The sports industry is sexist and it’s time we fix it

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As I read former UC Berkeley student Paige Cornelius’s allegations of the sexual harassment she experienced during the time she was employed as a hydro technician for the Cal football team, I felt sensations that many others who encountered her post reacted with — appall, outrage, disgust and disappointment.

And as I processed Cornelius’s allegations, a new realization about a woman’s place in sports settled over me — one that I had perhaps been avoiding or failed to accept in its entirety.

I realized that the world of athletics currently belongs to men and that women have faced and continue to face discrimination at each and every entry point to that world — whether it be at the athlete’s level, the media level or the level of a hydro tech for a college football team.

We don’t have to look back far to recall the U.S. women’s soccer team’s fight for equal pay — a lawsuit was just filed this month. And in addition to the issue of financial compensation, the female body is consistently objectified in the athletic world.

Serena Williams’s catsuit brought so much outrage that was just illogical, unwarranted and nonsensical (it’s just an outfit) — until you remember that men make the dress code and continue to make most of the rules across many sports.

And the discrimination doesn’t stop with athletes. A report by Women in Sport stated that 40 percent of women that were surveyed in the sports industry felt that their gender could have a negative impact on the way they’re valued by others at work. And while 72 percent of men believed men and women were treated equally in the workplace, only 46 percent of women felt the same.

Women facilitate and run athletic programs. Women cover sports teams for newspapers and magazines. Women treat players’ injuries on and off the field. Women referee games and coach elite athletes. And yet, many of these women experience imposter syndrome.

In the sports industry, women are often not perceived as equals but rather, assumed to be inferior. They have to go above and beyond just to prove that they’re as qualified as their male colleagues. Why? Because our society has gendered the sports industry as “inherently male.”

This brings me to Cornelius’s story. In her Facebook post, she alleged that a coach threatened to fire her if she did not have sex with him and that another coach once followed her home after practice and told her she would look great in a bikini.

A hydro technician — a student employed to set up water and medical equipment on the field — was allegedly mistreated and objectified by multiple coaches.

Cornelius’s allegations brought to light just how ingrained gender discrimination is in the athletic sphere. While sexism among athletes and the lack of female representation in sports industry positions are often covered by major news outlets, Cornelius’s story made me realize that such discrimination and harassment affects people at every level of this industry.

Maybe for some, these allegations aren’t very surprising. We’ve all seen the #MeToo movement expose politicians, chief executives and television personalities as perpetrators of sexual harassment. It’s clear that cases of sexual assault and harassment lurk in every industry.

But for me, Cornelius’s story hit very close to home. As a 19-year-old female sports reporter and college student, Cornelius’s story has forced me to fully confront the sexism pervasive in the sports industry.

So how do we change the culture? In our everyday actions. Don’t assume that all women have no interest in sports. Treat women as equally valuable employees when you interact with them in the workplace. Support the ongoing fight for equal pay — even if it may not directly affect you. Hold harassers accountable and provide survivors with the support they deserve.

If we all took more actions such as these and became more aware of the effects of our interactions on each other, we could transform the currently male-dominated sports industry into a place of equality.

Many sports pit two parties against each other so that, at the end of the competition, one is named the victor. The push for gender equality, though, shouldn’t feel like a competition between two parties and end with a single winner — it requires a collective effort that will improve our whole society.

Surina Khurana covers men’s basketball. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @surina_k.