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While watching the Women’s World Cup in soccer today, I decided yet again to raise a familiar question. Why don’t people follow women’s sports like men’s sports?   Before I even started thinking about formulating something of an answer, I decided I would not make arguments that cast the distinction in strictly biological terms.  I think they exist, but I don’t think they’re nearly as integral to the question as we might think.  Our visceral reaction to the action going on before us may provide information that is far more helpful.  

Women’s sports tend to emphasize teamwork and basic fundamentals.  Men’s sports are usually focused on skill players and a deliberately flashier style of play.  Our eye has been trained to expect and follow dramatic action.  Whether it is a star receiver who never drops a catch or a baseball pitcher with a 100 mph fastball, sports fans expect to be wowed, thrilled, and entertained.  Superstars are supposed to stand out from the rest of the pack and win either our adoration or our derision.  Attention on the playing field means more money and increased fame.  So, because of all this, there’s a great incentive present to be in the public eye and stay there.  

With women athletes, the stakes are not quite so high.  With no financial advantage in the form of multi-million dollar salaries, coveted awards, or even appearances in film and television, women athletes see no compelling need to showboat.  However, this means women’s sports are often perceived as much less visually exciting.  Men’s sports have been marketed for decades to appeal to the widest possible audience.  The rules are routinely tweaked to increase and maintain audience interest.  Men’s sports are a very lucrative business.  Advertising techniques have also been actively introduced to sell the game.  I should not here that I’m not suggesting that female athletes should consider resorting to the same tactics.  If I were wise enough to propose a solution, I’d try to find a way that preserves a unique female standard of play while making a few reforms here and there to be more in line with their male counterparts.    

Above all, the commercialization of men’s sports is one reason why women’s sports do not enjoy the same popularity.  Reversing the lengthy trend of commercialism in any area is extremely difficult, if not impossible.  In the beginning, men’s sports focused more on teamwork and less on individual grandstanding.  Early styles of football focused on the ground game and the brute strength needed to cross the goal line.  The forward pass was a game invention not embraced fully until the Twenties.  The shape of the ball was modified from the large, rugby ball shape designed for quick pitches to one more favorable to throwing.  Passing the ball is exciting to the viewing audience.  The same switch was also true with baseball.  The early days of baseball were those of hard-hit singles and doubles, which necessitated a strong infield and cooperation between players.  When players like Babe Ruth started hitting home runs instead, the entire strategy of the game changed.  

In men’s soccer, particularly at its most competitive levels, players often fake injuries to draw penalties.  This is less prevalent in women’s soccer which may simply be an aspect of hyper-competitiveness.  Men draw much larger salaries and can compete for longer in their lives.  The pay for women’s sports is much lower and as a result, women can’t afford to subsist on it.  Women’s players tend to be much younger and have much shorter careers.  In men’s sports, it’s possible to follow the progress of a favorite player for years.  This is not always the case with women’s sports.

Ultimately, for greater parity, fans will have to change a little and the game will need to be modified, too.  There may be no way to preserve the purity that exists when big money does not infiltrate sports.  To obtain gender equality within sports, one might have to make a Faustian bargain or two.  Instead of asking Why can’t women’s sports be more like men’s sports, I might pose something else entirely.  Why would you want them to be?  

Originally posted to cabaretic on Mon Jun 27, 2011 at 06:08 PM PDT.

Also republished by The Wide World of Sports.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (6+ / 0-)

    I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I lead you in, some one else would lead you out. - Eugene Debs.

    by cabaretic on Mon Jun 27, 2011 at 06:08:02 PM PDT

  •  I give you tennis. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bekosiluvu, elfling, BigAlinWashSt, bobsc

    There's at least one sport where there is relative parity.

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White

    by zenbassoon on Mon Jun 27, 2011 at 06:36:16 PM PDT

    •  I give you competetive rock climbing ... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BigAlinWashSt, bobsc, Ray Radlein, sk4p

      where the women are separated from the men because we "ladies" whup their asses.  Better strength-to-weight ratio.  :)

      "We must close union offices, confiscate their money and put their leaders in prison. We must reduce workers salaries and take away their right to strike.” -Adolf Hitler, May 2, 1933

      by bekosiluvu on Mon Jun 27, 2011 at 06:39:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Oh and ultramarathons too... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BigAlinWashSt, bobsc, Ray Radlein, sk4p

      It's that endurance past the 100 mile mark that gives us the edge.  Women are just tougher.  

      "We must close union offices, confiscate their money and put their leaders in prison. We must reduce workers salaries and take away their right to strike.” -Adolf Hitler, May 2, 1933

      by bekosiluvu on Mon Jun 27, 2011 at 06:41:47 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I'd add golf (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BigAlinWashSt

      and say that the reason there's relative parity in those two is that they've been around for a long time. There's not a single sports league that started out as a multi-billion dollar enterprise. They started in obscurity with guys playing the game while also having a "real" job and grew into what they are today. It takes time and sacrifice and perseverance and a little luck.

      I strove, I sought, I found, but I did have to yield a few times.

      by bobsc on Mon Jun 27, 2011 at 07:04:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I think if it's professional, it's entertainment (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bobsc, debedb

    subjective to the same methods of compensation as most other entertainment.  IOW, those who bring in the bucks get the most.  I think that's the way it is and should be, although the amount paid has passed the ridiculous point.
    Non-professional is a whole different ballgame, pardon the pun.

    S.A.W. 2011 STOP ALL WARS "The Global War on Terror is a fabrication to justify imperialism."

    by BigAlinWashSt on Mon Jun 27, 2011 at 06:41:21 PM PDT

  •  Fundamentally (0+ / 0-)

    I think women don't have as much time to sit around watching sports as men do. And, when they do... part of what they're doing is spending time with their men/families. So, they're not necessarily the ones choosing the sport.

    I'd rather be out doing my sport than watching it on TV.

    Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

    by elfling on Mon Jun 27, 2011 at 06:47:49 PM PDT

  •  Asinine. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cedwyn, lordcopper, voroki
    Women’s sports tend to emphasize teamwork and basic fundamentals.  Men’s sports are usually focused on skill players and a deliberately flashier style of play.

    The only thing that demonstrates is that you know nothing about sports.


    Kevin dropped his ice cream and blames Obama? He's gone hamsher!

    by punditician on Mon Jun 27, 2011 at 07:13:14 PM PDT

  •  football (0+ / 0-)

    Early styles of football focused on the ground game and the brute strength needed to cross the goal line.  The forward pass was a game invention not embraced fully until the Twenties.

    That's not commercialization, though, that was the death toll.  People died A LOT playing 1900s football.  The forward pass came out of Teddy Roosevelt calling a conference to come up with some way to make football safer, because Congress was gearing up to make it illegal.

    The same switch was also true with baseball.

    Also because people died.  Babe Ruth was possible because Ray Chapman died after getting hit in the head by a pitch covered in tobacco spit to make it the same color as the infield dirt.  The only reason for the low-scoring game was those kinds of tricks by pitchers, and once they were banned batters had the advantage again.  But on the other hand you didn't have anybody dropping dead on home plate with blood pouring out of their ears.

  •  For the same reason we don't pay to see (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    debedb, Mudderway

    overweight, middle aged male athletes.  Because elite athletes present the most compelling spectacle.   Although sometimes, women present the more compelling spectacle (gymnastics).  I don't think gender is the issue.

    "Because I am a river to my people."

    by lordcopper on Mon Jun 27, 2011 at 08:29:21 PM PDT

    •  Yup. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lordcopper

      I can only speak for football(or as americans say soccer), since it is the only sport I follow on a regular basis, but there is no doubt, that the german womens football team would (which is a favorite to win this world cup), would lose very heavily against the german mens football team and people like to see whats best.
      Also in regards to teamwork, I would argue that this is not true in football. the really dominating teams know blindly where every player will be standing and can make passes without actually having seen their teammate, and most of them will arrive. Sure there is also some technical fancy tricks that the greatest players can do, but those are often also not to the detriment of teamwork, but instead further it.
      Now I can't argue about american sports, because I know very very little about them(its been years since ive regularly watched basketball and even when i lived in the states, I couldn't care for american football or baseball or hockey at all), but since this diary starts with the world cup I think its reasonable for me to argue that I consider the arguments in the diary regarding that sport to be wrong.
      And I'm saying this as someone who is actually watching all the german games and the other big games in this world cup.

      "We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn

      by Mudderway on Tue Jun 28, 2011 at 05:03:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The author is right about American sports (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Mudderway

        The men's game definitely is flashier and follows superstars more slavishly, whether one considers basketball, hockey or baseball/softball.  Futbol is a different matter.  Women tend to have a more balanced view of sports, in my experience.  We men may neglect entire realms of life and spend hours watching game after game that we haven't played in years.  I think our fantasy lives must be different from those of women.

  •  Republished to (0+ / 0-)

    The Wide World of Sports.

    I am a statistician, not a magician although we are easily confused. I guess that explains why people keep trying to tie me in chains and place me under water.

    by Edge PA on Wed Jun 29, 2011 at 11:09:51 AM PDT

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