Inside the NCAA: Blatant sexism on the surface

“Thank you for using the three biggest weeks of your organization’s year to expose exactly how you feel about women’s basketball—an afterthought,” said Nell Fortner, Georgia Tech women’s basketball head coach, in an open letter to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) she posted via Twitter on Tuesday morning. 

Division I women’s basketball players—along with coaches, fans and professional sports stars alike—have met the organization with similar outrage after a stark difference was noted in the facilities and amenities inside the women’s versus the men’s NCAA basketball tournament bubble. March Madness, as the annual competition is known, has historically been overpromoted on the men’s side, leaving the women just as Coach Fortner described: as an afterthought.

This was first apparent in the gear packages that players received from the organization. Women’s players took pictures and shared videos on their social media accounts depicting a meek selection of body soap, lotion, and a few branded t-shirts and water bottles, while the men were given what looked to be triple the amount of gifts. Former South Carolina standout and current Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson tweeted, along with photos to compare and contrast, “…nah they tweaking on the swag bag too?!?!”

Sedona Prince, Redshirt sophomore of the Oregon Ducks, created a TikTok that went viral on multiple social media platforms, exposing the weight room facilities provided to the women. Her video starts by saying, “I got something to show y’all…so for March Madness, the biggest tournament in college basketball for women…” and continues by pointing to what the NCAA told them was their weight room: a single rack of dumbbells, with the heaviest ones being only 30 pounds.

Prince then shows footage of the men’s facility: an entire room full of socially distanced squat racks, barbells, dumbbells and anything else you could need to maintain strength training over the month-long tournament. The women were given nothing. Prince said that the organization responded with the excuse that space, rather than money, was the issue at hand. She ends by showing the enormous amount of extra space that surrounded their practice court, with more than enough room for an extensive weight training area to be provided for the women. Her video now has over 10 million views.

Images of these different weight rooms were originally released by Ali Kershner, the sports performance coach from Stanford Women’s Basketball. Her Instagram caption that accompanied side-by-side pictures of the men’s and women’s facilities read, “Not usually one for this type of post but this deserves attention.” She went on to tag the NCAA’s social media accounts and stated, “This needs to be addressed. These women want and deserve to be given the same opportunities…In a year defined by the fight for equality this is a chance to have a conversation and get better.”

Lynn Holzman, NCAA Vice President of Women’s Basketball, responded to the outcry with a statement that read, “We acknowledge that some of the amenities teams would typically have access to have not been as available inside the controlled environment.” She blamed this on a lack of space and told the public that they had originally planned to expand weight lifting facilities as the tournament progressed. “However, we want to be responsive to the needs of our participating teams, and we are actively working to enhance existing resources at practice courts, including additional weight training equipment.”

However, weight rooms and gear were not the only two things that the NCAA decided to skimp on for the women. From meals, to the quality of game floors, to COVID-19 testing and more, the NCAA has made it clear that they prioritize their male athletes. Dawn Stanley, head coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks, also took to Twitter with a letter that highlighted the fact that the issues here go far beyond facilities and amenities. “The issue here looms larger,” she wrote, and points out the NCAA’s official @marchmadness handle: “The tag line leaves no run for misinterpretation – ‘The Official NCAA March madness destination for all things Division I/NCAA Men’s Basketball.’ Those words mean one thing—March Madness is only about men’s basketball.”

As Stanley points out, this tournament is, and always has been, about the men. She raises questions about sexism and sport, saying, “How do we explain that to our players? How can an organization that claims to care about ALL member institutions’ student-athlete experiences have a copyrighted term that only ‘represents’ one gender?”

“It’s sad that the NCAA is not willing to recognize and invest in our growth despite its claims of togetherness and equality,” Stanley added. And she ends with a call to action that spans far beyond the game of basketball: “But, it is also time for the NCAA leadership to reevaluate the value they place on women.”

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