McGowan: Women, Men, Soccer and Equality
by Richard McGowan
Years ago, I asked my wife to watch a women’s basketball game at Butler. She declined the invitation even though the games were free to attend. I took my oldest son and several of his friends to the game.
At the time, we held season tickets, for $500, to watch the Butler men. Apparently, my wife would rather pay to watch the men than watch the women for free.
Miss Indiana Basketball 1988, Vicki Hall, understood the greater interest in men’s sports. Now the coach of the Indiana State women’s team, she played for the University of Texas. She remarked, “We were glad the football team was so popular. It made money for the other sports.”
My students demonstrated the greater interest in men’s teams rather than women’s teams. When March Madness ended, I’d look confused (which is easy for me to do) and ask, “It’s only been a few days, but who won the NCAA title?” The students would yell the men’s team and wonder about their ignorant teacher.
No student ever shouted the women’s NCAA champion.
It’s not just basketball. Years ago, the request went out on Butler’s faculty e-mail system. Would some faculty member please be the advisor for a lacrosse club for women? I waited three days for a strong, radical feminist to step up before I volunteered. In the same way I wanted my children to understand that women are athletes, I wanted Butler’s women to be lacrosse athletes. I can happily report that the club’s origin gave rise to lacrosse becoming the latest varsity sport at Butler.
Men are more interested in athletics; men and women seem more interested in men’s teams.
That includes volunteer youth coaches. My youngest son wanted to play soccer; a call went out for coaches. I had never played a soccer game that had a referee. My experience consisted of woeful disorganized soccer — but kids, boys and girls, need to play, so somebody had to coach while others were content to be “soccer Moms.” The last comment in no way reflects the amount of volunteer work done by women. Women, in fact, volunteer more than men do.
It does reflect the pattern of choices men and women make regarding their volunteer activities. It also reflects their choices regarding their leisure activities. College campuses have intramural sports, where students participate voluntarily and without incentive or support. Research shows that considerably more men than women take part in intramurals.
The pattern is similar to professional sports. WNBA attendance compared to NBA attendance reflects the interest in men’s teams. In 2018, the WNBA had approximately 6,800 fans per game while the NBA averaged 18,000 per game. Soccer is the same. In 2018, the National Women’s Soccer League averaged over 6,000 fans per game for the first time. In the same year, the Columbus Crew had the lowest attendance of MLS teams, and it was over 12,000 per game.
It would be nice if American sports fans supported women’s professional sports more. Vicki Hall told me she played in Europe because American teams paid about half the salary as European teams. Unlike my wife, Europeans were more willing to pay to watch women play.
Nonetheless, men’s teams in Europe also draw more fans. Of course, the higher the attendance, the higher the players’ salaries. It’s like that in soccer, too, in America and around the world.
Richard McGowan, Ph.D., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, has taught philosophy and ethics cores for more than 40 years, most recently at Butler University.