Apparently it was well worth it when seven years ago I spent a summer afternoon wedged between burned-pink and sweaty, beer-guzzling motocross fans at San Francisco's X Games just to see inline skater Fabiola da Silva -- a seven-time gold medalist -- compete in women's vert. I didn't know it then, but years later, the competition would be eliminated entirely from the X Games, along with all other women's competitions, save street and vert skateboarding. An article in today's Los Angeles Times details the near death of female competitions at the X Games, and it seems a sad indication for the future of womens action sports.
But there is some hope yet. Female skateboarders are all too aware that they're the last to occupy the fast-shrinking territory of women's action sports and a number have formed the Action Sports Alliance. They hope to prevent women's action sports from disappearing entirely and to right reward discrepancies that are absolutely crazy-making. Last year, women won $2,000 for first place in skateboard vert, while men won $50,000. (Yes, that's four zeros).
Marketing, after all, is hugely important and women's skateboarding competitions are much less popular with viewers. But ASA members say they aren't looking for total pay equality -- just something more closely approaching it. "We're not asking for what the guys are getting," said Cara Beth Burnside, last year's skateboard vert gold medalist. "[B]ut a lot of us are out here trying to make a living."
ESPN hasn't been entirely unresponsive to complaints: The total prize for women's skateboarding was raised this year to $28,000, but the total in men's prizes rings in at a whopping $225,000. The executive director of the Women's Sports Foundation, Donna Lopiano, said this isn't an issue of calculated discrimination, but of ignorance of women's sports on the part of organizers and selection committees. Of course, until the sport is visible, it's unlikely to attract substantial enough crowds. John Skipper, executive vice president of content at ESPN, says it doesn't have a "gender-driven agenda" and calls the lack of female athletes at the X Games a "blip." Let's hope they fix this blip by next year.