Opinion: Itty Bitty Uniform Committee: Why female athletes need better uniforms

If I had to count on my fingers how many women’s sports uniforms were appropriate, comfortable, and modest, I’d be making a fist, because I haven’t seen one yet. I speak from personal experience because I have played several sports throughout my life that had a drastic difference between uniforms worn by men and women.  

The typical female athlete is subjected to unnecessarily short shorts or even skirts and revealing racerback jerseys. In contrast, traditionally, male athletes are expected to wear long, baggy shorts and baggy short sleeve jersey tops. Why? Well, the biggest argument is that “sex sells.”  

Women’s sports uniforms tend to be “skimpier” for the male gaze. In an interview with the Indianapolis Star, Heather Grigsby, a mother of three daughters said, “Guys are visual, and they tend to be the majority population that watches sports.”  

According to a study conducted by Michael Ricciardelli, men’s interest in every women’s sport, with the exception of figure skating and gymnastics, exceeds that of women. It is my hope to spread the word and change the narrative surrounding women’s sports in order to promote more appropriate uniforms for all sports based on the gameplay rather than a curvy body. 

Due to the prevalence of tiny uniforms, female athletes are often stereotyped and subjected to inappropriate attention surrounding the seriousness and legitimacy of their sports. For example, in June 2015, Stephen A. Smith, a popular sports television commentator, was covering the Germany versus Norway women’s World Cup when he made an inappropriate comment regarding a goal scored by Norway to tie the game. Smith insinuated that the goal went in because the German defenders “might not have wanted to mess their hair,” which is essentially calling these players lazy. Instead of emphasizing the profound skill of the player making the penalty kick, Smith chose to attack the defenders and insult their athletic ability. Not only does this exacerbate gender inequality, it also shows the underlying ideology that men’s sports require more skill or athleticism, which is blatantly false. How many times do we have to revisit this argument?  

I am not alone in this opinion. In an article published in The Oracle in April 2022, Jessica Zhang interviewed female high-school athletes about their uniforms. One interviewee, Sophia Howell, stated, “I think shorts are easier to run in, so I’d prefer wearing shorts over a skirt; but because the skirt is part of our uniform, we have to wear them.” 

As a senior in high school, I conducted a similar study on this topic for my AP Research class. I sent out surveys to both male and female athletes from several different sports regarding their personal feelings and opinions about their required uniforms. The female athletes gave answers similar to Howell’s comment above and showed a genuine disinterest and discomfort in their uniforms; however, they tolerated them because it was a requirement. Tolerance is a big part of life in some respects, but it shouldn’t dominate your recreational activities.  

The most common counterargument is, without a doubt, cost. Typically, men’s uniforms cost more than women’s uniforms with the addition of several inches on both the shorts and jersey top sleeves. Women’s uniforms are cheaper; however, women are sacrificing their comfort to save a couple extra dollars. After examining the BSN Sports Catalog, when comparing a basic Nike women’s uniform consisting of a racerback top and kilt bottoms with a men’s short sleeve jersey and 8.5-inch inseam shorts, there is a slight price difference. The men’s jersey tops are $72 per unit, and the shorts are $62 per unit, while the women’s tops are $77 per unit, and the kilts are $57 per unit. So yes, there is a price difference, but I know a lot of people that would pay five more dollars for a couple extra inches of coverage. The reality is female athletes aren’t objects. They’re talented, motivated individuals who deserve to participate in sports without feeling like their only purpose is sex appeal.