NYT > Sports
When will we stop treating women as second-class citizens in sport?
This question needs reconsideration, given the horrific stories of male coaches accused of molesting and molesting women players in the National Women’s Soccer League.
It turns out that the premier league of women’s football in the United States – played by world championship stars like Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan – treats the legions of lesser-known female players like pawns in a male-controlled game of exploitation and moneymaking.
Rather than celebrating women’s empowerment, the league has emerged in recent days through revelations as yet another example of the low esteem society has for female athletes. And in this case, the athletes appear to be tolerated and abused because they feared a lawsuit would bring down the only US league they have.
“Burn it all down,” Rapinoe said in a tweet.
She is right.
This league needs a leadership overhaul. The change has already begun with the resignation of its Commissioner Lisa Baird. And there is hope that a new generation of female athletes – emerging among the marginalized in this age of reckoning and courageous energy, connected to one another and the world through social media – will not remain silent.
They are no longer afraid of the consequences, no longer shy away from telling the truth to power.
You have as the North Star the many gymnasts – including one of the sport’s most powerful stars, Simone Biles – who have shown that it is possible to come up and speak up. This can even send offenders who once lurked in the shadows to jail.
It was a turbulent, painful week for women’s sport, but it was also forward-looking.
Professional female soccer players will no longer accept the status quo.
No longer tolerate coaches like Richie Burke, the former manager of the Washington Spirit, who, according to The Washington Post, unleashed “a storm of threats, criticism and personal insults” on his players.
No condolences to men like Christy Holly, the Racing Louisville coach, who was sacked in August amid a spate of allegations about the toxic environment he was promoting.
No more room for the likes of Farid Benstiti, former Seattle area OL Reign coach who we now know has been forced to leave after abusive comments.
In an investigation published last week by The Athletic, current and former players accused North Carolina Courage manager Paul Riley of emotionally abusing players and forcing them to have sex. Despite denying the allegations, Riley was fired from courage.
The league players don’t buy his denials. They are also disgusted that the league is not addressing the conduct of these coaches directly. The weekend’s games were canceled as players unanimously stood up and called for reform.
“Men protecting men who abuse women,” wrote Rapinoe, the biggest American star in women’s football and one of the league’s few household names. “I’ll say it again, men, who protect men, MISS WOMEN. Burn everything down. “
This statement needs some context. Baird, the NWSL commissioner, resigned Friday after realizing she had done more to protect the men who run the league than the women who risked everything in competition.
Sometimes it’s not just men who protect men. Sometimes it is power that protects power.
We all know who has the real influence – who is at the top of the hierarchy. In the NWSL, the vast majority of team owners who have control stakes are men, as are the vast majority of team leaders and coaches.
As in the rest of society, the world of sport rests on a simple, unsettling dynamic: With a few exceptions, including professional tennis, women in sport take a back seat to their male colleagues.
You get a lot less media coverage, a lot less corporate support, and a lot less love and respect from fans.
The WNBA playoffs are coming up, full of great stories and breathtaking play. As my last column showed, good luck finding a jersey from your favorite breakout star.
And good luck to the women’s teams too, who fly all over the country on commercial airlines to find flights that don’t have to cram their tired bodies in the middle seats.
Players in the great American men’s sports almost always fly in chartered jets. Female professionals almost never do this.
The NWSL is anything but an established league. Outside of some cities, particularly Portland, Oregon, where Riley trained for years, his teams are struggling to gain acceptance. The league’s nationally televised championship game 2021 is scheduled to take place in Portland on November 20 and begin at 9 a.m. local time. Before one of the biggest games of their lives, players fighting for the title wake up in the early morning darkness and warm up on a cold field when the sun comes up.
It is not easy to break into a culture that is so completely male-favored.
Still, the NWSL has lasted longer and forged deeper roots than any other American women’s soccer league. The league is powerful because it represents: a future in which women are taken seriously and treated with full respect.
Athletes boldly advocate this type of transformative change. But this week proves that their fight for equality is far from over. In many ways, it’s just getting started.