It’s pretty clear that in today’s society males are the dominate figure in sports. They receive a tremendous more amount of media attention than female athletes. Young boys grow up watching television bombarded with heroic images of male athletes. They have something to look up to, while young girls don’t receive the same images.
“Girls also see a double standard in covering women’s sports. When male athletes receive media attention, such coverage is primarily focused on their skills and performance. When female athletes receive media attention, the media is much more likely to focus on their physical attractiveness or non-sport-related activities.” (Lopiano)
“Anna Kournikova, who has yet to win a professional tennis tournament, was one of only six women ranked among the most important people in sports.”
When the media does choose to focus on female athletes, they tend to focus more on their appearance and clothing. Maria Sharapova, a tennis player who receives more media attention about her looks rather than her athletic ability. Research has shown that commentators rarely report on Sharapova without also commenting on her appearance. So when is this going to change? Why can’t female athletes be praised for their talent and skills, not their appearance and style?
Money follows the exposure and attention. “Forbes published an article in 2010 on the highest paid female athletes. Tennis player Maria Sharapova, ruled as the top-earning female athlete. Women’s tennis is arguably the most commercially popular and successful among all women’s sports, likely because it is an individual sport that draws a greater percentage of male followers than other women’s sports.” (Schonberger)
Marion Jones vs. Amy Acuff
Marion Jones demonstrates under reporting at its finest. Prior to the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games she planned on winning five gold medals. She declared it a certainty. Jones isn’t model-like-thin, she’s strong and muscular. This look can be viewed as being unfeminine. She most definitely doesn’t confirm with stereotypes of femininity.
It shouldn’t be any surprise to realize that during the U.S. media build-up towards the Sydney Games the most photographed female athlete was not Marion Jones but Amy Acuff. Acuff is 6ft 2in, blonde, part-time model, and a high jumper. She didn’t say anything about wanting to win a gold metal during the pre Olympic media coverage. Instead she said she wanted to work on the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition: “Because people get a lot of attention for that.”
“This is a classic example of the fact that female athletes tend to gain media attention at least as far as photographs are concerned – for what they look like and not necessarily for their sporting achievements.” (Bernstein)
Acuff is one of the most photographed female athletes in the world. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Acuff said, “I wanted to show that a woman athlete can be extremely competitive and driven and successful and still retain feminine qualities.”
Strong athletes can’t be real women?
Where does Title IX play into all of this?
Title IX passed in 1972 states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance”
Since then female participation in sports has increased, but is still not equal to men. “In a series of stories marking the 25th anniversary of Title IX, USA Today surveyed 303 Division I schools and found that “for every $1 spend on women’s college sports, $3 is spent on men’s, with women receiving only 38 percent of scholarship funds and 27 percent of recruiting funds,” (Joplin)
Despite the growing level of participation by female athletes in competitive levels, coverage of women’s sports remains inferior to male sports across the media. In almost every aspect: column inches, running time, personal quotes, placement of articles (presence, size, length), placement of photos, and size of headline.
But today it’s been nearly 40 years since Title IX emerged. “In 1971, just 30,000 women competed in college sports. In 2009, according to the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), their numbers hit 182,000. Similarly, the number of girls in high school sports has grown from 295,000 to 3.2 million today. (Flannery)
Female athletes and the Olympics
The Olympics are a worldwide event, yet there are a lot of issues within the media concerning the presentation and portrayal of female athletes. First off, simply said male athletes receive more media attention during the games. This includes television, online, print, and Sports Illustrated. When female athletes do get attention it’s based upon their physical attractiveness.
“NBC producer Molly Sims said during the recent International Olympics Committee Women & Sport Conference in Los Angeles that during the Olympics, tune-in rates between the male and female audiences in the U.S. are strikingly similar.” (Schonberger)
But the Olympics do provide a great opportunity for female athletes. “Experts say national flags trump all other forms of identity,” which means if the viewer is rooting for Team USA gender doesn’t matter; they just want America to win. The Olympics also offer a variety of sports telecast. “Research has shown women prefer watching more gender-neutral, non-contact or “feminine” types of sports, such as gymnastics, swimming and beach volleyball, and enjoy the emotional back-story that Olympics coverage provides.” So as the years go on, women are making progress towards achieving equality within the sports world. (Schonberger)
For the most part the cover of ESPN the magazine features mostly male athletes. But when females are chosen for the cover they are usually feminized or sexualized. When men are on the covers they’re usually wearing their uniform, looking heroic, strong, and powerful. It seems like the exact opposite when women are on it because they’re exposed and not dressed in athletic attire. Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about.
Women in sports journalism
“In the early 1970s, The Associated Press estimated only 25 women worked in U.S. newspaper sports departments, and just five worked in sports broadcasting. Now, roughly 10 percent of the sports media industry is comprised of women.” (Kuta)
Female sports reporters face many obstacles. Evidence concludes that women in the field have experienced poor treatment because of their gender. This can include “cat calling and sexual comments by players in the locker rooms and on the sidelines. In September of 2010 an incident occurred in which the NFL investigated the behavior of Jets players upon reports of harassment of Ines Sainz (reporter). Reports stated that the Jets’ defensive backs coach, was throwing passes directly towards Sainz on purpose. It was also reported that players made sexually suggestive comments about Sainz in the locker room. This incident sparked the debate about the treatment of female journalists, and what is and isn’t appropriate when covering male sports. (Gunther)
Female sports reporters are also questioned about their credibility, authoritativeness, and perception of news. I think in today’s society women are definitely stereotyped as being not too knowledgeable when it comes to sports. But there are plenty of women that succeed in the field of sports journalism and broadcasting. Hannah Storm, the co-anchor of ESPN is one of the most successful female sports broadcasters around. She has plenty of experience and is very well known.
It’s clear that majority of networks don’t dedicate a lot of time to female sports. ESPN devotes 1.4% of air time towards women sports. The Center for Feminist Research at USC did a study on the media coverage and attendance of the NBA vs. WNBA. Here are the results.
So as you can see the WNBA received a disproportionate share of media coverage compared to the NBA. The USC authors suggest targeting the neglected female audience as a solution. “The View” and “Oprah” should be offering sports highlights and scrolling tickers with scores. Magazines such as Vogue, Allure, Cosmopolitan, and Better Homes and Gardens should be bursting with stories about draft picks, photographs of awesome plays, and up-to-date information about fantasy teams and brackets.” (Sommers)
Salary of professional athletes
Average player salary of men’s professional sports:
NBA: $5.15 million (2010-11)
MLB: $3.34 million (2010)
NHL: $2.4 million (2010-11)
NFL: $1.9 million (2010)
Average player salary of women’s professional sports:
WNBA: rookie salary: $36,500, Veteran: $50,000, Maximum: $95,000
Total prize money for the PGA tour is $256 million. That’s more than five times that of the LPGA tour, $50 million.
I think that the media has a big influence on many people, especially younger generations. I want young girls growing up and having role models who are female athletes. I remember when I was younger my favorite female athletes were Mia Hamm and Jennie Finch because those were the only two I knew.
It’s not right if the media is always commenting on their attractiveness. Let girls play sports and receive the same attention, criticism, and praise as men. Most of my research supports the fact that the media represents female athletes as sexualized and feminized objects.
An athlete has special qualities that make him or her great. Competitiveness, confidence, skill, focus, determination, and pride are just some of many. I think it’s time for female athletes to get the respect they deserve.
What can you do?
1. Attend women’s sporting events
2. Support companies that advocate for women’s athletics
3. Encourage television stations and newspapers to cover women’s sports
4. Encourage young women to participate in sports