Last year’s Wimbledon tennis competition and Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan were cloaked with its traditional pageantry and fanfare, but also riddled with a fair share of controversy. It started when tennis player Naomi Osaka decided to withdraw from the Wimbledon tennis competition, a month shy of the Summer Olympics. Then Olympic gold medal gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from further competing in the Olympics after completing a complicated maneuver on the vault that left her disoriented.
In both cases, they prioritized their mental health and well-being over competition expectations.
This year is the 50th anniversary of Title IX. While this legislation helped open doors for women's athletics, there remain challenges for Black female athletes.
What is Title IX?
Title IX is a federal law enacted by the Department of Education to prohibit sex-based discrimination at K-12 and collegiate educational institutions that receive federal funding. Before Title IX, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 covered discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin, but excluded protection against sex discrimination in educational institutions.
According to the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education, the year before Title IX passage, women made up only 15% of collegiate athletes, and only 2% of their school’s athletic budget was allocated to female sports activities.
Now, women account for more than 40% of NCAA athletes.
Of that, Black women encompass slightly over 8%.
Title IX provided more:
Access to health services
Financial aid and employment assistance
Black Girls Are Magic
At this year’s ‘Black Girls Are Magic’ Conference, Cayla C., high school athlete and Black Girls Smile Junior Advisory Board member, Leah Howard, founder of The Sports Counselor, Lauren Sills, operations leader at the National Basketball Association Foundation, Nia Symone, founder of Purpose To Be Heard, Ajee Wilson, two-time Olympian; and Monica Rogers, former Women’s National Basketball Association champion, discussed the unique pressure that impacts Black women and girls in athletics and the sports industry. The session, moderated by Dr. Leeja Carter, executive director of Coalition for Food & Health Equity, explored topics not typically discussed about Black women and girls' athletics, particularly their mental health.
For high school athletes, the pressures can be insurmountable.
“As Black women, we are seen as being tough... When I was a track runner, they kind of pushed us hard to be so strong and kind of work twice as hard as everyone else and it does get kind of draining…We are being worked so hard, it’s hard to be doing it for yourself. I feel like I had to do it for my coach, my teammates…,” reflected Carter.
Another topic that is not as explored is Black women’s experience within a predominantly White represented sport.
“As a Black woman in a predominately White sport you tend to be underestimated. Your skills are underestimated, your leadership is underestimated,” continued Carter.
The perceptions of Black women athletes are distinctly different from their White counterparts. Also, in some cases, Black athletes face more scrutiny.
“I can say I’m ready to race, I got this in the bag. I feel like I’m going to give my best performance and it may just be looked at as being cocky. While the other girl next to me, in a predominantly White sport, is a bad*** and we respect her,” explains Wilson.
Athletics and Social Media
Social media is used to increase visibility and promote equity in women's sports, but sometimes can come at a cost to athletes’ mental well-being.
“I embrace taking breaks from social media. I fight the feeling to post cool moments in my life. And understanding sometimes those moments are better when private. For athletes today, the fight is comparing your life to others' life and understanding the media’s role in sports,” advises Rogers.
As athletes like Osaka and Biles continue to advocate for their well-being and use their platforms to express the importance of putting their wellness first, future Black women athletes will be more inclined to advocate and speak out for themselves.
Are you looking for women in sports resources, here are a few we like:
A League of Their Own
Unapologetic: The Black Female Athlete
Run for the Dream: The Gail Devers Story (1996)
Women of Troy (2020)
King Richard (2021)
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