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Women in Sports

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The History of Women in Sports Throughout history, women have fought for equality against men, significantly in the last century, as women have taken on greater, and more equal, roles in society. There have been several fronts on which women have fought for equality and one of those cases is in sports. Sports history is filled with men popularizing athletics such as baseball, basketball, boxing, football, track, and many other sports. It is quite surprising to many that women, as well as men, should take credit for their effort in athletic competition. Women have been known since the 19th century to take part in sporting events when, back then, they were supposed to be confined to more prim and proper activities. Historically, a woman’s duties were to take care of the family, do all the domestic work, and basically enslave themselves to their husbands. Because of this stereotype, it was highly frowned upon that women were taking on a masculine role by participating in the sporting world. Throughout the history of human existence, athletic competition has been regarded as an exclusively masculine affair. In ancient times, athletic competitions were held among warriors to prove their fighting prowess or otherwise demonstrate their virility. The exclusively male origins of competitive sport carried over into the Olympics, where women were not allowed even to watch competitions, much less compete. However, a separate women's athletic event, the Heraea Games, was eventually developed. The ancient Heraean Games were dedicated to the Greek goddess, Hera. These games where the first sanctioned women’s athletic competition to be held in the stadium of Olympia, which was the venue used to host the Ancient Olympic Games. Records of the Heraean Games date as far back as the 6th century BC. Like the men's competition, Heraean Games originally consisted of foot races only. The Heraea champions won olive crowns, cow or ox meat from the animal sacrificed to Hera, and the right to dedicate statues inscribed with their names or painted portraits of themselves on the columns of Hera's temple. The women competed in three age groups, on a track in Olympic Stadium that was 5/6 the length of the men's track. In the Ancient Olympic Games, it was a rule that the men had to compete in the nude. However the women had to compete clothed in chitons, which were garments worn by men when performing heavy, physical labor. Thus the women dressed like men. As mentioned already, women were not even allowed to watch the Ancient Olympics, under penalty of being thrown from the cliffs of Mount Typaion. In general, girls were not encouraged to be athletes. However, those raised in Sparta were the exception, where they were trained in the same athletic events as boys. This was primarily because Spartans believed that strong women would produce strong future warriors. These girl athletes were unmarried and competed nude or wearing short dresses. Boys were allowed to watch the athletes, in the hopes of creating marriages and offspring.
Believe it or not, women were not even allowed to compete in the early years of the modern Olympics (top end sports). It wasn’t until the 1900 summer Olympics in Paris, France, that women were allowed to compete. There were only 3 sports in which women were allowed to participate in that year: golf, tennis and croquet. It was here that a woman took home a gold medal for the first time in history. Margaret I. Abbott, as art student in Paris, won the gold medal for shooting a 47 in the nine-hole golf tournament. Probably the most well-known female Olympian of the modern games is Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who is considered by many to be the best all-around female athlete in the world (about.com). Joyner-Kersee is ranked among the all-time greatest athletes in the women's heptathlon as well as in the women's long jump. (For those who don’t know, the heptathlon is a track and field Olympic event made up of seven individual events that include the 100 meter hurdles, the high jump, the shot put, 200 meter dash, the long jump, the javelin throw, and the 800 meter dash). Jacqueline Joyner-Kersee was born in East St. Louis, Illinois and attended UCLA where she starred in both track and field and also in woman’s basketball. In 1998 she was honored as one of the 15 greatest players in UCLA women’s basketball history and was voted the “Top Women’s Collegiate Athlete of the Past 25 Years” in 2001. During her Olympic career, Joyner-Kersee won three gold medals, one silver medal, and two bronze medals. Since the beginning of the time when women were allowed to compete in competitive sports, one thing that never really happened was men and women directly competing against one another. In the past, athletic instructors adapted the rules to make sports less physically taxing for women. For instance in basketball, to ensure that girls maintain proper decorum, they were forbidden from snatching the ball and dribbling it more than three times in row. Females would not be considered strong enough to play a full-court basketball game until 1971. Women have struggled to be taken seriously as athletes for more than two centuries. Over the years, females have competed against the stereotype of being too fragile to play strenuous sports. During the 1920s, many people believed that girls couldn't handle the stress of interscholastic competition. In the 1930s, some doctors warned that high-stress sports might harm a woman's reproductive system. However, one event in sports history proved that women were just as capable as men to compete competitively. In 1973, former male world champion tennis player, Bobby Riggs, challenged female champion, Billie Jean King to a tennis match. At a time when women's tennis was not as prestigious as men's, the challenge from Bobby Riggs to Billie Jean King came to mean much more than a game of tennis. Amidst much media hype and many boasts from the challenger, the match came to be called "The Battle of the Sexes" (essortment.com). Bobby Riggs was a world champion tennis player in 1939 at the young age of sixteen but his fame had faded by the 1950s. In 1973, Riggs was fifty five years old and was nearing the end of his tennis career. Every chance he could he would proclaim that women could never be the players men were and that they were simply too weak, they were “just women”. Shortly after beating another female tennis champion, Margaret Court on Mother's Day in 1973, Riggs immediately challenged Billie Jean King. Even though Billie Jean was much younger, twenty nine year of age, Riggs proclaimed that she was no match for him, by mere virtue of his manhood. This was all happening at the height of the women’s rights movement so Riggs’ boasting didn’t quite sit too well with Billie Jean King or other professional female athletes who were paid much more poorly than male athletes. Prior to Riggs’ callout to King, she had won 20 titles at Wimbledon and organized the Women's Tennis Association, a union of women players that worked to improve their bargaining positions. King became the first woman to make more than $100,000 a year in tennis. She was the Associated Press's Woman Athlete of the Year in 1967 and 1973, Sports Illustrated's Sportswoman of the Year in 1972 and was Time Magazine's Woman of the Year in 1976. The match was held at the Houston Astrodome on September 20, 1973. It drew the largest ever live audience for a tennis match and got prime time TV coverage. 30,472 spectators filled the stadium and an estimated 50 million viewers watched on television. Riggs egged on the crowd by entering the stadium in a carriage pulled by women while Billie Jean King rode in on a red velvet litter carried by University of Houston football players (essortment.com). In one of the most talked about events in United States sports history, Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in three straight sets of tennis by wearing him down with long rallies. The scores were 6-4, 6-3, and 6-3. After the game he graciously said, "She was too good, too fast. She returned all my passing shots and made great plays off them." A major turning point for women's sports occurred when President Richard Nixon signed Title IX of the Educational Amendment of 1972, which states that any educational program receiving Federal assistance can lose its funding if it discriminates on the basis of sex. This legislation was a great opportunity for women because it gave female athletes access to better equipment, coaches, playing fields, and travel budgets. Before Title IX, Interscholastic competition for females had been declining over the years. According to the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association), in 1970, only one out of 27 girls played high school varsity sports. Now, due in part to Title IX, that number is one in three. While Title IX has greatly decreased the disparity between male and females in College athletics, in professional sports, the disparity is evident. Probably the biggest disparity between male and females in professional sports is salary difference. When it comes to earnings power males completely dominate the board. If you take a look at the top fifty paid athletes in the world you will notice that something is missing; there are no women on the list (Forbes.com). According to Forbes, pro golfer, Tiger Woods makes $115 million within a 12 month period (despite his personal problems at home). By comparison, the top-earning female athlete, tennis' Maria Sharapova, took in only $26 million during the same period. Though women have made significant strides, a shatterproof glass ceiling still exists. The proof of this is clearly evident. The world's 10 top-earning male athletes out-earned the world's top-earning female athletes by more than 4-to-1 last year. One would imagine that men are earning more because the PGA, NBA, NFL and MLB have deep pockets to pay their athletes. It is true that much of the disparity starts in salary, but most of the male athletes are earning the majority of their income from endorsements. Think about it; how many times do you see the faces of male athletes like Woods and Derek Jeter on billboards and on television endorsing clothing, cologne, expensive watches, etc.? Now try to think of the number of female athletes that endorse. The comparison barely exists. In professional sports the disparity between the male and female leagues are still there. Over the past twenty years, however women have made great strides towards being considered equal in sports. Women first started taking great strides in professional sports during World War II. When the male professional baseball players went off to war, a group of team owners started a professional league for woman (the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League). This league turned out to be successful. After the men came back from war, however the woman's league could no longer sustain itself financially and had to shut down. This league was successful to the point where there was a movie made to tell their story. “A League of Their Own” (1992), directed by Penny Marshall, tells the story of how America lost its young talented athletes to the service of World War II. Because of this, a professional all-female baseball league springs up in the Midwest, funded by publicity-hungry candy maker Walter Harvey (Garry Marshall) who hires Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks), a has-been coach, to manage one of his female baseball teams. Over the past twenty years, however there have been more and more professional women sports leagues opening and prospering. One such league is the WNBA (Women's National Basketball Association), while the league opened being financially backed by the male league (NBA) over its first five years it has become a financial success with high profits and good TV ratings on major and cable networks. Some woman's leagues even become just as or ever more successful than their male counterparts. An example of such a league in the women's professional tennis tour which lately has had better television ratings and draws more fans than its male counterpart. In 2001 for the first time, ever the woman's Final at the US Open Tennis Championship (the tours most prestigious played in the United States) was broadcast on a major television network (NBC) in primetime. Media coverage of women's sports is considered important because it increases the level of participation among girls. More than 658,000 fans at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California and 1 billion worldwide television viewers watched the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup soccer championships, the most successful women's sporting event ever. This incredible publicity is expected to cause an explosion of female interest in soccer, already the most popular sport among college-age females, according to a recent study by the National College Athletic Association. Members of the U.S. women's soccer team say they are relying on future generations to keep their team supplied with talent. To take advantage of its time in the spotlight, the team launched a twelve-city tour against a team of world all-stars in months following its win. They wanted to demonstrate to the USSF (United States Soccer Federation) that a woman's professional league would attract crowds and be financially viable. If you look at the whole history of women is sports, from before the Heraea Games were created until the present, it is clear that women have come a lot way in gaining respect and credibility. Women went from being threatened with death for even watching athletic competitions to being paid millions of dollars to compete as a professional in the eyes of the world. However, even after such strides, female athletes are still overshadowed by their male counterparts and may never be able to gain the same respect and earn just as much money as the men. If you think about how far women have come, athletically, maybe someday in the future things will change and they will be held on the same plateau as male athletes.

Work Cited

1) http://www.topendsports.com/events/summer/women.htm 2) http://womenshistory.about.com/od/jackiejoynerkersee/p/joyner_kersee.htm 3) http://www.essortment.com/bobby-riggs-vs-billie-jean-king-44759.html 4) http://www.forbes.com/2008/08/05/woods-beckham-jordan-biz-sports-cx_lr_0806athletes.html 5) “A League of Their Own” (1992) - Directed by Penny Marshall…...

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