Here is what I’ve learned from covering female athletes over the past two decades: They want equal treatment, equal resources, and above all else, an equal opportunity to prove that they are the best at what they do.
In short: They want to be treated like their male counterparts, and this includes how they are covered in the media. C. Vivian Stringer, after nearly a thousand victories as a pioneer in women’s basketball, doesn’t walk into a press conference after a tough loss expecting a hand to shoot up with a softball like this:
“Your gals sure gave it their all! Aren’t you so proud?”
And this is why I was surprised to see the letter from Rutgers president Robert Barchi on Monday, criticizing NJ Advance Media writer Ryan Dunleavy for a headline that ran after the women’s soccer team lost in the Big Ten title game.
It is a shame that with its online headline about Rutgers’ loss in the Big Ten women’s soccer championship game (“Not again! Rutgers now 0-3 in Big Ten finals after women’s soccer loss”), The Star-Ledger chose to accentuate the negative rather than focus on another great season in women’s soccer at Rutgers.
The Scarlet Knights came up a goal short in the title game, but only after a remarkable conference tournament run in which they shut out defending national champion Penn State. And give Rutgers credit for a sensational year competing day in and day out against some of the best teams in the country, in a league that currently boasts six teams in the Top 30.
With an 11-4-6 record, including four wins against ranked opponents, the Scarlet Knights are very likely headed back to the NCAA tournament for the fifth year in a row and seventh time in nine years. New Jersey sports fans can take enormous pride in what this team is accomplishing and the perennially strong program Rutgers has built. It would be nice if reporter Ryan Dunleavy and The Star-Ledger could do the same.
I haven’t been around coach Mike O’Neill’s team much, but I did write about it before the NCAA Tournament last year. I encountered a team that accepted its loss in the Big Ten title game with resolve and anger, and was motivated to do more. It did exactly that, reaching the Final Four.
It was not a team that needed a pat on the head, which is what Barchi’s letter amounts to.
Did he write to express his outrage at the several headlines excoriating the football team for its poor performance against Indiana this weekend? Or when we pointed out that the wrestling team fell short of its expectations in the NCAA Championships a year ago? Or when we wrote that basketball player Myles Mack airballed a layup two seasons ago?
He did not. Rutgers is having a fine season in women’s soccer. We have chronicled that. But the team did lose, for a third time in four years, in a conference tournament title game. If the men’s basketball team did that — hey, optimism is contagious — you can bet that the headline would mention it.
No doubt, the university president means well here, but he’s defending a proud group of women that doesn’t need it. These players know what they lost. “It hurt, but you have to bounce back from that,” goalkeeper Alana Jimenz said on Tuesday before the NCAA Tournament selection.
If the Rutgers women bounce back with another trip to the Final Four, you can bet this website will chronicle that success. And if it unexpectedly loses to Harvard in the first game of the NCAA Tournament? The headlines will reflect that the team underachieved.
I’m guessing the players wouldn’t want it any other way, or that they’d want or need the university president to rush to their defense. They’re perfectly capable of handling the criticism themselves and don’t expect anything less. Just like the men.
LISTEN: Episode 6 of NJ.com’s Rutgers Football podcast
Rebuilding Rutgers: From The Ashes takes you inside the new football regime. This episode is a 10-year anniversary retrospect of Rutgers’ greatest win.