Let's hear it for the girls. Seriously.
It was a cloudy Saturday afternoon and the Chugiak High School flag football team was furiously running across the field, fighting to score against the more dominant South team.
The Mustangs were dressed in blue, and the girls wore belts around their waist with “flags” hanging down.
In flag football, the goal isn’t to tackle players but to “de-flag” them by grabbing or pulling off their flag belts.
Don’t let the lack of tackling fool you, though. The game is fast-paced and aggressive. Players skid to the ground, get back up, brush off skinned knees and jump back into position.
This is football, after all.
Yet when a Mustang pulled the flags off a South player streaking toward the goal line, there was little clapping, little cheering.
This was, you see, because there were very few people at the game.
The night before the Chugiak-South flag football game I watched “Friday Night Lights,” the episode where the girls’ soccer coach yells at Coach Taylor because the football team has top-notch equipment and her team doesn’t have enough soccer balls.
The male football coaches roll their eyes. They can’t understand the discrepancy.
Probably, such things happen at schools all over the country. Probably, they are commonplace.
Still, watching the flag football teams run back and forth across the field, I wondered why there was no announcer, no food concession stand, no cheerleaders. Why, except for a few clusters of people, the bleachers were almost empty.
Or why, on a warmish end-of-summer day, more people wouldn’t choose to spend a few hours outside cheering on their hometown high school team.
And it isn’t just flag football, either.
While Title IX vastly increased the numbers of women and girls participating in sports, there is still more that needs to be done.
According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, colleges award male athletes approximately $176 million (yes, million) more in scholarship dollars each year than female athletes.
And even when women do net scholarships, chances are that very few people will know or care because, sadly, women’s team sports are vastly under-represented when it comes to fan support.
An editorial in “U.S. News and Report” a few years ago by aspiring sports journalist Madison Hartman stated that, “During the regular season, basketball is the most covered collegiate women’s sport, and it is still difficult to find a game being broadcasted. The only chance of catching a game on TV is if both teams are ranked in the top ten and there is no men’s game competing for the time slot.”
At that’s the college level, too. It becomes much worse at the high school arena.
Yet, imagine a world where women’s teams are seen as important as the men’s, where they receive equal funding and equal resources. A world where women’s teams are supported and large crowds attend the games and people care, really care, how well the teams fare.
Imagine a world where all-male cheerleading squads cheer on girls teams.
Or wait, imagine this: A world where girls’ sports are so well received that homecoming festivities take place during a girls’ flag football or soccer game.
A coach recently asked that I please not refer to her team as the Lady Mustangs. This, she inferred, was insulting.
Calling a women’s team “lady” is standard in journalism: The Lady Seahawks. The Lady Cougars. Lady Wolverines—get the picture?
But hold on! Men’s teams aren’t referred to as the Gentlemen Mustangs or the Gentlemen Cougars. The idea is ludicrous. It’s totally absurd.
Yet, women and girls who participate in sports are not interested in acting like ladies, thank you very much. They are fierce and competitive. They sweat and spit and wipe salt out of their eyes. They limp off the field and court with bloody noses and scrapped knees. They are, damn it, as tough and dedicated and committed as the men’s and boys’ teams.
Too bad they don’t receive the same acknowledgement and support.
A few weeks ago, the “Alaska Star” put out its annual football special section. Since this was my first year as editor I mimicked the style of previous years. Yet the night before deadline, something nagged at me, and I browsed through the proofs, over and over, until finally it hit me: Where were the girls? There were stories and photographs on the cheerleading squads, but what about the girls flag football teams? Why weren’t they included and, more importantly, why did it take me so long to notice? Was I as guilty as everyone else when it came to putting boys sports over girls? Was the idea that boys sports were more important, the top tier, the shining star, so enmeshed in our culture that it’s simply taken for granted, even by a woman editor and athlete?
Was I as guilty of overlooking the importance of girls’ sports as the very people who actively attend boys’ sports while neglecting to attend the girls’?
I don’t know the answer to low crowd attendance at women’s sports. There are so many variables, so many stances, so many complexities that dig deep inside our culture’s inequalities that it’s impossible to point to one thing and say: There it is! That’s why the bleachers are less full at women’s sporting events.
Yet, we are all to blame. Each time we choose to not attend women’s sports, each time we stay home or support only men’s teams, we are unintentionally taking a stance. We are saying that the men’s and boys’ sports are more important, more worthy, more valued than the women’s and girls’.
And that’s just not right.
Here’s what I wish everyone would do: Don’t stop attending the boys’ football games and basketball games and wrestling matches. But please, please, please take time to attend a few of the girls’ games, too. Pack up the family, grab a couple of friends and, oh yeah, don’t forget the cowbell, okay?
It’s time to raise our voices and cheer on our girls.