As this article is being written, the Australian Open is underway in Melbourne, and it strikes me that there is no sport so equal across gender lines as tennis. This is not to say there hasn’t been a struggle to get there. Women did not always have equal prize money in tennis, and as we saw even at the 2018 U.S. Open during the women’s final, women can sometimes be treated differently by officials as well. However, thanks to pioneering efforts by the likes of Billie Jean King, modern feminist icons like Serena Williams, and even some of the professional men on tour who have advocated for equality, such as Andy Murray, tennis - for the most part - looks and feels equal.
Attend a major tennis tournament and you’re likely to see just as much of a crowd for a match featuring female stars as their male counterparts; turn on the TV during a tournament like the Australian Open and it’s a coin flip as to whether they’ll be showing men’s or women’s matches. Save for mixed doubles matches (which don’t get much publicity), the professional men and women don’t actually play against each other. For all intents and purposes though, they’re competing in the same event.
This got me thinking: why don’t other major sporting events work this way? Aside from tennis, the Olympics, and I suppose UFC, it’s hard to find examples of men and women competing in the same sport and being showcased at the same time, or in a similar way. Yet when this happens it goes a long way, not just in generating viewership and revenue for the women, but in helping viewers who are so often blindly partial to men’s sports realize that the entertainment value of the competition and the respectability of the athletes is typically equal across lines.
These are merely one writer’s ideas and suggestions, but it seems that these events could go further to promote women’s sports the way tennis manages to do.
1 - The NBA Playoffs
If you’re a basketball fan who pays attention to social media, you may have noticed that the WNBA is actually getting a lot more respect of late. The league is packed with extremely talented stars, and to their credit some of the biggest voices in NBA media (such as Shea Serrano) have gone out of their way to show and tell their followers that the WNBA can be every bit as exciting. However, the wage gap remains real and the attendance gap is massive, which means there’s still a long way. It would seem that the two leagues could help to bridge the gap by involving the start of the WNBA season (typically in May) with the NBA playoffs (which begin in April). Rather than simply advertising games, as happens now, the leagues should consider airing early WNBA showcases, or even an early season tournament, in between days on the NBA playoff schedule, or during off hours. With so many eyes on the NBA during the playoffs, it seems an ideal time to directly involve the women’s game as well.
2 - The Masters
Women’s golf is taken quite seriously in golf circles, and the LPGA Tour does have a following. With that said though, the tour has nothing even approaching the prestige of The Masters, which is quite possibly the most famous golf event on the planet. Now, a golf tournament means a fairly packed schedule, so despite the fact that the tournament has the smallest number of starters of any major (at 90 to 100 players), it’s probably not feasible to make it a two-tournament event, like a tennis major. However, having an LPGA event at Augusta National in the days right before or right after The Masters could go a very long way toward boosting attention for the women’s tour, and establishing a sort of signature event.
3 - The World Cup
While it presents a logistical challenge of substantial proportions for the host nation, the World Cup should simply be a men’s and women’s event. The Women’s World Cup is a fairly strong draw in and of itself, but putting it at the same venue, and over the same dates as the men’s tournament would enhance both events. It would turn the Cup into a true Olympics-level event surrounding just the beloved sport of soccer, and it would naturally bring some extra eyes to the always compelling women’s game. Given that most of the World Cup schedule tends to involve just two or three matches per day (four earlier on), this seems reasonable doable.
4 - The Boat Race
The Boat Race is a British sporting competition that is in fact already doing a wonderful job of putting men and women on equal footing. Held each year on the River Thames between two prestigious universities (Cambridge and Oxford), it’s a series of rowing races that, a long time ago, was only for young men. However, when Cambridge won the women’s race last spring, it was noted that it was the 73rd women’s race, meaning this has been a dual-gender event for the better part of a century. The suggestion here is simply that this event - which is big in London and around England to some degree - should get more international press.
Elizabeth Warren majorly called out "arrogant billionaire" Michael Bloomberg for his history of silencing women through NDAs and closed-door settlement negotiations. Sound familiar? Probably because we already have a president like that. At this point, Bloomberg may just spend the remainder of his (hopefully) ill-fated presidential campaign roasting on a spit over a fire sparked by the righteous anger of women. A lesser punishment than he deserves, if you ask me.
At last night's Democratic debate, Michael Bloomberg could barely stammer out an answer to a question on whether or not he would release any of his former accusers from their nondisclosure agreements. His unsatisfactory response was basically a halting list of what he has done for certain nondescript women in his time at City Hall and within his own company.
But that certainly wasn't enough for Elizabeth Warren, nor should it be, who perfectly rephrased his defense as, "I've been nice to some women." Michael Bloomberg is basically that weird, problematic Uncle that claims he can't be racist, "Because I have a Black friend." In a society where power is almost always in the hands of straight, white, cisgendered, men being "nice" to a lucky few is in no way a defense for benefiting from and building upon the systematic silencing of all marginalized communities, let alone women. Stop and frisk, anybody?
Here is a brief clip of the Warren v. Bloomberg exchange, which I highly recommend. It is absolutely (and hilariously) savage.
But let's talk about the deeper issues at hand here (other than Warren being an eloquent badass).
Michael Bloomberg has been sued multiple times, yet each time he was able to snake his way out of the problem with the help of his greatest and only superpower: cold, hard cash. Each time these allegations have come up, in Warren's words, he throws "a chunk of money at the table" and "forces the woman to wear a muzzle for the rest of her life."
As reported by Claire Lampen of The Cut, here are just a few of his prior indiscretions.
- Pregnancy discrimination—Bloomberg reportedly told a former employee of his to "kill it," in reference to her developing fetus.
- Sexual harassment—You could literally write a book on this subject (someone did), but for the sake of brevity...
"I'd like to do that piece of meat" - Michael Bloomberg in reference to various women at his company.
- Undermining #MeToo—Not only did he defend the accused, but he went on the disparage accusers every step of the way.
- Defaming transgender people—Though he claims to support trans rights, he has also been qupted multiple times as referring to trans women as "some guy wearing a dress."
Furthermore, Warren points out the simple fact that if, as Bloomberg claims, these instances were simply big misunderstandings (He was just joking around!) then why go to all the trouble to cover them up? Does Michael Bloomberg think women can't take a joke? Or can we only surmise that the truth of these events are far darker and dirtier than we could even imagine?
Certain commentators have called Elizabeth Warren's debate presence "agressive," especially in regards to this instance but also continually throughout her entire campaign. If asking poignant questions to known abusers who are seeking to further their own political power is considered "aggressive," then I am here for it. Bring on the aggressive women, please and thank you.
Calling a woman aggressive for being confidant and direct is a gendered complaint. You don't see anyone whining that Bernie is "aggressive" when he goes off on a screaming tangent. Also, have you seen our president? He's basically the poster boy for political temper tantrums. But still, it's Warren that is deemed "aggressive," for honing in on the exact issues that need to be considered in this upcoming election.
This type of derisory label is another aspect of how our society silences women—much like Bloomberg and his NDAs. Because "silencing" is more than just putting a "muzzle" on someone. It's refusing to listen to a person's cries for help. It's disregarding what a woman has to say, because she's too "aggressive." It's taking away someone's power by refusing to truly hear their side of the story. Because if you aren't listening, responding, or even just respecting someone's words, they may well have said nothing at all.
"Silence is the ocean of the unsaid, the unspeakable, the repressed, the erased, the unheard." - Renecca Solnit
Nondiscolusure agreements are a legal gag for people who have experienced harassment and abuse at the hands of those above them.
Gretchen Carlson, possibly the most famous person subject to an NDA, is one of these people. Her story is so well-known that it has even been immortalized on film, in 2019's Bombshell. Yet she is still forced to maintain her silence. She cannot tell her side of the story even when Hollywood can. She was cajoled into her current position after facing harassment in her workplace. She didn't have the power then to do more than accept her fate. And now, she doesn't have the power to tell her story.
She was, and still is being, silenced.
After her experiences, Carlson was moved to fight for all women to have the power over their truths. In a recent op-ed for the New York Times she declared: "I want my voice back. I want it back for me, and for all those silenced by forced arbitration and NDAs."
Carlson may still be tied to her NDA, but there are those who go a different route. Celeste Headlee, who wrote an op-ed on SWAAY about her experience, chose to break her nondisclosure agreement. Though doing so undoubtedly opened her up to numerous legal ramifications, she knew that she could no longer "sign away [her] right to justice."
Because that is what an NDA is all about, signing away a person's right to justice. Their story is their justice. Their NDA is a lock and key. Headlee may have broken through that lock, but she must face the consequences.
Neither Carlson nor Headlee are any less brave for how they have handled their journeys. They are both actively working to shift the cultural and political norms that led them here, and their work will, with hope and time, lead to real change. But they are just two drops in an ocean of women who are held hostage by their nondisclosure agreements, by men like Michael Bloomberg, and by a society that would rather silence them than let truth and justice be had.