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NCAA bubble disparities suggest gender equality in sports is still far away

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Enough already.

Syndication: Journal-Courier Nikos Frazier / Journal & Courier via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Imagine being 10 years old, wanting to be a professional athlete but being told you won’t make anywhere close to the amount of money that the boys in your class would make.

Imagine being 12, working the whole year to make the AAU national basketball tournament and qualifying, just to be told your team can’t go but the boys' team can.

Imagine being 14, having your biggest high school basketball game of the season against your rival but being told you have to play on the secondary court because the boys had a game at the same time.

Imagine being 16 and your softball team makes it to the state championship game, but your high school’s baseball team had a quarterfinal game simultaneously, and all the fans went there instead.

You may not be able to imagine these things, but I lived them, and every girl who has ever played sports has experienced the same.

After seeing the unequal treatment of male and female athletes in their respective NCAA bubbles, I can’t turn on the TV today and watch the first round of the men’s basketball tournament with that same sense of joy.

I’m tired of having to explain why women’s sports deserve attention. I’m tired of seeing the repeated unequal treatment. I’m tired of people saying they deserve less because they aren’t “money makers.” I’m tired of having to stand up for something because so few other people will. If I’m tired, I can only imagine how the players feel.

Images from the bubbles in Indianapolis and San Antonio show the incredibly apparent and disrespectful differences between the two environments. Weight rooms, care packages, food and even childcare have been called into question. The men’s teams are given an abundance of amenities while the women have been given the bare minimum.

To many women in sports, this didn’t come as a big surprise. That’s the worst part. We’ve all lived this, but only rarely are these issues projected for the world to see. Only after it received national attention did the NCAA actually do something about it.

You may think these are minor problems, and in the grand scheme of the unequal treatment that women in sports face compared to their male counterparts, they may be. But if women can’t get something as simple as edible food or an adequate weight room, how can we ever expect much larger issues like equal pay to be resolved?

Growing up playing sports, I always thought it would get better once athletes went on to play at the game’s highest levels. I thought it was a rite of passage, as terrible as that sounds, and that women’s DI and professional players would be worshipped just like their male peers are. But now, as I’ve spent my college career covering these sports, I’ve learned it just gets worse and even more noticeable when money becomes the differentiating factor.

There always seems to be an excuse. The sport or rules are slightly different. The leagues have different capacities. This time, there is no excuse. Same league. Same sport. Same event. Different treatment. For an organization like the NCAA that makes $1 billion in revenue each year and doesn’t even pay its players, you would think it could spare some cash on some merch and quality food, especially for an event that its players dedicate their lives to finally reaching.

It always comes down to money, as do most things in this world. The men’s teams bring in more revenue, and therefore, they get better opportunities. But it’s not like the women do anything different than the men to deserve themselves less attention and support and therefore make less money. It’s not like they got together and said, “Let’s try to play worse and get fewer viewers.” These are issues deeply rooted in the fan base, not caused by the players, yet it’s the athletes that have to deal with the consequences of our actions

By no means am I telling you to stop watching men’s sports. It’s often the male athletes who are the biggest supporters of the women who play their game. They’re not the ones who take the opportunities away.

When you turn on the TV today, tonight or any time over the next couple of weeks to watch the men play, just remember that while these guys are putting everything on the line to achieve their dreams on one of the biggest stages in sports, 64 teams on the women’s side are doing the exact same in San Antonio — and one of them just happens to be Northwestern.

Every time we turn a blind eye or make excuses, we’re just contributing to a problem that won’t go away on its own.