A Lack of Accessibility in Youth Sports
We often take youth sports for granted. As someone whose high school athletics were in jeopardy due to budget cuts, I remember the disheartened feeling as I pondered the thought of no baseball season that year. Luckily, school athletics were salvaged and the cuts never became a reality, but I then realized exactly how much I took high school sports for granted.
For many, specifically girls of color, athletics are not as accessible compared to both males and girls at heavily-white majority schools. Good Sports, presented by Dick’s Sporting Goods, explores such disparity in their article The Gender Gap Is Closing In Youth Sports, But There’s One Big Problem: “As the National Women’s Law Center reported last year, 40 percent of heavily minority schools (10 percent or less white) have large gender inequality in athletics, compared to just 16 percent of heavily white schools (90 percent or more white) schools.”
Tosten Burks, the author of the article, continues further:
“Translating into real numbers, at heavily white high schools, there are 58 available spots on girls sports teams for every 100 students, while at heavily minority high schools there are just 25 spots per 100 students. Put simply, girls of color receive the fewest opportunities to play.”
While these alarming statistics are a result of centuries of systematic and institutional sexism and racism, there are steps we can take individually to help raise awareness and inspire girls of color. First of all, can we quit it with the sexist microaggressions like “You throw like a girl” or the famous Sandlot line “You play ball like a girl”? There are serious condescensions that come with those mindless phrases. What message do we send to girls when people say that? Instead, let’s encourage girls to just get out there and play like a girl.
Secondly, let’s try to make sports more inclusive and diverse. The NFL’s Rooney Rule is a perfect example. When an NFL team is hiring a new head coach or any senior football operations position, the Rooney Rule requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate. This policy has impacted the league greatly, driving a 15% increase in minority head coaches in the NFL since its inception. If you are a parent, coach, or administrator in youth sports, encourage your local leagues and schools to strive to become more diverse.
The exclusivity that has emerged in youth sports is a direct contradiction to the ideals instilled in participants of such programs. Teamwork, inclusiveness, and hard work are the fundamental pillars of youth sports, they’re simply not accessible to everyone, resulting in millions of girls (particularly those of color) not having opportunities to gain these all-important life-lessons. Individually, we all have to do our parts to change the social implications of you sports — if we do, we may just be able to provide opportunities to all children who wish to participate, regardless of race or gender.