Opportunity Costs: Examining the Price Women Pay to Play

Henry Ford College Hawks basketball player, Bre’Kayla Davis (#2), goes up for the jumpshot against Southwestern Michigan College. Photo by Ashley Davis

Henry Ford College women's basketball shooting guard, Bre’Kayla Davis, shooting basket. Photo by Ashley Davis.

On the Henry Ford College website, there was no confirmation of the women’s basketball and volleyball games taking place in the coming days. There was, however, a story about the preseason rankings of the men’s basketball team with a link to their schedule, and another about the team’s former players receiving scholarships at their respective transfer schools.

This difference in promotional coverage and opportunities is just an example of what can arise from navigating the male-dominated world of sports. Women athletes at HFC say they require more respect, understanding, care and consideration to ensure the likelihood of their success. Their experiences insist that dealing with patriarchal expectations in their personal lives demands a different kind of sacrifice than their counterparts.

According to The National Center for Educational Statistics, women are more likely to be employed while attending school full-time, which is usually the required enrollment status for recipients of athletic scholarships.

“Many of the girls are employed, where they typically hold leadership positions, and oftentimes, if people have siblings, it’s the daughters who are expected to help around the house and help care for them. And so they have to not only worry about school work and athletics, but they also have to take care of their families,” says HFC head volleyball coach, Kija Chambers.

Henry Ford College women's volleyball. Photo by Ashley Davis
Henry Ford College women's volleyball. Photo by Ashley Davis.

The pressure felt in response to role conflict isn’t just a strong sentiment. In 2020, data from the National Alliance for Caregiving research reported that nearly 70 percent of students caring for children or other family members were women. This suggests that players may already be experiencing obstacles before they play a single game.

“I think women are forced to see the bigger picture. I’m not just an athlete. I have other priorities, like a job, family and school. And sometimes all of that may have to come before softball or whatever sport you play. It’s a cycle of trying to take care of your body and other things. You may not have enough time to eat or stretch to take care of yourself and it’s tough,” HFC softball player Kameryn Krzemen expressed.

Moya Jones Hawks Softball Photo by Dominic Stankiewicz April 2019
Moya Jones Hawks Softball Photo by Dominic Stankiewicz.

The expectation to excel despite those additional responsibilities can be taxing, but pairing that with the pressure of having to prove your worth may be a source of stress that their counterparts have the luxury of avoiding.

“You might have stuff going on at home, but you still have to stay driven. And for women, that drive has to be much stronger because everybody automatically sees men. They’re already thought to be athletic because they may be bigger or taller, but we have to work ten times harder to be viewed that way,” HFC volleyball player Ashia Estelle shared. The idea of having to be twice as good to be given the same acknowledgement could be tied to discriminatory gender norms, as research on gender norms suggests that men may not respond to pressure from expectations in the same way.

A 2023 Gallup poll questioning how students experience stress claims that female students are more likely to feel daily negative emotions like worry and stress.

Despite these challenges, players agree that the opportunity for educational growth, personal development and room for flexibility makes athletic participation at a community college level a worthwhile experience.

“The scholarship is probably one of the biggest benefits. Having Henry Ford College pay for my schooling while I play basketball allows me to gain experience as an athlete and a student. When you play at the community college level, you’re at the center of being an adult because balancing everything helps you build that personal responsibility,” basketball team captain, Kiya Wilson, explains.

“I really enjoy the flexibility. I actually take online classes, so it allows me to be here for practice. The coaches also make sure to give us hours for study hall to handle coursework,” volleyball player Marissa Peterson states.

Rochelle Taylor is the director of the Henry Ford College athletic department and understands how the direction received as a student athlete can translate to success well after graduation through educational opportunities and confidence building.

“They’re being coached, not just on the game, but on being successful in life.That’s really how we want to use athletics. Many of our students get scholarships and transition to a four year school, so there are skills that you’ll end up applying to other areas of your life. Once you see that you can put yourself out there in sports, you can go into a boardroom and make a presentation, or approach your boss to ask for a raise. There is so much confidence that comes with participating in sports at this level,” says Taylor, who was once a track athlete.

It could also be argued that because women are expected to succeed, they may be conditioned to rise to the occasion which leads to success after graduation.

“They are the top students, so whatever you teach them, is what they’re going to absorb, and they usually don’t have as many stubborn habits. You have so many boys who are more focused on athletics instead of academics that the opportunities to transition to another school may not be there for them,” says former basketball coach Darryl Smith, who has since been replaced by Rashaun Hankins.

Even with such determination and perseverance, it can be hard to penetrate the erasure many women athletes feel when it comes to the absence of support in the form of general interest and game attendance.

“People put more time and effort into men’s sports. The student section is never as big, and I haven’t pinpointed why yet because we’re playing the same exact game,” HFC softball player Katelyn Postuma says.

Head volleyball coach Chambers expressed similar frustrations. “Many people feel [supporting women’s sports] just isn’t worth their time. I’ve literally heard [male] basketball players say ‘Why would I come to the game?’ Just the lack of even acknowledgement is disappointing. With sports like volleyball, people don’t know much about the sport. But with a desire to, anyone can learn the game,” Chambers said.

Some players voiced differences in access to resources like promotional attention and gym time.

“I feel the men’s sports are promoted here a little more, or a bit differently. Maybe because they’re more successful and that’s what keeps the cycle of support going, but we deserve that too,” Krzemen argued.

Estelle agrees. “I wish we could be [viewed] how the basketball guys are. Getting as much support and recognition as they do for games, because we work just as hard.”

Peterson adds, “I’ve observed that it’s easier for them to get gym time.

Sometimes there will be [male] basketball players using the court up until right before we start practice. It’s frustrating because it’s like there is a level of respect we’re expected to have for them that they just don’t have for us.”

Henry Ford College womens basketball guard Mariah Mitchell. Photo by Joshua Tufts
Henry Ford College womens basketball guard Mariah Mitchell. Photo by Joshua Tufts

Director Taylor acknowledges the differences in interest levels from fans, but insists that from an administrative level, the budget is distributed to teams according to a need-based criteria, not gender or popularity.

“The men’s games are well attended, so you don’t always get the same support from fans. Sometimes people view women’s sports as less than, or second class, but they are just as committed.” Taylor continues, “I won’t necessarily say the teams have the same exact dollar amount [in the budget] but they have the same formula for funds. The men’s teams tend to be larger, so if you look at a spreadsheet we may be spending more there.”

Taylor also discussed allocating the funds for adequate locker room facilities.

Previously, all HFC athletic teams were using one locker room for practices and games; however, the men’s locker room was recently renovated, as it was said to be in unusable condition.

“We may not do things at the exact same time, but once we’ve done something for the men, we intend to do something to enhance things for our female players,” said Taylor.

The women’s basketball, softball and volleyball teams have also gotten new coaches in the past year, so adjusting to frequent changes in leadership could be yet another challenge.

“Not having the same coach remain over a long period of time can sever the trust with players. We have some issues maintaining the same faces. I did an internship here in 2010 and the women’s basketball team was struggling in that department, so it’s been 13 years. We need more energy placed into our program so we can have the opportunity to compete equally,” former coach Smith explained.

Director Taylor, however, has full confidence in the athletic department’s ability to exercise fair treatment.

“We’re always looking at making sure that each team has whatever they need regardless of gender, whether you’re male or female.”

Positive changes appear to be on the horizon as attitudes begin to shift in regards to women’s sports. Nielsen data reported a surge in the television viewing of women’s sports. The WNBA experienced a 47 percent increase, and the NCAA women’s tournament viewership rose a whopping 103 percent compared to the previous year. There was also an increase in media coverage from an assumed 4 percent to 15 percent as reported by Wasserman and ESPN Research.

“Now more people are watching women’s sports, who probably weren’t as interested before. I’d like to see how far we’d get if people took us more seriously,” shared basketball player Nyemah Hods.

Both players and faculty agree that one of the keys to building and maintaining interest in women’s sports requires early exposure and increased access to athletic opportunities.

“People usually start to lose interest in women’s sports at the high school level. I think there aren’t as many competitive athletes because that lack of interest can mean lack of opportunity,” said Krzemen.

The Women’s Sports Foundation reports that young girls are dropping out of sports at twice the rate as boys, citing fewer opportunities to participate and issues with affordability, transportation and safety.

Director Taylor talks about how some of these early obstacles prevent female athletes from continuing the sport and competing at a higher level. “One of the barriers for women is definitely entering sports later. When I was younger, we had more free opportunities than what is available now. Youth sports have become big businesses, and there’s so much money that a parent has to invest. These are the kinds of barriers that keep girls from participating and going through the pipeline from middle school to high school to community college level, and then a four-year school. That pipeline is weakened from the very beginning,” Taylor explained.

With a changing climate and new seasons approaching, there are hopeful feelings about the future.

“I want to let the fans know we’re improving, and getting better every time we step out there. We have a lot of talent and we deserve the recognition,” Wilson states.

Her teammate, Hods, agrees. “I want to work harder to get to the next level. I love that I get another year to work on my skills and my studies here.” Information on Henry Ford College athletic teams and schedules are available at athletics.hfcc.edu.