How adding an ‘M’ highlights sexism and gender bias in sports

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YWCA Metro Vancouver
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If you need an example of just how deeply rooted sexism remains in sports, take a look at a word frequently omitted from league names, tournament descriptors, and media coverage: “men.”

Society continues to treat men’s sports — often referred to just as “sports” — as the norm, with women’s sports relegated to a lower tier.

The YWCA of Canada is highlighting this ingrained gender bias with a new campaign that launched in March. Dubbed “Add the M,” the campaign asks people to consider the way men’s sports are continually treated as the default by “adding the M” to the logos for the NBA, NHL, MLS and PGA, the four largest North American sports where there is a comparable women’s league.

“When men’s sports are treated as the default for all sport, women’s sports get left out of the conversation,” Canadian soccer player Christine Sinclair said when the campaign was launched. “It’s time to add the M to shift perception and create change.”

Adding the ‘M’ doesn’t just challenge gender norms. It can also makes sports coverage factually correct.

The idea for the YWCA campaign was sparked in September 2021 after Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo became the top international scorer in men’s soccer history by scoring his 110th goal. Despite the fact that Ronaldo broke the men’s scoring record – Sinclair has the overall record with 189 international goals – many organizations (including UEFA) failed to include the word “men’s” when describing Ronaldo’s achievement.

Even today, when you Google “top international goal scorer soccer,” the first result is Ronaldo:

A screenshot of the Google result for “top international goal scorer.” Cristiano Ronaldo (115 goals) appears as the top result, even though Ronaldo only holds the men’s record. Christine Sinclair (189 goals) owns the overall international record for all players.

Men’s sports being centered as the norm is a widespread issue and the omission of the “M” is even more problematic when the organization leaving the letter out is the same one overseeing both the men’s and women’s events. Here is a partial list of sports organizations where this practice is currently in place:

Soccer (FIFA)

As shown in the logos for the upcoming tournaments, soccer’s international governing body FIFA organizes the “World Cup” (for men) and the “Women’s World Cup”

Cycling (UCI)

In cycling, UCI organizes the “World Tour” and “Pro Series” for men, compared to the “Women’s World Tour” and “Women’s Pro Series.” 

Ice Hockey (IIHF)

In ice hockey, the IIHF does not refer to any of its men’s tournaments as “men’s” tournaments. That includes all age groups, across every division. 

United States Golf Association (USGA)

A partial list of championships organized by the USGA. As shown in a screenshot from the USGA website, the organization currently only uses a gender marker to refer to women’s events.

Basketball (FIBA)

While there is “men’s basketball” and “women’s basketball” on the Olympic stage, away from the Games, FIBA organizes the “Basketball World Cup” and “Women’s Basketball World Cup.”

While many leagues, governing bodies, and federations have the excuse that the men’s version of the event has been around longer and has thus always had the default non-gender-marked name, the resistance to adding an ‘M’ is still telling.

It was only this year that the NCAA added the word “Men’s” to the “Men’s Final Four” in basketball and “Men’s College World Series” in baseball. (Of course, the comparable women’s event in both basketball and softball has always included a gender modifier.)

The term for this is “asymmetrical gender marking,” according to Purdue University professor Cheryl Cooky, who has written about the role media plays in further perpetuating this unequal language.

Rather than waiting for the “M” to be added, some women’s sports have instead removed the “W.”

In 2019, World Rugby announced that it would remove the word “women’s” from the World Cup competitions in order to match the name of the non-gender-marked (men’s) World Cup.

While this move was seen as progressive, it should be noted that World Rugby isn’t typically considered a leader in the field of gender equity. A recent report from the Women’s Sports Foundation compared the governance of each of the 33 international federations that oversee summer Olympic sports. World Rugby ranked second-to-last in women’s representation, with just one woman serving on the organization’s 12-member executive committee. The organization has also come under fire for its outright ban of transgender women, considered the most exclusionary policy of any international sports federation.

The Premier Hockey Federation (PHF) also opted to “remove the W” when it was rebranded from the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) in 2021. In addition to lifting the gender modifier, the name change was also a way of distancing the organization from many previous negative headlines that occurred under the NWHL umbrella.

There is also Athletes Unlimited, which was founded in 2021 and has organized women’s pro tournaments in basketball, softball, volleyball, and lacrosse.

In general, sports and competitions that feature men and women competing at the same event on the same days tend to be the most equitable, both in terms of calling men’s sports “men’s” sports, but also in terms of equity in resources and prize money. For example, many of the sports that lead the way in providing equal (or mostly equal) prize money (surfing, alpine skiing, tennis) feature events where women and men compete side-by-side. They also have comparatively long track records of referring to men’s events as “men’s” events.

On a smaller scale, some organizations have “added the M” unofficially.

This week in Germany, the best male hockey players under the age of 18 are competing. But because they are men, and because the tournament is organized by the IIHF, there is no gender marker in the official tournament name or hashtag.

USA Hockey, however, has been adding the M, anyway — both in the organization’s tweets and news coverage.

While the omission of the “M” is often a strong indicator that an organization isn’t providing equitable treatment to its women’s events and athletes, the solution unfortunately isn’t as simple as just adding a word or letter to a league name or event. It’s investing in women’s sports.

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

Crystal Dunn returns to USWNT roster five months after giving birth

Nigeria v USWNT
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Crystal Dunn was named to the USWNT roster for two upcoming friendlies against England and Spain, marking her first official selection since giving birth to son Marcel in May.

Dunn made her NWSL return with the Portland Thorns earlier this month and also trained with the U.S. team as a non-rostered player ahead of friendlies vs. Nigeria.

In addition to Dunn, the 24-player roster features a veteran core of Alyssa Naeher, Becky Sauerbrunn, Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan, Mallory Pugh, and Megan Rapinoe.

Alex Morgan was not named to the USWNT roster due to a knee injury. While U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski did not provide details of the injury, he noted that “if this was a World Cup final, Alex was going to be on this trip and was going to play, no question.”

Other roster highlights include 17-year-old Alyssa Thompson, who becomes the first player born in 2004 to receive a USWNT call-up. Thomas, a high senior, plays club soccer for the U-17 Total Futbol Academy boys’ team.

“We are very excited for her, very excited about her potential and qualities and looking forward to seeing how she will turn out in our environment,” Andonovski said of Thompson. “This camp is not make it or break it. It’s a first experience for her, it’s just something that she shouldn’t even worry about.”

The USWNT also includes a handful of players who have made their USWNT breakthrough this season — thanks in part to both strong NWSL play and injuries to more veteran players. That list includes the likes of Naomi Girma (7 caps), Taylor Kornieck (5 caps), Hailie Mace (5 caps), Sam Coffey (1 cap), and Savannah DeMelo (0 caps).

Andonovski on Thursday called Coffey, a midfielder for the Portland Thorns, a candidate for NWSL MVP.


USWNT Roster for October 2022 Friendlies vs. England and Spain

Goalkeepers (3):

  • Aubrey Kingsbury (Washington Spirit)
  • Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage)
  • Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)

Defenders(7):

  • Alana Cook (OL Reign)
  • Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Emily Fox (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Sofia Huerta (OL Reign)
  • Hailie Mace (Kansas City Current)
  • Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns FC)

Midfielders (8):

  • Sam Coffey (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Savannah DeMelo (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Lindsey Horan (Olympique Lyon, FRA)
  • Taylor Kornieck (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Rose Lavelle (OL Reign)
  • Kristie Mewis (NJ/NY Gotham FC)
  • Ashley Sanchez (Washington Spirit)
  • Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit)

Forwards (6):

  • Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit)
  • Mallory Pugh (Chicago Red Stars)
  • Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign)
  • Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit)
  • Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Alyssa Thompson (Total Futbol Academy)

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”