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    Shattered Dream Fuels Ardent Desire for Equality in Sports

    kaiSensei Jamie Leno Zimron
    Peak Performance
    Speaker and Trainer

    Growing up in the Midwest, all I wanted was to be a Major League baseball player. It’s hard to describe just how much I loved baseball. I was still a tiny little girl, and the Braves hadn’t quite left Milwaukee. (To this day, I can’t accept that they’re in Atlanta!) Henry Aaron was the greatest outfielder and home run hitter, and I was a southpaw like the great Warren Spahn, so I dreamed of being a big league pitcher.

    There was just one catch (no pun intended). I was a little girl, not a little boy. There was to be no baseball career for me. It didn’t matter how much I breathed, read and dreamed baseball, or that I kept up and knew every RBI, ERA, baseball stat and standing, by heart, by age 6. Or that I could bat, throw, and catch with the best of the boys in my school, and I beat almost all of them. Girls still weren’t allowed into Little League, and all it took was me falling down once, when I missed a ball hit my way, for the adults in the neighborhood to ban me from playing with the boys down the block.

    So I was relegated to bouncing pitches and batting balls against our garage door by my lonesome, playing catch when my dad would occasionally agree, and collecting baseball cards of all those lucky guys who got to play. Why were they allowed to follow their passion and dreams, and not me? The pro sports world hasn’t been much friendlier to Jews than to women or gay people, but Sandy Koufax made it on the mound to the World Series and Hall of Fame. Being Jewish didn’t stop his talented left arm the way my mere gender did. Why did he get to play his heart out on the ball field, while I grew up literally crying my heart out in therapy over the pain and injustice of it all?


    When I was 7, both my mom and dad took up golf—a sport I was allowed to play. In 1950, thirteen pioneering women with unstoppable courage, vision and raw desire to play founded the Ladies Professional Golf Association. Amongst them was Babe Didrickson Zaharias, arguably the greatest all-round athlete of all time. She was an Olympic track & field gold medalist, an All-American basketball star, and she  dominated women’s golf. She is one of only a few ‘Grand Slam’ male or female titleholders to this day, and was also an expert diver, roller-skater, bowler and baseball player. Additionally she was an excellent seamstress who sewed many of her own sports outfits. She was a singer, harmonica player and recording artist, and performed in traveling vaudeville. Wikipedia noted that The Babe “broke the accepted models of femininity in her time…Although a sports hero to many, she was also derided for her ‘manliness.’”

    With my own natural athletic ability, I was shooting in the 80s by age 10, won the Wisconsin State Junior championship multiple times, and ranked in the Top Ten nationally. I was college-bound for Stanford, though without a golf scholarship, or much of a team to play on, because such things didn’t yet exist for girls. I was just ahead of Title IX legislation mandating schools that receive federal funding to provide equal opportunities and dollars for female, as well as male, athletes and programs. Title IX has gone a long way to support scholarships, teams, competitive events and conferences for young women. But big disparities still persist vis-a-vis their male counterparts, despite equality being the law.

    No doubt some of you reading this have similar painful and unfair stories of your own. It’s amazing to look and see just how much basic sexism has impacted our lives and the world we live in. Thanks to Title IX, and the feminist/women’s liberation movement, things are definitely changing for the better since my childhood. But honestly, girls’ bodies are still more likely to be sexually objectified than athletically encouraged, and we are still far from parity in opportunity or pay for professional women’s sports.

    In 1963, President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, yet women today still earn varying fractions of what men make (77% on average). President Obama has recently become very outspoken and activist towards ending the financial gender gap and ensuring equal pay for equal work. Knowing he’s a big sports enthusiast, I wonder if he’s aware that most sports don’t even have pro women’s leagues, and that the pay gap in those that do is far greater than in most other professions. Here are a few shocking statistics in leading sports:

    1) In women’s pro basketball, as of 2012, the annual WNBA team salary total was $900,000 with a cap of $101,000 for any individual player. By contrast, in the men’s NBA, the Los Angeles Lakers annual team pay total was $100 million, with Kobe Bryant (yes, of sexual harassment fame) earning $27 million. That’s 270 times more than any female player, and twice as much as all the women in the entire WNBA league of twelve teams combined. The Houston Rockets had the lowest total team salary in the league, and their bottom-rung player made $473,000. That’s nearly 5 times what the best highest-paid WNBA stars were paid, playing the same sport!

    2) In golf in 1998, LPGA superstar Annika Sorenstam’s winnings – on the strength of 4 victories and being named Player of The Year – would have placed her 24th on the PGA (men’s) earnings list. More recently, Annika wryly noted making one-seventh of Tiger Woods’ prize money, despite her equal or better tournament records.

    3) In tennis, Maria Sharapova—on top for 9 incredible years—made $29 million from June 2012-2013. Tennis has by far the highest and near-parity pay scale for women than any other sport, yet Tiger and a host of top NFL, NBA, NHL and baseball players pulled in 2–3 times as many millions as Maria.

    A big part of the problem is that sports media and advertising is a multi-billion dollar business, and male values dominate. In a world that prizes fast, rough and tough action, women in sports are less valued, and viewer interest is less encouraged, no matter the athlete’s level of excellence. Combined with the sexist predilection to objectify and disempower women, our society’s mindset and media just aren’t so interested in rewarding the strength, independence and achievements of female athletes.

    In a thoughtful 2013 article entitled “Female Athletes Still Face Inequality,” writer Ana Rodriguez suggests: “Society doesn’t like to see women in roles that go against the norm of what a woman ‘should be’…sexy, highly feminine, passive, graceful and weak. Nowhere does the word ‘athletic’ appear on that list…The idea of a strong, fast, powerful woman leaves many feeling uncomfortable because it isn’t seen as an attractive or traditional characteristic.” She goes on to examine the double standard for pro women athletes, who need to excel not only in their sport, but also be pretty, photogenic, and dress and look right. Sex appeal often trumps talent in determining their success and earning power. Concludes Rodriguez: “It’s high time that a woman proves she’s an amazing athlete by her moves on the field and not her poses in front of a camera. I hope to see the day where the phrase ‘you play like a girl’ is no longer an insult but a compliment.”

    While we’re in an Olympic year, I thought I’d Google ‘role of women ancient Greek Olympics.’ Take a few minutes yourself, as much interesting information comes up. For starters:

    1) Women were second-class citizens, like slaves and foreigners, with limited rights.

    2) Sex segregation prevailed in Greek sports and female athletes existed, but they weren’t allowed to compete in the Olympiad, not even separately alongside men.

    2) Married women were legally barred from the ancient Games, but virgins and prostitutes were allowed in to spectate.

    3) Women were originally the prizes in chariot races.

    4) The Games were played for honor, and it would have been a disgrace for a man to be defeated by a woman.

    5) Male Olympians competed naked. One legend tells of a son from a feted athletic family, whose mother disguised herself to be at the games as his trainer. And, from that time on, trainers, as well as athletes, had to be naked to insure that they were indeed males!

    Ancient Greek women did run, swim, wrestle, ride horses, drive chariots, and play ball games. By the 6th century, women had their own elite competitions known as the Heraean, and were required to wear special clothing. Although the Olympic Games were revived in 1896, little has been heard, or made of, the Heraean Games. Despite the increasing participation of elite female athletes, it took until 1981 for a woman to gain a seat on the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

    The truth is, fitness is for all humans, and athletics is no place for discrimination! Play and work ought to be equally available for young girls and women, while careers in sports must be equally compensated across the board. Everyone deserves to love their body, and to enjoy physical activity and athletic opportunity. It’s each person’s responsibility to take good care of his or her embodied self and body-mind spirit systems. Let’s be sure life here on earth is everyone’s playground, and that we’re all in the game!

    Women Golfers! Join Jamie and the Horizons Foundation at the 5th Annual LGBT Golf Fore Good Tournament on Friday, June 13th at Chardonnay Golf Club in Napa Valley. Call 760-492-4653 or 415-398-2333 x115 for info/registration. For more information about Jamie Leno Zimron and her work, please visit