Column: Another reminder of unequal playing field for women

Really, we shouldn’t be surprised.

Riley Field certainly wasn’t, not after being reminded once again that the law is one thing, but changing hearts and minds is an entirely different matter.

As the senior captain of the Maine’s field hockey team, Field has gotten used to the snickers, the insults, the slights that still go along with being a female athlete.

“Yeah, one of those moments again,” she said. “On one level, we should be shocked and surprised. On another level, it’s pretty sad that it’s not so shocking.”

Title IX is a wonderful thing, opening up doors for hundreds of thousands of women to compete on a supposedly level playing field with men.

Of course, its noble purpose hasn’t come close to being fully realized.

That was apparent last weekend in Ohio.

It all began with Maine’s nationally ranked field hockey team traveling to Kent State to play a round-robin set of games involving the host school and another out-of-town team, Temple.

During a Saturday morning match, the Black Bears went to overtime in a scoreless tie with Temple. Suddenly, Kent State officials called a halt to the game, saying the field hockey pitch was needed to shoot off fireworks before a noon football game between the Golden Flashes and Kennesaw State at adjacent Dix Stadium.

Fireworks?

In broad daylight?

“We were confused at first,” Field recalled. “Is this a joke?”

It wasn’t.

Maine and Temple were told they could come back at 5:30 p.m. — seven hours later — to finish their match, but that would’ve turned an outrageous situation into a downright farce.

“That,” Temple coach Susan Ciufo said, barely containing the disdain in her voice, “was an interesting suggestion.”

The Owls couldn’t stay, anyway, because they had already scheduled a 400-mile bus ride back to Philadelphia.

Even if they could, neither team had any intention of carrying on the match under those ludicrous circumstances.

“The whole part of having overtime is that the outcome of the game is determined in overtime,” Maine coach Josette Babineau said. “Both teams are at the worn-out stage and they’re testing each other physically to get the outcome of the game. To come back (seven hours later) and play each other for 10 minutes would change the outcome of the game. Both teams would be fresh.”

So, after two teams gave their hearts and souls to win a match that meant the world to them, it went down in the books as nothing more than an exhibition, a scrimmage, a non-game.

No winner.

No loser.

Nothing to remember it by on either team’s record or stats.

Sadly, that’s an appropriate metaphor for the way many people view women’s athletics.

“It’s offensive and it’s upsetting to think that just because of your gender, your sport is looked at as less,” Field said. “We work just as hard as any men’s team. I really do believe that.”

The Kent State debacle has given her reason to reflect even more on the way things should be.

“We get an opportunity when we’re recruited to be on a team at a higher level,” Field said. “Then, once we commit to show up, when I came here as a UMaine Black Bear that first day, that gives me the right to a locker room, the right to the training room, the right to the weight room and to practice time. Ultimately, to finish a game is 110 percent a right.”

Reached Friday on her cellphone shortly before Temple hosted Bryant in its first game since the non-game, Ciufo said the fiasco at Kent State obscured some of the daily indignities endured by female athletes.

“Everybody tries to say we’re treated equally because the uniforms are the same, the equipment is the same,” the Temple coach said. “But it could be something as simple as being treated with respect, like choosing the practice times you want. A lot of small pieces go into the inequities. It’s not always something major. Last weekend was something major, so it’s getting a lot of attention.”

While the two teams received plenty of support from the Twitter-verse, there are still a fair share of Neanderthals out there who believe women should stick to the kitchen instead of trying to get in the game.

“Title IX is great,” Field said. “But the fact that Title IX has to exist for us to receive the right to be equals is pretty self-explanatory.”

Of course, the NCAA can always be counted on to make a bad situation worse. Temple requested that the game at least be counted as a tie, which would be a boost to the rebuilding program’s resume and RPI ranking. But the NCAA ruled there are no ties in field hockey, so the game can’t go into the record books. Temple plans to appeal, but we all know how that’s going to end.

Kent State officials have rightly been taken to the woodshed over their boneheaded decision, which looked even more outrageous when Field posted video that showed barely visible fireworks being shot off in the middle of the day for a stadium that appeared to be mostly empty shortly before kickoff.

University President Todd Diacon sent out a statement Thursday essentially falling on his sword.

“It was a regrettable decision, and I am truly sorry about it,” he wrote. “All week, I have been thinking of the visiting student-athletes who spent countless hours practicing and preparing for a tournament on our campus, and of the parents who traveled here to show their support. We can, and must, do better.”

He said the Office of Compliance, Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action would be launching an investigation.

But that’s mere window-dressing at this point, a way to make those in charge feel better about the horrific message they already sent to all female athletes.

There’s no way to make it right for the players at Maine and Temple.

“I don’t think there’s a fix at this point,” Field said. “To come out on the field and play Temple again would just leave a sour taste in my mouth, to be honest. It would almost be more embarrassing. It should have been finished the first time.”

Hopefully, a lesson was learned.

Hopefully, a few more hearts and minds are changed.

But let’s never lose sight of this reality.

As we approach five decades since the passage of Title IX, female athletes are not being treated as equals.

They’re not even considered the equal of a fireworks display in broad daylight.

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Paul Newberry is a sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry@ap.org or at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 His work can be found at https://apnews.com

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