As a 5-foot-3 girl at a big SEC school, I get a lot of weird looks when I tell people that I'm a Sports Studies major. Even though I can probably tell you more about sports than the football player who sat next to you in class, I feel my program failed me. My school holds a special place in my heart, but the athletic department brushed me off and didn't take my plans to pursue this career path seriously because of my gender.
This discrimination became undeniable after one particularly horrible incident last semester. One of my teachers sent my class an email saying that the athletic department needed volunteers for one of the biggest football games of the year. Television departments, including SEC Nation and CBS Sports, would even cover the game on campus. I immediately applied. This was it: My chance to network with the people who run my school’s athletic department behind the scenes.
Later that night, I got an email back that said the department would love to have me. I received this reply at my sorority’s formal, so naturally started to cry out of excitement (which says a lot, because I don't cry easily). I spent the next day or two gushing to my mom and closest friends about how happy I was to have been given this amazing opportunity.
Then, three days after I was accepted, I got a text from the head intern in charge of all student volunteers.
"Hi Emme," the text read. "Unfortunately, we only need two guys for the weekend. I told [our department head] that I could only take guys considering what they would be helping us with. I am so sorry for the confusion; when you emailed me, I automatically figured you were a guy and did not pay attention to your name."
This was the first time I experienced gender discrimination and realized the need for feminism firsthand. This opportunity — which ended up leading to an incredibly competitive internship position — was not taken from me because of a lack of experience, education, or anything I could work to improve. It was taken due to direct discrimination. My department assumed I could not handle whatever task they needed me to do because of my gender.
This incident was perhaps unsurprising considering that the sports industry is male-dominated. Many people even assume that I'm entering it because I want to date the players. But I'm interested in this field because I'm passionate about sports, and I want to be treated the same as men are treated in the industry. I put in the same amount of work as my male peers, if not more, to reach that goal. I might not be the tallest or strongest job candidate, but I can guarantee I would be the hardest and most dedicated worker.
So I decided to fight back. When I told my friends and family about what happened, they asked if I was sure that I was turned down only because I’m a girl, so I sent them the screenshot of the text that proved this blatant discrimination in writing. I emailed the person who oversaw the head intern who texted me to get an explanation. Their response was painful and unhelpful: They suggested that I apply for the same internship next year and ignored my questions about gender-specific opportunities. I then went to talk to the department head mentioned in the text, who was very dismissive. I had planned and was ready to give a perfect, 20-minute speech about everything I felt I needed to say, but he made it obvious that he did not care and did everything short of kicking me out of his office. I was in and out in only four minutes.
My school dropped the ball. My program allowed this to happen and did absolutely nothing to help me. I felt defeated, as though I would never be good enough. If a student wants to throw herself into a program for at least four years, she should feel valued. It is heartbreaking to know that I am not an intern with my athletic department simply because I am a girl.
But I am also a girl who knows more about sports than most boys do. I am a girl who loves her school. I am a girl who is passionate about her field of study. I am a girl who deserves respect and equal opportunities. I am a girl who let a devastating misfortune become motivation. I am a girl, and I will not let that stop me from reaching my full potential.
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