Candace Parker echoes Pat Summitt’s messages about gender equity in sport: ‘It’s about opening doors’

This tournament season, Parker partnered with Degree deodorant to promote equity in women’s sports — specifically women’s basketball — and encourage people to fill out a bracket with Degree’s Bracket Gap Challenge.

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Stanford Cardinal v Tennessee Lady Volunteers

Candace Parker cuts down the net after the Volunteers 64-48 win over Stanford in the National Championship Game in 2008.

Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images

Two-time WNBA champion Candace Parker remembers seeing the weight-room disparities between the men’s and women’s NCAA Tournaments last year and thinking, ‘‘It’s a picture and video we’ve all seen a thousand times.’’

Images of the men’s rows and rows of benches, squat racks and weights next to the women’s table of yoga mats and a single dumbbell tree rack per team elicited emotional responses across the sports world and beyond. The NCAA’s disregard for women athletes and the women’s tournament led to a full investigation into the inequity.

A report of more than 100 pages prepared by attorney Roberta Kaplan and her law firm and released in August found that the NCAA structurally normalized and perpetuated gender inequities. One of the recommendations was to use ‘‘March Madness’’ to market both the men’s and women’s tournaments.

Beginning with the 2022 tournament, which starts next week and culminates with the Final Four on April 1-3 in Minneapolis, the women’s tournament will be dubbed ‘‘March Madness,’’ too.

‘‘[Former Tennessee women’s coach Pat Summitt] would say, ‘About dang time,’ ’’ said Parker, a two-time NCAA champion at Tennessee.

Early in her career and life, Parker wasn’t entirely aware of the gender inequities and limitations she one day would use her platform to fight. As she recently said in a TED Talk, she always was told by her parents and those around her that she could do and be anything. When she got out into the world she said she realized the world did not see her the same way her parents and loved ones did.

One thing she can recall being an inaccurate reflection of talent dictated by gender was in high school, when the Naperville Central girls team she was on played before the boys team, even though it had won two state titles.

When she arrived at Tennessee to play for Summitt, that wasn’t the case. Parker said Summitt picked the schedule, and the women’s program followed the men’s. Summitt, an eight-time NCAA championship-winning coach, talked about gender equity with her team all the time.

After being immersed in Summitt’s environment, Parker was a bit surprised by the blatant disparities that existed at the professional level and still exist today.

What really lit the fire in Parker’s pursuit of gender equity in sports was her realization that her nieces and daughter wouldn’t have the same starting point as her nephews. Closing that gap became a priority.

‘‘Now I’m echoing the things [Summitt] was saying,’’ Parker said. ‘‘It’s about opening doors, fighting and battling through things that you may not reap the benefits of, but you know you made it better.’’

Growing up, Parker and her family always filled out the men’s and women’s NCAA brackets. She remembers the first women’s one she filled out in 1998, the year Summitt and Tennessee completed an undefeated season.

Parker carried that family tradition with her as a pro, encouraging her colleagues at Turner Sports to fill out two brackets. That is far from the norm, however. In a study conducted by Edelman Data & Intelligence last month, only 12% of people filled out an NCAA Women’s tournament bracket last March.

This tournament season, Parker partnered with Degree deodorant to promote equity in women’s sports — specifically women’s basketball — and encourage people to fill out a bracket.

Degree’s bracket challenge comes with a $25,000 payout to the person with the highest number of points, along with a $75,000 donation in his or her name to the women’s college program of his or her choice. The challenge opens following the release of the women’s March Madness tournament schedule tomorrow on Selection Sunday and will close before the start of the first game on March 18.

When it comes to filling out her bracket this season, Parker said her love for Tennessee has no limits. If she’s thinking as a betting woman, however, South Carolina will be the team left standing in her bracket.

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