Popular Culture And Female Collegiate Athletes

The opportunity of being a collegiate athlete is a great privilege and an honor. The opportunity for these athletes to represent their school in their respective events is the result of many years of hard work, dedication, and determination. Granted, popular culture generally sheds collegiate athletes and athletes in a positive light, these same athletes are highly scrutinized and publicized. For women in sports, the media has been even more critical and has not differed in its representation of them in comparison to men. By doing so, this has continually promoted inequity in sports between men and women and the idea that females are inferior when it comes to athletics. Female collegiate athletes have become highly sexualized and are vastly underrepresented and misrepresented or have been viewed as entitled due to the media’s influence over its viewers on its multiple platforms.

SI Collage

  1. Top Left: Bruty, Semon. 2015, July 20. My Cup Our Cup. Retrieved from http://www.si.com/vault/search?term=July%2020%202015%20
  2. Top Right: Shipnuck, Alan. 2012, September 12. Manning Up. Retrieved from http://broncotalk.net/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/manning_si.jpg
  3. Bottom Left: Tsai, Yu. 2015, December 15. Serena Williams is Sports Illustrated’s 2015 Sportsperson of the Year. Retrieved from http://www.si.com/sportsperson/2015/12/14/serena-williams-si-sportsperson-year
  4. Bottom Right: 2015, February 23. Klay Thompson’s Warriors. Retrieved from http://www.nba.com/warriors/news/thompson-si-cover-20150219



Regarding the Sports Illustrated covers depicted above, one can observe a few noticeable differences between how the male and female athletes are portrayed. Serena Williams and Alex Morgan (two athletes that many female collegiate athletes look up to immensely) are shown with makeup, in flattering body positions, and are not necessarily shown showcasing their athletic abilities. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Klay Thompson and Peyton Manning are shown whilst competing in their sports. When female collegiate athletes see these respective images, they’ll focus on the sexualization of the female athletes and believe that is how they should look instead of admiring their athleticism and inspiring to be an athlete such as them. According to Kate Fagan, a contributor to ESPNW (ESPN’s female exclusive section), “…each time a female athlete is pictured in a sexualized way, it diminishes the perception of her athletic ability.” (2014). It’s shameful to see how seemingly harmless images such as these can shape and mold attitudes regarding how female athletes should look. Teenage female athletes, even adolescent ones, see these images and conclude that this is what they must look like in order to be successful in their chosen sport. As a result, many of these athletes become sexualized objects rather than athletic forces, even at the collegiate level. These sexualized images have the potential to be detrimental to young athletes. The media’s representation of female athletes as sexualized objects additionally lends support to negative, materialistic ideals that surround women in sports.


Over the years, women have been vastly underrepresented in sports representation. A journal I found investigates this issue by looking at the NCAA’s media guides, which updates readers on athletic achievements collegiately through pictures and articles. Through a study, the authors coded and analyzed numerous, individual media guides in an effort to measure the discrepancies between how male and females are portrayed on these media guides. These media guides are “representative of a powerful, highly prestigious, and influential sector of organized sports participation” (Buysse & Embser-Herbert, 2004). They serve as the main way for collegiate institutions to market their athletic programs to the public, whether that be alumni, sponsors, donors, or community members, through photographs and articles. According to the study conducted by Buysse and Embser-Herbert, the male athletes were, overall, portrayed by media guides in terms of their sheer physicality, athleticism, and in superior/dominant positions. The women, however, were feminized and their achievements as collegiate athletes were more often than not, trivialized. Specifically, out of the 307 covers that were analyzed, “47 percent portrayed women’s sports, while 53 percent portrayed men’s sports”. In addition, the findings concluded that women athletes were vastly underrepresented on the court/field and in action. After reading the study, it was shocking to see how an organization, such as the NCAA (who promotes equality of genders in sports), was misrepresenting and underrepresenting women in their own press releases and even promoting social constructs of what a female athlete should look/act like when competing in their chosen sport. A lack of representation for women athletes in popular culture also facilitates the belief that women athletes are exceedingly inferior to men athletes and their athletic achievements do not need to be taken seriously.


Lastly, women and men athletes alike have been largely misrepresented and misinterpreted throughout popular culture platforms. Because of this, misconceptions and negative attitudes/stereotypes have arisen regarding student-athletes. These could include the beliefs that student athletes are entitled, “dumb jocks”, narcissists, and undeserving. For female athletes, a study was conducted to measure the stereotypes that they most often hear. Fifteen female collegiate athletes were interviewed and they stated that the primary stereotypes directed at them were that they were lesbian and masculine (Kerrie & Krane, 2006). This consensus could be due to the media laying a foundation for collegiate women’s sports as being homo negative and heterosexist. If female athletes do not look like their highly sexualized, professional counterparts, they are automatically assumed to be “lesbian” or “manly” and not given credence for their athletic abilities nor are they represented in the media.

Popular culture’s effects on attitudes towards student-athletes can also be followed to the classroom setting. Whether professors are aware of it or not, there is evidence to show that it is highly likely that they will have negative attitudes/impressions for student-athletes within their classes. Even though findings showed that student-athletes do not differ from their regular student peers on participation and work ethic in the classroom, faculty members still held more negative feelings/attitudes towards student-athletes. These same faculty members that were interviewed stated that, if it weren’t for the negative publicity that tends to surround collegiate athletes, they would most likely not have this mindset (Comeaux, 2011).

Another common generalization about student-athletes is that they are lazy and undeserving of receiving a free education plus benefits. Leaked images of athletes seen partying and articles discussing athletes being given money or gifts is a common way the media promotes this stereotype. However, these athletes shown are just a minute percentage of student-athletes and shouldn’t be the poster children of what being a collegiate athlete is. A highly publicized interview with the Seattle Seahawks’ Richard Sherman discusses his perspective of what it was like being a student-athlete at Stanford University. In essence, Sherman discusses how people get upset with student-athletes because they are portrayed as not being focused in school and fail to take advantage of the major opportunity they have been given. This should not be the case, however, due to the immense time constraints, pressure (in school and on the field), and mental and/or physical exhaustion student athletes go through on a day-to-day basis (Sherman, 2015). Furthering this idea is a piece done by CNBC discussing how athletic scholarships are not necessarily the “Holy Grail”. Contrary to popular belief, the amount of actual athletic scholarships handed out is very rare. For men and women lucky enough to obtain these scholarships, there are many untold pressures and negative aspects that go along with playing a collegiate sport. Whether it be long practice hours, taxing physical demands, and struggling to balance intense college course with their sport, athletes are on a completely different schedule than those non-athlete regular students (Holland & Schoer, 2014). In reality, the amount of hard work and determination that comes with obtaining an athletic scholarship is astronomical. What isn’t shown in the media is the unglorified schedule of what a typical athlete must do. Again, by not showing this, the public automatically generates negative attitudes towards student-athletes.

(link to interview: https://youtu.be/FIdOKqga8NU)



Although the media has increased its representation of women in sports, there is still a lot of room for improvement. Effects from their lack of representation are still present in the forms of social constructs, generalizations, and stereotypes surround female athletes, whether they be student athletes or professionals. The continuation of sexualizing female athletes will further these ideals and prevent women in sports from being thought of as true athletic forces capable of immense achievements. Additonally, misrepresentations of student athletes as a whole have brought up further barriers that these athletes should not have to overcome.


Reflection of Term

Throughout this term, I have read many enlightening posts and articles regarding media’s influence on our everyday lives. I recognize that there is a strong connection between my topic and to how advertisers are persistently trying to garner interest through images that they believe will capture the most attention and will satisfy its consumers. Like John Berger described in his “Ways of Seeing” videos, consumers are constantly being surrounded by images that show them an alternate way of life and creates a type of social envy. In addition, I think it’s shocking how ads manipulate people’s attitudes and beliefs of how they think things should be or what they should have. It was eye-opening to read how the media is able to find ways to appeal to various types of people with just minute details within their ads. Whether it be an appearance of a celebrity or the positioning of a logo, companies put a great deal of thought into what could potentially pull in more customers.

I think the discussions I learned the most from are the Week 1 and Week 5 blog post discussions regarding how different media sources can be highly biased and can manipulate the way they provide their information to promote the messages they choose to. Like I said in the week 1 post, I had never taken into account that sites such as Wikipedia could have such a substantial inadequacy of diversity which would result in the spreading of skewed information. I had always wondered why teachers were so wholeheartedly against the use of Wikipedia on assignments, however after learning about the unreliableness of Wikipedia I completely understand how it can lead viewers astray with its largely unchecked and inaccurate information. Additionally, I found it thoroughly interesting to read about how articles published by news sources can influence its readers into thinking in a way that they want them to. Analyzing the general lack of information and word choice in the Huffington Post’s piece on the Afghanistan kidnappings was very constructive with showing students as to how this can happen and how to potentially stop falling victim to this kind of influence. Learning to critically analyze these news articles is imperative for people in order for them to form their own ideas and to not just mindlessly follow the societal norm. This idea can also be linked to my topic in the final blog post. Certain news sources choose to represent female athletes in a sexualized fashion in an effort to garner interest, even though it is not necessarily interest centered around their athletic abilities. By offering up highly provocative images, they are sparking negative and positive interests that can accumulate discussion and/or publicity around their organization.







Buysse, J. M., & Embser-Herbert, M. S. (2004). Constructions of Gender in Sport: An Analysis of Intercollegiate Media Guide Cover Photographs. Gender and Society, 18(1), 66-81. Retrieved May 28, 2016, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4149374


Comeaux, E. (2011). A Study of Attitudes toward College Student-Athletes: Implications for Faculty-Athletics Engagement. The Journal of Negro Education, 80(4), 521-532. Retrieved May 28, 2016, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41341157?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents


Fagan, K. (2015, October 15). Sex sells? Trend may be changing. Retrieved May 28, 2016, from http://espn.go.com/espnw/w-in-action/nine-for-ix/article/9604247/sex-sells-trend-changing-espnw


Holland, K., & Schoen, J. W. (2014, October). Think athletic scholarships are a ‘holy grail’? Think again. Retrieved May 28, 2016, from http://www.cnbc.com/2014/10/13/think-athletic-scholarships-are-a-holy-grail-think-again.html


Kerrie, K. J., & Krane, V. (2006). “Scary Dykes” and “Feminine Queens”: Stereotypes and Female Collegiate Athletes. Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal, 15(1). Retrieved May 28, 2016, from https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1G1-220135984/scary-dykes-and-feminine-queens-stereotypes-and.


Sherman, R. (2015, January 29). Richard Sherman discusses college athletes’ time constraints [Interview]. Retrieved May 28, 2016, from http://www.si.com/nfl/2015/01/29/richard-sherman-seahawks-ncaa-seattle


2 thoughts on “Popular Culture And Female Collegiate Athletes

  1. Hi Abbie,

    What I found most interesting about your post is the fact that even the organization that supposedly tried to equally and fairly represent men and women does not! It is not much of a surprise, but it does go to show how engrained our cultural beliefs are about male and female prowess. Also, your note about the sexualization of female athletes reminds me of the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team and their current battle with wage discrimination. They bring in more revenue than the men’s team and are three-time world cup winners yet earn a fraction (and I mean FRACTION) of what the men’s team earns.

    Another interesting facet you brought up was the discrimination of teachers against their students, and how many believe that student athletes should not receive a full scholarship. I think probably the biggest argument against this would be that there are many other students who work for the school that are not given nearly as much monetary privilege even if the number of hours they put into their job is comparable. I do not mean to say that athletics are invaluable, rather that it is the same argument people use to justify not having a $15 minimum wage. The thought that someone who is “untrained” being payed as much or nearly as much as a skilled job offends a lot of people. However, I think what is being missed is not that athletes and unskilled workers should not be taken care of by society for their contribution, but rather that EVERYONE should be, and perhaps skilled workers and athletes are not being given enough for their contribution when it is extraordinarily profitable for the organizations they work under.

    Thanks for sharing your post!
    – Sophia

  2. Thanks for a very insightful blog post, Abbie! I was especially interested because I am the opposite of an athlete, which means that anything I see or hear about athletes in popular culture, I am bound to believe. Thankfully, I know better not to trust any stereotypes. Your “Sexualization” section was what sparked my interest the most because it urged me to think back at any similar instances that I stumbled upon. As a fitness enthusiast, I could definitely remember seeing many magazines that featured fit/athletic women using sports attire like sports bra. While that is completely fine, most of these pictures focused on the breasts of the women rather that focusing on how that particular brand works best for the sport.

    I even went as far as searching for more cases, and stumbled upon this article that recognizes this issue as a reason why collegiate athletes continue to develop eating disorders. Below is the link in case you are interested!


    Overall, reading your post was definitely an aye-opener and I am thankful to have learned a lot from you!

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