July 13, 2002

"When female athletes are not being depicted as sex objects, they're often portrayed as too masculine, or—gasp—as lesbians.": That is, if they're getting any coverage at all; they usually don't unless there's some sex appeal going on (anyone for tennis?). Lisa Goldman, writing in the outstanding Ryerson Review of Journalism, looks at the Canadian media's reporting of women's sports, which she finds generally abysmal—except that CBC Sports makes a concerted effort to cover women, and now there's the digital specialty channel WTSN (which I've never seen).

posted by mcwetboy to culture at 08:49 PM - 15 comments

While there may be some point to the complaint of limited coverage, it may not be PC but women's sports are often inferior to men's. We are accustomed as a culture to certain types of play in sports, and as a result of that many women's sports come up short. Prime example: WNBA. I'd rather watch the Knicks play the Bulls than the WNBA. Would I watch women's football? Probably not. On the other hand, USA Women's soccer and Olympic gymnastics are much more entertaining than their male counterparts - without any sexual connotation, ditto for the Williams sisters and the other non-Kournikova tennis players (Hingis, Capriati) - and they get tons of coverage.

posted by owillis at 09:56 PM on July 13

owillis: " ... without any sexual connotation, ditto for the Williams sisters and the other non-Kournikova tennis players (Hingis, Capriati) - and they get tons of coverage." It sure would've been fun to get your opinion on this thread.

posted by worldcup2002 at 10:25 PM on July 13

Seems to me that part of the problem (which I don't think Goldman addresses) is that there are fewer women's sports that are at a professional level equivalent to the NBA/NFL/etc. Is amateur/minor-league sports coverage that much better on the men's side? Is men's volleyball? Mind you, that leaves aside the question of why women's sports aren't at a level equivalent to professional sports (except for tennis, which some would argue is precisely due to the T&A factor).

posted by mcwetboy at 10:39 PM on July 13

What's missing in this article is: Are women viewers and readers demanding more coverage? Do commercial adverstisers want to reach women through sports? The bottom line is business profit. When enough women want to view and read about women's sports, media will provide coverage. Once a generation or two of women athletes start turning first to the Sports Section rather than, perhaps, the Style Section, or tune into to ESPN rather than Oprah, we correspondingly will see more of it. All other arguements here are moot.

posted by tbocce at 08:49 AM on July 14

When enough women want to view and read about women's sports, media will provide coverage. I think you're drawing the audience down the gender line too closely. I don't think it must be just women who want to see more women's sports. A public audience, of any gender, would probably suit them just fine. Women are reading and watching a lot more than Oprah and the Style section of the newspaper, too, tbocce. Well you... know, when we're not barefoot, pregnant, making your dinner and fluffing the pillows on your recliner. Ahem. ;)

posted by jerseygirl at 03:49 PM on July 14

Which would be when? ;-)

posted by dg at 07:49 PM on July 14

Once a generation or two of women athletes start . . . [to] tune into to ESPN rather than Oprah, we correspondingly will see more of it. Well, it's a pretty discouraging thing to tune into ESPN and see nothing but baseball 80% of the time. I don't like watching women's sports particularly, but I'd watch badminton over baseball any day. I think a small part of the problem is that the men's Big Four (football, baseball, basketball, hockey) have equal amounts of commentary before/during/after the game, if not more. If ESPN and the other sports networks would devote more time to all the different kinds of sports and less time to commentary, I think they'd see an increase of unique viewers attracted to different shows.

posted by somethingotherthan at 09:25 PM on July 14

I don't think the attention given to attractive women athletes is much different than the attention given to attractive women lawyers or actors. It is a simple truth of life: good looking people get more attention, no matter where they are. I'm not saying its good, it just is. Mia Hamm has had some good endorsements, she's attractive (to me), but she's no supermodel. Anna Kournikova used tennis to jump start her modeling career. I hate ESPN during the baseball season, and the week before the Super Bowl. Every time there is talk of an MLB strike, I pray that it happens, so that ESPN is forced to cover more obscure sports, and amateur events. Mind you, that leaves aside the question of why women's sports aren't at a level equivalent to professional sports For certain sports, the lesser physical ability of women is very noticeable. In tennis, it's not noticeable, because the game has sped up to begin with, and the Williams sisters are very athletic. But women's basketball, on the other hand, pales in comparison to men's basketball. It always has, and until there are 7'1" women who can box out, post up, and dunk like Shaq, or fly up for the windmill jam like Vince Carter or Kobe Bryant, women's basketball will always be a subject of lesser interest. Men are built to hit harder, run faster, and jump higher than women (I'm talking about the most athletic of each sex, not Mia Hamm versus me, she'd kick my ass all the way down the field). For some sports, that athletic ability is a major factor in the entertainment value. For example, after watching a lot of NHL hockey, I can't stand watching women's olympic hockey.

posted by insomnyuk at 01:08 AM on July 15

Mostly I would echo some of the sentiments above. The article mentions that in a given weekend about 27 out of 124 events covered were women's. Of the 97 men's events, how many were the big ones? Football, basketball, baseball, hockey? I think that the author would have a stronger point if she would compare men's and women's tennis coverage, golf coverage, Olympics coverage...because beyond the big sports men don't get that much coverage. Also, men's Golf coverage (which is a sport where women's coverage could theoretically be on par (oooh pretty good pun)) drastically decreases if Tiger's not in the hunt. As far as women's hoops, which is the only big time women's professional team sport that garners any coverage (read that caveat carefully...it eliminates soccer, golf, tennis, Olympics from the argument) the quality is 10 magnitudes below the mens game. A men's high school game is more athletic and entertaining that a pro women's game. Yes the women play more fundamental ball but all you have to do is look at the NBA to know that the majority of people don't want to watch fundamental basketball. Lastly, the chicken and egg, supply and demand argument, many of the women quoted as saying "How are people going to cheer for something they don't know exists?" Sports fans know women play sports, they overwhelmingly reject watching them in favor of men's sports, and the television media does not have some duty to provide unpopular and money-losing entertainment. TV has tried to create demand for men's sports, when the demand is not there they dump it (XFL,Soccer) The journalist writes a good piece but some of the sources she quotes come across as whiny and too woe-is-me to garner much sympathy.

posted by vito90 at 10:10 AM on July 15

I don't like watching women's sports particularly, but I'd watch badminton over baseball any day I couldn't let this one go. If this is really how you feel, its going to take female naked aliens with three breasts coming down on the mother ship playing awfully competitive badminton before you get your wish. I would rather watch paint dry, grass grow, and 24 hours of the 700 Club before I'd watch badminton. Okay, the 700 Club comment was hyperbole

posted by vito90 at 03:36 PM on July 15

Vito, you had me in your corner til the very end. I think you exaggerate my point. But if not, just wanted to let you know that, indeed, I tuned in to rodeo and sumo wrestling when it was shown on ESPN. Not women's sports, but it's also not baseball.

posted by somethingotherthan at 04:06 PM on July 15

Oh, now sumo wrestling rules. I have had the good fortune of watching sumo while in Japan, and the excitement and passion with which the sport is followed always stuck with me. I'd watch sumo before baseball. And if there's ever female sumo? There's your ratings bonanza. But not rodeo. I consider it cruel so I can't watch it. But we're kind of avoiding the question, unless you account for gender here. Would you rather watch female badminton or big league baseball? For me, I'd rather watch baseball so the gender issue is moot - there is no women's baseball on TV. That's really my biggest objection to the article, that the comparisons are not made (indeed, often cannot be made) oranges to oranges. Actually I went back and read the article again...and there really is alot missing. Somebody asked earlier why women's sports weren't as good as men's. The primary reason is with a few exceptions a superstar woman can't expect to make a living playing sports. There are ample opportunities for men to make a great, really lucrative living. This raises the bar on the labor supply market. Parents send their boys to baseball camp and hire private pros for tennis lessons. But girls don't have those opportunities, so they get to college and choose between being a doctor or training for the ultimate in their sport, which is most likely the Olympics. So at the age of 17 to 22, many are opting for more traditional careers. The first thing that's gotta happen is for some entrepreneurs to provide financial incentive for women to pursue a sport, and it has to be long term (i.e. today's 10 year old girl has to know that in ten years there will be a league for her to play in where she can support herself). Competition between women will eventually produce women who can dunk a basketball (in a game, natch) and then the viewers and the media will fall into place. I honestly think the discrepancy between athletic prowess is similar to wage discrepancy between genders. The gap is there, and it's tangible, but it's closing fast, because more and more and better and better women are jumping into the arena/labor market all the time. (I haven't thought this analogy through...so I'm sure you can blow holes in it, and please do)

posted by vito90 at 04:29 PM on July 15

Well, tennis is the only sport I'm really knowledgeable about, and it doesn't really apply to your analogy. Tennis is just a hard sport to make a living on--you have to travel 35+ weeks out of the year, and the little tournaments just pay enough money to cover expenses. Breaking even is considered doing good. It is, however, an equal opportunity hardship between the genders. For every Venus & Serena, or Pete & Andre, there are 20 journeymen and floaters, and even more men and women scraping out a living on the level under the pro tour. With the grass roots programs and tennis academies across the world, it's no longer a rich man's game. Tennis careers also usually start and end young, so while a baseball or football player could play into their 30's and be set for the rest of their lives, a tennis pro can usually only survive until 31 or 32 (Agassi is the clear exception, just as Jimmy Conners was before him) and have to start a whole new career to support themselves. So, unfortunately, I can't really dispute your point knowledgeably. I do agree that better female athletes are coming into tennis, and other sports. I think as soon as some of the prejudices surrounding Title IX are dropped, and a new generation of fans starts demanding to see women play, there will be more opportunities.

posted by somethingotherthan at 08:36 PM on July 15

Shit - Maybe your search skills are better than mine, because I can't find a link to the article...but have you ever read "String Theory" by David Foster Wallace? It was first published in Esquire circa 1996 and it's about a mid-ranked tennis player named Michael Joyce, and what he had to do to eke out a living on the tour. It was the first thing I ever read by Wallace...and while I like his style (copious use of footnotes) it's not for everybody. But I highly recommend the article.

posted by vito90 at 08:24 AM on July 16

All female athletes are lesbians... If you didn't know this you are fooling yourself.

posted by StarFucker at 09:57 AM on July 19

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