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New study shows old problem: sexism against female athletes

Kahleah Copper
David Beasley
/
flickr.com
Kahleah Copper of Chicago about to inbound the ball

It’s possible, even probable, that in the course of downing the turkey and cranberries and taking in all that football Thursday, you missed an outcome that won’t show up in any win-loss record, but was more important than anything that happened on a gridiron. We’re speaking of a new study released by the international governing body for track and field and related activities.

The report shows that even in 2021, in what should be an era of enlightenment, female athletes continue to struggle to gain acceptance and respect.

The study, conducted by World Athletics, showed that during this past summer’s Olympic Games, women who competed were subjected to far more abuse from social media than their male counterparts.

The survey, which was conducted during a period beginning a week before the Tokyo Games and concluding the day after, found that women were the target of 87 percent of all online abuse. In a deeper dive, the report found that more than half of the online abuse was targeted at just two athletes, both female and both Black, though the survey did not identify those targets. Most of the overall abuse was sexist and/or racist in nature.

None of this should come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention.

After years of languishing in near total obscurity, women’s athletics are slowly but surely emerging and drawing notice.

Attendance at women’s events and television ratings for competitions conducted by and for women are steadily climbing.

Nothing will approach the nearly 38 million people who watched the Las Vegas-Dallas football game last Thursday, but the numbers on many telecasts of women’s games are better.

But that attention has drawn out the troglodytes who either belittle the efforts of women athletes or harass the competitors or both, often hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet. In a statement, World Athletics President Sebastian Coe decried the fact that the abuse is aimed at people whose performances often inspire a new generation to follow in their footsteps.

Coe said quote, To face the kinds of abuse they have is unfathomable and we all need to do more to stop this. Shining a light on the issue is just the first step unquote.

Coe’s right, of course. Something has to be done to ensure that all competitors, regardless of race or gender, has access to a playing field and culture that is free of harassment, racism and sexism.

The problem is those fields and cultures don’t exist on any earthly plain that I’m aware of. Absent what might be draconian moves that curtail free speech, much of what happens online may have to be filed under the category of necessary evil.

So long as the nastiness of social media stays as words and not action or exhortation to action, what was seen and heard in Tokyo and beyond may remain behavior that has to be tolerated for the larger purpose of freedom of expression.

We’ll all have to hope that as time advances, our thinking will advance to allow for the concept that women belong in the athletic realm just as much as men. Revolutionary, huh?

And that’s how I see it for this week.

Twitter: @SportsAtLarge

Email: sportsatlarge@gmail.com

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.