Among the strongest voices, you may not have noticed, in the debate over abortion rights are women’s professional athletes. Major league baseball players are speaking out to support bans on abortion; women’s basketball star Elena Delle Donne (and her husband) demanded Ohio’s governor sign an anti-abortion bill; and the owner of the Washington Mystics has the country’s second-most well-known pro-life gameday announcer.
The growth of pro-life sports activism is just one chapter in the ongoing attempts by women in sports to force their own way onto the national stage. They’re trying to gain leadership positions, which should give them more clout when it comes to trying to change legislation and norms that negatively affect them.
The argument against this kind of activism is that if women’s sports organizations claim to speak for all women, they also have to fight for themselves. However, women in professional sports who make the effort to speak out against a gender-based practice can become known as “women’s rights activists.” In the pro-sports world, this label indicates that they are fighting for women’s rights to equal treatment in their sports, but also that they’re taking on a traditionally male perspective.
For example, in 2010, women’s hockey player Meghan Duggan filed a gender discrimination complaint with the US Department of Labor over a minor league hockey player policy that required players to wear uniforms. In response, her league effectively said women should wear the men’s outfits.
Fans of professional women’s teams may see themselves and their team members as representative of the entire women’s sports world, and therefore, have a responsibility to support them.
I have a lot of friends who love their sports teams and think the world is a better place for them winning at their chosen sport, regardless of the fact that women don’t see themselves as part of the same level of competition. That’s kind of like giving your arm to a horse while its owner tries to drag it across a mud puddle, and expecting it to train as well as you can yourself.
But if you’re going to be a woman’s rights activist, you have to get past that mindset and speak out about gender inequality in general. After all, sports are a great vehicle for this type of advocacy. It’s a big group of people all agreeing to stand up for the rights of one or more minority groups, but the importance of that goal should not be lost on you. I’m sure women’s sports organizations can make the argument that their clubs have long been women’s rights activists when it comes to dealing with gender issues, but we should see if there’s truth to the claim.
[Updated June 17, 2015 at 3:45 p.m. to fix incorrect word count for Elena Delle Donne in Triton Baseball.]