something different. You may ask, “What’s different today? Why is this the year of the woman as opposed to others?” To that, I say it’s different today because we as women and girls who are flowing through this pipeline are tired – tired of explaining our value, tired of having to prove our worth, tired of trying to convince others that we deserve anything less than respect and equality.
Our pipeline is increasingly being filled with women like Angela LaChica, founder and CEO of LaChica Sports and Entertainment. Angela is a woman who became tired of listening to her male counterparts discounting and discrediting her worth in the sports marketing arena and vowed to create a space for women to shine and excel without anyone questioning their knowledge and abilities.
Our pipeline is being filled with women like Odessa Jenkins, founder and CEO of the Women’s National Football Conference, the director of business development for Parity and Up2Us Sports Ambassador. She is a woman who is “unapologetically dope,” running an organization in a sport that many men – and women, for that matter – believe is reserved for men. She creates opportunities for herself and for others rather than sit and wait for permission.
What’s different today is that when we as women and girls are offered the same old tired explanations for the decisions and behaviors that are rooted in sexist and misogynistic beliefs, we will no longer let it slide. We will call it out. We will reject it. We will require a change. Or, we will take our gifts and talents elsewhere and create our own opportunities and align with those who will fully support our uniqueness rather than hold it over our heads and use it as a tool to hold us back.
2021 is the dawning of a new day for women and girls. Not just in sports, but in every space that we exist.
To my brothers, I say this: Love us. Support us. Respect us. And challenge others to do the same.
To my sisters I say love yourselves. Know your worth. Be fearless. Command respect. And accept nothing less.
Dr. Ahada McCummings is the National Director of External Affairs for Up2Us Sports
From participation to coaching, and shattering leadership ceilings, 2020 was slated to be a year of progress for women’s sport. But then came the pandemic.
2021 could still stand to be a significant year of growth for women and girls in sport. What long-standing barriers and future opportunities lie ahead?