Sexism in Professional Sports

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The emergence of various social movements, such as #MeToo, has increased the attention given to sexism in the workplace. 

Sport is not immune. Just last year, Sports Illustratedran an in-depth storyof the sexism and discrimination that pervades the Dallas Mavericks organization. The authors noted that the Mavericks had a “corrosive workplace culture.”

Recently, Lauren Hindman and Nefertiti Walker, both from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, recently examined sexism in professional sports, with a focus on how women experience sport organizational cultures. 

To do so, they interviewed 11 women. Some worked as directors, some as managers, and others as account executives. So, they were all in senior positions. They conducted multiple interviews with each person, and some of the participants also kept journals that they shared. 

Hindman and Walker uncovered two themes of sexism. The first diminished the role of women managers. They were ignored, given derogatory nicknames, or had their accomplishments questioned. 

Another form of sexism came in the objectification of women. Their appearance was highlighted, and interactions with other professionals and players took had sexualized undertones. Further, the potential for motherhood limited them. 

As a result of this sexism, the women in the study reported emotional and professional repercussions. Feelings of anxiety, anger, and discouragement were common. 

The women in the study also reported strategies for dealing with the sexism. Some dismissed the impact that it had on them. Some blamed other women. Others adjusted their expectations. 

A final group of women reframed their experiences. They focused on how they were able to overcome sexism in order to thrive in sport. 

One participant noted, “If you’re a strong woman, you fight for your place, and your value is realized.”