Where are the female athletes?

At Sport in Society, we often discuss the coverage of female athletes in sports media. Or, rather, lack thereof. It’s a central topic in the discussion group Out of Bounds. After we wonder about inequalities in presence of men versus female athletes, the impact this may have on our society, and the expectation we unconsciously have of female athletes, we tend to conclude that popular media just do not cover female sports and athletes.

A recent study shows that on 4,9% of Sports Illustrated’s covers between 2000 and 2011, a female athlete appeared. Title IX, and an increasing number of women participating in sports since the 1990s suggest that this percentage has been lower in the past. However, Sports Illustrated featured almost three times as many female athletes between 1954 and 1965 (12,6%). Regardless these numbers, the manner in which these women are portrayed is worth a closer look. Often times, women share the spotlight with a male athlete while wearing clothes that clearly not fit for a work-out. In their conclusion, Weber and Carini suggest that Sports Illustrated promotes the objectification of female athletes to their 21 million readers.

In contrast, Frank Deford of NPR thinks fans of women’s sports can increase female athlete’s media coverage. To him, Title IX is something women should practice. It would be too easy to blame men for their dominance, while women continue to be men’s sports spectators: “if more women buy tickets to watch female athletes play, then more coverage will follow”. The real gap exists, according to Deford, between commercial and recreational youth sports. Newspapers do cover local middle- and high school women’s sports. In other words, coverage changes when money plays a role.

In my opinion, both media and sport fans can narrow the gap between coverage of male athletes versus female athletes. I, for example, can change myself and with that, my surroundings, but Justine Siegal is a perfect example for this, as she advocates an increase in participation for women in baseball. On the other hand, media have the power to influence many individuals at once… So instead of questioning the female athletes’ presence, let’s figure out where their platform is hidden.