Bias in Womens Sports
The world of sports is strictly dominated by a male hegemonic structure, which is not exactly welcoming to the thought or idea of sharing this love of sports with the opposite sex. The term hegemony is defined as the dominance of one state or group of individuals over the others. Although women have shown a passionate interest for sports, their ability to join this culturally powerful organization as respected professionals has not been completely accomplished.
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They have been given opportunities to participate in athletic areas that are not the most culturally popular venues within American culture (i. e. golf, gymnastics, swimming, and tennis), but their inception and respected entrance into the American conglomerates of the sports world (i. e. basketball, baseball, and football) have been favorably denied. Men suffocating treasure their superior domination of this cultural superstructure and fear the idea of allowing the opposite sex entrance into their precious stratum.
Men’s ultimate trepidation is sports not being only their secret possession. Women have passionately fought to prove themselves as strong enough, knowledgeable enough, and tough enough to survive in the historically constructed system men have carved out: the association of sports and the manner in which it operates. Although their desperate attempts have allowed them to chip through the first few layers of this concrete barrier in which they are faced with, their attempts to delve deeper to ultimately reach the core of its existence has been a disappointing failure.
Despite the increase in female athletes participating in sports at a college and professional level, the use of female athletes as product endorsers has been limited. Some female readers like my wife has suggested that there may be an obvious media bias against female athletes and other problems related to how women’s lack of being feminine is portrayed to the public. I feel that women athletes don’t get enough recognition compared to male athletes in the media, and how they don’t appear as profitable product endorsers in magazines or commercials as men.
Only five percent of media coverage is devoted to women’s sports (Adams & Tuggle, 2004). The time media spends to publish these articles of women athletes are significantly less; compared to their male athlete. Many companies choose not to endorse women athletes (Grau, Roselli, and Taylor, 2007). Men’s sports journalists tend to focus on coverage of team sports for men, while women’s sports coverage usually is focused on individual sports. In several articles, the media defends its biases claiming that it is what the public wants, and not all viewers are interested in women’s sports.
I feel the number of women playing professional sports has drastically increased over the past decade, but the media’s news coverage of women’s sports has not increased with this movement of women in sports. On ESPN Live news radio, they have mentioned over the last ten years, there has been almost no change in the percentage of national airtime that was designated for women’s sports. Only about one in ten sports articles and TV sports stories include women while eighty-two percent of television sports stories cover men’s sports.
Women make the cover of magazines or sports pages less than fifteen times a year (Huffman, Tuggle, & Rosengard, 2004). According to Adams and Tuggle (2004), in 1995, the length of men’s television sports stories were a little over a minute, where stories covering women’s sports were only about forty seconds. With two professional sports leagues, it was assumed that the coverage of women’s sports would increase, but this is not reality. The coverage of women’s sports on the television show, ESPN’s Sports Center, has actually decreased. In 1995, Sports Center aired about 730 stories on men and only about 30 on women.
The ratio was 25:1. In 2002, 780 stories covered men’s sports. Only 16 stories were about women and the ratio was more than 48:1. ESPN did dedicate a weekend to women in sports. During this time, Sports Center only aired three stories that included a woman; the other 60 were about men. Kian, Vincent, and Mondello (2008), found that about seventy-five percent of the New York Times and USA Today’s articles covered men’s basketball. Less than one percent of the articles included both men and women, and twenty-four percent focused on just women’s basketball.
Huffman, Tuggle, and Rosengard (2004) analyzed several universities’ coverage of women’s sports. Though forty-one percent of the college athletes are female, seventy-three percent of the sports newspaper articles focused on male college students. Eighty-two percent of television sports stories were dedicated to male athletes. In both newspaper articles and television stories, baseball was covered the most. Men’s basketball was twice as likely as women’s softball to be covered. Less time has been devoted to women’s sports coverage, and when it is, it is usually an individual sport compared to women’s team sports.
This is a great example of The Elaboration Likelihood Model. It states that there are two routes through which persuasive messages are processed. My central route would be to provide and give examples of the statistical analysis increase in audiences viewing women’s sports, and it would be a good investment. In these modern times, women are more successful and looking for role models of strength and beauty, like a successful empowering female athlete. Celebrity women athletes can be positive catalysts in selling apparel and have great news worthiness.
In my opinion, the media seems to favor women’s individual sports compared to women’s team sports. Out of 16 Sports Center stories that covered women’s sports, 12 were individual sports. Only two were about women’s basketball, though it was almost the end of the WNBA season (Adams & Tuggle, 2004). In the 1960’s, there were less articles on women’s Olympic sporting events compared to articles published in the 1990’s of the same genre. In 1996, 36 years later, NBC announced that woman’s team sports would be emerging.
Even with this big announcement, NBC only aired a few minutes of a women’s soccer team winning the gold medal over China. They did not even have a reporter available at the women’s gold medal winning softball game. Over half of the women’s Olympics sports covered were individual sports. These sports included swimming, diving, and gymnastics. Serena Williams, a tennis player and Marian Jones, a track athlete, are the only females that have been on the cover of ESPN Magazine in the course of five years. Female athletes in individual sports are twice more likely to be in magazines than as those who play on team sports.
In several related magazines like Sports Illustrated for Women, female’s models are dressed as athletes rather than real athletes and being pictured posing with props like soccer balls, to add more sex appeal to the magazine. Some journalists say this is because women’s individual sports are considered more feminine than the team sports like basketball and soccer where women look frazzled and sweaty (Grau, Roselli, and Taylor, 2007). Men’s sports are still the ones that bring in the big bucks for ticket sales and popularity. Seventy percent of the NCAA division athletic budget goes to men’s basketball and football.
For every dollar that is spent on women’s sports, three dollars of the same budget is spent on men’s. For example, male coaches in almost every instance are paid more than female coaches (Huffman, Tuggle, and Rosengard, 2004). Women athletes are given much fewer multimillion dollar endorsement contracts than a male athlete. In 1998, 200 female athletes from many sports signed various endorsement contracts. The NFL alone had 250 players that signed deals with Nike. Over 400 male athletes from football, basketball, and soccer had endorsement contracts with Reebok that same year (Grau, Roselli, & Taylor, 2007).
If the viewers wanted to see more of women’s sports, then the network would great fully air what the viewing audience would like to see. During an ESPN television show, Town Meeting, a female viewer in the audience asked the Senior Vice President and Manager of editing, why does ESPN not report more on women athlete’s and women’s sports? I can remember David Shaw turning to look at her directly in the face and saying “ESPN’s job is to report and cover the news and sports that our viewers are interested in”.
He leaned forward and reiterated that their goal as a sports broadcast network was to get the highest rating possible, and they must air the sports news the public wants and will watch. Mr. Shaw also mentioned that the network cannot generate interest in women’s sports without solid data of interest, and if that is what they want to see they need to make this interest known. I feel some diehard male sports fans have a sense of Cognitive Dissonance theory. They think that it’s not cool to cheer for women’s sports, it’s not as exciting or fast paced as men’s sports.
The theory of cognitive dissonance in social psychology proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance by altering existing cognitions or adding new ones to create a consistent belief system. An example of this would be the conflict between wanting to watch women’s sports and knowing that media doesn’t have interest ; a person may try to change their feelings about the odds that they will actually suffer the consequences, or they might add the constant element that sticking to your guns is worth short term benefits.
The network does air WNBA games on ESPN and ESPN2, but they seldom air highlights. Christina Brenamen, a commentator for ESPN, said that she feels the network doesn’t care and not to expect any changes anytime soon (Adams & Tuggle, 2004). Grau, Roselli, and Taylor (2007) found that many companies do not use female athletes as endorsers of their products, because they think that the average female consumer does not identify with female athlete, like males do with men athletes. Some of the companies assume that the average female consumer do not fallow women’s sports.
They also suggest that some female athletes are too masculine and therefore do not have sex appeal. Angelini (2008) surveyed many individuals asking views about watching men’s sports vs. women’s sports. He wanted to uncover the stereotypes that individuals have on sports. Most of the participants believed that women’s sports were not as thrilling or exciting to watch as men’s sports. Those who participated in the study were asked to watch several sports clips while their heart rate was analyzed. After the clips were watched they were asked to answer recognition questions about what they had seen.
Both male and females scored higher on the recognition questions after viewing female athletes. If the heart rate increased while the participant was watching the sport, it was determined that their arousal was high. If their heart rate was stable or deceased while watching the clip, it was determined that the participant was not aroused. Though most participants said that they were more aroused when watching the men’s sports, their heart rate actually determined that their arousal rate when watching women’s sports was the same as men’s at the beginning of the clip.
Toward the end of the clips of men’s sports the arousal rate actually decreased. Angelini (2008) determined that because of the way the media depicts female athletes, the public thinks that men’s sports are going to be more exciting, through with extensive physiological research determined there are really no major differences. Since Universities viewed basketball as too masculine for women to play, and did not want to represent the women athletes of their school. The NCAA did not hold a women’s Division 1 tournament until 1982.
In 2004, a women’s Division 1 championship game received the highest national television rating of any women’s or men’s basketball game that had ever been on a cable channel, up to that point. After analyzing two national newspapers and two sports web sites, during the 2006 NCAA and women’s sports tournaments, five main themes seemed to emerge from all of them. One, women’s basketball players were often compared to men. Two, men were never compared to women. Three, the female athletes were often said to be experienced players because most of them had grown up playing against boys.
Four, the fathers of the athletes were interviewed more often than the mothers, because of their athletic ability. Finally, gender was mentioned as a main topic compared to the articles than men’s sports. In every article men’s basketball was reported before women’s. I would assume that there would be fewer gender biased remarks from the writers, but this was not the case. Even though writers have a little more time to evaluate on what is being written, unlike live television commentary, biases often still emerged (Kian, Vincent, & Mondello, 2008).
Though the number of women playing sports has drastically increased, the media coverage has not kept up. The women’s sports covered typically are more feminine and individual like swimming, gymnastics, tennis and golf. Those sports activities are viewed as more masculine, like basketball, soccer, and softball, received significantly less media coverage. The media blames society and society blames the media for the differences in gender bias of sports (Grau, Roselli, & Taylor, 2007). It is unknown if television networks such as ESPN actually do research on what people would like to watch.
They do not know that fifty percent of women say they watch television sports regularly and forty-six percent of men say that watch some women’s sports (Adams, & Tuggle, 2004). The 2004 NCAA Division 1 women’s basketball championships received the highest rating of all college basketball before then. One would think that after this evidence of interest, women’s basketball would receive greater attention.
This is a great example of Evaluation Dimension in which our inner systems (beliefs, attitudes, values, etc. all support one another and when these are also supported by external evidence, and then we have a comfortable state of affairs. We also have a very strong need to believe we are being consistent with social norms. Like in the case of following other sports fans that are interested in women’s sports. When there is conflict between behaviors that are consistent with inner systems and behaviors that are consistent with social norms. A fitting Example would be the potential threat of social exclusion often sways us towards the latter, even though it may cause significant inner dissonance.
Take for example, if I would approach my fantasy football team and said; “can we create a team in women’s sports”, that would really start some conflict within my group dynamic? I feel more research needs to be conducted to determine if it is really the public that is biased, or is the media just fallowing the same trend that they always have, and they just choose to report sports in the same standardized way. If we start to challenge the idea that masculinity defines sports at the cultural level. I believe that we will one day be able to develop an ideology that teaches and defends this innovative idea of gender quality throughout the educational process. The ultimate goal being that the foundation of sports promotes and abides by the system of gender equality at the professional level of women’s sports.