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The Terrible Treatment of Female Athletes


Female athletes are treated horrible. The lack of investment in professional leagues has marginalized them for decades. Even now that there are professional leagues, it’s not as if they are promoted properly. This is starting to change with the WNBA, in no small part because these women are brave leaders in the fight for social and racial justice and are loud and proud about it. But then there’s the physical, mental, and sexual abuse endemic in female athletics. The National Women’s Soccer League players and sick and damn tired of it.

That question needs pondering, once again, in light of the horrifying stories of male coaches accused of abusing and harassing players in the National Women’s Soccer League.

It turns out that the premier league for women’s soccer in the United States — where stars from the World Cup-winning national team like Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan play — treats the legions of less-renowned players like pawns in a male-controlled game of exploitation and moneymaking.

Rather than a celebration of female empowerment, revelations in recent days show the league as yet another example of the low regard society holds for female athletes. And in this case, it appears the athletes tolerated and suffered abuse because they feared complaining would doom the only U.S. league they have.

“Burn it all down,” Rapinoe said in a tweet.

She’s right.

This league needs an overhaul in leadership. The change has already begun with the resignation of its commissioner, Lisa Baird. And there is hope that a new generation of female athletes — coming up in this age of reckoning and bold energy among the marginalized, connected to one another and to the world by social media — will not remain quiet.

As is true in the rest of society, the sports world rests firmly on a simple, troubling dynamic: Outside of a few exceptions, professional tennis being one, women in sports take a back seat to their male counterparts.

They receive far less media coverage, far less corporate backing, and far less love and respect from fans.

The W.N.B.A. playoffs are on, full of great story lines and stunning play. As my recent column showed, good luck finding a jersey from your favorite breakout star.

And good luck, as well, to the women’s teams who are crisscrossing the country on commercial airlines, scrambling to find flights where they do not have to cram their tired bodies into middle seats.

The players in major American men’s sports almost always fly on chartered jets. Female professionals almost never do.

This is inherent sexism and it is created sexism. If female athletes were promoted and treated like male athletes, people would pay attention to them and watch their games. But when they aren’t on TV and don’t make enough money to live, of course no one is going to pay attention. It’s time to change this and they deserve our support in their struggle.

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