The NCAA has kicked off their annual basketball tournament, which is famously referred to as March Madness. The tournament generates great attention and excitement from sports fans across the country. However, the highly anticipated tournament had a rocky start as the NCAA encountered a brief backlash in the media. On March 18, 2021, Stanford University sports performance coach Ali Kershner posted a photo on her Instagram page showing the distinct differences in weight room amenities at the NCAA tournament.
In the post, Kershner shared her thoughts on the women’s weight room in comparison to the men’s weight room. Kreshner pointed out that the two weight room setups were noticeably different. The men’s teams were supplied with almost triple the amount of workout space and equipment compared to the women’s teams.
Following Kershner’s post, Sedona Prince, a current member of the University of Oregon’s women’s basketball team, posted a viral TikTok speaking on the unequal weight rooms at the NCAA tournament. In a follow-up Twitter post on March 19, 2021, Prince reposted the TikTok with a tweet acknowledging the irony of the weight room situation occurring during Women’s History Month.
“If you aren’t upset about this problem, then you’re a part of it,” Prince said in the viral TikTok video.
The news quickly spread across social media with both female and male athletes expressing their disapproval of the NCAA’s negligence. NBA players like Kyrie Irving and Steph Curry came to the women’s basketball team’s defense and said that the unequal treatment at the NCAA tournament was “unfair” and “unacceptable.” Vannessa Bryant, wife of the late NBA star Kobe Bryant, also shared the controversial story on her Instagram while asking for helpful ways she could get involved.
The University of Alabama’s women’s basketball team has been gearing up for their own competitive season. The team provided their input on the NCAA tournament weight room situation in a pre-game press conference before they played against North Carolina on March 22, 2021.
According to Kristy Curry, head coach of Alabama’s women’s basketball team, she and her team often have open discussions regarding basketball and how their team can help promote positivity and inclusiveness. Curry also said that the girls are focused on keeping their heads in the game.
“There are some areas [in which] we need to improve and we need to be on an equal playing field with men’s basketball,” Curry said. “We want to focus on the things we can control, but we will also continue to speak and create a platform for every little girl who wants to be treated exactly the same [as their male counterparts].”
The conversation about men’s basketball in comparison to women’s basketball arose again in a post-game press conference on March 23, 2021. Alabama women’s basketball players Jordan Lewis and Hannah Barber gave their thoughts on whether they believe women’s basketball receives less attention in the media compared to men’s basketball during March Madness.
“In my opinion, I think it’s just how you look at it [considering] the things that have been talked about on social media,” Lewis said. “The most important thing is to come here and win games and continue to strive to be the best you can be. I think as we continue to perform on the court the awareness will grow and more people will want to watch.”
Barber agreed with Lewis’ views by adding that performing well on the court will ultimately result in good feedback from fans and media.
“By putting good product on the floor, [we’re] going to attract more fans and spectators,” Barber said. “So, that’s what we’re really focused on— just continuing to play hard, bringing a lot of energy, and putting on a good game out there for people to watch.”
The unfair treatment at the NCAA tournament extended beyond the weight rooms as more pictures surfaced online. The viral photos compared other accommodations between the two teams, such as prepared and catered food, swag bags and more.
The NCAA has since released a public statement apologizing for initially “dropping the ball” in their recent accommodations for the women’s basketball team.
“We fell short this year in what we’ve been doing to prepare in the last 60 days for 64 teams to be here in San Antonio, and we acknowledge that,” said Lynn Holzman, NCAA vice president of women’s basketball.
The NCAA upgraded the women’s weight room amenities shortly after the backlash.
NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt also apologized for the organization’s error in the following statement:
“We have intentionally organized basketball under one umbrella [at the NCAA] to ensure consistency and collaboration. When we fall short of these expectations, it’s on me,” Gavitt said. “I apologize to women’s basketball student-athletes, coaches and the women’s basketball committee for dropping the ball on the weight rooms in San Antonio.”
The NCAA weight room controversy has since sparked a greater conversation surrounding sports, gender and equality. It has now become even more apparent that inequality still remains an issue in sports and must be addressed sooner than later.