The importance of both gender equality and equity in sport has been gaining momentum in public forums as of late. We have seen it in the outcry surrounding pay equality and the equitable treatment of athletes on the U.S. Women’s National Hockey and National Soccer Teams, among other sports. It remains a key focus of the Women’s Sports Foundation’s research, where data demonstrates that 40% of teen girls do not participate in sport compared to 27% of teen boys. Seventy-three percent of U.S. adults believe that high schools and colleges provide better support for boys’ sports programs than girls’ sports programs, and at the 2018 Olympics, women made up only 41.4% of total competitors.
While female athletes have long been advocating for their right to equality and equity in sport, a surge of male athletes have taken a stand for women and their extraordinary contributions to the game. Here are five of the most prominent men to recently step forward:
1) Stephen Curry – Basketball
Stephen Curry, one of the NBA’s elite guards, drew attention to his role in the fight for gender equity when he penned a story for The Players’ Tribune on Women’s Equality Day in August.
“I’m feeling more driven than ever — to help out women who are working toward progress, in any way that I can,” Curry wrote. “Let’s work to close the opportunity gap. Let’s work to close the pay gap. And let’s work together on this.”
The article came on the heels of Curry hosting a free, all-girls basketball camp for 200 girls.
“I think it was also the sort of thing that can help to shift people’s perspectives,” he expressed in his article. “So that when someone sees an NBA player is hosting a camp, now, you know — maybe they won’t automatically assume it’s for boys. And so eventually we can get to a place where the women’s game, it isn’t “women’s basketball.” It’s just basketball. Played by women, and celebrated by everyone.”
2) Kelly Slater – Surfing
The World Surf League (WSL) in September became the first U.S.-based global sports league to apply pay parity, announcing that beginning in 2019 it would offer equal prize money to men and women.
On the men’s side, no one was a bigger proponent of this change than 11-time World Champion Kelly Slater, who has been a longtime advocate of gender equality in his sport. Slater was involved in WSL’s equal pay announcement, and according to this Public Radio International story, he has “repeatedly acknowledged the long history of phenomenal female surfers and their right to equal pay.”
“The women on the tour deserve this change,” Slater said. “I’m so proud that surfing is choosing to lead sports in equality and fairness. The female WSL athletes are equally committed to their craft as the male athletes and should be paid the same. Surfing has always been a pioneering sport, and this serves as an example of that.”
3) Andy Roddick and James Blake – Tennis
No matter how you feel about the controversy surrounding the U.S. Open women’s singles final, gender was at the center of the discussion. Male tennis stars Andy Roddick and James Blake defended Serena Williams on Twitter after the fact, calling out sexism in the sport.
“I’ve regrettably said worse and I’ve never gotten a game penalty,” Roddick tweeted in response to Williams calling the referee a ‘thief’ for penalizing her a full game.
On his own account, Blake expressed a similar sentiment.
“I will admit I have said worse and not gotten penalized,” he wrote. “And I’ve also been given a “‘soft warning’” by the ump where they tell you knock it off or I will have to give you a violation. He should have at least given her that courtesy. Sad to mar a well played final that way.”
4) Donald McPherson – Football
A retired NFL quarterback, Donald McPherson is one of the male athletes who have stepped up most to advocate for their female counterparts. Per his website, McPherson has been lecturing about violence against women at schools and in communities since 1995.
McPherson has repeatedly identified himself as a feminist, stating that he found feminism through his desire to stymie violence against women. His work encompasses not just the microcosm of sport, but all of society.
“I continue to learn to respect a group of people for which I was raised not to respect,” he said. “One of the greatest accomplishments of the women’s movement is that young girls can aspire to be ANYTHING they can dream. They can be captain of the Space Shuttle like Eileen Collins, headline at Lilith Fair or be a stay-at-home mom. I would [my daughters] them that the key is to find what they truly enjoy doing, have fun and thrive knowing that they will have my support, no matter what it is.”
5) LeBron James – Basketball
Along with frequently supporting the WNBA on social media, James has been outspoken about equality in sport.
“I just think you give respect where respect is due, at the end of the day. No matter if you’re a male or female,” James said in an espnW interview. “If you’re playing at the highest level in your respective sport, you should get respect where respect is due. Over the course of time we’ve seen so many great female athletes — from Serena [Williams] obviously, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Diana Taurasi in the basketball world. I could go on and on about how women have done so many great things. The women who do the sideline [reporting] as well. We have Doris Burke who does an amazing job and they have to and will continue to transcend the game. It’s not all about males; it’s about equality.”
James also flew to Berlin in September to support 2018 Wilma Rudolph Courage Award recipient Caster Semenya as she competed in the 2018 Internationales Stadionfest (ISTAF), and he recently launched a Nike shoe designed exclusively by women – the first shoe from a male athlete’s line designed by women for women.