By Kelly Bates
"Men are frustrated that many women don’t follow professional sports. What they don’t understand is when professional sports are segregated, it’s a turn off."
In these weeks of the Red Sox and World Cup, I remember days of playing sports as a young girl on the streets of Manhattan. I was serious about my handball. I’d get a ninety nine cent blue rubber ball from the candy store and step into school yards where I’d beat almost every boy to their total embarrassment.
I trained with boys and learned to exceed their expectations of me. I eventually graduated to volleyball thanks to intensive coaching from my father who never uttered the phrase you play like a girl. I played to learn. I played to win. And then I played without men.
In high school I was asked to play in a volleyball league – a girl’s league of course, because there wasn’t a co-ed option. When I went to college, sports became a male universe and no one cared about girls’ volleyball or any girls teams for that matter.
My boyfriend watched professional sports on TV and I saw no women on the teams. I started to tune out sports altogether. It wasn’t on purpose, but very unconsciously my brain started to associate sports with men. Men are frustrated that many women don’t follow professional sports. What they don’t understand is when professional sports are segregated, it’s a turn off.
At my son’s pre-Kindergarten graduation, I asked a table full of female teachers whether they’d be interested in professional sports if they saw women and men playing together. They all said yes. When you don’t see yourself in the game; it’s not as interesting to watch it.
Some people think women would spoil the game. They wouldn’t play as hard or be as strong. When I played guys on the handball court, my game got better, and before long I was as good as them, and even better in some cases.
Women will rise to the occasion when they are welcomed, seriously trained, and expected to succeed.The world, every country, state, school, and the Olympics should consider the radical idea of co-ed teams with equal numbers of women and men for all sports. It would create equity, new fans, and new excitement for the game. That’s the day I would spend long hours watching every play of a game, cheering even louder, and doing high fives when he and she are making baskets.