HS sports activities fairness price celebrating, however must also translate higher to increased competitors ranges

There was an ad campaign during March Madness, and the message was thought provoking.

Unlike AT&T’s commercials — Lily is likable and marketable after allbut maybe not to sustain that much ad volume — this ad didn’t need to play a thousand times to make its point.

As a “girl dad,” the phrase that entered society’s lexicon more after Elle Duncan’s touching Kobe Bryant tribute on “SportsCenter” following his death, the point resonated with me.

Buick had a “See Her Greatness” campaign, in which it highlighted championship moments in NCAA women’s sports, including Arike Ogunbowale’s game-winning shot in Notre Dame’s 2018 women’s basketball title victory.

As audio played, a black screen with text was shown.

Citing a Purdue study, it was stated more than 40% of NCAA student-athletes are women, but those women receive less than 10% of media coverage. Unfortunately, that exposure drop carries into fan interest — when, of course, it’s unfair and perplexing.

One could argue the height of true equity for female and male sports is at the high school level, when inclusion, venues and community interest is similar to such an extent you don’t give it a second thought.

Ideally, that’s how it should be.

Somehow, though, that equity has a disconnect in several faces at college, Olympic and professional levels.

That aforementioned true equity should be interpreted as a celebration of high school sports.

In basketball, cross country, golf, lacrosse, swimming and diving, tennis and track and field, for example, athletes get equal opportunity.

Races and sessions alternate between genders.

Venues, crowds, podiums, medals and championship presentations are the same. The banners raised at schools are the same.

It doesn’t mean “less” if a female student-athlete has accomplishment as opposed to a male.

The value is equal, as well it should be. That marks progress.

That equity is so ingrained as normal — and yet, once those athletes progress to higher levels of competition, it’s met with more indifference. It shouldn’t, but it does.

You can’t help but wonder why.

As a case in point, now that we’re into track and field season, in 2021 there were 25 state top-four finishes by News-Herald coverage area girls student-athletes. That’s the most on the girls side in a single year ever, shattering the previous record of 22 set in 1992.

In the last 45 years there has been boys and girls state track and field concurrently, area girls recorded more state top-four finishes than area boys in 36 of those years. There are 16 News-Herald coverage area schools at which more of their top-four state track and field placers are girls.

The sport has arguably never been better locally — and it’s the caliber and performance ascension of girls student-athletes that has largely driven that.

In recent years, when all-time area great girls track and field student-athletes such as Mia Knight, Caisja Chandler, Brittany Aveni, Ella Gilson, Paige Floriea, Leah King and so many more got to state, they could expect thousands in the bleachers at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. They could expect the same announcement and medal presentation. They could reasonably expect the same attention for success.

When athletes of that caliber reach college, though, unfortunately that interest level isn’t the same, because the crowds and spotlight surrounding track and field and all women’s sports changes. Again, arguably, in some ways it decreases.

Olympic sport athletes largely toil in obscurity for most of an Olympic cycle. Remember when advertisers such as Home Depot would highlight it had Olympians working in their stores, how endearing that was? But it also showed a disparity. A national-level or world-class athlete should make a living off being a national-level or world-class athlete, not by having to supplement their income working at Home Depot.

Granted it’s improving, but women’s college basketball and the WNBA has had a difficult time generating crowds and ratings.

The women’s national championship game between South Carolina and Connecticut was played on a Sunday night this year. As opposed to a more desirable primetime slot as the men get perennially, that seems off-base — although the game drew its best ratings since 2004.

NCAA Women’s National Championship draws 4.85 million viewers, most-watched since 2004

That game had a “ManningCast” style offering as alternate viewing with Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi. It was entertaining, fascinating in its candor and overdue.

For all its interest at the youth and high school level, and the high ratings pulled in by the Women’s College World Series, professional women’s softball has struggled to gain traction. The casual sports fan isn’t going to know who the best college women’s basketball, softball or volleyball program is at any given time — and that’s a shame.

Even the most passionate proponents of gender equity aren’t going to argue women’s sports should generate the same level of interest as the Super Bowl or the men’s World Cup. But it also shouldn’t be derailed because of stereotypes about the quality of women’s sports and, frankly in many instances, blatant misogyny.

At minimum, the opportunity to reach that level of interest should be there.

We shouldn’t talk about being passionate for and supportive of girls and women in sports if said passion and support begins to wane once the girls in our respective communities graduate high school and head to the next level.

My daughter and your daughters should be able to aspire to do whatever they want.

There shouldn’t be some bizarre, unspoken ceiling for that aspiration — particularly because some jerks out there are going to tell them to “go back to the kitchen” or tell them how “awful” their sport is if they reach a certain level.

By the way, as I’ve stated numerous times in this space over the years, that’s always been something I’ve found confusing. Like what you like. Dislike what you dislike. But because you dislike something someone else likes doesn’t mean they have to adhere to your perspective.

The next generation of girls athletes need to see higher levels of competition spotlighted.

They need to know they can be Bird, Taurasi, Simone Biles, Allyson Felix or Katie Ledecky, and the attention they receive is going to be as equal as possible as the stages grow in prominence.

Indeed, we do need to “See Her Greatness,” in youth, high school and beyond.

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