Today’s guest columnist is University of South Carolina soccer player Jyllissa Harris.
On Sept. 17, at South Carolina’s football game against No. 1-ranked Georgia, all the Gamecock women student athletes were scheduled to be honored on the field to celebrate 50 years of Title IX. As a player on South Carolina’s women’s soccer team, I was a part of this celebration, and my teammates and I were very excited about being honored in front of a sold-out stadium at an SEC football game.
Unfortunately, this celebration did not live up to the expectations. We were very quickly ushered onto the field in between the first and second quarters, and then very quickly and abruptly removed. The University of South Carolina has been very supportive of women in sports—and of me, personally, but this celebration was just not planned well enough.
While it is easy to point fingers—especially on social media—indicating who was at fault, I think it is important to acknowledge the bigger picture. Colleges, universities and media institutions should examine how they can change the culture that exists around women’s sports.
As a female student athlete, I have heard criticism over and over again: “Women in sports are just not as entertaining as men,” and “people just do not care about women’s sports.”
Statements and viewpoints like this are reinforced to female athletes early in life when they see male athletes on television, covered by the media, in advertisements, and on social media. As women we are used to fighting for every inch of acknowledgment, recognition and support. We don’t automatically expect it. We are continuously having to prove that we deserve to be supported and recognized as athletes just as much as our male counterparts.
When I look at how far women have come over the years, I cannot overlook Title IX and how that has changed the lives of so many female athletes. Title IX has generated opportunities for women by creating more scholarships and teams, and transforming collegiate sports for women, giving women and girls the framework to pursue and play the sports they love. In 2012 there were more than 3 million women and girls competing in high school sports and 190,000 women competing in college sports. In comparison, in 1972 there were about 300,000 female athletes across both college and high school. Without Title IX and the many women who have blazed the trail for all female athletes, I would not have been afforded the opportunity to play soccer at this level, nor have the realistic aspiration of playing professional soccer.
Now, thanks to the efforts from women before me, the sports industry, media and others are finally beginning to give women’s sports the investment they deserve. I have seen significant growth when it comes to equity and equality for women in sports over the years. Women are continuing to break attendance records, sell out stadiums, and move closer to equal pay.
But the work is not done.
The reality is that until recently, people were not given the chance to care about women’s sports or female athletes because of a low degree of media exposure for women’s sports. A study conducted by the University of Southern California and Purdue showed that in 2019, 95% of total television coverage, including on ESPN’s SportsCenter, was focused on men. To say that people aren’t interested in women’s sports or there isn’t an audience for women’s sports is not fair when women are given significantly less time and opportunity to allow people to care. Supporting and investing in female athletes, both collegiate and professional, needs to be ingrained in our society.
So, how do we get there?
Colleges and organizations can invest money and time into better promoting and supporting their female athletes and teams. The organizations must continue to give the audience access to women’s sports through television, social media, marketing and resources.
The bottom line is when women are invested in and given opportunities to be seen by wide audiences, people show interest time and time again. Investors, television networks and social media outlets have to keep giving women the time and space for their audience to be able to support them and watch them. There have been many steps forward, but we can’t stop here. We have seen so much growth and progress over the years, and I am encouraged to see women in sports are finally starting to get the recognition they deserve. However, to gain true equity and equality, we have to keep pushing. We have much more to accomplish. We must continue to advocate for women in sports.
Harris, who graduated in May with a degree in early childhood education, is an All-SEC first team defender and a United Soccer Coaches Scholar All-American.