The University of Alabama is known as an athletics school. As a result, many of its athletes are given an enormous platform since its student body and alumni community idolize sport.
Inevitably, male athletes receive a disproportionate share of the spotlight. Because the athletes tend to jump higher and run faster, male sports receive more attention and support. This column is not about why women and men have the same athletic ceilings. This column is not about why both groups should receive equal sponsorship deals or equal television contracts. I simply want to write to the spectator and ask them to reverse the disparity of encouragement between the genders and support the women at the University who work so hard to perfect and showcase their athletic abilities.
I did some research on the athletic programs at the University that can most easily be compared between men and women. Those athletic programs were baseball and softball and men’s and women’s basketball. For the sake of fairness, I also included the two programs that have only partial gender representation and are most successful for both genders: football and gymnastics. Over the last two decades, I found some fascinating facts. Men’s sports and women’s sports, between the sample that I compared, won ten conference titles overall. Men won five national championships compared to the four that the women won. The winning percentages overall were extremely similar.
Reflecting on the comparability of success between male and female sports in recent years, I want to share three observations about women’s athletics at the University that encourage support from fans.
First, UA women’s athletics have championship capability equal to their male counterparts. The numbers speak for themselves. There’s softball coach Patrick Murphy, who has taken his softball teams to 21 straight NCAA tournaments, and women’s basketball coach Kristy Curry, the most successful Alabama women’s basketball coach since Rick Moody and the first to beat top-15 teams back to back. Also, there is former gymnastics head coach Sarah Patterson, who retired in 2014 with six national championships. They will all affirm that Alabama women’s athletics produce winners.
Second, Alabama women’s athletics creates exceptional fan experiences. Seeing a thunderous spike in Foster Auditorium or watching Megan Abrams tip in a wayward shot to take down a top-ranked team is every bit as exciting as a night under the lights at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The experiences may be different, but they still represent the same core elements we crave at a sporting event: gritty effort, nail-biting anticipation and quality competition.
Third, Alabama women’s athletics represent their community well. It means something when anyone, man or woman, puts on a jersey whose name encapsulates the identity of a community. Collegiate sports are special because of their ability to bring together people from a wide array of backgrounds to celebrate a singular event and support a singular cause. Our women’s programs do an extraordinary job of representing those closest to them with integrity and respect while driving us toward unity.
I’m not arguing for a preference of one sport over another. I merely ask that students consider the benefit of women’s athletics at the University and support them with the same vigor as football or men’s basketball. Our women work hard to have high championship capability, create exceptional fan experiences and represent their community well. Their results demand respect. Their talent deserves recognition.