“It was never about caring for women’s sports.”
WNBA Phoenix Mercury forward Brianna Turner wrote in a tweet this morning.
Just days ago, social media was in outrage because of legislation written barring transgender women athletes from competing. Women’s sports took front stage that day, but after the news ran its cycle, the discord stopped.
Now, at the beginning of March Madness, a new discord has started. Stanford’s sports performance coach, Ali Kershner, posted a photo comparing the men’s and women’s weight rooms at the NCAA Tournament. On top, a photo depicts the men’s weight room. It’s what you’d think a weight room looks like — squat racks, free weights, bench press, everything you’d find at your local Planet Fitness.
On the bottom was the women’s “weight room.” A rack of dumbbells and a stack of yoga mats, the supposed “weight room” looked more like my mom’s home gym.
“It’s disgusting,” Michigan junior forward Naz Hillmon said. “To see that, on the biggest stage of women’s college basketball, there are still so many discrepancies in what women and men are receiving.”
Subsequent TikToks and tweets, from coaches and players alike, have highlighted even more inequalities. A TikTok from Oregon forward Sedona Prince went viral, opposing responses from the NCAA about not having enough space for a women’s weight room. The TikTok shows that behind the weight rack lay an abundance of unused space.
More posts have shown the discrepancies between meals served to each group and gear given to each by the NCAA. Tweets from famous athletes, like Stephen Curry, have brought even more attention to it. Additionally, a statement written by South Carolina coach Dawn Stanley on Friday sparked reactions from coaches.
Fans have reposted Title IX legislation, claiming the inequalities to be illegal. Yet others are defending the NCAA claiming it’s a revenue issue — that women’s sports don’t make as much money, so there’s no money to spend on their weight room. That’s what Turner was pushing back against in her tweet — the outrage about trans women in sports was never about women’s sports because if they truly cared, money isn’t an excuse.
“But we need everybody on board, and I think it’s just going to be a continued voice and a continued message,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “I think people for years and years and years were so fearful to say anything because you know, you’re going to be judged or you may lose your job, or someone’s going to call you a bitch, or hard to work with or always complaining.
“I think a lot of my life, we’ve been told to be silent.”
In the wake of the publicization of the inequalities, the NCAA released an apology and promised to do better in the future.
“We have intentionally organized basketball under one umbrella (at the NCAA) to ensure consistency and collaboration. When we fall short on these expectations, it’s on me,” NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt said. “I apologize to women’s basketball student-athletes, coaches and the women’s basketball committee for dropping the ball on the weight rooms in San Antonio.”
Gavitt also implied that working remotely could have caused the difference. But that simple oversight shows the looming problem behind this, to begin with.
Gender inequality isn’t new. It’s an age-old fight that women have dealt with since the beginning of time. But I thought there was progress and that, little by little, organizations have learned to treat men and women equally.
“It’s a constant,” Barnes Arico said. “It’s a constant struggle, and it’s a constant fight. I think Dawn (Stanley) said it best last night in the letter that she posted. (UConn’s coach Geno Auriemma) also had some really great comments about how it’s really not anything new.”
No matter the response from the NCAA trying to neutralize the situation, or Dick’s Sporting Goods stepping in to equip the new women’s weight room, the conversation is still raging.
But when the dust settles, this can’t be the end of the conversation. Not like it has so many times before.
As Michigan head softball coach Carol Hutchins put it: “Equity is NOT a soundbite.”
Two years ago, in the midst of the Women’s World Cup, Budweiser ran an ad with a simple message: “The world will watch them play today. Who will watch them play tomorrow?”
The message brought high school me to tears. Every four years, we all turn our attention to the USWNT and cheer for them with all our hearts.
But after their one shining moment, they go back to their half-empty stadiums and their unequal pay, and they play right in our backyards — without anyone watching. Budweiser wanted to change the narrative and say, “We won’t stop watching.”
Yet, during international women’s month, at the NCAA Tournament — the biggest tournament in college women’s basketball — inequality still stands.
Now, the inexcusable actions of the NCAA can’t be forgotten once the basketball starts. As this news runs its course and something new drowns it out, we won’t stop watching, we won’t stop listening and we won’t stop fighting.
And we sure won’t stop caring.
Abbie Telgenhof can be reached for comment at @abst16 on Twitter.