It’s utterly pathetic that in the year 2021, women athletes, teams, and leagues are still struggling to gain a modicum of equity with their male counterparts. That embarrassing demonstration of inequity is unfolding in San Antonio at the Henry B. González Convention Center.
City officials and San Antonio Sports executives should have known better as pre-tournament planning unfolded. San Antonio should have never allowed such blatant disregard for the 64 visiting collegiate teams. They should have immediately called out NCAA tournament organizers the minute it became evident that an inadequate investment was being made here for women’s teams.
Women athletes and their coaches are no longer content to quietly suffer such second-hand treatment by an NCAA led by clueless executives earning million-dollar salaries who pledge reform and deliver little. The women now housed in a bubble of downtown San Antonio hotels made their case convincingly on social media, starting with a tweet from New York Liberty point guard Sabrina Ionescu, a former University of Oregon player, showing a single rack of weights and a few yoga mats set aside in a small room for the women, contrasted with the custom-built, state-of-the-art workout facility provided the mens’ team in Indianapolis.
— Sabrina Ionescu (@sabrina_i20) March 18, 2021
In today’s 24/7 news environment, social media protest caught fire and quickly spread to mainstream media.
NCAA officials, trailing excuses like jet contrails, hurriedly arranged for an upgraded weight room at the convention center, but it still pales next to the men’s facility in Indianapolis. And the inequities run much deeper, from the quality of catered meals and other amenities the women’s teams are being provided. One astonishing difference cited by the women’s teams is the superior quality of the coronavirus tests being administered daily to the men versus the test being used here to check the women players, coaches, and team officials.
Above all, the financial payouts to men’s teams versus the failure to equally reward the women based on revenues generated from ticket sales and broadcast deals ought to disqualify the NCAA’s nonprofit status it hides behind.
If you are not a basketball fan, you might not know the 2021 NCAA women’s basketball tournament is being staged entirely in and around San Antonio because of the pandemic. March Madness starts here on Sunday, with the games going until the April 4 championship final. The 2021 men’s basketball tournament, already underway in Indianapolis, is being staged around a single city for the same reason.
San Antonio and Indianapolis share many attributes, notably their passion and competition for major athletic events and tournaments. In this instance, the playing courts in the two cities are not remotely on the same level.
If the respective tournaments were automobiles, the men would be cruising to the games in shiny new Cadillac Escalades with the women squeezing into previously owned Kias.
Critics will quickly start in with all the ways the quality of men’s play is superior to their female counterparts. That ignores the incredibly fast-growing fan bases for the women in this sport and others. The macho couch potato lobby also will neglect to note a century of organized sports and American culture and politics in which women from adolescence on have been discouraged from participating in organized athletics. Even those who persisted did so without equal opportunity or access to coaching, facilities, events, funding, marketing, or media.
It’s a largely untreated virus in all aspects of organized sports, not only at the collegiate level.
In 2015, San Antonio was treated to Alamodome matches featuring the U.S. men’s national soccer team versus Mexico, and the U.S. women’s national soccer team versus Trinidad y Tobago.
A lackluster U.S. men’s team barely made it out of group play and then was eliminated in the Round of 16 by Belgium in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. In April 2015, the team still managed to draw a record crowd of 64,369 fans to the Alamodome in a so-called “friendly” against Mexico that I covered, where the majority, incidentally, were rooting for the visitors, more than a few of the fans wrapped in red, green, and white flags. The highly promoted match was sold out by February.
Later in 2015, it was the women’s national team that took the field at the Alamodome against Trinidad y Tobago. The team had just won the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada, humiliating Japan, 5-2, in a stunning match that featured the U.S. women scoring four times in the first 15 minutes, ultimately becoming the first team to win three world cups. As I wrote back then, it seemed like there were more goals than fans that day at the Alamodome. Those who did attend were treated to a sparkling second-half performance by forward Christen Press who scored a hat trick – three goals – in the space of 23 minutes, ultimately giving the U.S. women a 6-0 win.
This night was the opportunity for San Antonio to see the most accomplished women soccer team in the sport’s history, athletes who were smartly using their international stardom to demand equitable pay and treatment in their sport and beyond.
The poorly promoted game drew an embarrassingly small crowd of 10,690 fans. Organizers could have comped tickets to every inner city girl with a dream, but instead the women’s team played to a mostly empty stadium.
Oh yes, the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France? The U.S. team defended their title with a 2-0 win over a tough Netherlands side, becoming four-time champions.
San Antonio can’t fix the rotten state of play in women’s collegiate and pro sports, but it can be the first city to declare it will no longer host unequal treatment of women athletes and teams. The city should continue to compete for every event and tournament that seeks a great venue to stage its games, but a competitive advantage we can offer going forward is this: promoters and organizers must treat women athletes with the same respect and resources they afford the men.
This column has been updated to correct Sabrina Ionescu’s professional and collegiate associations.