Laurel Hubbard of New Zealand competes in the Women's 90kg Final during Weightlifting on day five of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games at Carrara Sports and Leisure Centre on April 9, 2018 on the Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)
Alex Pantling/Getty Images


OPINION: To Save Women’s Sports, We Must See The Truth First

“Save it, see it.”

That’s the tagline of Michelob Ultra’s newest advertising campaign, which purports to give women’s sports more visibility since men’s sports tend to enjoy more coverage, fans, and money. The beer company is asking Instagram users to employ the “save” function on the social media app whenever they see a post from a female athlete, which, in turn, makes that post more visible to other users, thanks to Instagram’s discovery algorithm.

This is a noteworthy goal from Anheuser-Busch. Women’s sports is in jeopardy and in need of saving. But, if this latest marketing campaign is any indication, the billion-dollar beer manufacturer is only contributing to the problem.

In the kickoff ad for the campaign, Michelob Ultra features several female athletes telling us we don’t have to agree with all aspects of their lives, but we can agree to save women’s sports. Also featured in the ad is runner CeCé Telfer. In 2016, Telfer ranked 200th in NCAA Division II Outdoor Track and Field. The following year, Telfer ranked 390th. In 2019, Telfer blew past the competition to win the Division II national title in the 400-meter hurdles and was named All-American. What caused the sudden improvement?

In 2016 and 2017, Telfer competed in men’s track and field before identifying as a woman and competing with women in 2019.

The biological advantage men have over women in athletics is indisputable; it’s the reason why we have separate sports for men and women. Title IX of the Civil Rights Act provides women the opportunity to compete and thrive in athletics on a fair playing field. But that field is shifting.

After Connecticut allowed males who identify as female to compete in girls’ sports, two such athletes won 15 women’s track championship titles between 2017 and 2019. These titles were previously held by nine different girls.

In 2019, Veronica Ivy, then competing as Rachel McKinnon — a biological male — won the women’s Masters Track Cycling World Championships for the second straight year and also set the world record in a qualifying race. Another biological male competing against a woman in MMA fighting fractured their opponent’s skull, and while MMA is a high-risk sport, the female opponent later commented that she had “never felt the strength I felt in a fight like that night.” These are just a few of a growing list of examples.

Women have called the encroachment of men in their sports “demoralizing.” In addition to the hours training to be their best on the field, many women are fighting to overcome additional court and legislative hurdles. After fighting an uphill battle to achieve the Title IX protections they enjoy, women find themselves looking uphill once again.

Anheuser-Busch states on the landing page for its ad campaign that it is pledging $100 million over five years to save women’s sports. In the same graphic, it also claims to be working for “equal representation of all gender identities.” These two statements contradict each other. Either the billion-dollar company is working to save women’s sports, or it is working to create men’s sports and co-ed sports. Telfer ironically states in the ad that this is “one step closer to an equal future.” But it is far from equality when girls who have worked hard their entire lives for a roster spot or a place on the podium are left in the dust by males and the hundreds of millions of dollars behind them.

As kids, we’re often told the classic story “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” From that story, we’re supposed to learn the value of calling out the truth when the crowd is too afraid to speak up. So let’s be very clear here: Men and women are different. That’s a good thing, and something we should not be quick to erase.

Thousands of girls see what is happening to their sports, and more and more are stepping forward to save it. They are speaking the truth that too many people are afraid to speak. Will Anheuser-Busch see them? Or will it choose to save its bottom line?

Christiana Holcomb is legal counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom (@Alliance Defends), where she represents female athletes seeking to protect women’s sports.

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