The other day I saw an article on The Huffington Post’s website about how Olympic beach volleyball player Kerri Walsh Jennings responded to critics of the apparel that the women wear during their matches. Apparently, when it comes to the topic of women’s beach volleyball, what is being discussed is not the player’s elite level of athleticism but rather the “bikinis” that they wear. Coming from a sport that also requires tight spandex, let me tell you it would be more than a little annoying to kill yourself training 25 hours a week to then only receive feedback on your appearance. That is not what the sport is about and not what should be the topic of discussion.
Yes, the outfits that they wear to play are tight and are made of minimal fabric, but they are suited for the climate that they are made for. These women are playing on the beach in over 100-degree weather, what else do you expect them to wear? And, not to mention, their tops are more like sports bras than bikini tops, just in case people could not tell the difference. Do people make nearly as many degrading comments in the media about the male divers and their speedos?
I’m sure everyone remembers the comment made by London Mayor Boris Johnson at the 2012 London Olympics during the volleyball match. He stayed that “semi-naked” women players were “glistening like wet otters.” Obviously, to say something like that on such a large platform about three-time gold medalists is absurd, but it is just another high-profile example of how women in the elite sports world receive more undue attention for anything other than their talent.
Sadly, it’s nothing new to hear about how females are treated differently in the athletic world. Just a few weeks ago, I wrote an article on how the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team is fighting for equal pay. In the past two weeks, a video from Just Not Sports has gone viral of men reading out loud tweets from men directed at two female sports journalists.
The comments start off with weak attempts at general insults, but then take an immediate turn to highly uncomfortable when the comments start to mention rape and violence against these women just for doing their job. The men get visibly uncomfortable trying to read the increasingly horrible tweets. These anonymous interactions allows for a whole new brand of cowardice and viciousness. And here we see directly how it affects women in the sports-world.
These women shouldn’t have to hear these horrible things about them that have nothing to do with their work as journalists, just as women athletes shouldn’t have to hear comments on their bodies rather than their athleticism. It’s not just that they shouldn’t have to hear these things, people should not be making those comments in the first place.
Kerri Walsh Jennings shouldn’t have to make public statements defending her sports apparel. Instead, she should be discussing her hard work or maybe how she’s managed to compete in four (and counting) Olympic Games. As she said to The Huffington Post, “I think we’ve just gotta educate the public, take it with a grain of salt and make sure that we’re working hard and not playing up the sex appeal because it’s inherent anyway.” We’ve got to treat these women with the respect that any professional in their field deserves, and get rid of this inherent sexism in the world of sports.