Sports

The Utah Gymnastics Scandal is a Reminder That Men Overseeing Women’s Sports Often Lack Understanding of Issues That Concern Women

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Due to her lengthy career as a National Team Member and winning gold medals in two different World Championships, Kara Eaker is one of the most iconic and well-respected gymnasts in NCAA gymnastics. But Kara, a gymnast at the University of Utah has recently announced her premature retirement. Ending her gymnastics career even with multiple years of eligibility remaining and going as far as to academically withdraw from the University just to get away from the place.

Kara Eaker wrote a lengthy social media post highlighting what led to her making this drastic decision, there was one particular paragraph that was especially important.

“When a male coach suddenly erupts with anger and physically slams down mats and gets up in an athlete’s face as a tactic to intimidate them, it’s impossible to have the confidence to speak up for yourself. The words are so intense and hurtful that it feels like a knife that’s stabbed so deep in my body that there’s no way to pull it out.”

What Kara wrote in this paragraph is important. For all the progress that has been made in promoting women’s sports and combating sexual abuse, there is one key area in women’s sports that for decades has received practically no attention, no improvement, and no progress in educating or promoting awareness that this issue even exists.

That issue being: Male coaches exhibiting signs of angry outbursts or using intimidation is a tactic that plays horribly with female athletes at best, at worst it absolutely terrifies them.

If the first chapter of modern women’s sports was Title IX and finding ways to drastically improve participant rates for women and attempting to achieve “equal opportunity,” the next chapter in creating a perfect environment for women in sports is stopping male coaches from lashing out against the women they coach.

In men’s sports these tyrannical tactics never should have been acceptable, and men’s sports are slowly working towards the eventual eradication of this behavior. But for women’s sports, when these tactics occur, the consequences are far more devastating and this is where the lack of understanding begins to form.

As women’s sports pushes for equality, so has the concept of embracing a double standard where behavior varies in acceptability depending on whether it occurs in men’s sports or women’s sports. For as bizarre as that may sound, the double standard exists for good reason.

This double standard exposed itself even in the early days of Title IX when women were striving for equality not just on the soccer field or basketball court, but in the press box. At the time it was the norm for reporters to enter the locker rooms to get their quotes and interviews after covering a game. But when women wanted to join the ranks of sports journalism, they frequently found themselves being banned from the locker rooms and thus unable to complete an essential task of their jobs.

Women won the battle to enter the locker room, but it raised a new question. If female sports reporters had the right to force their way into men’s locker rooms, did male sports reporters now have the right to force their way into the locker rooms of women’s sports teams? That particular question was the beginning of examining a double standard and what place it should have in the future of women’s sports. But in the end, the double standard was justified.

Men usually don’t feel physically threatened or vulnerable when they are in the presence of women they don’t trust. But women often feel physically threatened and vulnerable when they are in the presence of men they don’t trust.

If that sounds unreasonable or unfair, it is because sexual assault and domestic violence are issues that disproportionately impact women. And even when these issues impact men, the perpetrators in the vast majority of instances are not women, but other men. In other words, female on male violence is not a common occurrence, but male on female violence and male on male violence are very common occurrences.

It is a byproduct of our biology where long before we had modern civilization, evolution favored these traits and tendency towards violence was an evolutionary advantage for men, but not to the same extent for women. The consequences of which remain in place even to this day.

The statistics make it clear that a significant number of women have been victimized by these issues at some point in their lives. And the vast majority of women who haven’t been outright assaulted have a story where they felt threatened or uncomfortable by the actions of someone whose conduct made them feel that way, but thankfully the situation stopped short of leading to a physical attack.

If someone is lashing out in a physical manner, or if a woman feels she is being preyed upon, they have no way of knowing if said individual is going to stop short of turning the incident into a physical attack. For women, every time they find themselves in such a situation, the natural assumption is to expect the worst. There is also a psychological factor as well when these actions are coming from someone who is has a strength and size advantage over you in any potential physical confrontation. For women, each new incident is often a reminder of the last time they were forced to feel this way.

So when women see men lashing out in their presence, it resonates and cuts deep in a way for women that is exactly in-line with how Kara Eaker described it. What is so often dismissed as a non-serious problem in men’s sports is a pressing issue in women’s sports. But it is important to remember, men in general are often oblivious to seeing or understanding this issue. Even more importantly, men make up the majority of coaches in NCAA women’s sports (58%) while their bosses at the administrative level have even higher concentrations of men (76%).

In other words, you have a problem impacting women, that is created by the presence of men and it is up to other men to discipline men for said problem, but it is a problem with a severity that can only truly be understood if one has the perspective of a woman.

 What the University of Utah did to Kara Eaker was treat her case through the lenses of men’s sports, what they didn’t do was understand her perspective as a woman. Something that is only casually frowned upon in the men’s sports is a significantly more contentious issue in women’s sports. And a system dominated by men, relying on men to judge the actions of other men, failed to see that.

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