The training rooms at the March Madness tournament were not comparable.
For male basketball players, the NCAA offered state-of-the-art equipment: a line of rowing machines, power racks and weights of every size.
For women, there was one small weight rack and a handful of yoga mats.
On Thursday, female players began highlighting the disparity on Twitter and TikTok. While the NCAA initially said the women’s facility didn’t have space for a full set of equipment, University of Oregon forward Sedona Prince quickly followed up with a video, showing there was ample room for more equipment. Her video sparked an outcry, with basketball players, along with many other prominent figures, calling on the NCAA to correct the disparities.
“We fell short this year in what we’ve been doing to prepare,” said Lynn Holzman, the NCAA’s vice president of women’s basketball. The NCAA is “actively working” to improve the women’s facilities, she added in a statement to journalists on Friday. Improvements to the facilities are expected to be made by Saturday morning.
In basketball, this kind of “inequality” is nothing new, Prince said. Female players are constantly derided on social media, forced to prove their strength and value on the court. I talked to Prince about her viral video — and the deeper gender disparities that persist in her sport.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Caroline Kitchener: What does the NCAA March Madness tournament mean to you and your team?
Sedona Prince: If you know anything about basketball, you know the NCAA tournament. It’s the most widely broadcasted tournament for women in college basketball. Since the eighth grade, when I started getting serious, I’d look at all these college players. Filling out a bracket, it was such a big deal for me — like, I cannot wait until I’m there.
Caroline Kitchener: When did you see the workout room for the first time?
Sedona Prince: First I saw it on Twitter. Then last night I walked over with a couple of my teammates and we were all like, “Wow.” This is what people think that women need to be strong and play Division I sports? Twelve dumbbells and some yoga mats?
Caroline Kitchener: On a basic training level, why is it important for you to have access to weights at a major tournament?
Sedona Prince: People don’t realize how much time and energy we put into our sport. We have a four-hour practice every day, we lift four times a week, we have to eat certain meals. Lifting and body health is a huge part of my career. How far my body can go is how far I can go.
Caroline Kitchener: What kind of message did you and your teammates get from seeing those weights?
Sedona Prince: We were all just like, “This can’t be real.” It sent a signal that women don’t need to lift. Women don’t need the same physical activity that men do. It felt like [the NCAA] was saying, “You’re the JV team” — even though we’re at the same level as the men, we’ve worked just as hard as they have. Women are strong, too. I’m 6’7, 210 pounds. I’m a heavy lifter. What can I do with a 30-pound dumbbell?
Caroline Kitchener: I lift, too. And people are often shocked by that. They come into my house, look at the weights and assume they belong to my husband. Nope. They’re mine.
This message that women don’t need to lift, that we’re not as strong as men — has that shown up in your life before?
Sedona Prince: I get comments about this all the time on social media. People will say, “Get back in the kitchen,” and “You don’t belong in the sport.” And then when I posted this video, so many people were outraged that we were complaining. The video got posted on ESPN. You cannot post a woman on a sports site without having the top comment as something sexist. It just doesn’t happen.
Caroline Kitchener: What were they saying?
Sedona Prince: In the comments, people were calling me names. I got death threats in my DMs. And it’s like, come on. We’re just fighting for a piece of equality.
Caroline Kitchener: How do you deal with that kind of harassment?
Sedona Prince: My mom always taught me: “They’re just gnats. You just have to swat them away.” Honestly it’s kind of fun for me because I know I’m making a change. I’m making people mad, and if you’re mad, you’re the problem. You’re what’s wrong with sports.
Caroline Kitchener: Before this, how had you seen inequalities crop up between men’s and women’s basketball?
Sedona Prince: In high school, the men’s team was horrible and the women’s team went to state every single year. People would still say to us, “You guys suck,” “The JV team can beat you.” The amount of respect that the men’s team got versus ours — way more people showed up at the men’s games.
Caroline Kitchener: Have you seen a similar dynamic play out in college?
Sedona Prince: Last year, Sabrina Ionescu, a player on my team, hit a major milestone. She got 2,000 points: 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists. No college player has ever done that before, man or woman. It was such a feat for college basketball, not just women’s basketball. ESPN posted about it and Sabrina got all this hate. People said she’s in the women’s league so it doesn’t count. I think the biggest thing is that people don’t give women’s basketball a chance.
Caroline Kitchener: Why is that?
Sedona Prince: I think it’s about men’s own insecurities — like, “Oh maybe a woman is better than me at a sport. Maybe a woman is stronger than me.” Men are insecure when they see women be better than them.
Caroline Kitchener: What comes next for you in the tournament?
Sedona Prince: We play Monday. We have our first game against South Dakota State. I get to be on TV, wear my Oregon colors and represent my school.
Caroline Kitchener: How has all this affected the team?
Sedona Prince: Now we have more to prove. By winning, we can have an even bigger voice. We can prove more people wrong.