By: Claire Goldberg
When the Los Angeles Sparks won the WNBA championship last year, the Los Angeles Times barely covered it. Any time there is women’s sports news, for that matter, the major newspapers barely cover it. When UConn women’s basketball recently set the record for the longest streak without a loss, and when they reached 100 straight wins this past week (which stands as the longest streak across the board of professional and collegiate sports, as far as I know), there was barely any interest.
So why is it that people don’t seem to care about women’s sports? They don’t get media coverage, they don’t get paid as much, and they definitely don’t get as many opportunities as the men. According to reference.com, the maximum salary for a WNBA player is a little over $100,000, while the minimum for men is almost $500,000. I don’t even want to talk about the men’s salary cap. And while every NBA coach is a male, only half of the WNBA coaches are female. Almost the same split goes for Division I college basketball.
Some people argue that since UConn is so far and away the best team in collegiate women’s basketball, consistently winning games with 30-point margins, that their winning streak is actually a display of the lack of competitiveness in the sport. But when the Warriors went on a 28-game winning streak in 2015, people couldn’t shut up about it (especially where I’m from in California). And it’s not like UConn’s greatness is overshadowed by lackluster opponents, which was proven in the nail-biter of a game they played against Tulane on Feb. 18. They’re great regardless of who they play, and they should be great regardless of gender stereotypes in sports.
The biggest issue, though, is that the popularity of women’s basketball, and of women’s sports in general, is a huge Catch-22. In order for them to make more money, they would need to be more profitable as an organization. And in order for the WNBA to be more profitable, they would need more viewership and more coverage. But because they lack funding (and also because of the weird stigma that women are bad at sports...which is just...wrong), they can’t advertise and build up the hype that the men’s teams can.
When a team wins a championship or sets a record, that’s important regardless of what readers theoretically want. ESPN shouldn’t have to have an entirely separate section (espnW) for women’s sports. Female athletes shouldn’t have to rely on endorsements for a substantial salary. People need to start realizing that Serena Williams isn’t the only talented female athlete, and when teams like UConn or the Sparks do something incredible, we need to recognize that.
A societal or mentality change is not going to be easy. Luckily, sports broadcasting has been bringing in more women, and it’s a big step to see Lisa Leslie on panels covering the NBA and to see Cari Champion anchoring SportsCenter. But the coverage is still so male-centric that it’s the responsibility of all the people doing sports coverage to amp-up women’s sports. If ESPN could feature women’s sports highlights on its homepage more often, then its readership would realize just how amazing these athletes are. And maybe, just maybe, this problem could come a little closer to being solved.