Recent news out of the world of female athletics has been nothing but positive lately. From the success of women in the Summer Olympics to the 40th anniversary of the passage of Title IX we’ve been very busy focusing on the accomplishments of women athletes.
This past month one of the biggest stories about women and sports was Erin DiMeglio. The 17-year-old became the first girl to play quarterback in a high school game in Florida (which, as the article notes, takes its high school football pretty seriously).
DiMeglio is third-string, but she’s performing under pressure and learning how to take hits. While the fact that she is getting so much attention shows that female quarterbacks (and football players for that matter, like the case of Brianna Amat) are quite uncommon, the assumption is that DiMeglio will help start a trend and we will see more and more girls playing football with the boys.
In general these stories imply a continued upward trajectory for women and sports. But two other recent stories remind us that more work remains to be done. The first is about coaching in women’s sports. Sports researchers have found that as rates of women participating in athletics increase there is often a decrease in the rates of women coaching. Why? Because the compensation for coaching women increases, so then more men want to be involved. This means that many women’s sports teams– including those at the highest levels– have male coaches. Over time this is a problem that needs to be solved.
Additionally, even though we have made a lot of progress (and note in the DiMeglio article that her teammates routinely defend her to others and simply see her as part of the team), there is still a cultural bias against some aspects of women in sports. A few weeks ago The Washington Post published an article entitled, “Throw like a girl? You can do better.” Many readers angrily responded to the piece, including Justine Siegal (previously featured on this blog– in my first Shrinking and Pinking piece). As she writes, “I have found that throwing “like a girl” is not biologically inherent but rather a result of coaching, expectations and opportunity. Gender is not the dominating factor in their throwing mechanics; experience is.”
I also appreciated the end of the second letter, by Pat Rumbaugh: “I would love to see an article called “Look how flexible I am.” I bet girls generally win that one.” Until we start valuing (culturally and monetarily) those skills that may often favor women’s abilities, female athletes (and coaches) will continue to play second- and third-string. I know in the next 40 years we can do better.