Women in sports have made significant differences in recent years by breaking through gender barriers and succeeding in various roles throughout the industry. Female coaches, sports journalists and executive leadership roles are just a few in which women have made their mark and proved they belong in the world of sports.
As the sports industry continues to evolve, women are pushing for equality in many different areas. Though they still face obstacles and discrimination, they are working to create a level playing field not only for athletes but for women working in sports as well.
Tonia Tauke, a former Nebraska volleyball player from 1996-1999, worked closely with Dr. Barbara Hibner on the up and coming Title IX movement for women in sports. During her time with the Huskers, she experienced first-hand the opportunities for female athletes.
At the time, Nebraska was a prominent football state. Though the volleyball team won the 1995 national championship, the football team had claimed four national titles at that point, including one itself in 1995.
The volleyball team played in the Nebraska Coliseum during this time, and occasionally they had games on Saturdays in the fall. Because football parking took precedent, the volleyball players were unable to park near the Coliseum for their own games.
Tauke’s freshman season was the first season the volleyball players did not have to set up the arena themselves. Responsible for setting up chairs, nets, bleachers and tables. With the rising success of the volleyball team, they could hire support staff for these tasks.
Tauke was also in the first group to have their own locker room. Before her freshman year, the women had to share the locker room with athletes from other sports, in which they had to bring their equipment and take it with them when they left. With this change they were now able to leave their items in the locker room.
“Being able to have your own space to leave your equipment meant so much to those athletes,” Tauke said.
Another significant inequality Tauke said she witnessed was the lack of coverage and broadcasting of female sports. The TV and radio covered football, even if volleyball overlapped. As a result coach Terry Petit and the team pushed for more coverage of their games on the Nebraska Public Media . In 1999, the 107.3 radio station picked up the volleyball games, which allowed football and volleyball to be broadcast on separate channels.
The Final Four matches used to be the only part of the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament that was televised. With the growth of viewership for volleyball, nearly every Husker match is televised, including each round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Nebraska volleyball team played in high school gyms when it traveled for tournaments. The convention center volleyball tournaments we experience now were one of the most significant changes for females in sports.
During Tauke’s time at Nebraska, club volleyball was around, but she said it was very elite, meaning the best of the best. When she graduated college with a Masters in Business Communication and Marketing, she immediately worked in advertising.
After September 11, 2001 when the economy changed drastically and with motivation from her parents to coach volleyball Tauke started with flyers for summer camps. After a few months, she noticed the overwhelming amount of girls that wanted to be coached by her so she started doing more classes throughout the year. The only thing left was to figure out how much she needed to be able to turn her coaching into a full-time job.
In 2003, Tauke started Nebraska ONE volleyball club alongside former Huskers Mandy Monson and Nancy Grant Colson. The club has grown to be one of Nebraska’s most accomplished and well-known.
One aspect that has been introduced and is more prominent in athletics now is transgender athletes. This is a controversial area when discussing all the significant strides females have made to fight for equality in sports.
“Female bodies should never have to compete against a genetically male body in general,” Tauke said. “Women have worked so hard to be recognized in the sports industry and it feels like we are taking one step forward and three steps back.”
Women have come so far in the sports industry not just as players and coaches but also in sports media and journalism. More women are working as reporters, broadcasters, and commentators. While they still face gender bias and unequal pay, many have managed to achieve success and become well-respected voices in the industry.
The director of marketing and fan experience in the Nebraska Athletic Department, Bailey Schlotfeld, has personally faced obstacles in her line of work.
“The hardest part when I first started working in sports was having your voice heard in a room full of predominantly white males,” Schlotfeld said. “I had to speak up more than once and still be looked over.”
Schlotfeld also said executive associate athletic director- senior women administrator, Marquita Armsted, is a prime example of how Nebraska has opened its eyes to female leadership. With the rise of women in this industry, there have been noticeable changes in female leadership.
Meghan Straub, Husker Athletic communication intern, said she has seen a lot of improvement throughout the years for women in sports. Growing up playing multiple sports, and now working in the industry, she has been a part of the strides females have taken over the years.
Straub said she believes there are many benefits to having women working in the sports industry.
“Women bring unique perspectives and experiences which can enable decision-making and problem-solving,” Straub said.
Straub said these different angles and viewpoints can lead to more creative, effective solutions because women are also great role models and show young girls that women in positions of power in the sports industry can inspire them to pursue their dreams.
A diverse and inclusive workplace can improve productivity, innovation and morale.
“Women in leadership roles tend to be more innovative,” Straub said. “When you create an environment where women feel valued, everyone can benefit.”
The representation of women in the sports industry has come a long way over the years. Women continue to defy stereotypes and inspire a new generation of young girls to achieve their dreams. Until the day women are viewed and treated equally, they will continue to push for greater gender diversity and inclusion in the sports industry and beyond.