Same Game, Different Reputation
Essay by Kelly Baker | Back to Table of Contents
Kelly Baker ’20 was a member of Ravenscroft’s varsity basketball and soccer teams in the 2018-19 season. Her years of involvement in the Ravenscroft athletic community ultimately inspired her to choose the topic of gender disparity in athletics for an essay assignment in Kevin Flinn’s Advanced Placement Language course.
Kelly says of her topic, “We had to compare and contrast two things and evaluate their similarities and differences. I chose to compare men's and women's basketball, as I knew I could achieve a unique perspective by incorporating statistics and personal experiences I've had as a member of the varsity girls basketball team to support my claims. Through writing the essay, I learned even more about the prominent divide between the two games and was enlightened as to how these divides mirror each other at all levels.”
The following is a condensed version of Kelly’s essay.
On the surface, the game of basketball does not appear dramatically different for men and women — the game has the same rules, court and ultimate goal. Referees receive the same training for officiating all games. The only real difference between men’s and women’s basketball is the gender of the players participating. However, the differences in the atmospheres surrounding men’s and women’s basketball give each game a completely different reputation.
In high schools, the difference in support between men’s and women’s games can be seen immediately as one enters the gym, or when the women’s team leaves. Students spill into the gym at 7:30 every Friday night, abiding to the unchanging schedule: varsity men after varsity women. The announcer asks everyone to “please rise as we honor our country with the singing of our national anthem,” a ritual consistently missing from the women’s game. Roaring crowds of student supporters fill the bleachers during the men’s games, but those same stands are too often quiet and empty just moments before the women’s game begins.
We can only wonder if this difference in support stems from norms of the game at higher levels. Collegiately, men’s teams receive an abundance of press and attention, while the women’s games are scarcely noticed. Specifically, during the NCAA March Madness tournament, the women’s bracket remains practically nonexistent to society, and the talent and riveting outcomes are often ignored. Only 2.54 million people watched Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale hit two rushed, buzzer-beating, game-winning three-pointers in the final two games of the 2018 women’s tournament, while 17.8 million people watched the men’s championship game. Moreover, tickets to those final women’s games cost significantly less than those to the men’s game, reflecting a historical trend in which women’s college basketball tickets cost much less than men’s. Do people purposefully lower the price of women’s tickets to entice fans into buying the cheaper ticket and watching the girls? Or do they feel the value of women’s games does not match that of men’s, resulting in tickets of intentionally lower value?
The discrepancy between the men’s and women’s games exists at the professional level as well, amplified by staggering economic disparities. For doing essentially the same job, WNBA players get paid approximately 12% of the minimum NBA player’s salary. An NBA player who does not play at all earns a significantly higher salary than the best WNBA player. WNBA players’ low salaries undermine their hard work, talent and competitiveness and reflect only their gender.
For two games otherwise so fundamentally similar, the attention given to the men’s game usurps that of the women’s game at all levels, and the gap has not diminished with time. How different it would be if all the social and economic disparities disappeared, leaving only the raw elements of the game available for comparison.