She’s a girl: An underestimation of women in sports

Megan County , Staff Writer

It’s the start of a new track season at Illinois Wesleyan University, and 17-time All-American athlete, Lauren Alpert-Zeunik, physical therapist, doctor of physical therapy, and certified strength and conditioning specialist, walks into the field house of her alma mater to train her athletes. She hears whispers from new, and predominantly male, athletes saying, “Oh, that’s your strength and conditioning coach?”

This is nothing new for the thin, 5’4” physical therapist– people have been underestimating her for years. Her first experience came when training a bunch of high school male athletes who took one look at their female trainer and said, “This is going to be nothing.”

By the end of the intense workout and after a few minutes of catching their breath they had all changed their tune. When asked about what she practiced in her training that day, all she had to say was, “I did nothing different than anyone else, but these guys weren’t expecting it from a young woman.”

She and so many other females working in sports related fields experience this underestimation from men on a regular basis.

Though we live in a society that’s becoming more and more focused on gender equality, the one field that hasn’t kept up with that practice is sports. As of January 2016, there were only five females with coaching jobs in men’s professional sports. Most of these women were hired between 2014 and 2016 as assistant coaches.

Although coaching men on a major league level is quite the accomplishment, most of these women aren’t even really recognized for the work that they do or the influence they have.

One of the most powerful women in sports, according to a December 2015 article from Forbes, is Michele Roberts, the executive director of the NBA Players Association. Before becoming the first woman to head a sports union on a major professional level, she was one of the top trial lawyers in the U.S. known for her ruthless negotiating skills.

Even Roberts knows that there is a huge significance to being not only just a female, but also the first female executive director for a men’s professional union.

In a May 2016 interview with Marc J. Spears for The Undefeated, Roberts said, “I certainly intended to be the best executive director in the history of the union, anyway. But now I better because the thought is if I’m not, then there’ll always be some silly person who says, ‘Well, she was a girl.’”

As if to say a person’s gender determines success. As if to say being a girl is an excuse for failure. As if to say a girl couldn’t live up to what a man could do. As if to say a girl is lesser than her male counterparts.

Women have spent so much time trying to prove themselves in order to gain respect in male dominated fields. Sure, you could argue that men must prove themselves in sports careers as well, but when a man commands respect in sports, especially from athletes, it is pretty willingly given.

Even Alpert-Zeunik said, “In my fields,physical therapy and coaching, you have to learn to talk bigger than you are, bigger than a man, in order to command and earn that respect.”

Hopefully one day soon we’ll get to the point where “equality,” really means equal in the world of sports.