Weight room disparities highlights the fight for gender equality

A viral TikTok video brought to attention a concerning trend of unequal conditions between male and female athletes during March Madness.

Photo Courtesy of Paul Sancya/AP Photo

A viral TikTok video brought to attention a concerning trend of unequal conditions between male and female athletes during March Madness.

Juliette Bolte, Sports Writer

In the midst of a long anticipated March Madness tournament, an age-old debate about gender equality in sports resurfaced after images and videos of the drastically inadequate weight room facilities for female student-athletes went viral. 

The initial post, coming from Stanford Coach Ali Kershner, showed the fully-equipped and functional weight room in the men’s bubble in Indianapolis next to the image of the single rack of low-weight dumbbells at the women’s San Antonio bubble. The latter, scarcely considerable as a weight room, became a symbol of the NCAA’s treatment of women’s basketball as secondary. 

Fans, players, and coaches alike took to social media to denounce the NCAA’s conduct. “My blood is boiling,” Phoenix Mercury player Skylar Diggins-Smith said in a tweet. The side by side images reminded many of the progress still left to be made. “I was extremely disappointed because women deserve better,” sophomore Mackenzie Caldwell-Degnon said. 

“I wish I could say I was shocked, but it just was not surprising news,” sophomore Shayyan Ahmed said. “How can it be a shock when society doesn’t view male and female sports as of equal priority?”

Attempting to control the backlash, the NCAA blamed the situation on coronavirus and building constraints. “This is due to the limited space and the original plan was to expand the workout area once additional space was available later in the tournament,” NCAA Vice President of women’s basketball responded in a tweet. However, this claim was soon countered by University of Oregon player Sedona Prince, who showed the significant amount of unused space in the bubble in a TikTok video.

Another similar but less publicized issue arose when the public learned that the men were given PCR nasal swab tests for coronavirus testing, while the women’s tournament received only the less expensive and less accurate antigen tests. These incidents are undoubtedly indicative of a larger trend and it’s important to consider the bigger picture. 

When trying to take a closer look at how these unequal facilities came to be, one might first turn to the NCAA’s men and women’s March Madness tournament budgets, which are $28 million and $14.5 million respectively. Although the contrast between the numbers is glaring, the NCAA blames the budgetary discrepancies on what they claim to be reasonably varying factors between the tournaments such as travel and the number of rounds.

Inevitably, the argument will be made that the budget, facility, and other gaps were justified by the differences in revenue between the tournaments, with the 2019 men’s March Madness bringing in close to $900 million while the women’s tournament suffered $2 million in losses, according to the NCAA. “I believe that the neglect of the women’s gym facilities and female sports in general is one of the reasons that the sector doesn’t generate as much revenue,” Ahmed said.

It is because college sports have developed into profit-maximizing undertakings that particular spending nuances will always remain as barriers to gender equality. “Even though more people tend to watch men’s basketball, women deserve the same opportunities as men,” Caldwell-Degnon said. “It’s just completely unfair that men have many more advantages.” 

When student-athletes sign onto their respective college teams, they are promised the best possible experience their school can offer, regardless of the revenues and viewership their particular sport brings. However, when organizations like the NCAA choose to cut corners that they don’t think will be noticed because viewership and profit is lower for women’s sports, female student-athletes suffer. 

Because of the attention brought to the issue, the NCAA issued an apology and proceeded to upgrade the facilities only two days after Kershner first shared the images, unveiling the new weight room in a Twitter post. Although the resolution was well-received, questions still hung as to why there were disparities present in the resources that should be considered the bare minimum for the biggest tournament in college basketball.

With athletes often being important voices for change, the incident highlights how images reposted on social media can turn into real steps taken to improve college sports.