In 2015, the University of Minnesota’s Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sports reported that 40 percent of all athletes in the United States are women. Despite these numbers, however, women only receive four percent of media attention when it comes to athletics.
The center also released a documentary in collaboration with the television network TPT called Media Coverage and Female Athletes. This documentary showcases the center’s findings and discusses the causes and implications of such low media attention for women athletes.
Some people believe that the disparity can be attributed to the fact that women are severely underrepresented in newsrooms, with a total of 90 percent of sports editors being men, according to research found in 2014. This gender gap allows for the continuation of hidden sexism, which happens when male reporters focus on a female athlete’s appearance or role as a wife and mother rather than her athletic accomplishments.
“Mainstream sports media outlets are essentially ‘mediated man-caves,’” Dr. Cheryl Cooky, an associate professor of American studies at Purdue University, told The Nation in 2016. “It’s a space where men can go and know it’s going to be by, for, and about men.”
Many media outlets and experts have suggested that simply increasing the number of women reporting on sports may help increase the amount of coverage female athletes receive, but it is often difficult to achieve when sexism is so deeply ingrained in the industry’s culture.
“That can’t be the only space where change happens,” said Dr. Cooky. “This adage of ‘adding women and stir,’ that that’s somehow going to change things—in many cases what happens is that women, particularly if they’re ‘tokens’ within those institutions or organizations, or are a small minority, or not in decision-making positions or in positions of power—those women are often constrained in terms of their ability to bring about organizational change.”
Because of this issue, women athletes are now taking the matter into their own hands. Earlier this month, The University of Arizona held an event that aimed to empower female athletes and encourage them to be leaders on campus.
Participants in the event discussed how it is difficult for a woman to fathom attaining a goal if someone else had not already achieved it, so it is important for young girls to see older, more experienced women setting records and making a reputation for themselves. This can help children become inspired to work toward their own dreams.
One of the guest speakers at the event was Adia Barnes, head coach for the university’s women’s basketball team. In her speech, she discussed the role that every single woman plays in inspiring younger generations and building equal opportunities in society for women.
“I would like to see my athletes highlighted more as who they are as people,” Coach Barnes said. “In women’s basketball, there’s a certain perception, there’s a certain image you see on the court with the way someone (can) look, or how they carry themselves that isn’t necessarily them.”
The University of Arizona will move forward with its initiative for equality and inclusion on January 19th when they partner with the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE) at a game against the Colorado Buffaloes. The game will have a theme of unity and will be preceded by campus programming and conversations that encourage unity and equality at the university.
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