Look out for her shot: Women’s sports need support as coverage remains the same as it was 30 years ago

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — According to a study of sports reporting over three decades, women’s sports receive the same amount of news coverage as they did in the 1980s.

Research shows that when women are broadcast, coverage is lower in terms of technical quality and production value when compared to coverage of men’s sports. Even when social and digital media are taken into account, female athletes stay out of sports reporting.

“Over the past 30 years, we haven’t seen any significant change in the level of coverage received by female athletes,” said Cheryl Cooky, a professor of interdisciplinary studies at Purdue University.

In 1999, Cooky and Michael Messner, professor of sociology and gender studies at the University of Southern California, looked at how the mainstream media portrayed women’s sports. Cooky specializes in the social and cultural dynamics of sport, and her work focuses on the representation of sport in the media. She has appeared as a consultant in several documentaries and on several television and radio programs.

“For a long time, the narrative surrounding women’s sport in the United States has been one of linear, wholesale progression,” Cooky said. “However, the study speaks to a whole host of ways in which progress is not universally linear. While some aspects have improved, ingrained forms of inequality have prevented others from developing.”

Cooky points out that athletic participation among school-age girls has increased from 1 in 27 girls to 1 in 3 in the 49 years since Title IX was enacted, an area that has seen significant growth. steady progress. However, research shows that women’s sports representation in the media is one area where improvement can be made.

Their research shows that in 2019, coverage of female athletes on news and television highlights, including ESPN’s SportsCenter, only accounted for 5.4% of the total airtime, a slight change from the 5% observed in 1989 and 5.1% in 1993.

The total rate drops to 3.5% if the coverage of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup is removed. The report’s title, “One and Done,” refers to the sporadic, short-term mass coverage exemplified by the FIFA Women’s World Cup, Cooky said. The report is published online in Media & Sports. More information is available in the USC story.

“Occasionally, women’s sports push the boundaries of media coverage, but only if it’s an elite, international competition. Even these big events are overshadowed by a steady stream of men’s sports, organized seasonally, off-season, with more energy and higher production value,” Cooky said.

The project has studied television networks since 1989, and the scope of the 2019 report was expanded to include online newscasts and social media accounts managed by those networks.

To the team’s surprise, despite the involvement of digital media, which do not face the same time and space constraints as television media, the coverage of women female does not change.

“Data from Twitter and daily online newsletters reflect the trends we are seeing in the coverage of women’s sports on television. With the exception of espnW (which was discontinued mid-year), important events are covered, but daily coverage is minimal,” said Maria Mears, a doctoral student at Purdue University, who the head of the social and digital encryption project said.

Cooky, a member of the Purdue College of Liberal Arts, says the way women’s sports are represented is a point of concern on many fronts. The minimum broadcast time not only deprives young girls of sports role models, the way female athletes are represented affects the way people value sport and their contributions to society. festival.

Research shows that in the 1980s and ’90s, female athletes were often the subject of sexual trivialization or humour; This changed in the 2000s, when athletes were often seen as wives, mothers, and girlfriends. Both approaches reduce the athlete’s perception of ability and accommodate heterogeneous roles and expectations. The 2019 report found that female athletes were treated with more respect than in the past, but clearly lacked energy and excitement.

“For the most part, women’s coverage doesn’t have the elements that we know make watching sports highlights so engaging and enjoyable: entertaining commentary, colorful distribution, carry description, animation as well as insightful, highly productive interviews and match footage. When you compare the fit of women to men, women seem pretty bland,” Cooky said.

As Cooky said in a 2016 TEDx Talk, “the media creates demand as much as it fills it.”

The goal isn’t just to sell more sportswear to women, says Cooky. The consequences of what she calls asymmetric representation between men’s and women’s sports are increasingly invasive. For example, since men’s sports are regularly broadcast, there is time to show off their charitable contributions. Women must not provide the same platform for their sports or philanthropy.

The result is often the acquiescence or erasure of the efforts of women, and often women of color.

“The lack of coverage of female athletes silences the active and advocacy work going on in women’s sports, which is often geared toward institutional issues such as grievances,” Cooky said. gender and race,” Cooky said.

Her recent work scrutinizes how the dynamics of asymmetrical gender representation in the media influence what forms of feminism and social advocacy reach audiences. Generally speaking. For example, she said, a mainstream media story presented former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling in 2016 as the beginning of racial equity efforts in sports.

“The lack of vision in women’s sports coupled with the NFL’s superhuman abilities has created a story in which Kaepernick is an icon of racial activism,” Cooky said. “But this erases the hard work and hard work that WNBA athletes have been doing for many years before that.”

This study was funded by the Women’s Sports Foundation with support from the University of Southern California Center for Feminism and the Office of the Director of Purdue University.

About Purdue University

Purdue University is a leading public research institution developing practical solutions to today’s toughest challenges. Ranked 5th among the most innovative universities in the United States by US News & World Report, Purdue delivers world-changing research and extraordinary discoveries. Committed to hands-on and online, real-world learning, Purdue provides a transformative education for all. Committed to affordability and accessibility, Purdue froze tuition and most fees at 2012-13 levels, enabling more students than ever to graduate debt-free. See how Purdue relentlessly pursues the next giant leap at

Writer: Christy McCarter,

Contact via media: Brian Huchel, 765-494-2084,

Source: Cheryl Cooky, 765-496-1239,

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