The most-watched sports event so far this summer is one that may surprise casual sports fans: the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Women’s College World Series.
The softball championship returned after the 2020 tournament was canceled due to COVID-19. The eight-team field arrived after 119 games of regional and super regional play that started this spring, where the sizzling softball pitches — underhanded in motion only — brought delighted gasps from fans and dastardly snarls from batters.
“[I]t’s a game that’s not just for one particular group but for everybody.”
- Al Ramsey, former Executive Director, the United States Slo-Pitch Softball Association
Getting into the game
According to Sports Destination Management, 40 million Americans of all ages will play at least one softball game in a year’s time. That’s up from an estimated 30 million Americans playing softball in 1988, according to the American Softball Association. These surging numbers have prompted equipment manufacturers to call softball the nation’s №1 participant team sport.
“I think it’s a game that’s not just for one particular group but for everybody,” Al Ramsey, then-executive director of the United States Slo-Pitch Softball Association, told the Los Angeles Times in observing the sport’s rise. “It’s for people from all walks of life.”
In many ways, softball is diversity at its finest. Female and male, young and old, pros and amateurs, organized leagues and barnstorming teams have made the sport a field of delight and athleticism for a wide swath of Americans. In its ability to invite players from different life paths to get into the game, softball reminds us of what we can gain in working together toward #5050x2028.
Growing a fanbase
In attracting fans, women’s college softball is ahead of almost every college sport except football and basketball. The average television audience for the current softball World Series (1.05 million) is close to that of the most recent male college baseball World Series (1.13 million).
For the tournament two years ago, 1.8 million people watched the final game. That exceeded fan viewing in the same time frame for the championship games of college soccer, hockey, or lacrosse — men’s or women’s, according to the New York Times.
But as the New York Times also notes, “one sport’s players get showers, off days, massages and a festive dinner (male players), while the others get doubleheaders and sweaty bus rides back to a hotel (female players).”
The NCAA tournament has ended — with the Oklahoma Sooner picking up their fifth-ever national championship — but the quest for equal representation in sports, on field and off, continues to round the bases.
Bringing in the whole team
Achieving 50/50 in sports triggers fierce debate in many circles. Ultimately, the reasons offered as “explanations” have the same tinny ring as other “reasons” for less pay for the same work, passed-over promotions, and shoddy surroundings. At Women’s Campaign Fund, we advance the idea of letting our nation’s whole team get off the bench to make our country more balanced, more secure, and more prosperous. In a whole-team approach, everyone must be given the same rules and tools. #5050x2028 is not a slogan; it’s a swing for the stands that sweeps all of us into home plate.
The Summer Olympics will be another swing forward to 50/50. After an absence of 13 years, softball and baseball will make their Olympic return at the Tokyo 2020 games in 2021. The U.S. women’s team joins teams from Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, and Mexico on the world’s largest sports stage.
WCF knows the gold that one team wins on the field will be all-inspiring. Better still, it’s no “fool’s gold”: the innings continue until we reach #5050x2028.
©2021 Women’s Campaign Fund
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