Media Coverage of Men’s Sports
Watching, playing, and enjoying sports is a major component in many American’s lives. We grow up surrounded by them, read about them, and spend our days and nights watching them. We don’t think much about about gathering with friends to watch an NBA game or to cheer on your favorite NFL team. We flip through the channels of our TV guide and see all of the biggest games that are coming up. But do we ever gather to throw an event for a WNBA game or a softball game? It is because there are very few opportunities that the sports media coverage allows us to watch these women’s events. Male athletes get much more sports media coverage and attention at all levels than female athletes, which is not reflected with the growth that has occurred in women’s athletics.
Sports have always been a big part in my life and have changed me into the person I am today. Throughout my athletic career, from elementary school to highschool and now to college, I have noticed small inequalities between male and female athletics in the way they are portrayed. Small things such as male sports getting most of the attention around school and how male football/basketball games are always the events to go to. I was intrigued to further my findings to a larger more nation-wide scale. I have always known that male sports get more sports media coverage than females but I was not sure what the extent was. Two of the main media channels that people ingest their sports information from are television and magazines.
Sports Illustrated Magazine
The Sports Illustrated Magazine is one of the leading sports magazines in the world and is read by over 21 million people each week. Despite having only three million subscribers, the numbers show that millions of others find their eyes drifting towards a cover of a SI magazine. The magazine can be a great source for sports information on upcoming events and featured stories. But does it cover men and women equally? In 2016, there were a total of 81 volumes of SI, all having unique covers of various athletes. Of the 81 covers, a staggering 73 featured men as the main photo, while only six featured women and two had both genders. Ninety percent of the covers were male athletes! Women were featured an insignificant 7% of the time. Last time I checked, the percentage of athletes who are males is not 90%. Since Title IX was passed in 1972,women seemed to have gained substantial ground in becoming equal to men. But, according to a study done by the University of Louisville, there has been no increase in women on the SI cover, “Less than 5 percent of covers including females from 2000 to 2011 compares dismally with 12.6 percent from 1954 to 1965.” Even in the past 50 years, Sports Illustrated Magazine has failed to increase the publicity of female athletes compared to male athletes. It has actually decreased substantially. These statistics are not the only difference between male and female athletes being on Sports Illustrated Magazine covers.
One of the main takeaways I had from scanning over the covers from this last year was the way male athletes were portrayed compared to female athletes. A majority of the male athlete covers are pictures you would expect on the front. Them in their uniforms posing in a normal position for their particular sport. These male athletes are being shown as they would be seen on TV and are viewed as nothing out of the ordinary. For females, this is not the case. Only one of the six female covers is a “normal” sports photo. One cover is of Caitlin Jenner, another is about fashion, and the last three are SI Magazine’s yearly Swimsuit Issue.
This depiction of female athletes on the covers reveals that being an athlete isn’t good enough when you’re a female. For men, they often pick their cover athletes based on performance and who is a popular athlete in the sports world. But for women, they don’t get this same treatment. Either something extraordinary has to occur in female sports or women will continue to be solely featured in the Swimsuit edition, which has very little relation to sports.
Another media source where sports events and stories are commonly broadcasted is ESPN. ESPN is a U.S. based global cable and satellite sports television channel. Its purpose, specifically the TV channel, is to broadcast all sports related activities for the world for entertainment. ESPN is a popular channel that even the non-sports fan is familiar with. While browsing through my TV guide, I decided to look at what events ESPN was planning on showing in the next week. I cut the hours in a day from 7AM to Midnight and looked at the following week. In one week of these hours, there are 119 hours up for grabs. Of these 119 hours, 49 were men’s sports, 8 were women’s sports, and the remaining 62 hours went to shows like SportsCenter which have no designation. With SportsCenter occupying over 50% of the airtime on ESPN, it would seem that there would be plenty of time to slip in female sport stories or highlights here and there. A study done by Purdue University looked at the percentage of male coverage vs female coverage on local news channels vs SportsCenter. It discovered, “Over the same 6-week sampling period, KCBS included only one story on women’s sports—a scant 0.2% of its total sports news time. ESPN’s SportsCenter did no better, devoting a paltry 2% of its hour-long highlight show to women’s sports.” If we include the SportsCenter percentages, then over 90% of the content on ESPN is of male sports.
There are a few main issues that stand out with these statistics. First, that male sports get priority over female sports for the prime TV hours. The time of day most people relax and enjoy sports is in the evening. This plays a major impact on the viewing numbers women’s sports receive. Even if they began showing women’s sports more often, they would most likely be at less popular viewing times. Men’s events are always going to have the priority over women’s events, particularly during primetime due to popularity. This is unfair because women never get a real chance to occupy these hours for extended periods of time. Major companies like ESPN make too much money for them to “risk” it by showing a female sport during primetime.
Secondly, ESPN and SportsCenter are often replaying and showing the same game/highlights multiple times. Sporting events are something where once you know the outcome, you would not want to watch it again. But for some reason, ESPN replays the same shows instead of branching out and broadcasting a women’s sport. Filling in these unused hours with high quality women’s sports could potentially bring in new viewers for ESPN.
Lastly, similar to the Sports Illustrated Magazine Issue, in order for a female sporting event to be featured on mainstream media, it needs to be special for some reason. The most common examples are championship games, record breaking games, or special occasions such as the Olympics. This is great that ESPN would take the time to give some respect to these women’s athletes, but why not a regular game? Are regular female sporting events not intriguing or popular enough? Once again, the way ESPN selects it sporting events to broadcast puts women in the shadow of men and deems them as less important.
It is crazy how things can pass right through us without batting an eye. It is common for people to acknowledge the inequality of sports media coverage between men and women, but they fail to move past this acknowledgement and address this recurring issue in mainstream media. As a male, it is difficult to see an issue with this problem because it is beneficial to us. I am proud to be a male athlete but I am not proud of this imbalance. It is also difficult in that there is very little we can do individually to change what major companies decide to advertise and produce. I think it starts with men for this to be solved. Male athletes need to stand up against this inequality and make a change in the sports media coverage world.
- One course text that stood out to me was the ASC research study during week 5. It was so shocking to me to see kids of all ages still failing to understand the internet. Some of the kids in the study are so trusting of everything posted on the internet and are unaware of the impact it is having on them. This is definitely something where I need to continue to watch myself on which website and online media I am absorbing.
- Another big skill I have obtained from this class is deciphering between primary and secondary sources, and where to find them. This is the first class where I had to research these two different types of sources. Learning how to access these sources from the library will be very helpful for any future classes and research projects I have.
“2016 Sports Illustrated Covers.” SI.com . N.p., n.d. Web. 20 May 2017. https://www.si.com/more-sports/photos/2016/01/05/si-covers-2016
Cooky, C., M. A. Messner, and M. Musto. “”It’s Dude Time!”: A Quarter Century of Excluding Women’s Sports in Televised News and Highlight Shows.” Communication & Sport 3.3 (2015): 261-87. Web. 20 May 2017.
Shifflett, B., and R. Revelle. “Gender Equity In Sports Media Coverage: A Review Of The Ncaa News.” Journal of Sport & Social Issues 18.2 (1994): 144-50. Web. 20 May 2017.
Tuggle, C. A. “Differences in Television Sports Reporting of Men’s and Women’s Athletics: ESPN SportsCenter and CNN Sports Tonight.” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 41.1 (1997): 14-24. Web. 20 May 2017.
Weber, Jonetta D., and Robert M. Carini. “Where Are the Female Athletes in Sports Illustrated? A Content Analysis of Covers (2000â 2011).” International Review for the Sociology of Sport 48.2 (2013): 196-203. Web. 20 May 2017.