Dave Hannigan: NCAA offer Spring Sexism masterclass in everything but equality

Magically, a workout facility was created overnight after public shaming

The Syracuse Orange and UConn Huskies tip off to an empty arena in the second round game of the 2021 NCAA Women’s Basketball tournament at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. Photograph: Getty Images

The Syracuse Orange and UConn Huskies tip off to an empty arena in the second round game of the 2021 NCAA Women’s Basketball tournament at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. Photograph: Getty Images

 

The finest male basketball players in America arrived in Indianapolis last week for March Madness, the culmination of the collegiate season.

To help them survive life in a bubble for the duration, each received a swag bag worth $500 from the NCAA, the governing body that makes billions of dollars each year off the backs of these amateur student-athletes. In among the toiletries and t-shirts, every player also found a 500-piece jigsaw. A smart gesture given how much down time they were going to have between games.

Their female counterparts touched down in San Antonio for their national championship and were handed swag bags too. Except theirs’ were a lot smaller, the freebies worth just $150. Perhaps most peculiar of all though was that their complimentary puzzle was a 150-piece affair.

Fifty-seven per cent of college degrees in America each year are awarded to women yet somebody in the employ of the NCAA, a notoriously scrupulous outfit when it comes to rules, reckoned its distaff competitors could only handle a significantly less-challenging jigsaw. As ever, sexism moves in mysterious ways its horrors to inflict.

Equality

March is Women’s History Month and, especially for the television cameras broadcasting the action to millions, the NCAA emblazoned their courts with the word equality along the sidelines. Then it offered an astonishing masterclass in everything but. In Indianapolis, the players had immediate access to a state-of-the-art gymnasium, replete with all the modern accoutrements and machinery.

In Texas, the women were told to make do with a solitary rack of dumbbells, a single stationary exercise bike, and a couple of yoga mats. In the minds of those running the sport, female ballers, only some of the finest athletes in the country, don’t ever lift weights.

Once some of the women involved shared damning images of that contrast on social media, the NCAA (very much an American version of the FAI in terms of its impressive, recurring incompetence) claimed there wasn’t enough room to house a proper gym in San Antonio.

At which point, Sedona Prince, a six foot seven forward with the University of Oregon, made a TikTok video showing the cavernous space into which the organisers had lumped the lonely rack of dumbbells. Within hours, the NCAA were being torched on every available platform by the likes of Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving and Venus Williams.

“This is a statement to how much work there still is to do for equity in sports for men and women,” wrote Williams on Instagram. “So happy to see men and women athletes band together to give notice to this behaviour and say this is ENOUGH!”

Magic

Magically, a proper workout facility was created overnight, the people running the show having been publicly shamed into affording the players the basics given their male peers. The disparities in treatment did not begin in the swag bags or end in the weight room. It was evident too in the cafeteria.

The men had an enormous buffet, a veritable smorgasbord of freshly cooked food with enough healthy options to suit every taste and appetite. As you’d expect for elite athletes expected to perform on the big stage.

Meanwhile, the women were given prepackaged meals containing droopy vegetables, soggy mashed potatoes and a mystery meat that may or may not have been Salisbury steak. Imagine your worst airline meal and you start to get the picture of the mediocre fare on offer. The moment photographic evidence of that prison nosh went viral, money was somehow found to immediately upgrade the menu. You may be noticing a pattern here.

Some remain much more than equal than others

As controversy raged about the female basketballers being treated like second-class citizens, some pointed out these tournaments shouldn’t even be happening. Many teams are representing universities where students have gone without in-person lectures for a year, and it’s inherently a public health folly to send the women to play in Texas, a state that no longer has a mask-wearing mandate.

Games have gone on regardless because, in this most exploitative corner of the sports universe, the revenue stream from television broadcast rights cannot be turned off. And it’s okay, say the apologists (literally every person who makes money talking about the games), they are testing them for coronavirus.

Indeed, they are. In Indianapolis, every player and coach gets the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test, the most reliable and expensive detection method. Down in San Antonio, however, they have to make do with antigen testing, which is faster, more likely to issue false negatives and, crucially, a whole lot cheaper.

ESPN pays the NCAA $500 million for the multi-year rights to the women’s national championship and the regional competitions that feed into it yet somebody in a position of real power there still decided it was good policy to save a few bucks on the testing of the female competitors. Almost as if their health and safety matters just a little less.

In 1972, Title IX of the Education Amendments Act guaranteed female students equal access to education and sporting opportunities in schools and colleges receiving government funding.

It completely transformed the sports landscape in America but, as the 50th anniversary approaches, the troglodytes in the NCAA still refuse to allow their own women’s tournament to use the brand “March Madness” lest it dilute the marketability of the men’s event. In their definition of equality, what USA Today terms “Spring Sexism”, some remain much more than equal than others.

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