The Need for Women in Sports Goes Beyond Title IX

This article is a guest submission from Zachary Evans, freelance writer covering issues of diverse representation in arenas such as film, TV and sports.

women in sports business kim ng

Female sports executives like former Dodgers Assistant GM Kim Ng are rare, but that trend is changing…slowly

It’s no secret that there is a massive gender imbalance in the world of sports.

Turn on ESPN any night of the week, and it is clear very quickly how disproportionate coverage is of men’s sport versus women’s. This inequality does not stop there, however. It also heavily affects all types of careers in sports.

Whether it is agents, school administrators, coaches, or journalists, women are highly underrepresented in the sports industry. Over forty years have passed since the introduction of Title IX started bringing gender equality to participation levels in collegiate athletics, so how equal have things really become?

The Need for Women in Sports Goes Beyond Title IX #sportsbiz Click To Tweet

A Great Disparity

To get a real look at gender inequality within sports business, it is important to look at where things currently stand across a variety of sports careers. By doing this, it becomes clear that while female participation in sports has increased dramatically since the introduction of Title IX in 1972, and female interest in sports is continuing to grow, administrative roles in sports are still overwhelmingly male-dominated.

Ohio University’s Athletic Administration program has compiled statistics that show that while the gap is narrowing, the disparity is still massive.

According to their findings, women represent:

  • 28 of 713 sports agents certified by the NFL Players Association
  • 6 of 400 certified by the MLB Players Association
  • 6 of 375 certified by the NBA Players Association

The picture isn’t much better in sports journalism either. As of 2014:

  • 9.9% of sports editors for Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) newspapers and websites
  • 12.4% of columnists for APSE newspapers and websites
  • 12.7% of reporters for APSE newspapers and websites
  • 2 of 183 top sports talk radio show hosts
  • 48 total anchors, reporters, analysts, and contributors at ESPN

For a long time, there has been an entirely inaccurate and sexist view that women simply aren’t as interested in sports as men. This thinking is simply a descendent of more extreme forms of sexism, such as thinking that women could not physically handle playing the same sports as men. While this way of thinking may seem archaic, things really aren’t that far removed from it being standard and accepted.

According to the same Ohio University findings, women are not only interested in sports, but actually represent a substantial portion of the fan base for America’s three largest sports.

  • 45% of the NFL’s fan base
  • 47% of the MLB’s fan base
  • 40% of the NBA’s fan base

These numbers show that the low level of women in these careers cannot be tied directly to women having less interest in sports than men. If this were the case, then it should be expected that these numbers would correlate and have similar percentages. This is obviously not the case, though. They don’t even match up with the level of female interest in these careers.

As of 2011, between 30% and 40% of undergraduate students in sport management programs are female.

As of 2011 between 30-40% of undergrads in sports mgmt are female #sportsbiz Click To Tweet

Shrinking the Gap

Why then, is participation in sports careers not following the same percentage as interest in sports?

If slightly more than half of the American population is female, and fan bases are nearly split as well, then why is the percentage of women in sports careers substantially lower? What can and needs to be done to fix this trend?

To get an answer to this, it’s important to not look at sports inside of a bubble. Instead, other sectors and industries need to be looked at as well. By doing this, it becomes clear that this inequality within sports is actually a symptom of much larger societal gender issues. As a whole, women make less money than men in the United States.

the disparity in pay between men and women

Image courtesy: Intuit

Some of this problem is made up by women not being given the same opportunities to hold high-paying positions, and some from women being paid less than men for the same job. Within sports, both of these issues contribute to the problem, and therefore, need to be addressed in order to change the status quo.

This is why women’s participation level in sports business does not follow interest level as it should.

There is less opportunity, and when there is opportunity, there is a lack of equality in reward for the work. This is where the biggest chance to turn this disparity around lies.

In the last few years, there have been major breakthroughs in women coaching male professional sports.

women in sports careers

Becky Hammon became the first female assistant in the NBA after being hired by the San Antonio Spurs in 2013

In 2014, Becky Hammon became the first full time female assistant coach in the NBA when she was hired by the San Antonio Spurs. She then went on the be the head coach of the Spurs’ NBA Summer League team, and lead them to the Summer League title in 2015.

The same summer, Nancy Lieberman was hired by the Sacramento Kings, making her the second female full time assistant coach in the NBA. She had previously been the head coach of the Texas Legends, a Dallas Mavericks’ NBA D-League affiliate from  2009-2011, where she was the first female head coach of a men’s professional basketball team.

The same month, Jen Welter was hired by the Arizona Cardinals as an assistant coaching intern for training camp and preseason, making her the first female coach in the NFL. Followed by the news in early 2016 that Kathryn Smith had been promoted by the Buffalo Bills to special teams quality control coach becoming the first full time female assistant coach in the NFL.

There are also more women than ever getting executive jobs in professional sports, such as Kim Ng, who is Major League Baseball’s Senior Vice-President of Baseball Operations. However, by celebrating the accomplishments of these women, it only further highlights how much ground still needs to be gained. Ng speaks openly about jobs she has lost out on to men, despite her unquestionable qualifications, and nobody would make note of a man receiving these same coaching or executive positions, even for a women’s professional team.

The sports world, and the world in general, needs to reach a place where jobs are going to the most qualified candidate, regardless of that person’s gender.

This change is needed for a few reasons.

Firstly, at their best, sports are a reflection of the best parts of our culture. They provide opportunities for extraordinarily talented individuals to use their abilities to overcome tremendous odds to better their livelihoods. If this opportunity is not provided equally to those who are truly qualified for it, then sports is failing at this key aspect of what makes them culturally important.

Secondly, sports need this change because it has been shown that having women in important roles within business is incredibly beneficial to their industries.

The sports industry is constantly evolving, and as things change, fresh ideas and points of view become increasingly valuable. By giving women the voice that they deserve within sports careers is not only important because of equality, but for innovation as well.

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About Brian Clapp

Brian Clapp has worked in the sports media for over 14 years as a writer, editor, producer & news director. After beginning his career in Atlanta at CNN/Sports Illustrated, he switched coasts to Seattle to work at Fox Sports Northwest. In 2010, Brian began pursuing a new found passion on the digital media side, launching a successful website and then taking on the role of Director of Content for WorkinSports.com & WorkinEntertainment.com.

Recently, Brian has become addicted to Google+ and LinkedIn so add him to your circles and make him a contact. No seriously, do it.

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Comments

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this thoughtful and timely piece, Brian. 2015 was a fantastic year for women athletes…it would be terrific for 2016 to begin a whole new wave of progress on the business and operations side

  2. A.Edmiston says:

    You don’t realize how true this article is. When I worked as an producer intern at NFL Films, I was the first woman, with tackle football experience to be accepted. I was also the first woman to work on the analysis side of the show Playbook and Playbook Primetime. Since then, many jobs I’ve applied for that I’m actually overqualified for, I’ve been turned down and told that “despite my experience, and qualifications, they chose someone that better fit their organization.” Never once was I given an interview to prove that I might have actually been a good fit or not. It’s frustrating. I now run into the issue of being “over qualified” for internships but not “qualified enough” for entry level jobs all because I am a woman.

    • That’s a sad situation Ashly – I have to say, as someone who worked in the sports media for 15 years I’ve worked with many incredible women as peers and superiors. My first boss at CNN was a woman, and is still to this day one of my great mentors. There are opportunities out there with the right companies and I hope the best for you! -Brian

  3. Jodi Everson-Chatman says:

    Hello,
    My name is Jodi Chatman. I have been a part of the female athlete world all my life. I play high school girls soccer and basketball. I was high scoring and won tons of awards for my accomplishments. I went on to play NAIA women’s sports and received awards in college as well. I received a great education. I came home from college to teach and coach. I want a bit of a career change in my life with sports in mind. Why can’t I find a job with sports or women/men’s sports behind the scenes would be perfect. My resume is very strong. I just don’t know where to look.

    • Jodi You are in the right place, we have over 6,000 jobs in sports on our job board, all across the country, with all levels of experience – we help hunddreds of people get new jobs every day! Sign up and find your next move! Brian

  4. Jennica Berry says:

    Thank you for posting this article. This is something that needs to be talked about more often. As a woman in sports I can’t wait to see when it is not a big deal for a woman to have a high ranking position. There is one thing that I did catch. Nancy Lieberman is with the Sacramento Kings. Thank you again for this article.

    • Jennica – yikes what an awful typo on our part, thanks for the heads up. You write enough about Becky Hammon and next thing you know you’re writing Spurs everywhere. Maybe if they fire Geroge Karl, Lieberman will be elevated…now that would be an awesome story! Thanks for reading Jennica! – Brian

  5. Courteney says:

    As a female college student in the Sport’s Management field, job availability has been a very large concern for me. I have been a student athlete my entire life and a very large professional sports fan. When I came to college I never really thought twice about the job availability gap, just the pay gap that happens in every field. Now I know you have a page with very many job listings, but others have previously replied saying they struggle getting jobs even being overqualified due to the fact that they aren’t a good “fit.” What’s your advice for a female entering the sports field with the hope to climb the ladder to enter an executive position? How do they deal with being in charge if they are to get the job because even though sexism isn’t suppose to be a thing we all know it is? I don’t know about you but I don’t know very many men, especially athletes, that would want to be controlled by a woman.

    • Courteney – it’s a good question, but I think you’d be surprised. I’ve worked in sports broadcasting for almost 2 decades and two of my greatest bosses/mentors were both women. I never thought of them as “women” they were just really smart people who taught me a lot. I found my co-workers looked at them the same way. I was just on a speaking panel with Doug Farrar of Sports Illustrated and he told me his editor (boss) is female, and again he never thinks of her as anything but a supremely talented person. Of course, sexism exists, but you can’t control what others think – you can only control how you respond and what you do. So focus on being the best, let the rest fall in place. – Brian

Trackbacks

  1. […] newspaper employees, and 21 percent of Sunday political show commentators. Similarly according to Ohio University’s Athletic Administration, women only make up 9.9% of sports editors for Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) newspapers […]

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