Girls are reaching new heights in basketball, but huge pay gaps await them as professionals


Women have made nice strides on the earth of sports activities over the previous 50 years.

Especially in some particular person sports activities, feminine champion athletes in the present day earn far extra money and command a a lot larger viewers than their predecessors – due to breakthroughs by tennis champions like Billie Jean King and Venus and Serena Williams and prime golfers equivalent to Kathy Whitworth, Nancy Lopez and Michele Wie.

We are followers of girls’s basketball and students who research the position that gender performs in sports activities and the altering standing of feminine athletes. Despite large modifications in attitudes towards girls who excel at sports activities general, with few exceptions we’ve noticed that the disparity between what adolescent girls and boys can aspire to perform in skilled basketball in the present day stays huge.

This hole has change into extra seen as a result of deaths of retired basketball legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and two of the opposite women on the basketball group he coached in January.

Known as “Gigi,” the 13-year-old by all accounts inherited not solely her former NBA participant father’s love of the sport, however silky clean strikes as effectively. She aspired to attend the University of Connecticut the place she would play on its extremely ranked girls’s basketball group. Mourners spoke reverently about Gigi’s intentions to play professionally and keep it up her father’s legacy throughout a star-studded memorial service for each of them held on Feb. 24.

Gigi Bryant, right here carrying a No. 2 jersey on the Mamba group, was already a youth basketball star earlier than her loss of life at age 13.

Fears about fertility

Women started enjoying basketball in 1892, one yr after the game’s emergence.

Women’s basketball began as a passing sport with its personal peculiar guidelines. The courtroom was divided into three sections and every group fielded 9 gamers, versus the 5 who play on the courtroom in the present day. Players couldn’t transfer out of their assigned space, have been restricted to 3 dribbles, and will solely maintain the ball for 3 seconds. Players have been additionally typically suggested in opposition to partaking in strenuous exercise because the medical specialists on the time have been satisfied that overexertion would injury girls’s fertility.

In 1896 groups from Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley competed within the first girls’s intercollegiate basketball sport. Women saved enjoying basketball regardless of the perceived well being dangers.

Girls are reaching new heights in basketball, but huge pay gaps await them as professionals
After Babe Didrikson received three Olympic medals in 1932, she excelled at different sports activities, together with basketball and golf. AP Photo

One of essentially the most well-known girls’s newbie basketball groups of the 1930s was the Golden Cyclones of the Employers Casualty Company of Dallas, which was led by monitor and discipline Olympic gold medalist and champion golfer Mildred “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias. The first skilled girls’s basketball group was created in 1936. The All-American Red Heads barnstormed the nation for greater than 50 years.

Although the gamers have been required to put on make-up and both dye their hair pink or put on pink wigs, the group performed by males’s basketball guidelines in opposition to males’s groups. Despite the recognition of particular person groups just like the All-American Red Heads, girls’s skilled basketball struggled to realize a agency footing for many years.

Likewise, basketball didn’t change into an Olympic sport for ladies till the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympic Games, 4 a long time after males’s basketball made its debut on the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympic Games.

By that point, guidelines for ladies had change into about the identical as for males.

Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gigi believed that she would obtain nice issues as a basketball participant.

Title IX’s repercussions

The creation of a brand new federal civil rights coverage enacted in 1972 modified the world of girls’s sports activities. What grew to become often called Title IX was initially meant to offer equal alternatives and entry for ladies in fields equivalent to science, drugs and legislation.

In apply, Title IX pressured excessive faculties and schools to open up extra alternatives for feminine athletes and to spend extra money and a focus on women’ and girls’s sports activities groups.

But it might take greater than 20 years for the emergence of a girls’s skilled basketball league.

A breakthrough in 1996

Sports followers dubbed the 1996 Summer Olympic Games the “Summer of the Women” as a result of U.S. girls’s groups received gold medals in softball, soccer, basketball and gymnastics.

The girls’s Olympic basketball group’s success powered by star gamers Sheryl Swoopes, Rebecca Lobo and Lisa Leslie led to the creation of two girls’s skilled leagues.

The American Basketball League proved short-lived, ceasing operations in 1998 after solely three years. The Women’s National Basketball Association, often called the WNBA, is coming into its 23rd season this summer season.

Girls are reaching new heights in basketball, but huge pay gaps await them as professionals
The victorious Olympic U.S. girls’s group in 1996. Shown right here, from left: Jennifer Azzi, Lisa Leslie, Carla McGhee, Katy Steding and Sheryl Swoopes. AP Photo/Susan Ragan

The WNBA and pay

Despite the WNBA’s endurance, its gamers till now have solely earned a mean wage of US$71,000, little greater than 1% of the $6.four million their typical male counterparts on NBA groups take dwelling.

Average pay for WNBA gamers, nonetheless, will quickly practically double to about $130,000 a yr, and a number of the league’s star gamers will probably be making $500,000, following a collective bargaining settlement. Players will now be eligible for maternity depart at their full wage, and may change into unrestricted free brokers after 5 full seasons.

Attendance at WNBA video games now averages about 7,000 per sport, in comparison with 18,000 at NBA video games. The disparity by way of the sports activities funds by TV offers and licensing agreements is far bigger than that. The girls’s league generates about $60 million in income, only a tiny fraction of 1% of the NBA’s $7.four billion income.

Girls are reaching new heights in basketball, but huge pay gaps await them as professionals
Many WNBA followers need the gamers to get large raises. AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

What will it take to bridge the massive gender hole in skilled basketball’s recognition and pay?

We assume that it may take a participant like dunking sensation Stanford freshman Fran Belibi who has captured important media consideration. Sabrina Ionescu, senior level guard for the Oregon Ducks, is one other potential gamechanger.

Ionescu was named nationwide participant of the yr in 2019 as a junior. She has damaged the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s triple-double document for faculty men and women. Ionescu had skilled together with her shut good friend and mentor, Kobe Bryant. And Golden State Warriors star participant Stephen Curry has introduced his daughters alongside to look at her play.

Or perhaps it should take mother and father like Kobe Bryant and Curry, born after Title IX modified a lot about athletics, to instill of their daughters an understanding {that a} sports activities profession will not be solely possible for ladies, however inside attain.

[Get the best of The Conversation, every weekend. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.]