Is Gender Bias a Key Player in SSSAS Sports?

By Chumani Chamberlain '21

October 2018 Issue

      The days following the controversial 2018 U.S Open tennis women’s finals between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka included concerning questions on the state of tennis, and double standards towards women players, and the bias presented towards female athletes on a daily basis. This controversial event prompted a question within St. Stephen's St. Agnes: is there gender bias within sports at the SSSAS level?

     Instead of answering “yes” or “no” to this question, it may be worthwhile to explore all opinions and to grasp and understand various perspectives. After conducting a recent survey sent out to the entire student body, it is evident that our school community has different opinions on potential gender bias within sports at the SSSAS level. In response to the question “Do you believe there is gender bias in sports at the SSSAS level?” 36% of the 134 respondents answered that there is gender bias, while 29% said they do not believe there is a gender bias, and 34% said they are not sure there is gender bias surrounding SSSAS sports.

     The survey also asked about six specific sports; basketball, tennis, lacrosse, soccer, softball, and baseball. Out of 134 responses, 35.8% of respondents said they would rather see a girls tennis match over the 19.4% who said they would rather see a boys tennis match.

     Respondents also had the choice to choose “neither” or “both” when giving their opinion on if they would rather see a girls sport or a boys sport. When asked if they would rather see a girls basketball game or a boys basketball game, 72.4% said boys while only 3% said they would rather see a girls basketball game.

     When asked if they would rather see a boys soccer game or a girls soccer game, 37.3% of respondents said they would rather see boys, while 19.4% of respondents said they would prefer to see a girls soccer game. Forty-one% of respondents said they would rather see a boys baseball game over the 18.7% who said they would rather see a girls softball game. Overall tennis was the only question where respondents preferred to see girls competing.

     In addition to the survey, three students from our community gave their opinion on the presence of gender bias, how it came to be, possible solutions, and personal impact.

     Sophomore varsity field hockey player Elinor West stated there is a gender bias among students within SSSAS sports: “I think there is a stereotype that boys games are more exciting to watch or more aggressive whereas girls game are equally excited and aggressive.” When asked how she believes this bias developed, West said “I think this bias is a century-long thing....it just became a long-standing tradition to go to men's games because women were not given those opportunities.”

     Senior wrestler and golfer, Garrett Chiaramonte is adamant there is gender bias surrounding SSSAS sports: ”I think there is gender bias in everything, but whether or not we can do anything about that is the question. When people watch sports they want to see peak performance in the sports we enjoy watching, that's the goal of watching sports.” He explains how “women’s sports can be just as much or more entertaining than men's sports, or what I personally believe at least. I think it's unfair to say that women athletes aren't as fun to watch because they can't be that elite level but they easily could be or more.” Garrett goes on to explain the “vicious cycle” that surrounds women's sports. However, he is “not entirely sure how to break it, but it can be broken.”

     Freshman female baseball player Joan O’Connell described her experience on boys baseball teams during her seventh- and eighth-grade years at the Middle School. “I think there was a bias against me specifically playing baseball because I was doing something unconventional. This is understandable, but inexcusable” Joan stated. “On the team, I definitely noticed a bias in the other players...and I got the impression that the other players didn't value me as much as they should have.”

     Gender bias within sports is demonstrated at many levels. That could be the lack of accessibility to watch an NBA (National Basketball Association) game or a WNBA (Women's National Basketball Association) game, or the number of people who attend a girls’ high school sporting event versus a boys’. While various platforms throughout the nation and world work to change perspectives and ongoing bias’, SSSAS Athletic Directors Coach Koroma and Coach Walrich work to continue to build a successful athletic program while promoting all sports equally.

     When asked if she believes in a gender bias surrounding SSSAS sports, Coach Koroma stated, “I think there is also a large core that doesn’t exhibit that bias and values each of them equally and would want to go to a girls game equally as much as they would want to go to boys game regardless of sport.”

     However, Coach Koroma also believes “there are pockets of students that demonstrate some sort of gender bias particularly towards females...I think it was a trickle-down from years and years and years of women having less opportunity...A lot of those gender inequalities still exist at the professional level: women still don't get paid as much as men.”

Similarly, Coach Walrich stated “ That [The presence of gender bias] is definitely possible. I think that could be natural. I think from an outsider's perspective looking in and seeing the Sleepy Thompson tournament, which is a boys tournament which gets tons and tons of people [compared to] the girls tournament which is right before. Might not get the same fanfare as Sleepy would.”

    Since his arrival three years ago, Coach Walrich has implemented graphics within the athletics program. He has lifted the SSSAS social media platform to ensure all sports and all genders receive an equal amount of representation. “When we do graphics and social media stuff I am conscious to make sure not one sport or not one gender gets the majority of post[s].....we really try to make sure there is an even amount.”

    Coach Walrich’s focus is to ensure there is fairness regarding all sports and although he is the athletic director for boys, he is a firm believer “that if there's a graphic for a boys team there should be a graphic for a girls team; I just think that's fair.” With a daughter of his own, his “hope [is that] she gets into athletics, but I think there is this perception out there that guys sports are the only thing that matter.”

    Both coaches believe we have made significant steps in recent years changing 

students perceptions within girls sports. “We’ve obviously made tons of progress,” Coach Koroma says. “There is still a certain perception that still exists in the media and from people who are older that grew up with a different experience that women's sports are not as good because maybe they perceive them as not being faster or not being as strong or just not getting the same popularity in terms of viewership whether that's actually watching on TV or people actually attending contest and I think you see at every level.....but if you look at actual people attending games it is lower on the female side than it is on the men's side despite several groups trying to counteract that message.”    Last year SSSAS hosted a “Big Week of Basketball,” beginning with the Girls Tip-Off Basketball Tournament and ending the week with the Sleepy Thompson Boys Basketball Tournament. With a joint program and one large week there were many positive responses, “I think we made headway when we combined the program...what we heard was that it was a positive change,” Coach Walrich said. “For me, it wasn't a girl or boy event, it was an athletic event.”

    The Voice survey also included a section where students were able to share their opinions on why they believe there is or is not gender bias surrounding SSSAS sports. Some students who answered “maybe” stated, “I feel like boys Football is super hyped, even though some girls teams have a better record than them.” Another student expressed how “People are more hype for football games and boys lacrosse games.”

    Students who answered “Yes” to the question about the presence of gender bias

at SSSAS explained, “People sometimes find men's sports more engaging to watch.” Another student said, “Because although there is a lot of hype around both genders, people don’t like watching girls sports as much because they think the ‘skill level’ would not be as high as exhibited in the boy’s games”.

     Students who answered “No” expressed their opinion by stating “I believe people just want to see the games that they are most interesting and have the most action. This can depend on friends playing or just the amount of action or the pace of the game.” Another student explained how “both genders are well represented and the games are equally hyped up.”

     This year, the athletic department has created a campaign called “One Saint.” This motto not only demonstrates the core values of our community, but emphasizes that we are individuals who all come together to be something amazing.

     “There should be no difference between how a girls or a boys team should be supported or marketed,” said Coach Koroma. “There is no reason why someone shouldn't find equal enjoyment going to watch a girls volleyball game, versus a boys football game, versus a cross-country race, or a swim meet. You guys are all athletes who are putting in the same amount of effort, who have different skill sets, but who have the same work ethic. And we want to make sure that, at least from our perspective, that we are promoting things equally and not only caring about football or not only caring about boys sports, but making sure we are caring about all the different sports as much as possible.” - Girls Athletic Director Coach Koroma

     As Coach Walrich said, “There's still a perception out there we can help change.”