Even without live sports, media disses women athletes


Women’s sports still can’t get equitable coverage, even with live sports on hiatus for nearly four months. Lindsay Gibbs’ Power Plays! newsletter last week published its second “scrutinizing sports coverage” study of sports stories by gender. Their results show that skewed coverage continues undeterred by pandemics.

Gibbs’ first such study, discussed in this newspaper last month, analyzed WNBA draft coverage. Her latest study looked at six of the country’s biggest newspapers by circulation and four ESPN channels during the month of May. 

Assisted by Tori Burstein and Hallie Martin, the three women tracked USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Dallas Morning News, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, New York Times; and ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPNews. They counted men’s and women’s “big picture” and “small news round-ups” sports stories. Their findings: 107 of 1,530 sports stories (seven percent) in the six papers combined were about women’s sports, and 35.5 of 445.5 sports front page stories (7.9 percent) were about women.

The Los Angeles Times were tops with 23.5 of 279.5 total stories about women, and the New York Times were tops with 12.5 women’s sports front page pieces (45 total). The Chicago Tribune was the worst with only one of 73 front page stories about women.

The four-letter sports network was in many ways even worse as it showed they were indeed challenged in finding 24-hour programming. Gibbs’ team didn’t look at the six regularly scheduled daily talk shows mainly because they rarely talk women’s sports, but rather tracked replays, documentaries and sports-specific news shows, as well as such non-traditional sports as poker and E-sports. Their findings:

Courtesy of Twitter Lindsay Gibbs
  • ESPN – zero of 123.5 total programming, zero of 134 replays on women
  • ESPN2 – zero of 160 total programming, two of 233 replays on women
  • ESPNU – one of 26 total programming, 276.5 of 431 replays on women
  • ESPNews – 1.5 of 142.5 total programming, six of 92.5 replays on women

Furthermore, three of the four ESPN channels devoted more time to cornhole coverage (20 hours on ESPN, 22 hours on ESPN2, and 30 hours on ESPNews). ESPN2 also aired three hours of fishing and 27 hours of poker; ESPNews had two hours of axe throwing in May.

Gibbs again shows that gender imbalance in sports coverage continues to exist because sports media decision-makers are PWM (primarily White males). These PWM decisions don’t take a break even during a pandemic.

On race in sports

A month of continuous protests and demonstrations for change has produced ongoing discussions on race in sports as well. 

ESPN will devote its Wednesday, June 24 evening programming to racism and social justice in sports, beginning at 6 pm Central time.  

ESPN Radio last week premiered ESPN Radio & The Undefeated Present The Intersection, a two-hour weekly show on the impact of social justice on sports and society. It airs at 7 pm Central time on Thursdays. Highlights from the show will be featured on ESPN’s The Undefeated and across the network’s multiplatform studio programming. A podcast version of the show will be available next month.