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Observer Editorial: It’s time to show up

| Friday, February 16, 2018

It’s the middle of the third quarter of a February game in Purcell Pavilion.

One of the nation’s perennial powerhouse programs has had little trouble moving the ball up and down the court. Basket after basket, it seems as if the team is scoring effortlessly — pass after pass, 3 after 3, backdoor cut after backdoor cut.

Notre Dame seems more skilled than its opponent. And it shows on the scoreboard, as the Irish lead 59-29 against North Carolina — a lead that they hold essentially all the way through the 94-62 final.

Put another tally in the win column for the Notre Dame women.

Now ranked No. 5 in the country with a 24-2 record, the Irish could potentially finish the year with their fifth-consecutive ACC regular season and tournament titles and are in strong contention for yet another No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. That’s despite the fact they play arguably the toughest slate of any team in the country. Despite the fact they have already lost four scholarship players to torn ACLs.

Despite the fact that a large majority of the student body seems altogether disinterested in supporting them through attendance at their games.

So, especially in light of the fact that Feb. 7 commemorated National Girls and Women in Sports Day — which the U.S. formally observed for the 32nd time this year to promote female engagement in sports and to highlight gender disparities within athletics — we feel compelled to ask: Why don’t the women of Notre Dame have the same support on the court from their peers that their male counterparts do?

For this Editorial Board, it seems this problem is part of a much larger — and just as troubling — trend, one on which the buzzer has yet to time out.

Consider the sheer numbers at the collegiate basketball level: 31,859,477 fans showed up to watch NCAA men’s basketball during 2017, while just about a third of that number —11,346,021, to be exact — attended the women’s NCAA games last year.

Additionally, the quantity of coverage of women’s basketball — and women’s sports in general — remain “dismally low” compared to their male equivalents. And even when these women have earned the level of respect and recognition of male athletes with their achievements, it is too often easily dismissed — such was the case when the Chicago Tribune labeled three-time Olympian Corey Cogdell as the “wife of a Bears lineman,” belittling Cogdell’s own achievements as a two-time medalist up to that point in her career.

Empty rows of seats and insufficient media coverage are both glaring instances of disparity in women’s sports, especially at a professional level.

But the problem goes far deeper than merely attendance and coverage. Consider this: At this point in their careers, these women have already jumped through a series of hoops: Girls have 1.3 million fewer athletic opportunities in high school and drop out of sports at twice the rate of boys by the age of 14.

And when women do get the opportunities and support they deserve? Well, consider the example of the 2015 FIFA World Cup, which remains the most-watched soccer match in United States history. Five members of the victorious women’s team filed a wage-discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation, alleging they earn just 25 percent of what the U.S. male players do, despite generating nearly $20 million more in revenue than the men’s team did that year. With this example to look up to, young girls considering a career in sports cannot possibly be expected to jump right into a field rife with institutionalized sexism.

Though no quick fix can resolve the issues female athletes face, we can take sensible steps to establish a support system within our own community. Members of a University that aims to further equality cannot afford to continually sit out on women’s games while overwhelmingly showing up to the men’s. Particularly with a team as talented and successful as the Irish women playing half their games on campus, there is no excuse for student attendance at their games to be what it is.

If you are truly the basketball fan you claim to be, it’s time to show up and support a championship-caliber team that ranks amongst the nation’s 20 best — in both the men and women’s games — at putting the ball in the basket. Because females in sports at all levels, as well as the young girls discerning whether or not they belong in the field, deserve better — better turnout, better pay and better opportunities.

And it can start right now with us.

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