Men will continue to dominate pro sports
By By Stan Torgerson / sports columnist
May 27, 2003
Annika Sorenstam made history but in the long run she won't make any difference. Women athletes hope her appearance in the Colonial and the quality of golf she played will mark a turning point, but it won't.
Men's athletics are dominant now. They have always been dominant. And as long as muscle and brawn are the yardsticks by which competitive athletics are measured men will always be dominant.
This has nothing to do with gender discrimination. It is merely a genetic fact of life.
Both men and women sports fans like to see Tiger drive the ball 310 yards. Women with the wind at their back can't put it out there more than 260 and in most cases considerably less.
Men play baseball and can throw the ball 90 miles an hour and hit it four to five hundred feet.
Women play softball and throw underhand and hit it out only because the fences are closer.
Men weigh 300 pounds, can run like a deer and make violence on a 100 yard football field seem entertaining.
Women, give or take, weigh half that and are limited to crying or cursing if someone knocks them down.
It is not a level playing field and it won't ever be.
The sports editor of this newspaper recognizes that fact every time he puts a contest involving men on page 1 of his sports section and one involving women's, golf, tennis, basketball or what have you on an inside page.
In business it is called the law of supply and demand. Only in tennis are the rewards for being an athlete comparable and that's because the tournaments are played at the same time and in the same place. Two stories for the price of one. In golf men are paid as much as one million dollars for winning a tournament. Women earn only a fraction of that for being the best they can be.
Basketball's LeBron James, a kid just out of high school, signed a contract with Nike for 90 million dollars just to wear and endorse their shoes. He'll sign another with Cleveland for $12 million plus to play the game for a team that couldn't give away tickets last year. The fans instantly responded. Choice seats for 2004 are already sold out and the kid has yet to make his first NBA basket. Women in the WNBA don't average $100,000 per year, many of them play for less than half of that, and they don't get big money contracts to endorse shoes. No woman player has ever sold out a professional basketball stadium, no matter how talented she might be.
Last Sunday ABC Television's This Week program featured three female athletes talking about the financial disparity between men's and women's sports.
They were Billy Jean King of tennis fame, Janet Guthrie, the first women to drive a race car at Indianapolis in the 500 and Mohammed Ali's daughter, now a professional prize fighter. Guthrie pointed out that for every one million paid to players in women's professional athletics, men earn $25 million. It was unfair she indicated, but is it really?
Pro sports is big business. The money they pay out is in direct proportion to the money they take in. The NBA is thriving. The WNBA is on the ropes. They will play again this season only because they are subsidized by the NBA owners. And since there is no major league football and baseball for women, two of the most lucrative venues for making the big bucks, there are no big bucks team sports for the ladies.
It is no different for men's senior golf, for soccer, for hockey and for track and field. If people don't buy tickets en masse at outrageously high prices and if television doesn't think there is enough interest to generate outlandish rights fees, the sports will have to struggle, and they do.
Only in college athletics is there anything like a level playing field. Because of Title IX women get to compete in a wide range of sports, whether anyone comes to watch them or not. The only box office that counts is the one at the school's
football stadium or basketball arena because the money generated there by men's sports pays for the women's. And television is conspicuous by its absence.
I'm not saying that's right, the way it should be. What I am saying is that that is the way it is. Annika Sorenson's appearance in Texas earned the front sports pages and hours and hours of television time only because it was something new in which people were interested. The media responded to that need. The next time there will be less need and the time after that even less and the time after that the collective ho hum with which most women's sports are greeted will return.
It was a great story. It was fun. She surprised her critics with the quality of her play but she didn't win, she didn't make the cut and in the long run she didn't change a thing.