With a simple Google search, one can find that sport is defined as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” If there is one universal definition of sport that most can agree on, why do we see such a variation in how sports are played by men and women?
Professor Fitni Destani has his PhD in psycho-social aspects of sport, and said he has explored this topic for years now. He said he believes that answering this question invovles taking a look into history. Destani said, “Historically, women have been oppressed and systematically devalued, so when you think about rules when it comes to sports today, who are applying those rules? More often than not, you’re going to look at people in positions of power as being the males, so you’re talking about athletic directors, commissioners of leagues, organizational leaders, all those individuals. If you look at the statistics today, more often than not, they’re mostly males.”
Despite this, women have been paving the way for themselves in sports. Title IX was enacted in 1972 and was put into place as a “comprehensive federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice website. Forty-four years have gone by since Title IX was passed, and women in sports have certainly made great strides. However, a discrepancy still exists.
Where we see the most difference is in sports that tend to be more aggressive in nature. Take lacrosse for example. Men’s teams are allowed more physical contact, whereas physical body contact is considered illegal in women’s lacrosse. Male players wear full body and chest pad armor, in comparison to the females who don’t even wear helmets. Even the sticks are different. For males, the stick has a pocket to catch more easily. For females, the stick has more of a tight net that is designed to move, pass, or hit the ball instead of carrying it over a distance.
So what do the athletes themselves think of these strict differences? Junior Keene State College lacrosse player Gretchen Faulstich said that while she loves the game for what it is, she does wish there was more physical contact allowed.
“You would be able to play that much better and be that much more competitive if you were able to do things like check near the sphere and like give a little bit more body during defense. I feel like there’s just a wall in between you and your player that you can’t overcross or else you’re going to get a penalty for it. It just kind of stinks that the rules do hold you back and I get that it’s for safety reasons, but I mean it kind of does affect how competitive you are and how hard you want to play in a game,” Faulstich said.
He continued to say that taking physicality out of the game makes it more difficult for players to uphold the entertainment value in sport. Faulstich said, “When it comes to watching a men’s game or a women’s game, people are going to want to see the men’s game. It’s more competitive, it’s more touchy, it’s more exciting to watch.”
It’s important to consider what the men think about this issue as well. A junior member of the KSC men’s lacrosse team, Tyler Reilly, said he agreed with the rule differences, but only to a certain degree. “I agree with the differences. I [don’t mean] to say that girls couldn’t handle the contact, but I think it’s just that there’s such a history of the game and how it set up. And actually when the game first started it was played more like girls lacrosse, and kind of evolved over the years to what it is now with the contact being allowed,” he said.
When asked if he would support more contact being allowed in women’s sports, he said he would and explained that there wouldn’t be much harm after all.
“I don’t see a reason for them not to have more contact. They can handle it and it’s not like girls going against guys, where the size difference would be there. It’s girls going against other girls,” he said.
According to Destani, when it comes down to it, women need to make their way into positions of power if they want to see more equality in how games are played. Once they reach that position of authority, they can begin to put their rules of choice into play.
Destani said, “The battle is not won at the top, the battle is won within the sports, and in order to create change in the sports, you have to go to the top and women need to get into those positions, so they can have positions of power to create that change.”
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