Okay, so I am deeply bothered to learn that the strongest athlete in America, Sarah Robles, has to accept donations from her friends just to keep her head above water. Jessica Testa from Buzzfeed fills us in. Robles can lift more weight than any other American competitor (men included), but she only receives $400 monthly from U.S.A. Weightlifting. Unfortunately, "PowerBar is Robles’ only product sponsorship and her name isn’t yet big enough to land her any big special appearances."
This is problematic, once again, because much of the reason for her lack of sponsorship is her body type. In order to lift 568 pounds, her body has to be large enough to support that. That means she's not going to look like Venus or Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Jennie Finch, or Abby Wambach. She has a much broader frame than any of those women. That's great for her sport, but not for getting corporate sponsorships.
(My full wrath after the jump.)
The real problem is more significant than just that of Sarah Robles not getting recognition from sponsors. She seems pretty kickass. I would love to be able to dominate all the dudes in a sport, but I wouldn't love to not get paid the same way my competitors are just because of how my body looks. If you want more about Robles in particular, there is plenty to read. Check it out here or here.
My primary problem emerges when we compare an athlete like Robles to the athletes who have little to no difficulty attracting corporate sponsors. Take, for instance, the women's volleyball team representing the United States in the Olympics this summer. Compare their photos with their list of sponsors.
This may not seem particularly significant to some skeptics. However, in order to generate my list of athletes earlier, I was trying to list some female athletes with smaller body types and I drew a blank. In order to refresh my memory, I did a quick Google search for "female athletes" and two of my top ten results were about the sexiest female athletes, etc. Expecting to find different results, I searched for both "male athletes" and "athletes." If I don't specify the gender, the search results are mostly about athleticism with a slight lean toward male dominated content. To my surprise, however, searching for "male athletes" yielded five out of ten results about the hottest male athletes, etc.
This completely unscientific research surprised me, but it actually strengthened my initial hypothesis: Americans place too much emphasis on the appearance of athletes' bodies rather than focusing on their performances. If we look at the NSFW slideshow from the ESPN Bodies Issue (and last year's issue), we see the athletes featured are those who have bodies the dominant culture deems attractive. (If you're bothered by the posing, please read this analysis of why we pose the women the way we do and what this says about our tastes.) This would clearly lead to corporations sponsoring athletes with these "acceptable" body types. Men who fall outside end up doing humorous bits in commercials and selling Campbell's Chunky™ Soup. Where do women go for money?
As always, I'm at a loss for solutions here. All I know to do is to continue talking about it and do my best to avoid participating in objectifying other people's bodies. Yes, sometimes I think that athletes are yummy looking, but I also appreciate and respect their athletic abilities and contributions. As I am always saying, respect and acknowledgement go a long way.
Anyway, do you have suggestions as to how we can end this disparity and help ALL talented athletes earn a living wage while training? If so, I'd love to hear it.