EVEN THE PLAYING FIELD
Inequality in sports media PSA
All narratives come from somewhere, whether it is stereotypes and standards about sports, teams, groups, or people. Society’s consumption of television, smartphones, and advertisements affects the way we see the world. Media impacts the way we think, talk, learn, and live. Over the past 40 years, sports media has been dominated by one point of view, men. The amount of coverage women athletes receive is close to none. In 2019, a study conducted by Cheryl Cooky concluded that the spectrum of female athletes on televised news and highlight shows, including ESPN’s SportsCenter, totaled only 5.4% of all airtime for the year. There has been little change from 1993, with a percentage of 5.1%. Even if there is coverage of female sports, the coverage is usually lower in technical quality and a decrease in production value. Female athletes remain at the periphery of sports reporting, and gender inequality in sports media continues to be an ongoing issue.
As a current collegiate athlete at the University of Southern California, I have learned that my college experience will always differ from that of a male athlete. I didn’t have this epiphany until I got to the division one level because the media told me a different story. As a student intern for football this 2022 season, I can speak to the differences in media coverage. Platforms like Instagram, Youtube, Tiktok, and Twitter, even at the collegiate level, are astronomically varied on gender and sport. For many women’s games, even in the postseason championship season, the content created and hired is always a fraction compared to any USC football game. The problem with this is that sports coverage hugely influences norms and stereotypes about gender. Media can challenge these norms if we switch the posted, shared, and retweeted media. Promoting a balance of coverage of men’s and women’s sports to have a fair portrayal of sportspeople is the next step that needs to be taken. If the media doesn’t give any attention to female athletes, it supports the stigma that we, female athletes, elite athletes who are capable of greatness, do not matter. My PSA is to bring awareness to gender inequalities in media coverage. Women should not feel worthless. Women deserve the spotlight just as much as men.
Finding role models growing up was challenging when there weren’t females in front of our faces on our screens that weren’t Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, or Tom Brady. Minimal airtime deprives young girls of athletic role models of influential figures like Simone Biles, Serena Williams, Billie Jean King, Katie Ladecky, and so much more. According to one study of sports television coverage in Southern California, women and girls account for over 40% of athletes, yet they receive less than 4% of the coverage on news shows. Cooky found a “stark contrast between the exciting, amplified delivery of stories about men’s sports and the often dull, matter-of-fact delivery of women’s sports stories.”
Media representations of sports and athletes are contributing to harmful gender stereotypes. Being a division one athlete takes work. My video reveals the struggle of female athletes who give their sport everything and anything for very little return: less pay and less coverage than men. The content of women in sports is often dominated by references to appearance, age, or family life, whereas men are depicted as powerful, independent, dominating, and valued as athletes. Media tends to represent female athletes as women first and athletes second. The theme from my video is to embody that women in sports are powerful, independent, and dominant too; the media should be sending this as their message.
This neglect of women’s sports in the presence of social accounts of the organizations that are supposed to be promoting women’s sports. Whether by the NCAA, USA Today, U.S. Soccer, or the NBA, their negative contributions or lack of contributions to women’s media and content is a fundamental reason for the vast gap between men’s and women’s sports. Whether on social media, a paycheck, or tv coverage, we need to do better at recognizing the value and power of women in sports.
USC Athletics Videographer Gage Masterson
Cooky, C., Messner, M. A., & Musto, M. (2015). “it’s dude time!” Communication & Sport, 3(3), 261–287. https://doi.org/10.1177/2167479515588761
Gender Equality in Sports Media. UNESCO. (2019, July 24). Retrieved November 15, 2022, from https://en.unesco.org/themes/gender-equality-sports-media
Service, P. N. (n.d.). Overlooking her shot: Women's sports need an assist as coverage remains the same as 30 years ago. Purdue University News. Retrieved November 15, 2022, from https://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2021/Q1/overlooking-her-shot-womens-sports-need-an-assist-as-coverage-remains-the-same-as-30-years-ago.html
YouTube. (2019). YouTube. Retrieved November 15, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4X2j1MsMP04&t=170s.
YouTube. (2021). YouTube. Retrieved November 15, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rj58sgmvulw.
YouTube. (2021). YouTube. Retrieved November 15, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHXcWvZr-9c.
YouTube. (2021). YouTube. Retrieved November 15, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZRls7B7uzY&t=27s.