By Kellen Bulger
This weekend, 18-year-old Becca Longo (a placekicker for Chandler Basha high school in Arizona) made history as she became the first ever female football player on scholarship. Longo will be playing for Adams State University in Alamosa, Colorado next fall.
With the announcement of Longo’s signing came a flood of new thought pieces and discussion points around the nation asking if this is a “signal change” or “turning point” for American sports, and how news of Longo’s signing is “just the beginning.” I disagree. Women have been demanding a seat at the male dominated table of mainstream sports culture for years now and we better start taking notice.
Now I understand the hypocrisy here: a male sitting here telling you all to take notice of women’s elevated position in the mainstream sports scene. However, I hope, at the very least, to give you statistics to shove in the face of sexism.
40 miles North on I-5, the Portland Thorns have been proving skeptics of the popularity of women’s athletics wrong for multiple years in the National Women’s Soccer League. In May of last year, the Thorns drew a staggering 18,114 fans for a match against the rival Seattle Reign — despite missing every single U.S. women’s national team player on their roster.
Now in spite of my enthusiasm regarding women’s influence in our American sports scene, I do realize that your average goateed man who watches ESPN about 12 hours a day still has probably never heard of the Portland Thorns or the AP College Basketball Player of the Year, Kelsey Plum. I do not care about him nor anyone else that chooses to neglect the fact that women are smashing these barriers down every day. The Thorn attendance of 18,114 that I mentioned earlier is just one example; 15 NBA franchises this year averaged less fans per home game than the number that attended that 2016 women’s soccer match. Let that sink in for a moment.
Even with all the progress that has been made, there is still a lofty amount of work to be done looking forward when it comes to women’s athletics.
Since the enactment of Title IX in 1972, the number of female coaches in two-dozen college sports were at about 90 percent, whereas now that number lies at nearly 40 percent. It’s not just basketball. Arguably the most popular women’s sports team in America, in the U.S. national soccer team, has been fighting FIFA to simply not have to play on turf, which regularly results in horrific scars and bruises for the players who play on the surface. And how do the heads of international federations like former president of FIFA Sep Blatter respond? With heinous comments, suggesting female players wear tighter shorts to promote “a more female aesthetic.”
It is clear that there is still a mountain of work to do when it comes to fair treatment for our female athletes. With that being said, one cannot simply help feeling optimistic when thinking about that same aforementioned, goateed, man and how he will likely be forced to hear about how a woman will be playing college football under scholarship, when he is watching ESPN this weekend.