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What we can learn from women in sports

What we can learn from women in sports

What we can learn from women in sports
August 06
14:30 2020

The unsung athletes of America are women. They win championships, break records and overcome adversity, all while performing at the highest level. Unfortunately, many of these talented athletes live in anonymity because they’re women. Men continue to culturally own sports and have prevented female athletes from getting the same opportunities that male athletes receive. Their stubbornness gets in the way of allowing women’s sports from growing passed their audience. From undermined accomplishments to magnified mistakes, these women are competing against their on-field rival and a long history of misogyny in sports.

What gets lost in women’s sports is the adversity that women overcome. Despite the lack of opportunities, media coverage and respect, these talented women continue to achieve their goals on and off the field. Even more, they embrace every opportunity that comes their way. Women in sports are more than talented athletes. They’re leaders of perseverance, and there are essential aspects in life we should learn from gifted female athletes.

The first aspect we can learn from female athletes: No one can define you but yourself.

The adversity female athletes face starts as soon as they begin playing their sport at a young age. In a male-dominated space, girls are expected to play by the cultural rules that were made for boys.

For example, a lack of female coaches and players in a sport can lead a young girl to believe that sports are mutually exclusive for boys. Or a young girl who competes in a game may be self-conscious about their appearance because they’re not supposed to get sweaty. Even the famous quote, “You play ball like a girl!” from the 1993 movie “Sandlot,” can cast down negative expectations for girls who compete in sports. The gender norms in sports define girls as “ladylike” and “humble.”

But athletes like soccer star Megan Rapinoe shows us that other people don’t define us. The two-time Olympian is an openly gay player, and she doesn’t fit the gender norms in sports. Her unapologetic, competitive and confident style of play makes her stand out on the U.S Women’s National team. Even though some sports fans see her as loud and obnoxious, she embraces who she is by being a voice for LGBTQ athletes off the field and winning gold medals on the field. If that’s what playing like a girl means, then sign me up.

The second aspect: Your success will be challenged.

When competing in sports, athletes play to win the game. But winning comes at the expense of someone losing. In other words, someone is going to get their feelings hurt. When women are successful in a male-dominated sport, they receive some praise and a noticeable amount of hate from fans. Let’s be honest, women’s mistakes are unfairly magnified because their achievements are seen as a threat. Misogyny is deeply ingrained in sports because men dominating their opponents are viewed as the norm.

When people see athletes like tennis star Serena Williams dominate her opponents, it doesn’t seem fair. Williams has dominated her sport for nearly two decades, but some tennis fans still discredit her. As if winning 23 Grand Slam titles isn’t enough, she has been accused of fixing matches, taking PEDs, and even being too loud. She’s been fined, bombarded with racial slurs and depicted as an angry black woman. Despite all of the unfair criticism she receives from both fans and experts, she overcomes the backlash by merely winning.

Although her success is constantly being challenged, she learned she doesn’t have to prove herself to anyone anymore. If anything, she’s proven people wrong. What I learned from Williams is that people are going to root against you. I don’t need to prove my achievements are real to anyone who hasn’t experienced them.

The third aspect we can learn from female athletes is to speak up for the people who can’t.

Following the recent social justice movement for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, athletes have been using their platform to address these issues. Through donations, commercials, and social media live streams, players have helped lead the charge to social justice. However, not everyone agrees with these athletes because they feel like it’s not their place to speak about these situations. Fans want the players to entertain them by competing in their sport. What they don’t want is their favorite athlete’s opinion to conflict with their own.

But, the WNBA saw this as an opportunity to use its platform to continue the conversation about social injustice. The players came up with the idea to place the names of police brutality victims on the back of their jerseys. Soon after the WNBA made this decision, the NBA followed by allowing their players to customize their jersey. If nobody is going to say it, I will. The WNBA understands more than any other league that their players are more than just athletes. Despite having fewer fans and fewer opportunities, they continue to set a tone for leagues on how to speak for the voiceless.

Regardless of what I think, I can’t experience what female athletes are put through. But I’ve learned so much from their work ethic. All I can do is support and encourage them to keep going. The unfortunate role women play in sports is being the underdog. But who doesn’t like rooting for the underdog?

Featured Illustration: Olivia Varnell

About Author

Zach Thomas

Zach Thomas

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