The Lack Of Coverage For Female Athletes
When the US women’s soccer team won the 1999 World Cup it lit a fire inside of me. I had played soccer my whole life but until that moment I had never felt that kind of excitement about being an athlete. It was the first time that I can remember women of any US sports team taking center stage and becoming a sensation in the news. They were not being praised for what they looked like but instead what they had accomplished in their sport. Sadly very few of my other favorite sports memories are dedicated to women’s sports. ESPN, Sports Illustrated, local newspapers and TV stations rarely covered them. If they weren’t part of a National Championship, World Cup, or Olympics then female athletes were out of sight and out of mind. How much has changed in the twenty years since that World Cup victory? Unfortunately, not much. While social media has given female athletes a bigger platform to share their unique voice on their own mainstream media continues to fall short in their representation of them.
How much (or really little) media attention do female athletes actually receive? In the U.S. women’s sports only receive about 4 percent of sports media coverage, according to the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport. Arguing that people don’t care about women’s sports is an extremely unfair and inaccurate statement. The truth is not that people don’t pay attention because they don’t care; it is because they don’t know. “If news organizations don’t commit to consistent women’s sports coverage, then they’re helping perpetuate the biased, inaccurate belief that fans don’t care about women’s sports. You can’t build a following for women’s sports when fans don’t know when or where they’ll find games or features or in-depth analysis.” (Shira Springer)
Let’s take for example what should be one of the biggest sports news stories; the US Women’s Soccer team. The biggest names in US women’s soccer recently filed a lawsuit against U.S. Soccer. While many may have heard about the lawsuit we are not seeing the same non-stop news cycle about it like we do for men’s sports. Can you imagine if the NFL players association sued the NFL for fair wages? We would NEVER get away from it in the media until it was resolved, and even then we would have never ending analysis on the final decision.
The lack of coverage for women’s sports has real, detrimental consequences. What is this doing to the girls, adolescents, and young women who take part in sports in this country? Young females are not seeing these women participating in their respective sports or working hard to accomplish their goals especially compared to what they see with male athletes. The main stream media is doing little for the female athlete or young females in general. The effect that increasing the presence of women’s sports in mainstream media would have on young females could be astronomical. Research by E.A. Daniels included presenting young adults with photos of female athletes performing their particular sport. After seeing these photos the female participants were more likely to self-describe their own physical abilities in a positive manner. Performance photos prompted them to also see the women as ‘powerful’, ‘inspirational’, and ‘breaking down gender stereo types’. Even more interesting, it prompted them to want to work on their own skills and encouraged ‘positive feelings about being active’. Research by Heywood and Dworkin showed that performance photos elicited a positive response from male subjects as well. Male participants remarked that they admired the women in the photos for their ‘athletic abilities’.
Even research shows that we need to be exposed to strong, capable female athletes,why are we still not doing it? If we aren’t consistent with it how can we ever expect the perceptions of both males and females to change? “Creating a culture of fandom around players and teams relies on getting to know athletes and building anticipatory excitement, understanding strategy, knowing statistics, even arguing about contracts, trades, and lineup changes. All of that takes consistent, day-in and day-out coverage that makes an audience hungry for more.” (Shira Springer). When will we finally see consistency?
To make a change female athletes have to be there, on the covers of magazines, in the nightly sports round up, making headlines, and displaying their athletic abilities just like their male counterparts. The change shouldn’t be driven by them being females but simply athletes who are just as deserving of attention, analysis, and non-stop coverage. We can’t keep saying people don’t care about women’s athletics when we aren’t even giving people a fair shot to care. Until female athletes are given REAL time in the media then we haven’t even scratched the surface of what they can accomplish. Without that equality we are not only doing the female athlete a disservice but also the young athletes who need them for inspiration, motivation, and self-confidence.