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Jumping Through Hoops: Realities of Women Athletes
Women athletes are not only competing for medals and trophies, but they’re also fighting for equal pay, media coverage, decent equipment, and so much more.
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For years, women and girls have been accomplishing so much in the world of sports. They’re making history, smashing records, and breaking stereotypes on the field, in the air, in the pool, and so many other ways! While they’ve been excelling, they’ve also faced many obstacles and challenges along the way. Women and girls have dealt with- and continue to deal with- inferior equipment compared to men’s teams, mental health challenges, a gender pay gap, and much more.

Despite all of this, women and girls are still dominating and showing the world that they’re unstoppable. In recent years, more athletes and teams have begun to speak up and use their voices to bring awareness to sexism and other issues faced by women athletes. Here are ten examples of what women experience in the sports world.

1. The U.S. Women’s National Team

The U.S. women’s soccer team clinched a much-needed win in the fight for gender equality and equal pay! After a six-year-long battle, the class action equal pay lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation has been settled and the women’s team scored to FINALLY secure equal pay. The U.S. women’s soccer team made history by winning the World Cup four times, as well as securing four Olympic gold medals. Despite these mega wins, the women’s team was still being paid less than their male counterparts–a team that has never won a single World Cup or Olympic gold medal. This win not only benefits the team, but it’ll also benefit future generations of women soccer players!

2. Simone Biles (she/her) & Naomi Osaka (she/her)

Mental health awareness is an important issue that more people are starting to open up about, including female athletes Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka. Simone Biles, who is considered the greatest gymnast of all time, shocked the world by withdrawing from some of her events to focus on her mental health. At a press conference, Biles, who has seven Olympic medals said, “I say put mental health first. Because if you don't, then you're not going to enjoy your sport and you're not going to succeed as much as you want to.”

Naomi Osaka also opened up about her mental health challenges after withdrawing from the French Open. Osaka, who said she would be skipping press conferences for the tournament explained, "I've often felt that people have no regard for athletes' mental health and this rings very true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one. We're often sat there and asked questions that we've been asked multiple times before or asked questions that bring doubt into our minds and I'm just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me." She was fined $15,000 for not speaking to the press and, soon after, withdrew from the Grand Slam tournament. Kudos to these two for doing what they had to do in order to protect and care for their mental health!

3. NCAA Women’s Teams

One thing that women’s teams often face is inferior resources and equipment in the sports world compared to men’s teams. This was the case during the 2021 March Madness, when NCAA men’s teams were offered Olympic-style equipment and ample training space, while the NCAA’s women’s teams were offered only a set of dumbbells and yoga mats. The unfair treatment and discrepancies were even seen in the food and swag bags given between the teams. This sparked backlash and outrage across the internet but this continues to remain an issue that needs to be fixed. Women athletes--and women in general--deserve equitable treatment in all aspects of life, including sports!

4. Lia Thomas (she/her)

Lia Thomas is making waves both inside and outside of the pool. Lia, who is a transgender swimmer at Penn, has been swimming and setting records during swim meets leading up to the NCAA championships. However, in between laps, she finds herself in the middle of a debate. There are those who celebrate Lia and her accomplishments, but she has also been faced with criticism by those who say it’s unfair for her to swim–including some of her own teammates. Lia has followed all of the eligibility rules and protocols set forth by the NCAA, but she is still being used as an example to pass harmful anti-trans bills. She is currently competing at the NCAA championships, and making a splash all the way to the podium! Let’s say it again: trans women are women!

5. Gabrielle Thomas (she/her)

Gabrielle Thomas was underestimated in the world of track. She was studying neurobiology and global health at Harvard University in hopes of becoming an epidemiologist and didn’t want track to define her. With the encouragement of her support system and after a life-changing trip to Senegal, Thomas was determined to dedicate herself more and balance it all. After qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, she became the third-fastest woman of all time in the 200-meter race and won an individual bronze medal and a team silver medal. The 25-year-old never expected to end up at the Olympics, let alone, walk away with two medals! She is now studying epidemiology at the University of Texas and training with a collective of Black women. She really can do it all!

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6. Suni Lee (she/her)

Suni Lee became a household name after winning gold, silver, AND bronze medals at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics while also making history as a Hmong American. She made it onto the cover of newspapers and magazines, competed on Dancing With the Stars, and enrolled as a freshman at Auburn University, but that didn’t stop her from receiving hate. She was a victim of a racist attack and she’s also spoken out about the hate she has received for being in an interracial relationship. She went from being praised to hated, but that hasn’t stopped her from living her life and making history in the process. She recently scored her first collegiate perfect ten on the beam and debuted a skill that has never been performed in NCAA gymnastics!

7. Norwegian Women’s Beach Handball Team

During the sport’s Euro 2021 Tournament, the Norwegian Women’s Beach Handball Team refused to wear bikini bottoms and was fined 1500 euros for wearing shorts, which were considered to be improper clothing. The women wore shorts to protest sexism in uniform regulations and the policing of female bodies. The men’s beach handball teams are allowed to wear tank tops and shorts while women must wear bikinis. After news of this spread, there was public outrage and the women received worldwide support. Three months later, a decision was made where women would now be required to wear "short tight pants with a close fit" and a "body fit tank top" during competitions instead of bikinis. While this may seem small, it is a big victory for women whose bodies are often sexualized and controlled in a way that men are not. We are so proud of the team for speaking up!

8. Asma Elbadawi (she/her)

British-Sudanese activist Asma Elbadawi is a spoken word poet and athlete who is constantly jumping through hoops to fight for the inclusion of hijab-wearing women in sports. Elbadawi, who is a professional basketball player, helped campaign the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) to overturn a ban on hijabs in professional basketball in 2014. She understands how important it is for young people to see themselves represented because she never saw Muslim girls represented on-screen when she was growing up. Despite her amazing work, Elbadawi and hijabi-wearing women continue to face an uphill battle. In 2022, French lawmakers have proposed a hijab ban in competitive sports, in what is being called gendered Islamophobia. This will likely result in hijab-wearing women athletes stopping sports altogether or refraining from playing in France during competitions. Asma’s work reminds us that representation is so important!

9. Sha’Carri Richardson (she/her)

After winning the 100-meter race, Sha’Carri Richardson thought she had punched her ticket to the 2020 Summer Olympics to represent Team U.S.A, but instead, she was suspended after failing a drug test. Richardson’s drug test tested positive for THC, a chemical found in cannabis. Richardson took responsibility for her actions and vowed to fight for a spot in the next Olympic Games. However, during the 2022 Winter Olympics, 15-year-old Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva failed her drug test and was allowed to continue competing. Richardson has said that she believes this is a double standard and shows how Black athletes are treated differently compared to non-Black athletes. This is an issue that has been brought up for years, yet we still have not seen any action to ensure that this is addressed. Let’s continue to speak up until we see real changes made.

10. Katie Ledecky (she/her)

Katie Ledecky is no stranger to Olympic medals. At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, she secured 2 gold and 2 silver medals, bringing her Olympic medal count to ten! Despite being one of the most decorated swimmers, she, along with women’s sports as a whole, often receives less media coverage than men. This disparity was on full display at the 2016 Olympic games in Rio when Ledecky broke records, but Michael Phelps was the one featured in the headlines instead. The disparity between men's and women’s television coverage continues to be an issue today. A new study found that men’s sports received 95% of total television coverage, with similar trends on social media promotion. This is a HUGE problem that needs to be fixed. Katie Ledecky and women athletes deserve equal media coverage and to be taken seriously and celebrated.

We are so proud of these athletes for speaking up about the inequities and challenges that they face. Sometimes it’s hard to speak up and talk about this, but by using our voices we can bring awareness to the issues that we’re facing. We are SO excited to see these women in action, especially now that March Madness is finally here! Who ya got?

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