The S in Sports Shouldn’t Stand for Sexism

Sexism has been a staple in sports, with the best female athletes being sexualized, but that ends now.

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This year’s Ballon d’Or award ceremony in Paris hosted its fair share of drama, with Croatian midfielder Luka Modric picking up the Ballon d’Or, yet another trophy for his brimming trophy cabinet. French forward Kylian Mbappe was crowned the best young player after tearing it up in France this year. Norwegian striker Ada Hegerberg was the first female winner of the Ballon D’or despite the Ballon D’or being awarded since 1956.

On a night when she was supposed to honored, Hegerberg was left speechless (and not in a good way). Her win was overshadowed by sexist remarks from French DJ Martin Solveig, who asked Hegerberg, “Can you twerk?” in front of the star-studded audience. Hegerberg instantly said no, with the discomfort evident on her face. Hegerberg nearly walked off the stage in disgust but showed grace, smiling through the disheartening ordeal. Mbappe was stunned as he sat in the crowd, watching this scene unravel. Solveig later apologized to Hegerberg, but the damage was already done. Had a male winner been asked to flash his abs to the crowd, would a simple apology have sufficed? No. Sadly, this is not the first time women have been sexualized in sports and likely will not be the last.

Tennis has also had its run-ins with blatant sexism. Raymond Moore, then tournament director of the BNP Paribas Open, received deserved backlash back in March of 2016 for saying that female tennis players are “very, very lucky” and that they should get on their knees every night to thank god for Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who “have carried the sport,” he said despite female athletes like Serena Williams being far more popular than Federer and Nadal. Sure, this instance might seem outdated, and Moore has since stepped down, but things like this happen all the time in tennis, and Serena Williams has dealt with her fair share of sexism over the years. Blatantly incorrect calls have been made against her on the biggest of stages. Her body and figure have been criticized. Even the way she dresses on the court has been a topic of intense discussion. But every time, Serena still manages to come out on top. The real surprise, however, is that Serena is still facing such high levels of scrutiny after all she has done for the sport. She has transcended her sport, with young girls all over the world looking up to her as they embark on their tennis careers. She is an icon, and she needs to be treated like one.

Women are held to a much higher standard in professional sports. They need to achieve so much to gain recognition despite achieving much more than men who receive the same amount of recognition. Let’s go back to Hegerberg. She has scored more than 250 career goals at just 23. To put that in context, Cristiano Ronaldo scored 97 career goals when he was 23, and he is regarded as one of the best male players of all time. But have you heard of Hegerberg before now? Probably not.

This sexism is evident in America as well. The US men’s national team is much more well known than the women’s national team. The latter won the last World Cup, and the former didn’t even qualify for the last World Cup; yet, the women’s national team players are paid substantially less than the men. The women make $15,000 for qualifying for the World Cup, compared to the men’s $76,000 (both per player). The men’s team makes $3.5 million for going to the round-of-16, while the women’s team gets absolutely nothing. Yet, the women’s team achieves more at the top level and with greater consistency. Many might point to the lack of excitement in women’s sports. Anyone who has watched a women’s volleyball or tennis game knows that is far from the truth. To make up for what they lack in power, women are forced to adopt a much more intricate style that is more skillful than the brute force required for men. The increased skill level provides for a much more interesting watch. Now, I am not saying men don’t play intricately. But it’s clear that women need to be much more skillful to become professionals because they can’t rely on their physical prowess like men can.

The road to end sexist double standards in sports is long, and it’s the small changes that will make all the difference. Support your local, college, and professional women’s teams in any sport. Trade your Ronaldo jersey in for a Hegerberg jersey (or buy both!), and get behind female family members who play sports. Support and show them their hard work is worth it. The beginning of the end for sexism is here, and you need to get on the field of equality while you can.