An Introduction to the Female Athlete Profile Column: Women’s sports can go underappreciated; they receive less viewership and pay than their male counterparts.
There is approximately an 80% gap between male and female athletes’ pay, generally due to more viewership and sponsorship for men’s sports. Female athletes are making gains in this category, with the United States male and female soccer team signing equal pay agreements and record breaking National College Athletic Association women’s volleyball crowds, but there is still more to be desired.
Media deals and pay agreements do not apply at the high school level, but these issues play out in younger athletes’ perceptions. Female athletes should be provided with the same opportunities as their male counterparts in order to provide the foundation for gender equality in sports.
Sophomore Karen Xin plays basketball at Menlo and has been playing the sport since she was in fourth grade. Xin’s grandfather introduced her to basketball, giving her a love of the sport from a young age. “Basketball became something really personal between me and my grandfather,” Xin said. “He was a huge Kobe [Bryant] fan, so I would stay up late trying to watch the games with him.”
From there, Xin decided to start playing basketball. She enjoys the game’s intensity and competition. “You really, really have to fight [for a win],” she said.
The team aspect of basketball also drew Xin in and kept her involved. Some of her favorite memories are travel tournaments to diverse locations with her club team. “We have been to [Los Angeles], Reno […] and Vegas and that was really cool,” she said.
Xin is very dedicated to her sport; she spends most days in the gym practicing, sometimes on her own. “I think [my desire to spend extra time in the gym] is just because I love the sport. I like putting in the extra effort, it’s rewarding,” she said.
Xin has lofty goals for her Menlo career. Last year, Menlo girls’ varsity basketball was the Central Coast Section Division IV champions and Xin was named to the All-League First Team as a freshman. The All-League teams are the top players in the league, so being named a member as a freshman is a major accomplishment.
When Menlo wins a league, CCS, Northern California or state title, the victory is posted onto a banner in the gym with the year written next to it. “I want to have four years [of championship wins] on those banners,” Xin said.
Despite Xin’s success in her basketball career and love for the sport, there are some aspects of the sport that Xin has a distaste for, particularly the treatment of women compared to men. According to Xin, she sees male players get away with more because of an expectation that boys are naturally more athletic. Coaches appear to be more lenient and let go of errors more often. “It feels like because boys are more athletic, their athleticism can make up for their mistakes,” Xin said.
Aside from this, Xin’s Menlo coaches have always been very supportive of her breaking the gender barrier in basketball. “Over the summer, they encouraged me to scrimmage [with the boys] and join the boys’ open gyms,” Xin said. The opportunity made her feel as though the coaches didn’t see her gender as a limit to her athletic capability.
In terms of improving unequal treatment in sports between men and women, Xin wants to see more media exposure for female athletes. She sees that on most of the popular sport networks, men’s sports are favored for airtime. In fact, 95% of TV coverage goes to men’s sports. “Young female athletes look up to older ones,” Xin said on the importance of exposure for women’s sports. Young girls look for women whom they can see themselves in when making goals and finding their love for sports. Without the exposure Xin described, female athletes will be missing that ever-important piece of their athletic careers.