Where are all of the Professional Female Athletes

by Danielle H.

When I was a child, I dreamt about being the next Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant. They were amazing athletes. I remember my dad and I watching their games and talking about what an amazing life they must have. As a child, I never imagined that my gender would ever put a damper on that dream. As I got older, I started wondering why there was a lack of female athletes on television. It was not until my friend’s parents’ denied her the opportunity to play sports in high school that I realized what was going on in the world around me. My friend’s parents’ told her she needed to focus on her grades, and that sports got females nowhere in life. This made me think about how the only female professional athlete that I knew about was Hailey Wickenheiser, and that was only because she was promoted in New Brunswick schools when I was younger.

It occurred to me that the sporting world is dominated by males. In fact, in a recent article I read, they stated that “sport is a male-dominated institution that promotes traditional gender roles and advances male hegemony” (Hannon, Soohoo, Reel, & Ratliffe, 2009). As a society, we allow sports to be centred around males. For example, sports such as baseball and softball segregate men and women, as it is viewed as more appropriate for males to play baseball and females to play softball. Certain sports, like hockey, even have rules that state men are allow to play with contact and females are not.

In another recent article I read, it discussed the Grand Slam tournament in tennis. The Grand Slam Tournament has an equal amount of male and female athletes competing. Everyone participates in the tournament, and every athlete is paid by the same employer. However, the male athletes are still paid more than the females (Kahn, 1991).

As I mentioned before, my friend was not allowed to play sports in high school as her parents told her that her grades were more important. If I had to guess, she is definitely not the only girl who has been told that. I don’t understand how that is fair. We have multiple sporting leagues for males, and not as many for females. As a male athlete, you do not necessarily have to play professionally in order to make money. Males have opportunities to play below the professional level, and still get paid. What I am getting at is that females have a considerably smaller chance to make it to the professional level, because there are limited spots for female athletes. Also, it is known that female athletes generally make less money. With the female sport world being what it is, it is understandable why girls do not pursue sports in the same way as boys do.


Hannon, J., Soohoo, S., Reel, J., & Ratliffe, T. (2009). Gender stereotyping and the influence of race in sport among adolescents. Research quarterly for exercise and sport, 80(3), 676-684.

Kahn, L. M. (1991). Discrimination in professional sports: A survey of the literature. ILR Review, 44(3), 395-418.


7 responses

  1. Great post Danielle! I agree that, while growing up, my sporting role models were not female. Without realizing it at the time, I looked up to males in sport because that’s what my father was interested in; My mother is not a sports fan so I did not acquire any female perspectives. Therefore, as a child I may have been taught a subconscious lesson that taught me sport is valued by males and not females. Although my parents both highly valued my participation in Judo and would not allow me to stop playing, they never brought up female Judokas or fighters for me to look up to.
    Throughout my time in sport I did not identify any female role models in combat sports; it was only until university that I began to follow female Olympians in my weight class. In an opposite perspective from your friend’s situation, I feel that my family favoured my sport highly along with academics. In their eyes sport kept me out of trouble and was a way for me to find secondary education. I do not believe my gender influenced my participation in sport because I was a tomboy and had no brothers to be compared to. Therefore, my lack of ‘girly’ characteristics may be a reason for my family valuing athletics.

  2. Danielle, I enjoyed reading this post and I found everything that you mentioned very relatable. I played at a competitive level of hockey when I was younger and it was always my dream to grow up and be just like Hayley Wickenheiser. Coming to realize now that this was the only female professional hockey player that I knew, where I could come up with a very extensive list of professional male hockey players. As a female athlete, I am very disturbed at the lack of publicity and recognition that female athletes receive in the world of sports. Females are driven and dedicated athletes that work extremely hard for their accomplishments and deserve equal amount of praise and rewards as male athletes. It’s sad that most females focus more on their education because they know that the chances of them pursuing a career and being able to support themselves and possibly a family through playing professional sport is not likely. It is not only at the professional sporting level that gender discrimination is occurring. I have seen it first hand in University level sport and even in recreational leagues. Media coverage in University is more heavily focused on the male sports such as the men’s hockey team. I never hear coverage or results from the women’s hockey team or promotion of their home games. I find it also unfair that the women’s teams always play before the men and the number of spectators is always less for the female games. This makes women feel insignificant and unimportant. Being an athlete myself it was always the best feeling to have a full crowd offering support. I think that the sporting industry needs more female role models and female professionals pushing for greater media coverage and higher paid female athletes.

  3. Danielle, I completely agree with your post, as I was growing up, all of my sporting idols were all male, and there was never anything that would prompt me to have a female idol, I was completely immersed within a male world simply due to my sporting interests at the time.

    However, while I do think that while there is still an awful lot of work to do in terms of pushing for equality in sport, women are becoming more and more prominent in the sporting world and that now they are indeed becoming these idols to young children. When coaching tennis I have found that more young girls, and also boys are now wearing clothing with Serena Williams on, simply due to her sporting prowess, and it is becoming increasingly common for boys to want a serve like Serena. Her talent is having an unbelievable impact on the younger generation, and in my opinion, like no other sporting woman has had before.

    The popularity of female sports in general is growing ten fold, and this is partly down to the current generation having the stepping stone to make a difference, but also from the younger generation simply wanting to see exciting sport, regardless of the gender.

  4. I think you would be hard pressed to find an individual that didn’t agree with this post Danielle. Like the other posts prior I grew up in a time that idolized male athletes, I had an individual from every sport that I looked up to and not a single one was female. Writing that in todays culture seems odd to say the least.

    Luckily we are it a time where we are able to witness and aid in bringing light to this subject, in the past few years to say the least there has been a significant change in this area directly and I think a great example comes from these past Olympics when our female athletes out preformed what anyone would have thought and really “owned the podium”. This is now Providing young girls and boys all over Canada with new athletes, gender aside that they can look up to and idolize.

  5. Danielle,
    The discussion you proposed and following articles gives rise to a lot of points that we skimmed in class. I personally see the difference every day when I train young kids at the YMCA in kickboxing. I am given a rubric in which I am meant to carry out with all the clients. Even at the age gap of 8-16 I am given a rubric which splits the workout between “men and women”. It blows my mind that my job is to split these kids up based on mere biology.
    The problem with the wage gab is something that no single person can try to fix. The problem is media coverage. The men get paid a higher amount because it is not only based on their performance, but how many people tune in to see them play. That is what dictates the difference between men and women when it comes to athletic payments. The only way to fix this is to stop comparing the performance but see how the game is played differently in both aspects. The true nature that follows sport is not the physicality, nor the outcome, but simply the mental ability, and the performance of all players.

    -Ben LeBlanc

  6. Hi Danielle!

    First of all congratulations on the awesome post, as others have already previously commented, I believe you have hit the nail on the head with this one! I can absolutely relate to what you said about Hayley Wickenheizer, when I was little she was the only female professional athlete I was familiar with. When I think about today’s youth and their roles models, I hope that they are looking at Simone Biles, Serena Williams, and other female athletes in addition to Hayley Wickenheizer.
    That being said, I totally agree with your statement that there is a clear disproportion of female athletes that get the same stardom as male athletes. Which leads me to wonder how can this be systematically altered? How can we shift this dichotomy to ensure gender parity among professional athletes and athletic coverage? I want to draw back on your example of your friend in high school who was not allowed to continue with sports. This is an example of how, I believe we begin this shift, allowing women throughout their education the opportunity to continue with sport. It is acceptable for a male to focus more on his sports than academics, why shouldn’t it be for females?

    Haley M.

  7. I loved reading this post Danielle.. It was so easy to relate to, as I (as well as pretty much everyone else who has commented) grew up with a role model athlete who was male. Why as a child did I want to strive to be as good as Sidney Crosby or Kobe Bryant, who were men? I don’t think it was solely based on the skills they had and how they totally dominated in the sports they played, but I thin part of it was because I didn’t ever get to see a female face be held to the equivalent standard. It is without a doubt the women are not getting the exposure and praise they deserve for being amazing ATHLETES, not FEMALE ATHLETES. I think it really is important to work to get athletes who are female more exposure within sports media. This will help young girls who are at these stages in their lives, just as we were when we dreamed of being the next Sidney or Kobe, someone to look up to who is a female.

    Danielle A

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