I find that as a follower of competitive swimming I'm just about (well, almost) as much a fan of women's swimming as men's. It's the same sport, just with a different set of standards. I think this is true of most hard-core track fans as well: they follow the women almost as closely as the men. Most tennis fans seem to follow the women about as closely as the men as well.
Somehow, the same dynamic doesn't exist with basketball; I don't know a single male fan who follows the WNBA. And the average baseball junkie knows next to nothing about women's softball.
But I enjoy following women's swimming; I just judge the performances by a different yardstick.
Nonetheless, whenever I read a politicized article -- the kind you find in the NY Times sports section -- about how women are making breakthroughs in previously male domains, or about how social barriers are being broken down so that women can compete in NASCAR, or about pay inequity between male and female golfers, it rubs me the wrong way.
Most professional sports are run pretty much according to market principles. If more people go -- or tune in -- to watch them, there will be more revenues, and thus more money for the athletes. (This isn't a perfect correlation, but it's generally true.)
The reason some women's sports don't pull in the same kind of audiences is simple: they're just not as good athletes. If you want to see the fastest runner on the planet, you watch Usain Bolt, not Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. If you want to see a 100 mile-per-hour pitch, you tune into major league baseball, not women's softball. And so on.
That the NY Times is always trying to imply that it's only piggish males who hold women back from achieving their full athletic glory makes me wants to see an article which spells out gender differences in all their gory detail.
The following is adapted from the Wikipedia summary of swimmer Missy Franklin's accomplishments
at the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona (italics mine):
At the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona, Missy Franklin won six gold medals, setting a new record for the most golds won by a female swimmer at a single edition of the meet. Frankliln's three individual golds came in the 100 and 200 meter backstrokes and 200 meter freestyle.
In her first individual event, held on the third day of the pool competition, the 100 meter backstroke, Franklin won gold in a time of 58.42. The men's event was won by American Matt Grevers in 52.93. (It took a 54.72 just to make it into the men's semi-finals.)
On the fourth day, in the 200 meter freestyle, Franklin won her second individual gold in a personal best time of 1:54.81. The men's event was won by Yannick Agnel in 1:44.20. According to Swimming World's conversion charts, Franklin's 1:54.81 equates to a 200 yard freestyle in 1:41.49, which might even win the boys' state high school championship in a few places like Wyoming and Alaska.
On the seventh day, Franklin successfully defended her title in the 200 meter backstroke, winning with a time of 2:04.76 and setting a new championship record. The men's title was won by Ryan Lochte in 1:53.79; this means that had they raced head to head, he would have beaten Franklin by roughly ten body lengths.
Franklin's primary advantage as a female swimmer is her size: she is 6'1", with large hands and feet. But even though she is basically man-sized, her times show that the women have a long way to go before they catch up to the men.
(I emphasize: it is only the Times and their ilk who make me want to see such an article.)