Why Sabrina Ionescu’s Decision to stay at Oregon is telling of women’s sports

I met Ionescu with my best friend, who is also named Sabrina, at the Oregon Spring Game on April 20.

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve heard of the University of Oregon’s star guard Sabrina Ionescu. She is the record holder for the most triple-doubles in a collegiate career for men or women, setting the record her sophomore year.

Needless to say, the basketball stud has done it all, including leading the Oregon women to its first Final Four birth and winning the John R. Wooden Award for the most outstanding collegiate women’s basketball player.

That’s why it was such a surprise when Ionescu chose to forgo the WNBA draft to return to college basketball for her senior year.

Ionescu celebrates Oregon’s first Final Four birth at the Moda Center on March 31, 2019, while I took photos.

Her letter for the Player’s Tribune highlighted how Ionescu feels as though she still has much to accomplish at Oregon, specifically a national championship.

However, from an outsider’s perspective, it’s clear that an unmentioned reason probably made Ionsecu want to return to college:

Women collegiate athletes experience more benefits and stardom than professional women athletes.

And, that’s messed up. The draw of money that exists for men to enter the draft does not exist for women. In fact, research shows that the average salary for a WNBA player in 2018 was $71,635 while the minimum salary for an NBA player is $838,464.

While sponsorships do exist for women to make some additional cash, they are not as lucrative as they are for men. Another blog investigated this and found that Maria Sharapova gets approximately $23 million from endorsement deals, leading all women, while Tiger Woods makes $65 million from endorsements, leading all men.

This is really bad, and I think Sabrina Ionescu wants to close this gap by bringing attention to these inequalities.

Ionescu calls out ESPN in a video during March Madness. Photo Credits: Ronald Clark

We have already seen Ionescu take on ESPN and its lack of coverage for women’s sports. Following ESPN’s coverage of the first triple-double of the NCAA tournament, Ionescu was quick to point out in an interview that she had already done it.

As a student at the University of Oregon, I have also seen Ionescu take a team that no one paid attention to and make them into a program that sells out its home games. She’s more than an athlete. She’s an activist.

Just in the last few weeks, Ionescu inspired a campaign to get women’s basketball jerseys for sale at the Duck Store. It has semi-succeeded as the Duck Store released a t-shirt version of Ionescu’s #20 jersey.

The Duck Store announced via Instagram that it would be selling Ionescu t-shirts. Photo Credits: Duck Store

Like many other women athletes, Ionescu has begun to speak up against gender inequality that she experiences. She joins Serena Williams, who spoke out against the gender stereotyping of women, the USA women’s soccer team that fought for equal pay and working conditions, the survivors of the Larry Nassar assaults and countless other women who have now decided that the time is up.

A significant change is coming in women’s sports. Women are beginning to stand up for equality and are forcing others to pay attention to their perspectives. I think its one of the many reasons Ionescu decided to stay at Oregon.

Ionescu knows that she has this platform at the University of Oregon, Nike’s pride and joy, and this platform may not exist for her at right now at the professional level.

Women around sports are finally voicing the injustices they have faced for many years. Now, it’s our turn to stand with them.

 

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