HAMMONTON - As Women’s History month came to a close, Stockton University Kramer Hall honored women one more time with “Female Athletes: Journey Towards Equality,” a presentation by Dr. Eileen Conran-Folks.
The subject of the March 29 presentation is close to her heart.
“I played sports and was involved in the fight for equality” said Conran-Folks, a professor at Stockton University who played several sports while attending Temple University.
According to Dr. Conran-Folks, the fight for equality in sports dates back to the 1800s, with women showing interest in organized sports as early as 1854. Women slowly began entering sports, with women playing in Wimbledon for the first time in 1884 and in the Olympics in 1900.
Yet, even as more women poured into athletics, they were still not being treated equally to their male counterparts.
“We quickly learned that men and women were not equal,” said Conran-Folks.
Then, in 1972 the landmark Title IX was passed which stated that a person’s sex could no longer be used as basis to exclude them from participation in federally funded programs. While it was now illegal to exclude female athletes because of their sex, that still did not mean they were being treated equally.
As Conran-Folks personally experienced, her male counterparts were still being treated to steak dinners, while she and her teammates could barely afford Wendy’s.
Numerous court cases were filed across the country challenging this inequality. In fact, according to Conran-Folks, Temple would eventually face a lawsuit over its unequal treatment of their female athletes. The lawsuit, Haffer v. Temple University and filed by women students, alleged discrimination in the allocation of funds to the school’s athletics programs. Settled in September 1988, under the terms of the consent decree, Temple was required to create new women’s teams and provide comparable treatment for men and women athletes.
While women athletes have come a long way, there is still much work to be done, Conran-Folks said. Even though women make up 40 percent of all athletes, they only receive 4 percent of sports media coverage. Not only that, female professional sports teams are not being paid anywhere close to their male counterparts.
Although there is a long way to go to gain full equality in sports, the benefits women athletes experience is undeniable. Research shows that girls who participate in sports experience higher self-esteem, are less likely to experience depression, less likely to use drugs, less likely to have a teenage pregnancy and have higher college graduation rates.