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  • Writer's pictureMarcia Marshall

The Sports Gap

When the US Women’s National Soccer Team won the championship match of the 2019 FIFA World Cup, the stadium erupted into cheers -- and chants. 

Equal pay! Equal pay! Equal pay! Equal pay! 

Equal pay! Equal pay! Equal pay! Equal pay! 

Hi. I’m Aidia and I want to address gender inequality -- specifically, gender discrimination against women -- in sports in the US. 

The chants were thousands of soccer fans yelling “Equal pay, equal pay,” echoing demands that their champion team had been making for years. 

The Women’s National Team won their fourth World Cup that year, and according to Fox Sports, the final match was the most-watched English-language TV soccer match (women or men) in the US since the previous record holder, the 2015 Women’s World Cup final. It had 22% more US viewers than the Men’s World Cup in 2018. 

Those numbers reflect the recent skyrocketing popularity of women’s soccer in the US. Another example: during the 2019 Women’s World Cup, ABC News reported that the USA Women’s home jersey became’s best selling soccer jersey ever in a single season, women’s or men’s. In the years following the 2015 Women’s World Cup, the Women’s National Team brought in more total revenue than the Men’s National Team, according to the Wall Street Journal. And yet, still, the Women’s National Team has received worse resources and lower pay than the Men’s National Team, which has never won a World Cup -- in fact, they haven’t placed at all since getting third place in 1930. 

The USWNT Captain Megan Rapinoe spoke at the White House’s Equal Pay Day event on March 24, 2021 saying, “I’m also a professional athlete, and I’ve helped, along with all of my teammates … win four World Cup championships and four Olympic gold medals for the United States. And despite those wins, I’ve been devalued, I’ve been disrespected, and dismissed because I am a woman. And I’ve been told that I don’t deserve any more than less because I am a woman. You see, despite all the wins, I’m still paid less than men who do the same job that I do”.

So, in 2019, just ahead of the Women’s World Cup, the Women’s National Team sued the US Soccer Federation for gender discrimination. The lawsuit described discrimination that affected not only the players’ paychecks but also where and how often they play and train, their medical treatment and coaching, and their travel accommodations, compared with the Men’s National Team (New York Times). 

Comparing paychecks is actually a little more complicated than it may seem, because the two teams’ compensation is set up differently. Regardless, it’s clear that while the women’s team drastically outperforms the men’s team, their benefits are not proportionally bigger. Five Thirty Eight reported, for instance, that during the 2014 Men’s World Cup and 2015 Women’s World Cup respectively, US Soccer paid top men’s players almost twice as much as top women’s players, despite the women winning the entire World Cup in 2015 while the men didn’t make it past the Round of 16. 

But the importance of the Women’s National Team’s lawsuit extends beyond US Soccer. The athletes’ demands -- and their 2019 World Cup victory -- captured headlines and sparked a national debate about the gender pay gap, in sports and most other fields. But while the relative underinvestment in women’s sports has spent time in the spotlight recently, it’s not a new issue. Here’s retired US soccer star Brandi Chastain speaking on April 12, 2021. Chastain played with the USWNT from 1988 to 2004 and scored an iconic World Cup-winning penalty kick against China in 1999. 

Brandi Chastain said,  “No, this is an exhausted (topic)- and I'm exhausted talking about it, because this is not a new topic. We've been talking about this with the women's national team since 1999. That's over 20-plus years ago.” 

In fact, it goes back even further than 1999. To understand how we got to this point, with a) the successful USWNT leading the growing world of women’s sports, and b) lagging investment and compensation for female athletes, let’s travel back in time and examine the history of women’s professional and high-level sports in the US. 

Let’s start with the most iconic sporting event in the world: the Olympic Games. The modern Olympic Games started in 1896, and in 1900, women were allowed to compete for the first time. That year, Margaret Abbott became the first American woman to win an Olympic event, a golf tournament. But golf was one of only five Olympic events open to women, the others being sailing,tennis, equestrian events, and croquet, according to the International Olympic Committee. These relatively non-strenuous events were the only ones considered acceptable for the White, middle- and upper-class women participants. It took decades for such opportunities to be expanded and extended to women of color and women from lower classes. 

In the meantime, a French rower named Alice Milliat created the International Women’s Sports Federation in 1921, which held an Olympic-adjacent sporting event for women known as the World Games. Sorbonne University’s Digital Encyclopedia of European History (or EHNE) explains how the World Games hosted swimmers, tennis players, fencers, discus throwers, and other athletes, in contrast to the limited opportunities provided for female athletes by the Olympic Games. Though it was initially known as the Women’s Olympic Games, backlash convinced Milliat to call it the Women’s World Games instead. The International Olympic Committee’s refusal to associate itself with these female athletes is a prime example of the struggles women faced in sport at the time. The World Games also exemplify the athletes’ determination to make a competition for themselves in the face of exclusion. 

The last World Games took place in 1934, and by that time, the Olympic Games were gradually offering more diverse sporting events for a more diverse group of athletes. In 1936, forty years after the first modern Olympics, Tidye Pickett -- a track and field athlete -- became the first Black American woman to compete in the Olympics. A full twelve years after that, in 1948, Vicki Draves, a diver, became the first Asian American woman to win gold for the US. As opportunities for women expanded, women of color were consistently the last to benefit. 

The Olympics of 1900, 1936, and 1948 -- as well as the World Games -- are key milestones, and those athletes are only some of the many who helped gradually increase American women’s participation in the Olympics. Despite their work, female athletes continued to face discrimination like racism and anti-Semitism, as well as, across the board, misogyny. 

Dr. Damion Thomas, curator of sports at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, explains that many people believed that competing in sports would “hinder [women’s] ability to be mothers.” He continued, “There were a lot of ideas of women’s role in society and how we didn’t want sports to occupy their primary function.” These attitudes help explain why female athletes had to fight for even just limited opportunities, especially for the first century or so of the modern Games. That misogyny was reflected in the International Olympic Committee itself. Only in 2007 did the Olympic Charter officially commit to “encourag[ing] and support[ing] the promotion of women in sport at all levels,” according to the EHNE, and the Committee remained all-male until 1981. However, the slow increase in inclusion reflects the gradual positive change in the mindset of the American public regarding female athletes. 

It’s worth noting that while all Olympic sports -- though not all events -- are now open to women (a marker of significant progress), rhythmic gymnastics and artistic swimming are the only two Olympic sports still not available to men, according to the New York Times. Both sports emphasize aesthetics

and grace, which should make us think hard about what roles we expect not only women but also men to fulfill. 

Next, let’s look at an intriguing episode in women’s sports history from the 1940s and ‘50s: the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.  You may have heard of the movie A League of Their Own. 

In the film this conversation took place:

“Dottie Hinson: Who are you? 

Ernie Capadino: I’m Ernie Capadino, I’m a baseball scout. I saw you playing today. Not bad, not bad. You ever hear of Walter Harvey, makes Harvey Bars? You know, the candy? 

Dottie: Yeah. We feed ‘em to the cows when they’re constipated. 

Ernie: That’s the guy. He’s starting a girls’ baseball league so he can make a buck while the boys are overseas. Wanna play? 

Dottie: Huh? 

Ernie: Nice retort. Tryouts are in Chicago. It’s a real leap, professional. 

Kit Hinson: Professional baseball? 

Ernie: Mhmm.”

The film is based on the real All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, founded by Chicago Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley in 1943 in order to keep making money off baseball while many young men fought in World War II. With the League, Wrigley tried to reconcile the entertainment of professional sports with widespread traditional views of femininity. While the players were scouted for talent and trained for skills, the so-called “Lipstick League” marketed them as ladies -- for instance, by having the players wear dresses while playing. 

Terry Donahue, who played in the League on the Peoria Red Wings, reflecting years later on those uniforms., saying, “Oh my. Well, playing in those dresses and skirts was something else. But Mr. Wrigley wanted us to look like young ladies and play ball like men. And that's exactly what we did. “

Jean Cione, a former pitcher for the Rockford Peaches said, “The fact that PK Wrigley insisted that the spectators knew that those were women out there … made me realize that that was a very important part of women in sport.”

League players were even sent to charm school to make sure the public knew they were still proper ladies.  Audrey Daniels, former pitcher for the Minneapolis Millerettes said, “We learned how to pour tea … how to sit properly … stand properly, how to walk with a book on your head, straight and tall. We learned all those essential things.” Laughing after her comment.

So, while the League revolutionized women’s sports in the US by giving female athletes an unprecedented platform, it also profited from and encouraged traditional and misogynistic views of femininity. For instance, the League’s name referred to its adult women players as “Girls.” The teams had names like The Milwaukee Chicks and the Rockford Peaches. The skirts players wore emphasized visuals over athleticism and safety. Players’ ladylike manners were publicized. Each of those examples played right into the common sexist attitudes of the time, rather than fighting them; it was more profitable that way. The League represented a step forward for female athletes in the US while simultaneously exemplifying and exploiting many of the challenges that held -- and still hold -- them back in the first place. 

Another significant problem with the League was that women of color were almost uniformly barred from it -- the exceptions being seven Cuban women. Mamie Johnson tried out for the All-Americans but was rejected for being Black. She became one of three women recruited to play in the Negro Leagues. That was basically the only way for women to play baseball at the time: either play with the All-Americans or try to carve out space in a male-dominated world. 

Despite its significant flaws, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was remarkable for the way it actively sought to give a few women the rare opportunity to become professional athletes. For the League’s duration from 1943 to 1954, the teams played ball for crowds of sometimes more than a million (according to Britannica) at stadiums throughout the Midwest, which was previously unheard of for women. 

Lois Youngen, who played for multiple teams as a catcher and outfielder, described the experience like this.  Youngen said, “It was baseball every day, we loved it! We would have played for peanuts!” 

The All-American Girls’ Professional Baseball League lasted only 12 years. Its demise in 1954 is commonly attributed -- at least partially -- to the rise of televised major league baseball. 

In fact, the advent of television completely transformed the world of sports, starting around the 1950s, when a TV became a household staple for many American families. TV made sports more commercialized than they ever had been before, as it became obvious that there was major money to be made by broadcasting sporting events. When sports became much more accessible since people could watch from the comfort of their own homes, athletes became cultural icons in a way they rarely ever had before. With that status came, of course, money. 

However, this opportunity benefitted male athletes almost exclusively. Television networks perfected the art of broadcasting and dramatizing sports in the late 1900s, and Harvard’s Nieman Lab reported the results of a 30-year study from 1989 to 2019 that revealed the drastic gap between men’s and women’s televised sports. The study observed sports coverage on local network TV as well as highlight shows like SportsCenter on ESPN, and it found that 95% of the coverage covered men’s sports. 80% of the shows made no mention of women’s sports at all. 

With women all but locked out of the lucrative TV sports industry for decades, it’s no surprise that female athletes’ earnings (on the whole) have never caught up to those of male athletes. And since men’s sports had such a head start in terms of public interest and acceptance, it was almost impossible for women’s sports to break into TV. See, television and sports feed each other, with sports drawing TV viewers and TV growing the sports industry. Less public interest in women’s sports — demonstrated by the difficulty faced by female Olympians and the demise of the All-Americans — gives little incentive to provide TV coverage. And less coverage creates less public interest. The cycle goes on. 

One major exception to this pattern, however, was the “Battle of the Sexes.” 

A discussion of the history of women’s sports in the US would be incomplete without mentioning Billie Jean King. Over the course of her professional career in the 1960s and ‘70s, the tennis legend racked up accolades including 39 total Grand Slam titles. King was also a strong advocate for women’s opportunities and equal pay in sports. She may be best known for defeating Bobby Riggs in a match known as the “Battle of the Sexes” in 1973. 

Riggs, a retired tennis champion and self-proclaimed male chauvinist, challenged Billie Jean King to play him after he had defeated Margaret Court, the top-ranked women’s singles player at the time. King accepted. The winner would take home $100,000, but the real significance of the match was much bigger than prize money, as King knew well.  In 2015, Billie Jean King reflected on the famous match. “ But I knew it was about social change. And I was really nervous about whenever we announced it, and I thought… I felt like the whole world was on my shoulders. And I thought, if I lose, it’s going to put women back 50 years, at least.” 

King’s history of pushing for gender equality in tennis (while Bobby Riggs built a whole public personality around being blatantly sexist) happened in the context of the second-wave feminism of the 1960s and ‘70s. Title IX, which we will get to in a moment, was passed in 1972, a year before the match. The much-anticipated showdown became a symbol for the hot-button issue of gender equality. More than 30 thousand people packed into Houston’s Astrodome to witness the match in person, while another estimated 90 million watched on TV, making it (as reported by Britannica) the most-viewed tennis match of all time. So when the whole country watched Billie Jean King win in straight sets -- 6-4, 6-3, and 6-3 -- the cultural and symbolic implications were huge. 

On that day, the announcer spoke over the sounds of cheering and bands playing, “Excitement engendered all over the country as Billie Jean hugs her husband Larry King. It began to become a cause célèbre: equality for women, equal rights. It was Billie Jean who fought for equal pay for women in the US Open tennis tournament and got it. All of the women of America, or at least most of them, seem to be caught up with the anticipation of this match.”

King had been a champion of women’s pay equality since well before the match. In 1970, when a major men’s tennis tournament offered a cash prize eight times the equivalent women’s prize, nine female tennis stars including King broke with the US Lawn Tennis Association in protest and created their own tournament that would eventually lead to the Women’s Tennis Association. King’s victory over Riggs in 1973 fueled this growing equal pay movement. It influenced the public’s perspective on female athletes and gave King an even greater platform. For instance, that same year, King successfully pressured the US Open into awarding equal prize money for men and women for the first time. 

It took several decades, but by 2007, the three other Grand Slam tournaments followed suit (thanks in large part to tennis star Venus Williams’s advocacy). Today, tennis leads all major sports in pay equality, and Forbes gives Billie Jean King and her longtime doubles partner Rosie (kuh-SALS) Casals, one of the nine who created their own tournament, a lot of the credit. King’s victory and advocacy not only raised awareness of the gender pay gap but helped actually fight it. In 2020, nine of Forbes’s ten highest-paid female athletes were tennis players, including Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka. 

However, Williams and Osaka were the only women to break into the top 100 highest paid athletes overall. Within tennis and especially in other sports, the gender pay gap persists. This next milestone sought to address the disparity at the same time that King was active, but from a different perspective: through law. 

Title IX, a provision on the Education Amendments Act passed in 1972, states the following: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under, any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” 

The provision is most famous for its impact on college sports. That impact was significant enough to merit a detour from our focus on professional and high-level sports. 

As the NCAA summarizes, there are three main parts of Title IX regarding athletics. First, participation: women and men must be provided with equal — not necessarily identical — opportunities to participate in sports. Next, scholarships: women and men student athletes must receive athletic scholarships proportional to their participation in athletics. Finally, other benefits: this catch-all requires that schools treat student athletes equally regardless of gender, for example in terms of equipment and supplies, games and practice schedules, travel, coaching, facilities, publicity, and support services. 

In order for schools to assess the fairness of the opportunities they offered their female students, they must pass one of the following three tests, according to ESPN: proportionality (the percentage of athletic opportunities that went to women should be the same as the percentage of women in the student body); progress (the school regularly adds new sports for women); or satisfied interests (the school regularly surveys its female students about whether their interests in athletics are satisfied, and it adds athletic teams accordingly). 

The incentive and opportunity provided by Title IX had a massive impact on the number of high school and college-age female athletes. According to ESPN, the number of girls playing high school sports increased by 1079% between 1971 and 2010 — for reference, the number of boys playing high school sports increased by 22% during that same time period. The number of women playing varsity sports in college grew 622% (although there are still fewer female than male varsity athletes). 

These increases explain why Title IX has been hailed as a major step for women’s sports. They also give insight into the recent rise of women’s sports, such as the US Women’s National Team: according to the NCAA, 21 out of 23 players on the 2019 WNT roster played Division I soccer in college. Title IX addressed a major piece of the underinvestment that female athletes had been fighting for decades, and it cultivated interest and talent in younger athletes. It’s no surprise that a larger pool of talented college-age athletes improves the quality of professional sports. 

However, Title IX was also far from perfect. It provided no structure to address racial inequalities, for example. As is unfortunately common, women of color were often excluded from the progress being made for their White peers. According to the Gettysburg College, a recent analysis shows that predominantly White high schools offered girls an average of 58 spots on sports teams per 100 students, while predominantly minority high schools offered girls 25 spots per 100 students. The same Gettysburg College publication points out that low-income students are also disadvantaged when it comes to sports participation, since the cost of athletic equipment -- cleats, basketball shoes, lacrosse sticks, warm-up gear, etc -- and even just the proper nutrition to provide the energy needed to play can bar them from being able to participate. While Title IX benefitted many girls and women greatly, it can’t be ignored that those benefits were not felt equally by all girls and women. 

By not bringing along minority and low-income students, for instance, it reinforced the effects of racism and classism that persist to this day. It also left behind a lot of potential talent that could have significantly elevated women’s games. 

On the other hand, Title IX deserves credit, a lot of it, for strengthening the world of women’s sports and producing the talented athletes we see today. It was an incomplete step, but a crucial one. It enshrined in law the idea that women deserve equal opportunities in education and, specifically, in athletics. 

Let me summarize the history we just covered. First, the early modern Olympics demonstrated the difficulty women had trying to break into fields considered traditionally masculine, especially if the women faced the added hurdle of racism. Next, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League gave a select few women the opportunity to become professional athletes; however, the league only lasted for 12 years, and it capitalized on traditional views of femininity that often held women back. The advent of TV transformed the sports industry into an even more profitable and commercialized business, except the profits went almost exclusively to men. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, Billie Jean King furthered the gender equality movement, most famously by winning the so-called “Battle of the Sexes.” In 1972, Title IX required institutions to invest equally in men’s and women’s athletics, which had a significant positive impact, though it also left behind many disadvantaged populations. 

That history includes some significant milestones. It also demonstrates how, for well over a century, female athletes have had to fight to be acknowledged and treated with dignity. In all major sports, there is a history of underinvestment in women, from the Olympics to baseball to tennis to college athletics, that required trailblazers like Tidye Pickett, Vicki Draves, Billie Jean King, and many more to push for change. 

And change has been made; that’s undeniable. Look at the cultural impact of stars like the Williams sisters and Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles, Alex Morgan and her teammates. But you won’t be surprised to hear that underinvestment in women’s sports persists to this day in many different forms. 

Recently, for instance, Stanford basketball coach Ali Kershner compared the men’s and women’s weight rooms in a clip that went viral., by saying, “I got something to show y’all. So for the NCAA March Madness, the biggest tournament in college basketball for women, this is our weight room. (She’s pointing to a single rack of 12 dumbbells.) Lemme show y’all the men’s weight room. (She pans around a large, well-equipped gym.)”

Now, that’s a fairly obvious example of underinvestment. It’s very concrete. That makes it relatively easy to recognize and, hopefully, fix -- and indeed, the Stanford women’s basketball team has since gotten a new, fully-equipped weight room (NCAA). But underinvestment is not always that conspicuous. As we saw with television, the media plays a massive role in what sports Americans get invested in. And Purdue reported that in 2019, televised news and highlight shows only dedicated 5.4% of their airtime to women athletes -- if you take out the Women’s World Cup that year, the number drops to 3.5%. That doesn’t even give women’s sports a fighting chance to make a comparable impact. 

That’s subtle. It’s not blatant sexism, it’s just omission. Absence is usually hard to recognize, which makes that kind of underinvestment particularly problematic. But it gets even worse -- and even more personal. We’re all familiar with Google, right? Try Googling the words “2018 world cup.” The top result is the men’s FIFA World Cup of 2018. Now try Googling the words “2019 world cup.” The top result is not the women’s FIFA World Cup of 2019 but rather the men’s ICC Cricket World Cup. You’ll notice the same thing with the 2014 men’s and 2015 women’s World Cups. Now try Googling “most grand slams.” Don’t specify men or women. The top result is a list of men’s singles records, starting with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who each have 20. There is no mention made of Margaret Court, Serena Williams, or Steffi Graf, who have 24, 23, and 22 women's singles titles respectively. (As a side note, Court won her Slams before the “Open” era of tennis, so many consider Serena Williams to have won the most Slams ever.) 

This is the most insidious type of underinvestment. Why? Well, imagine someone is innocently browsing the internet, they don’t know much about tennis, but they want to know about the best players in the world and they ask Google who has won the most Grand Slams. Serena Williams’s name doesn’t even show up on the page until they scroll down to the image results. There is no link on the first page of results that mentions her name. Type in “most grand slams tennis” and Roger Federer’s name pops up in a big font right at the top of the page as if that’s the answer! Google is telling this person that Federer has won the most Grand Slams in tennis and that is just not true. Serena Williams has 23, Steffi Graf has 22, Federer has 20. If someone Googled “most grand slams men,” then Federer and Nadal would be right. But this person didn’t. They, the innocent internet surfer, were curious about the most decorated tennis player of all time, and Google has told them that it’s Roger Federer. They don’t know any better -- how could they? They trust Google to provide this basic information, like we all do. And now they’re going off into the world, ignorant of Serena Williams’s record-breaking accomplishments. 

And I just told you that tennis is the leading sport in women’s equal pay. If this is what happens with tennis and US soccer, probably two of the leading women’s sports at least in the US, you can imagine how bad it is for other sports like basketball and swimming. 

The media doesn’t just reflect the interests of the public; it shapes them. That’s the problem with underinvestment: it causes lower interest in women’s sports. Our friend, the blossoming tennis fan, is now following Roger Federer -- a great player, don’t get me wrong, but they’re not following Serena Williams because her name didn’t pop up, and now when they’re flipping through the channels or buying tickets, they’ll recognize Federer and not Williams. Now, who hasn’t heard of Serena Williams, I know, but this could happen with any athlete just as deserving of recognition. 

And underinvestment affects athletes’ performance, too. Think of the Stanford weight room: if athletes don’t have access to proper facilities, they won’t be able to perform at their peak, and the quality of the game will suffer. 

So this suggests that there’s a vicious cycle going on. Underinvestment leads to less interest in womens’ sports and athletes underperforming, through no fault of their own. Less interest and poorer performance brings in less revenue. And less revenue is an incredibly common argument for why women’s sports don’t deserve more investment… and the cycle begins again. 

Except! Except. What about the US Women’s National Soccer Team? Because the Women’s National Team disproves this cycle. The team is young, it was started in 1985, and in just a few decades, they have become a cultural force, surpassing the US Men’s National Team in just about every way -- despite all the historical obstacles we discussed. Their iconic victory at the 1999 World Cup -- only the third-ever FIFA Women’s World Cup -- broke attendance records with over 90,000 fans packed into the Rose Bowl, according to FIFA. It brought women’s soccer into the public’s attention as never before. This is then-First Lady Hillary Clinton introducing the team after their 1999 victory, saying, “Not only have they captured our imaginations, they’ve definitely stolen our hearts. And by creating the largest women’s sporting event in history, they have exploded the myth once and for all that women’s sports can’t attract fans and public attention, and it is about time that has happened!” 

The so-called “‘99ers” didn’t just animate a massive fanbase in the US. They also inspired the next generation of WNT players who would carry their legacy into the future. Here’s USWNT defender Ali Krieger in 2019.: “I mean, it was pivotal. They were so important for me, as an eleven-year-old girl, it was kind of my a-ha moment watching them. I remember I was in DC watching one of their games in the World Cup and … I really wanted to pursue this career because of them. They really inspired me.”

The generations who followed the 99ers have won both World Cup titles and Olympic gold medals. They have broken the cycle several times over: their performance is dominant, they attract record-sized crowds and TV viewership, and they now generate more revenue than the men’s team. And yet they had to sue for not just equal pay but equal facilities and resources. The reasoning that pay is proportional to revenue holds no water with this team.

In fact, the USWNT exposes that justification as a bad-faith argument of thinly-veiled misogyny. There is a vicious cycle that comes into play for many sports, where low investment leads to low interest which leads to low investment again, and that cycle must be broken. But that’s not enough: the USWNT proves that at the core of the problem is sexism. Plain and simple. And that sexism needs to be broken too. 

These athletes deserve it. From household names like the Williams sisters and Simone Biles, to veterans like Katie Ledecky, Carli Lloyd, and Lindsey Vonn, to younger newcomers like Naomi Osaka, Chloe Kim, Toni Breidinger, Simone Manuel, Dalilah Muhammad, to all the young women and girls and children who watch these athletes with big eyes and big dreams, they deserve it. Those athletes inherited a history that was stacked against them. The fact that they rose and found glory is all the more impressive because of that. They should be recognized and celebrated for their triumph. 

Because isn’t that what sports are all about? Sports are a celebration of hard work, dedication, passion, sacrifice, competition. If anyone embodies those values, it’s these women, who took on centuries of systemic, cultural, ingrained misogny and came out on top while also dominating on the field, on the court, in the pool, on the track. These women embody what it means to be athletes.

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