Women’s sports coverage still ‘dismally low’

AnotherViewsquareIt’s too bad that the latest on women’s sports coverage is still the same old story.

“Even when the media do cover women’s sport, the coverage often trivializes women’s athleticism and hetro-sexualizes female athletes,” said Purdue Professor Cheryl Cooky in the Washington Post’s Kevin Blackistone article published in June.

Cooky, along with Michael Messner and Michela Musto of Southern California, recently released the fifth-year update of a 25-year longitudinal study on women’s sports coverage, which began in 1989 with follow-ups in 1993, 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014. We met both Cooky and Messner several years ago at a U of M Tucker Center-sponsored seminar where they presented their findings.

Images of women athletes remain something of a rarity in most U.S. media.
Images of women athletes remain something of a rarity in most U.S. media.

No difference then to now — women’s sports coverage “remains dismally low,” says Cooky.  This includes ESPN, which broadcasts women’s basketball and WNBA games. She notes that its SportsCenter nightly broadcast “covers men’s sports nearly all the time.”

Their study focuses on Los Angeles local television — the three local affiliates combined for about five percent of their sports coverage on women’s sports in 1989 and 1993; almost nine percent in 1999; just over six percent in 2004; dropping to 1.6 percent in 2009; and now standing at 3.2 percent. Meanwhile, men’s sports coverage remains constant — as high as 96 percent (2009) and as low as 88 percent (1999).

One example of “gender asymmetries” was zero WNBA stories in both March and November 2014 on all three L.A. stations and ESPN, and just 14 in July of that year, compared to 132 NBA stories in March, 84 in July and 91 in November. March Madness men’s and women’s coverage that year “was highly uneven” — 120 men’s stories and nine women’s stories locally and 83 men’s stories and eight women’s stories on ESPN.

Furthermore, men’s sports regularly get “colorful commentary” while women’s sports typically get a “matter-of-fact” approach that generally lacks “an excited tone and agentic language” by reporters and anchors, adds the study.

That was L.A. — what about the Twin Cities? It’s the same old story.

“View” studied in an unscientific fashion the local sports coverage — for the record, we rarely watch local news for a variety of reasons. However, on successive nights last week after the GOP convention coverage, both WCCO (Channel 4) and KSTP (Channel 5) led with the Twins and a men’s soccer game. The winning Lynx got squeezed in between on both nights and never was the night’s top story on either station on either night.

Tucker Center Associate Director Nicole LaVoi recently wrote on her blog how she “and many others have educated, implored, asked, cajoled and tried to shame the sport media into respectfully and fairly covering the Lynx.”

Obviously this hasn’t moved the sports coverage equity by local stations, despite the fact that the Lynx is the only local pro team that can boast winning one championship, let alone three in the last five years. And don’t even go to the Gophers women’s hockey team — their multiple national championships in this same time span come in second to the school’s men’s team that hasn’t done as much in recent years.

Finally, the Cooky, Messner, et. al. study strongly suggests a redefining of “equity” when it comes to sports coverage, presenting women’s sports with an “equivalent in quality” and hiring sports anchors and reporters “capable and willing to do this” as well. But so long as those who decide what we see in nightly sports reports remain stubbornly steadfast in their gender inequity beliefs and assumptions, these suggestions will fall once again like a tree in a big forest where no one hears it.


Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.