Are women exploited in sports?

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Photo by Zach Lucero on Unsplash

Over the years, allegations of abuse and neglect have been brought forward by many female athletes. At 17, Mary Cain became one of the fastest females in track and field. She later joined Nike’s Elite Oregon Project and endured years of abuse, injury and body shame. Cain claims that the abuse was fueled by the fact that she was trained by an all-male coaching team, and that their training program drastically altered her body. 

Mary became unsafely thin and endured disrupted hormones due to her strict training. Her estrogen became so low that she broke five bones and did not have a menstrual cycle for three years.  She claims that her coach would berate her in front of teammates for her weight and conduct weigh-ins in front of the athletes in order to shame her. Mary’s coach attempted to put her diuretics and birth control pills that would cause her to lose water weight and get her period back.

She claims that she never took the pills, but her eating became more and more disordered. Eventually she hit rock bottom and became severely depressed and was self-harming. There should be more education provided in the athletic world about the damage that excessive amounts of exercise can have particularly on the female body.  

It has been found that those who exercise excessively are at increased risk of developing “permanent structural changes to heart muscles which scientists describe as cardiotoxic. Overexertion can also lead to a poor immune system, broken bones and mental health illness.” 

Cain’s story has raised questions in the sports world about female athletes and if similar abuse is occuring in other athletic programs across the country. As an athlete that joined a competitive tennis club in high school this story makes me reflect on not only the way that female athletes are treated but the body image standards that we are often forced to abide by. 

There is a difference between maintaining a healthy weight and being scrutinized for unrealistic body weight expectations. Much of the training that occurs in these competitive sports clubs is also run by men. Cain’s case demonstrates how overexertion and incorrect training for the female body can drastically alter female hormones and can be damaging to the body. 

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