The Unfortunate Nature of the World of Sports

This past Tuesday was quite a night at the Crisler Center. The Michigan men’s basketball team beat Syracuse in dramatic fashion, lead by the clutch shooting of Junior Spike Albrecht. As someone who went to game, I can personally attest to the atmosphere at the Crisler Center that night. The student section, informally known as the “Maize Rage” was electric. The arena was packed with a sea of students all wearing maize. It was great to see the Michigan faithful come together and create an awesome place to watch the team play.

Tuesday night was a great example of one of the main reasons I decided to enroll at the University of Michigan. I wanted a school with an overwhelming amount of school spirit on campus. On Tuesday night I felt that spirit I had so deeply desired. Although Tuesday night was amazing at the Crisler Center, not every night at the Crisler Center is quite as electric. Early in October, I went to the women’s volleyball game against Michigan State at the Crisler Center. Most of the time the volleyball team plays in the Cliff Keen arena, but against a rival like Michigan State they moved the game to the larger Crisler Center. Being that they moved to the larger arena for a rivalry game, I assumed that there would be an awesome atmosphere at the game. To my disappointment the arena was basically empty. My question is how it is possible that in the same arena, representing the same school, there could be this drastic of a difference in environment?

To better understand this dynamic I think it is important to look at “The Playing Fields of Eton” by Mika Lavaque-Manty. In Mika Lavaque-Manty’s “The Playing Fields of Eton”, he discusses the differences in sports relative to the athletes gender. “Although Title IX changed things significantly, there has also been much continuity. For example, no women’s sport is what universities call a “revenue” sport—that is, a sport so popular that its paying spectators make it a major business.” Title IX is a law that helped to increase female participation in sports. As Lavaque-Manty points out, although Title IX made a difference, there is still a major difference between female and male sports. According to Lavaque-Manty, gender in some cases can be a disability. The world of sports is one of those cases. Lavaque-Manty argues that although we as a society try to implement an “A for effort” attitude it simply is not realistic. Similar to professors having to reward the students who do the best, as opposed to the students who work the hardest, the world of sports rewards the best athletes. As a result the world of sports prefers males naturally superior athleticism. In my opinion the cut throat nature described in Lavaque-Manty’s writing is unfortunately spot on. I am not advocating that women cannot be more athletic than men, however I am simply stating that on average the quality of male sports is at a higher level than females.

Some may argue that comparing the attendance at a game of basketball to volleyball is not fair because basketball is a more popular sport in America. Although their point may be valid, the spotlight gap is apparent even in the same sport. Paul Farhi of the Washington Post, cites an apt example of this. In Farhi’s article he discusses the University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team winning streak. The team won seventy-eight consecutive games but according to Farhi the media “all but yawned” at the streak. One could argue that If the University of Connecticut’s mens basketball team went on this same streak there would be a much different reaction. The media would most likely be swarming the campus and every single UCONN game would be nationally televised.

After analyzing the work of Lavaque-Manty I no longer doubt the school spirit at the University of Michigan. I do however doubt the attention we as a society pay to women’s sports. After personally witnessing two completely different atmospheres in the same exact arena I now can attest to the disability Lavaque-Manty refers to. Although it is unfortunate, what happened that night vs Michigan State was just another example that the sports world simply prefers male sports.

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3 thoughts on “The Unfortunate Nature of the World of Sports

  1. I understand the whole issue about how women’s sport are not revenue-generating sport because ‘on average the quality of male sport is higher than females’. However, sometimes I wonder if this is a chicken-and-egg issue. Is it hard for women’s sport to generate revenue because women simply can’t provide the same level/quality of competition and physical prowess, or is the latter caused by the lack of investment/interest in women’s sport, and the general societal belief that women will never be able to measure up. It is not uncommon for female athletes to unconsciously/subconsciously impose limitations on themselves and their athletic performance, especially women in male-dominated sport. In fact I find myself falling prey to this when playing basketball/frisbee with guys. (We should all read this article on Sam Gordon, a little girl who at 9 years old, consistently outperformed older boys and ran 25 touchdowns and 10 conversions in her first season: http://sports.yahoo.com/news/internet-sensation–nine-year-old-girl-shredding-defenses-to-the-tune-of-25-touchdowns.html)
    I do think that it is demoralizing for female athletes to train super hard and still have to deal with scathing judgments (of how they will never be as good as the men), most of which are made by people who don’t even do sport, at least not on the elite level. Many budding female athletes leave the sport because they are discouraged by these comments; the ones who stay on are usually very strong-willed and have gotten past the stage of worrying about what others think. So for those who say we should be more realistic about women in sport, I would say that there is more than enough realism already.
    Also, I think that the amount of revenue generated by a sport should be delinked from the level of athleticism and sporting ability. Even within men’s sport, there are sports that don’t generate the huge amounts we see in football/boxing/basketball- this doesn’t make the male athletes any less deserving of being deemed an outstanding sportsmen. For example, elite gymnasts and cross-country athletes are undoubtedly very fit, they train hard, but these sport can never generate as much revenue as do others that receive extensive media coverage, sponsorship and spectatorship. Sometimes it is just about the nature of the sport. How good of an athlete you are should not be measured solely by how much you earn. The same goes for the women in sport.

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  2. I’m not saying its fair to women that they’re sports are not as popular, but its definitely understandable. that being said, i think that if the whole U of M campus cared for, say, women’s volleyball the way they do men’s basketball, i think those games could be a lot of fun for a student section. I think you did a good job of analyzing how the differences between mens and women’s sports relates to what we talk about in class, too. good job

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  3. I really enjoyed reading your post! I had a very similar experience as I also attended that incredible Syracuse basketball game, and a girls’ gymnastics event. I think one aspect that contributes to men’s sports being more popular, is the entertainment aspect. The sad reality is that men are typically stronger and faster than women, allowing them to person more astonishing tricks and dunks. I am not saying this is always the case, but I think this often occurs. It’s important for spectators to understand that they play an important role in sports, and the players appreciate their presence.

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