"I am woman, hear me roar."
That's the opening line to a famous Helen Reddy song released and made famous in 1972. Before and since, in a lot of ways, women have gotten the short end of the stick.
Voting? Nah, not until legislation granted the right in 1920.
Equal pay? Not before 1963, when John F. Kennedy signed into law the Equal Pay Act, prohibiting sex-based wage discrimination between men and women performing the same job in the same workplace.
The right to choose? They weren't afforded that right until Roe v. Wade in 1973.
And the right to fight for their country? Seven years ago.
The women's movement has definitely been a marathon and not a sprint over the nearly two-and-a-half centuries of this country's existence, and sports have sadly been no different.
Women first participated in the Olympic Games in 1900 in Paris; they played half-court basketball until 1971; and it wasn't until 2007 that female winners at Wimbledon earned the same amount of prize money as men, thanks to the efforts of Venus Williams, who made a failed plea to Wimbledon's governing body the night before she won the title in 2005 — and in 2006 wrote an op-ed essay in The Times of London titled "Wimbledon Has Sent Me a Message: I'm Only a Second Class Champion."
But while the fight has been real, the fruits of its labor continue to bloom — albeit at a somewhat glacial pace — and that's why we have days like Wednesday, Feb. 5, National Girls and Women in Sports Day.
In 2017 the U.S. women's national hockey team announced it would boycott the coming world championships if USA Hockey didn't increase the women's wages. Less than two weeks later, the team reached a four-year deal with the governing body that provided a monthly training stipend, larger bonuses for winning medals and the same travel and insurance provisions the men's national team had, along with a pool of prize money to be split each year.
Last year, the U.S. women's national soccer team argued a similar point, ultimately suing the United States Soccer Federation for "institutionalized gender discrimination." That case is still pending, but last November, a judge allowed their case to proceed as a class-action lawsuit, and the team will get its day in court, beginning in May.
And this past month, a new collective bargaining agreement was reached in the WNBA. The new deal will run through the 2027 season and will afford players an overall 53% increase in total cash compensation — and more than triple the maximum compensation available to the league's top players. WNBA stars will also see an enhanced player experience with respect to travel and child care benefits, along with expanded offseason career development opportunities.
That's big. And it's only part of the fight.
Exposure is a big component of the continuing battle. In order to bolster respect and appreciation for the women's games, people need to see them on a bigger and badder stage — and that's happening.
As I write this column, the No. 3-ranked Oregon Ducks women's basketball team is playing at the No. 4-ranked University of Connecticut Huskies on ESPN. Less than two weeks ago, the Oregon women faced Oregon State in back-to-back games in front of sold-out crowds of 12,364 fans in Eugene and 9,301 in Corvallis. And this past November, Nike manufactured and sold Oregon's Sabrina Ionescu jerseys for the first time; they sold out in less than two hours.
Women's sports are gaining in popularity, and with that comes a better appreciation of the talent, and in turn increased revenue, which will then continue to lead to heightened compensation for athletes who are working just as hard as their male counterparts.
Problem solved? Not hardly. Rome wasn't built in a day, and there's a reason we still struggle worldwide when it comes to racial, religious and gender discrimination. Sadly, these things take time. That's why we have days like National Girls and Women in Sports Day — a day to recognize, support and encourage females who either are, have or will play the games we all love, while continuing to roar while doing it.
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