Sen. Tina Smith, a Minnesota Democrat, is calling on the NCAA to launch an independent investigation into why the women’s teams were provided such blatantly inferior equipment to their male counterparts — and why it took a viral TikTok and national outrage for the association to step in.
The senator’s letter, addressed to NCAA President Mark A. Emmert and obtained by BuzzFeed News, is the latest and most significant call for the NCAA to account for the disparate conditions between men and women athletes in the March Madness tournaments.
“Although the history of different levels of support and resources provided to men’s and women’s athletics has been a longstanding problem, the major differences in the quality of the facilities and weight rooms, swag and food provided to players and teams this year were an obvious issue,” Smith wrote in her letter.
Smith called for an independent investigation to explain why the disparity took place and provide recommendations on how to avoid it in the future.
“Too often women’s athletics is not supported or valued similarly as men’s,” she wrote. “The NCAA should not act in a manner that reinforces these inequities, instead it must actively work against them.”
Outrage was sparked last week when pictures surfaced of the men’s weight room — complete with benches, weights, and equipment-filled racks — as well as those of a single rack of dumbbells and mats provided to the women players.
Sedona Prince, a player with the Oregon Ducks, posted a viral TikTok about this.
The NCAA at first claimed that the difference in the equipment provided was due to a lack of space — but athletes quickly pointed out that the single rack of weights sat in a large, empty room.
The initial statement only fueled the angry responses on social media, later prompting Dan Gavitt, NCAA’s senior vice president of basketball, to issue an apology to the athletes and coaches of the women’s teams for “dropping the ball on the weight rooms in San Antonio.”
By Saturday, the women athletes had a room full of weight equipment to use.
But the initial disparity only prompted athletes to show other ways that men’s and women’s teams have been treated differently throughout the entire tournament, from the food to the swag bags provided to the players.
Smith called these differences “very concerning.” She also pointed to reports that the men’s teams were receiving the “gold standard” in COVID-19 tests, while players for the women’s teams were receiving antigen tests, which can be less accurate.
“While both tests are important tools in screening for COVID-19 they should be used by both women’s and men’s teams on an equal basis,” the senator wrote. “Taken together these disparities present a clear picture of devaluing the women’s players, teams and tournament as a whole.”
The senator also criticized the NCAA’s social media accounts, which she said presented the men’s March tournament as the “main event” and the women’s games “as an afterthought.”