It has taken many years for women to gain some sort of equality in sports. Throughout history, women have been both excluded from playing sports and discriminated against in sports. Men’s sports have always dominated the college athletic field, but women were finally given a fighting chance after Title IX was passed, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. Title IX, amongst other things, requires scholarships to be equally balanced between men and women’s sports. Although this was a huge gain for women, gender inequality still exists in sports today. An example of this persisting inequality can be seen when looking at men’s baseball and women’s softball. In college, baseball and softball are both major NCAA sports. It is widely accepted throughout today’s society that baseball is a man’s sport, and softball is a woman’s sport. Very few people question why the two sexes are separated into two different sports, or wonder why women play softball instead of baseball. Fewer people know that women have been essentially excluded from playing baseball for a long time. This paper will focus on why certain sports have not changed the way women’s basketball has, why women continue to play softball, the possibilities and dynamics of women playing baseball with and without men, and the most discriminating aspect of women being banned from playing professional baseball.
James Naismith created basketball as a sport in 1891, and it quickly became popular among both men and women. It initially started with the same rules for each gender, but according to Patricia Cain in her article, “Women, Race, and Sports: Life Before Title IX,” the rules quickly changed for women. Cain (2001) states that, “Almost immediately, however, some educators began changing the rules of basketball for women” (p. 340-341). These changes to women’s basketball were very drastic, and very different from men’s basketball. The initial changes to women’s basketball games in 1901 consisted of dividing the court into three divisions, and having six total players. Two players were assigned to each division of the court, and they were not allowed to leave their division. Furthermore, they were only allowed one dribble each, and physical contact was forbidden (Cain, 2001, p. 341). In 1938, these changes were slightly modified. The three court divisions were changed to two court divisions, with three players in each division. Once again, the players were not allowed to leave their divisions. Only the forwards were allowed to shoot the ball, and free throws were given for fouls. (Cain, 2001, p. 341). By the 1970’s, women in college basketball had five players and full-court rules, and although some states changed half-court to full-court for high school basketball, other states kept the half-court rules. Many attempts were made to change this, primarily by filing suits to claim that women’s rights were being violated. The first successful suit was Dodson v. Arkansas Activities Association in Arkansas, where Arkansas ruled in women’s favor and changed the rules from half-court to full-court (Cain, 2001, p. 344). By 1984, half-courts were almost completely eliminated in all states (Cain, 2001, p. 345). Clearly, much has changed in women’s basketball since the first rule changes. Society today would not put up with the past discriminating rules of women’s basketball. Women have come too far in the fight for equality in sports, and these different rules for women’s basketball would not be tolerated today. This information on the changes of women’s basketball leads to the question of why softball has not changed to baseball.
Although softball was not created for the purpose of using it as a baseball-substitute for women, that is exactly what it became. Softball has not changed to baseball because of the perception that baseball is a man’s sport. Men facilitated this perception in order to keep women out of baseball. According to Jennifer Ring in Stolen Bases: Why American Girls Don’t Play Baseball: “The appropriation of baseball for American manhood was the result of developments that explicitly removed the game from the hands of girls and women and delivered it to white middle-class American men” (2009, p. 47). Ring (2009) continues to say that the “dissociation of baseball from anything female was accomplished in two parts: by the rewriting of baseball history and by the invention and use of softball as a substitute for baseball” (p. 47). An example of this is in the documentary Baseball, where women are shown for eight-six seconds of the total 119 minutes of the film (Ring, 2009, p. 17). Men effectively erased women from the history of baseball, which promotes the assumption that if women never played, then they do not need to play now. Baseball is now thought of as a masculine American Pastime, which women have had little to no part in. According to Debra Shattuck (2011) in “Women’s baseball in the 1860s: Reestablishing a historical memory,” girls and women have “been unable to establish their legitimacy as baseball players due to the lack of historical memory between generations of women players” (para. 3). In most people’s minds, softball is it’s own individual sport for women. This has put a lot of separation between baseball and softball, even the different names suggest that it is a different sport altogether. Softball has not changed to baseball because most people think there is no reason for it to change; they believe that they are two different individual sports for men and for women.
Women have gained a great deal of ground in the fight for equality in sports, most women still choose to play softball. Of course, there have been many efforts made in the past for women to play baseball, but most women today still choose to play softball. A large reason for this lies in the opportunities softball offers women. Softball provides a much more opportunistic future for women than baseball does. An example of this is college scholarships. There are no NCAA division I colleges that have women’s baseball as a sport, but softball has become quite popular throughout the NCAA, and it holds many scholarships for female athletes. This in itself is a major reason for women choosing softball; scholarships to prominent schools are a big motivation for female athletes. Another reason is that there are very few women’s baseball leagues, and most of them are relatively unknown. There have been a few professional leagues, such as the All American Girls’ Professional Baseball League and the Colorado Silver Bullets, but they always end up dying (Ring, 2009, 170-171). This is contrasted by softball, which has a very large professional league, the National Pro Fastpitch league, or the NPF. Softball gives women more opportunities and more motivation to succeed, because their goals have rewards, whereas women’s baseball just does not have as many future opportunities. According to the article “American Women Play Hardball in Venezuela” by Jennifer Ring, the highest achievement in women’s baseball is currently Team USA, which is a “brief interlude lasting a little more than two weeks every two years” (2012, para. 4). Another reason women continue to play softball is the lack of women’s baseball in the adolescent level. After little league baseball ends, girls are hard-pressed to find a team to play on. If they cannot find a baseball team to play on, one of the only options left to them is to play softball. According to Ring (2009), “If girls can be kept away from baseball between ages eight and twelve, they can probably be kept away for life” (p. 134). Regarding the lack of opportunities for girls’ in youth baseball, Ring continues to state “the absence of youth baseball for girls leads directly to the absence of high school girl’s baseball. With these institutional inhibitions, women’s baseball is unlikely to make an appearance among college sports, and even the few girls who play high school baseball have no place to go with it after their prep careers.’ (p. 135) The only other option for girls to play baseball is to play on guys’ teams, which is not an easy task. Girls are pressured by society to stick to their own teams, and to play softball instead of baseball. This is supported by Ring (2009), who states that most girls “will make the “sensible” choice of playing softball instead of baseball” due to the “increasing professionalization of youth sports and the rewards of college scholarships awaiting” (p. 132). The large number of opportunities of softball, the lack of opportunities for women’s and girls’ baseball, and the social pressure to play softball all explain what keeps women playing softball today.
Over the last forty years, women have made a great deal of progress. Title IX has completely revolutionized the women’s athletics. If more women chose to compete as baseball players today, there would be several ways to prepare them. The biggest way to prepare them would be to fix one of the biggest problems in women’s baseball, which is to provide more opportunities at a younger age. There are very few girls’ baseball leagues, and very few opportunities for girls to compete in baseball from adolescence all the way through college. The article “University of Nevada Professor Explores the Plight of Women Playing Baseball” supports this by stating that: “There is virtually no institutional support for women's or girls’ baseball in the United States. It is very difficult for girls and women to find a team to play on to develop their skills for the international competition” (Anonymous, 2010, para. 6). Starting at a young age is what builds the fundamentals for competitive sports, and practicing is what fortifies the skills of an athlete, which puts women’s baseball at a disadvantage, since it is lacking in both. Ring supports this by stating that “not only do they lack the opportunity to develop the early love of the game childhood offers, but they never develop the skill to compete on progressively more difficult levels” (p. 134). In order to prepare women to compete as baseball players today, there would need to be many more available youth girls’ baseball leagues. There would need to be more opportunities or teams for women to train for international competition. There would also need to either be high school girls’ baseball teams, or make high school baseball teams more suitable for co-ed play. The best way to prepare women to compete as baseball players today are to provide them with more opportunities to play at younger ages, and with more opportunities to train for competition. Ring agrees with this, and contends that: Girls can and should play little league baseball with boys, and be welcomed to play, at least up to age twelve. After that, there should be girls’ baseball leagues developed, to give little leaguers a place to continue to develop into high school and college players. (p. 172)
Ring continues to state that “it would be a slow path, but along with more encouragement for girls to play youth baseball, a culture of women’s baseball could be nurtured” (p. 145). Giving girls more opportunities to play baseball at a younger age would help hone their skills and love for the sport, and is the best way to prepare women to compete as baseball players today. If women were properly trained to play baseball today, there is no doubt that many of them would take that opportunity. However, they should not be forced to play if they do not want to play. If women want to play softball, it is their right to choose to play softball. If they were to play, however, the next question would be if they should be able to play with men. There are not many co-ed college sports out there, if there are any. The same can be said for professional sports. However, that does not mean that women should not be allowed to play with men. If it is a younger league, there should be no problem at all. Once high school, college, or professional league is reached, the fairest way to determine if women and men should play together would have to be a type of try-out system. Men and women both would have their skills tested, and whoever is good enough to play will play, regardless of gender. Women should be able to play with men if they have the same skill level. There are several factors that could affect women playing with men, such as injury, ability, speed, strength, and size. One of the major arguments for keeping women from playing baseball with men was that women could not physically compete with men. Although there are exceptions, generally men are larger, faster, and stronger. However, according to the Women and Sports Foundation’s article, “Baseball and Softball: Should Girls and Women Have to Choose?,” this does not play as big of a role in baseball. This article argues that Baseball is not an “absolute strength” sport. Baseball is a game involving skills that are a combination of timing, coordination, strength, knowledge of the game, strategies, control and savvy, to say nothing of the importance of competitiveness and desire. Even though strength may be a factor in pitching and hitting, timing and coordination can produce comparable throwing and batting. (Women and Sports Foundation, 2011, para. 4)
This shows that these physical factors do not automatically make men better baseball players than women. They may give men an advantage, but baseball is more of a skilled game than a brute physical game. Just because a man is extremely athletic and strong does not automatically mean that he is going to be a stellar baseball player. Baseball takes ability, not just physical competence. According to Ring, much athletic theory has been built by emphasizing differences in weight distribution, muscle mass, and center of gravity between male and female bodies. Dowling argues that differences in body types do not translate into ability into any given sport. (p. 150) There are also some women who are just as physically capable as men. Another concern for women playing with men is the potential for injury. Since men are generally larger than women, the size difference could potentially lead to an injury if there was a collision between them (Ring, 2009, p. 148). However, with the proper training and muscle conditioning, this risk could be minimized. Ring argues that “even if a woman were smaller than a man, if she were strong and well conditioned, her muscles would protect her bones in a collision just as a man’s would” (p. 149). Even if the risk for injury is greater for women, incidents such as collisions are not that common of occurrences in baseball, and the risk of injury to most baseball players is not high. With this information, it is clear that women should be allowed to play with men if they choose. The physical strength, speed, and size of men do not automatically give them more ability than women in baseball, because baseball is a game of skill.
Women being kept out of professional baseball cannot be attributed to anything other than discrimination. At its core, this is an issue of sexism. Baseball has become a patriarchal enterprise where men are allowed and women are not. According to Ring, sexism is about one gender believing they are in some way better than the other. The differences between male and female bodies do not translate into innate or systematic superiority, or inability to do certain things other than the purely physiological. Baseball talent is not purely physiological. (p. 166) This sexism is the most discriminating aspect of women being banned from having the opportunity to play professional baseball. Sexism is evident by the fact that there are women out there who are good enough to play, and are still excluded. It would be one thing for women to be excluded if they were not good enough to compete, but the fact is that there are women who are more than good enough. There is overwhelming evidence that women have both the skills and the abilities to play, and yet they are still kept out of professional baseball. This is an extreme case of sexism, excluding female athletes who are qualified to play just because they are females. Ring states that Major League Baseball has demonstrated neither the willingness nor ability to move beyond its history of entitlement for the few, and a century after America’s National Game was written, half of the nation is still discouraged from playing the game on any level. (p. 166) This aspect of sexism is the most discriminating aspect of women being banned from having the opportunity to play professional baseball.
In conclusion, while women have come very far in sports’ equality, there is still inequality today. Softball was created as a substitute sport for women to keep them out of baseball, and this problem still exists. Men have put separation between softball and baseball by erasing women from the history of baseball, and have influenced society into believing that baseball is for men, and softball is for women. Since there are very few opportunities for women’s baseball, many women choose to play softball so that they have more future opportunities, such as college scholarships and professional leagues. If more women began playing baseball, the best way to prepare them would be to give them more opportunities to play at a younger age and more places to train, so that they could fortify their skills. Women should not be forced to play baseball if they prefer softball, but if they choose, women should be allowed to play with men. Men’s physical advantages do not automatically give them more ability in baseball than women. Women have been discriminated against for a long time in sports, particularly baseball, and the most discriminating aspect of this is blatant sexism. The fight for women in baseball is still ongoing, and hopefully one day there will be a change.
Anonymous (2010). University of Nevada professor explores the plight of women playing baseball. Entertainment Close-Up. Jacksonville, TN: Close-Up Media Inc.
Cain, Patricia (2001). Women, race, and sports: Life before Title IX. The Journal of Gender, Race, and Justice, 4(2), 893-896Palmer, Gladys E. (1929). Baseball for girls and women. New York: A. S. Barnes and Company.
Ring, Jennifer (2012). American women play hardball in venezuela: Team USA battles invisibility at home, is celebrated abroad, and faces gunfire at the Women’s World Cup. Spring 2012 Baseball Research Journal, 41(1).
Ring, Jennifer (2009). Stolen bases: Why american girls don’t play baseball. Chicago Il: University of Illinois Press.
Shattuck, Debra (2011). “Women’s baseball in the 1860s: Reestablishing a historical memory.” Nine,19(2), 1-26. Retrieved from
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