Last week, I was able to attend the men’s basketball game against the Syracuse Orange. Throughout the entire game, the two teams were basically neck in neck and it was anyone’s game. Vibrant electricity was pulsing through the crowd and the cheering for the Wolverines was making the ground quake; specifically, the noise from the student section stood out immensely. The student cheering section for men’s basketball games in the Chrisler Arena is commonly known as the “maize rage.” Through the encouragement of the maize rage, with less than a minute remaining, Michigan’s Spike Albrecht managed to break the tie by scoring a 3-pointer, thus putting the Wolverines back in the lead. The maize rage went crazy in wild cheers and song supporting their team. It was truly an incredible feeling to be apart of. Just as Giamatti writes in his Take Time for Paradise, I can attest that “The spectator, seeing something he had only imagined, or, more astonishingly, had not yet or would have never imagined possible, because the precise random moments had never before come together in this form to challenge the players, is privy to the realized act of imagination an assents, is mastered, and in that instant, bettered.” The ability to be apart of the maize rage was something that allowed for a bond to form not just among the spectators, but also between the spectators and the team. Through our cheering on the team, we formed a bond with them that motivated them to push themselves harder and eventually resulting in a Wolverine victory.
In contrast, when I later attended the women’s gymnastics meet against Michigan State, this same energy pulsing through the crowd was just not evident. Even though the admission to gymnastics was free, as opposed to the high priced basketball tickets, not even a quarter of the stadium was filled and the cheering just was not as enthusiastic. In Mika Lavaque-Manty’s The Playing Fields of Eton, he points out that “no women’s sport is what universities call a ‘revenue’ sport – that is, a sport so popular that its paying spectators make it a major business.” It was extremely evident that not nearly as many tickets were sold for the women’s gymnastics meet as the men’s basketball game, even though both were held at the Chrisler Center. So, why were so many more fans eager to attend the men’s sport over the woman’s? Lavaque-Manty attests this social hierarchy to certain value barriers that make it difficult for women to be viewed on an equal platform to men. One of these barriers is false beliefs about competence, that is, stereotypical false claims such as “girls can’t throw.” These false stereotypes assume that women are inherently unathletic. Another value barrier is true beliefs about differences, but unawareness of contingent criteria that assume a sport is inferior because it is performed by women; in other words, people argue that a sport is inferior just because it is performed by women. These value barriers lead people to believe that women are not as competent and athletic as men, so therefore they are not as interesting to watch.
However, the reality of the situation is that the women who participate on the gymnastics team are just as strong, powerful, and athletic as the men on the basketball team. There is no reasonable explanation as to why women’s sports can’t be just as profitable as men’s sports, other than the fact that in the past, men’s sports have always been more popular. People simply follow tradition when they chose to attend men’s sports over women’s. This tradition would be highly encouraged by Edmund Burke, who advocated, “I put my foot in the steps of my forefathers, where I can neither wander nor stumble.” He claimed that it is best for people to follow tradition because if something has been successful in the past, then it is smartest to stick with that tradition and not try to change it. With that said, however, no true change comes about unless someone is not afraid to step out of line and force change to happen. Change needs to come about regarding attendance to women’s athletics because the reality of the situation is women are just as athletic as men.