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The Echo
Taylor University, Upland, IN
Tuesday, April 16, 2024
The Echo
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Female athletes' biggest competition is the press

Gender inequality in sports media

The inequality and lack of representation does not stop with female journalists, but expands even larger into the lack of coverage of women’s sports.

A study by the Atlantic Journal of Communication found that 84% of the articles they reviewed focused on men’s sports or male athletes. Only 3% of the articles covered women’s sports and female athletes.

The other 13% either covered both women's and men’s sports or weren’t directly related to either.

Caleb Heffron, a co-sports editor for The Echo, said the paper has done its best to stay clear of being part of this problem by the way the editors choose their stories.

“I believe, and this is my personal belief, all of our sports should (be given) as much equal coverage as we can (give), especially because a lot of our non-spectator sports, you could say, are really good,” Heffron said.

He used the example of the university’s women’s cross-country team. He explained that while not as many people may watch cross-country or choose to read about it, the team deserves to be written about since they were the undefeated national champions last year.

However, when female athletes do receive media coverage, it often isn’t for the right reasons.

National media tends to focus on the athlete’s domestic role in the household as a wife, mother, daughter, etc. instead of focusing on her athletic abilities.

“In the 80s and 90s, some of the women athletes, and not that we had a ton of them, but ones that we did, they weren’t necessarily talked about from an athletic standpoint. (The media) would talk about their kids or their role as a mom, not that those things are bad, but I never quite understood why (we weren’t) talking about these men that are dads,” Amy Stucky, the assistant professor of sport management at Taylor University, said. 

Even when female athletes do get the upper hand with the media, it tends to be looked down upon by some sports fans.

Heffron explained that the reality of this devastates him because he has written in previous articles about the need for support in women’s sports from fans and the media.

“I think there’s a lot of people that put down women's sports and unfairly so, which hurts me because, as I wrote in my WNBA article this year, we should be encouraging their leagues and their sports to grow and continue to improve just as much as we do guys’ sports,” Heffron said.

One example Heffron used to show the increase of the media calling out fan bias towards men’s sports versus women’s sports was an ad for the France World Cup.

The ad, in the form of a video, highlights the physicality and intensity of men’s soccer to draw the viewers in.

The ad then explains that men’s teams are the only ones that can draw intense emotions out of a fan base, but it then tells the viewers that wasn’t actually who they were watching in the video.

Designers created the ad using artificial intelligence, editing clips of female soccer players in intense action to look like clips of famous male players instead.

By cutting to clips of the editing process, and showing the viewers that the video was actually female athletes, it explains to viewers that society needs to give the same attention to women’s soccer because it is just as intense and exciting.

The biggest issue with keeping women’s sports in the media is the rate at which the women’s sports industry is growing compared to men’s sports.

“A lot of women’s sports, like women’s basketball especially, they’re playing catch up. Women’s sports are at a time where they’re exponentially growing in player base, in fan base and in coverage that they’ve never had before,” Heffron said.

While this increase in women’s sports, viewership and fan base are great, it can also cause a lot of problems when it comes to keeping the organizations afloat financially. 

In order for women’s sports to broadcast their games and push content into the media, they must have the money to invest in broadcasting while also continuing to invest in their players and staff.

“It’s a chicken and the egg. You have to have people who are watching it, and you have to have money involved. So, there’s no money (which means) there’s no investment. With no investment, we’re not raising the stakes, and it just keeps going around in a circle,” Stucky said.

Stucky said the one thing that excites her about the future of women’s sports and the growth of the industry is the number of new investors getting involved.

She said she has seen a large increase in high-profile males in the industry taking a turn and investing in and getting involved with women’s sports.

 “You know, there’s something to be said about build it, and they will come,” Stucky said.