The wide world of sports is more diverse and less overwhelmingly male than ever, but you wouldn’t know it from reading the sports sections of most newspapers.
The local rags are no exception. Reading the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and The Dallas Morning News sports sections on Thanksgiving and the two surrounding days, I found, besides a few briefs, only three stories about women’s sports – coverage of a TCU women’s basketball game in the Star-Telegram, a high school girls’ game in the News, and a Baylor women’s basketball game in both papers. The Lady Frogs beat Houston, and the Lady Bears beat LSU. (Why do the women’s teams have to be the “Lady” whatevers? The men’s teams aren’t the “Gentlemen.”)
Yes, I know it’s football season in Texas, and few women play football (although there is a local women’s football team). Still, the sports sections of our big newspapers report scant news about women. Rare is the day that a female athlete graces the cover of a News or Star-Telegram sports section.
I’ve heard all the arguments. Sports fans like to follow the pros, and professional sports are overwhelmingly male. Most sports fans are men, and men aren’t interested in women’s sports. Women’s sports are boring or slow or not competitive enough. Women’s sports don’t make money.
Funny, the people making these arguments are men.
Here’s another argument: People naturally like to read about others like them, so it stands to reason that if more women appeared in sports sections, more women might read sports sections. Since women make up more than half of the U.S. population, might they be an untapped market for newspapers, which are losing circulation?
A report this year for the Associated Press Sports Editors showed 95 percent of newspaper sports editors are men, and the majority of those are white men. Out of 300 newspapers of all sizes surveyed, only 16 had female sports editors, and only five of those women worked at large newspapers. The Star-Telegram boasts one of those five, Celeste Williams. Yep, she’s Randy Galloway’s boss.
It’s not that women and girls don’t participate in sports. Too bad that Title IX, the 1972 amendment to the Civil Rights Act that helped give women’s sports a boost at public institutions, doesn’t extend to media coverage of sports.
Despite the millions of girls and women who play school and college sports, plus women’s pro and amateur leagues, little of their efforts get media coverage outside of a few events like Wimbledon, the Olympics, the NCAA basketball tournament, and some WNBA games (although not in this area because we don’t even have a WNBA team).
On tv broadcasts, women sports reporters are relegated to the sidelines. They’re usually freezing in the cold, sweating in the heat, or fending off drunken drooling from Joe Namath while the male commentators sit in cushy press boxes and spew clichés.
In August, I was pleasantly surprised to hear a female announcer at a San Francisco Giants game in that city’s AT&T Park. Renel Brooks-Moon is the only woman announcer in Major League Baseball. Her soothing voice complemented Barry Bonds’ steroid-enhanced home run that night.
Female athletes generally get more media attention for their looks than for their achievements. Danica Patrick drives a car faster than most men, but she attracted fans by trading her NASCAR racing suit for swimsuits in a magazine photo spread. Anna Kournikova has never won a major tennis tournament, but she gets more ink than 2006 Wimbledon winner Amelie Mauresmo because she’s drop-dead gorgeous.
And let’s not even discuss the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.
Sports media coverage is not keeping up with the times, nor does it reflect the communities that consume it. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, a nonprofit educational organization, 41 percent of high school athletes and 43 percent of college athletes are female. The WNBA is 10 years old. Two professional women’s football leagues exist, and the local team, the Dallas Diamonds, won the Women’s Professional Football League championship in 2004 and 2005. Women of all ages participate in a variety of sports, including running, weightlifting, softball, basketball, tennis, golf, volleyball, racquetball, swimming, diving, gymnastics, skating, and dozens more.
The editors, producers, commentators, reporters, and photographers behind newspaper, magazine, and television sports should start reflecting reality by giving female athletes the coverage they deserve.
Tracy Everbach is a journalism professor at the University of North Texas. She can be reached at TracyEverbach@hotmail.com.