NBA Legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Wants Sexism In Sports Gone

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Former American basketball great, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (born with the name Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, Jr. before he changed it in 1968 when he converted to Islam) has spoken out publicly on a very important topic: misogyny. He wrote a piece in Time Magazine about sexism in sports and why it needs to be eradicated.

The legendary LA Laker great said sports actually play a role in perpetuating misogyny, and it can play a role in ending it.

What prompted him to write the piece was the recent Santa Barbara shooting where Elliot Rodger targeted sorority women who rejected his sexual advances, and the #yesallwomen viral conversation with happened subsequently. Kareem says although the shooting was only a few weeks ago, the large part of the online and public debates about gender violence, gun control and mental health have already been forgotten by the masses, yet the problem is no closer to being solved.

He brings up an important point about how our culture plays a huge part in influencing the way women are perceived by some.

“Even more disturbing is why so much violence in America is directed at women. The answer to this question, at least in part, is that it’s a result of a lifetime of cultural influences. And while there are surely plenty of cultural influences to blame, one of the sources of this negative influence is amateur and professional sports.”

“In fact, the image of girls and women in sports is much more culturally positive than that of mainstream society. In the sports world, women are praised for their athletic ability — not their physical appearance. We cheer the sweaty woman running down the field for her effort.”

“Mainstream America tells her heels are required because she’s too short, makeup is required because her face isn’t attractive enough, cleavage is required to give men a reason to pay attention, hair coloring is required because aging is forbidden and blondes are sexier, Photoshopping is required because no woman (not even a model) can match the fantasy woman our culture promotes on the covers of almost every women’s magazine. (It’s not a coincidence that Rodger gave his object of hatred a hair color — “blonde slut.”)”

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“But in sports, women stand tall and proud in athletic shoes and uniforms because we’re more interested in what they do than how they look.”

He says despite the good ways sports portrays women, they are still viewed as less valuable than men. How many types of sports do we hear about where women get paid next to nothing while men are making millions?

“According to Forbes, the maximum salary for a player in the WNBA is $107,000, compared with the $30.5 million Kobe Bryant will make. Inbee Park, who won the 2013 U.S. Open in golf, received $585,000 for her victory. Justin Rose, the men’s winner, received $1.4 million. This disparity is seen less in tennis because Wimbledon, the French Open and the U.S. Open all pay male and female winners equally (which is why 7 of the 10 top-paid female athletes in the world are tennis players).”

He laments the fact that even male coaches get paid hundred of thousands of dollars more than female coaches, even in female-dominated sports like gymnastics. Kareem also points out the terrible sexism of the industry where women aren’t allowed to even compete in some sports. And sure, it’s about economics and demand, but that is no excuse for sexism in general. Instead we need to further examine why people don’t value watching women in sports as much as men, and how far back it goes into our upbringing.

“First, we need to address why they don’t want to watch. This goes back to cultural biases. If we don’t value girls in sports in middle school and high school, then we don’t grow up to value them as professional athletes. And by value, I mean make athletic opportunities available, pay coaches equally and promote female sports with the same vigor with which we do male sports.”

“At the same time, the disrespectful and disparaging language used in sports furthers the gender gap. Male coaches often address their male athletes as ladies whenever they want to humiliate them. “Come on, ladies,” they’ll say, “lift your skirts.” Or, “You’re playing like a girl!” This is treated as a joke or good-humored tradition, but its long-term social effect is not funny. Even in movies and TV shows, we see tough women turning to men and saying, “Quit acting like a girl.” Cue audience chuckle at the reversal. But all that does is prove we’ve brainwashed women to be derogatory toward themselves.”

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Kareem addresses the issue of gender violence and the stigma pertaining to certain football players. We have all seen the news stories of football team players being accused of rape and sexual assault. The gang/team mentality surrounding these men needs to be infiltrated in such a way that women aren’t perceived as another conquest or a “goal” to be scored. Worst of all is that a lot of these football players who rape women, whether they be hometown high school quarter backs or NFL superstars, are held up as heroes and the victim’s stories are drowned out among the noise.

He says the #yesallwomen hashtag itself won’t change anything, but it is a valuable forum for women to express their frustration in such a way that gets the attention of a nation. It is a conversation that includes both men and women, because men aren’t the only problem.

“We need to remember that while misogyny may be perpetuated mostly by men, it is enabled by both men and women in society who embrace gender inequality — or simply let it go unnoticed.”

While a hashtag won’t change anything, it can be the start of progress in a direction where equal value is placed on women and men in society, in all industries.

“We can change things. Small things. One at a time. We start by not remaining silent in the presence of misogyny, not tolerating violence as a form of communication, and demanding gender equality in education, sports and jobs. Right now, tennis is showing us the way. All athletes need to help finish the job.”

We’re so honored to have a legendary basketball great, and a male at that, be part of an important conversation urging change. We hope it will encourage other men out there to not ignore this issue. It affects us all. When women thrive, the world thrives.

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