By Joshua Mabry, Campus Carrier Sports Editor
Even though women have the opportunity to play sports, female athletes are still heavily under-represented in society.
Having a sister who played sports and several female athlete friends who play now, the women under-representation of women in sports troubles me. Female athletes do not have the same opportunities, access, exposure and privileges as do male athletes.
Two areas where the contrast between male and female athletes is stark are media coverage on sports networks and choice in athletic gear.
Female athletes rightfully want the chance to experience genuine, lived gender equality in regards to media coverage, which essentially means that they want the same opportunities and experiences as male athletes.
Women want their games to receive as much coverage as male sports do. They work just as hard as the men. Gender should not matter when it comes to sports. Athletes are athletes, and they all work hard to get ready.
Some people argue that women have achieved equality in media coverage, but this is not the case. When women receive coverage on sports networks like ESPN, they are often talked about negatively or in a surprised tone by the sports commentators. For example, when a female athlete achieves something that is amazing, like hitting for the home run cycle, commentators talk about it as if they are surprised a woman could do it. (Note that even men haven’t yet hit for the home run cycle.)
I recently completed a semester-long research paper about the under-representation of women’s college basketball compared to men’s college basketball on ESPN’s SportsCenter in my Theories of Communication class here at Berry. After examining three episodes of SportsCenter that aired during this year’s men’s and women’s Final Four and championship games, my results showed that if both a men’s game and a women’s game took place on the same day or within a few days of each other, the men received far more coverage.
On the April 6 episode of SportsCenter, for example, the women received just over three minutes of coverage of the Final Four while the men received approximately 14 minutes. The women’s coverage consisted of a recap of the games from the night before; the men’s games were extensively covered.
In a study similar to mine, “Gender Equity in Televised Sports: A Comparative Analysis of Men’s and Women’s NCAA Division I Basketball Championship Broadcasts, 1991-1995,” James Hallmark and Richard Armstrong found that SportsCenter and CNN’s Sports Tonight devote less than 5 percent of coverage to women’s sports.
These discrepancies filter all the way down to NCAA Division III level, which means right here at Berry.
Coaches of women’s sports and female student-athletes at Berry have noticed that the local radio station covers far more men’s games than women’s. With as much success as the women’s teams enjoy, including the volleyball and softball teams, why is radio coverage of these athletes still rare?
Disparities in media coverage are sort of obvious. A less-obvious manifestation of our blindness to gender inequity is hidden plain sight – the walls and racks of the local sporting goods stores. Female athletes enjoy limited options for sports gear compared to the men. Women are often forced to buy and wear men’s gear or shoes because the gender-specific choices are so few.
Women have achieved some equality in the sports world, but there is still a long way to go before women can say they (finally) have genuine, lived gender equity in sports.