Are women skaters being undercut in pro contests?
By Rob Brink
TransWorld Business October 2005
When Flip pro Geoff Rowley receives the same $2,000 check for showing up and not skating at this summer's X Games 11 that Elissa Steamer won for her gold medal in Women's Street—something is bit off kilter. And this year, the Games were abuzz with chatter of a supposed Women's Vert boycott due to the lackluster prize purse. As the Games went on, however, so did the Women's Vert event, which left many wondering “What happened to the boycott?”
But Cara Beth Burnside, pro skateboarder and co-founder of the Alliance, an organization of women skaters working together to create a new voice for women's skateboarding and taking their skateboarding and careers to a new, more professional level, says that it wasn't all about money at all. In fact, according to Cara Beth, the supposed “boycott” was never even proposed or organized.
Prior to the X Games, however, none of the top girl competitors even knew whether or not they were invited to compete until a few days prior to the event and the top prize money was barley enough to cover one rider's expenses had they decided to compete.
“We were disappointed,” said Burnside, “but mostly just felt ignored by the major players in the sport. So we asked ourselves ‘Why do it at all?' This wasn't against ESPN or World Cup. We didn't have or make demands of them. We just finally realized that whether we were at X Games or not didn't matter to most of us—financially or promotionally—it just didn't seem worth it. We truly felt ignored, invisible, in connection with the world's best known and highest paying event.”
A few phone calls were made on behalf of the Alliance, and ultimately, ESPN agreed to work with the ladies to discuss future X-Games contests, improving communications and the presentation of the sport—as long as the girls agreed to skate in the X-Games.
"Positive change starts with communication," says Chris Stiepock, General Manager of the X Games. "I had a good talk with Cara Beth the day prior to the X Games and I look forward to talking with her and Jen O'Brien in the future. The X Games are a great showcase for women's skateboarding and should continue to be so."
“The real problem for girls in skateboarding seems to be the lack of voice and visibility,” Burnside says. “We just don't have the opportunity to contribute to the way events are structured and presented, and so our performances have sometimes not shown us in the best light. We aren't stupid; we realize that we need to skate well and develop the competitive side of the sport (so the level of skating can go up). However, if we can't even get to the contests, and if we can't encourage other girls to try the sport at the highest levels, then we're stuck.”
“The fact that major magazines like yours are talking about this shows that what happened was important,” says Cara Beth. “Slam City Jam more than doubled its prize purse for women a couple weeks after learning about the Alliance. And we have had some small sponsors, like Xooma/X20 nutrition drink helping us with getting our athletes to events.”
“Things will definitely change,” continues Cara Beth, “The girls are strongly united in and behind the Alliance and things will be better for girls all over the world because of it. We plan on creating more opportunities for the girls, to help make a future in skateboarding possible for the next generation.”