Keeping the Focus On the Field: Representation of Female Athletes in the Media
With twenty crystal globe titles and nearly eighty overall wins in her career, it isn’t hard to argue that Lindsey Vonn is one of the greatest skiers in history. However, even the greatest get hurt. On February 27, 2016, she was heading for yet another win when she crashed, fracturing her knee. In an article written by CNN, the actual crash, while documented, was overshadowed by her dating history, as well as her posing in body paint for Sports Illustrated (a story CNN also felt needed to be told when discussing her 20th crystal globe title).
The same day, Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones sustained a hamstring injury in the NFL combine. The article, written by ESPN, never once mentioned Jones’s dating history or what he was wearing. It simply stated the facts of his injury and included his athletic history statistics. So on the exact same day, two injuries were reported on. But only one was stated for what it was, an injury, sans dating life and modeling. And that one was about a man.
While women have made great strides in sports, the fact remains that they still are not treated as equal to men. Sports with male involvement are more widely shown on TV, especially during prime time hours.
And this issue is seen in both the professional and college ranks. In 2011, the Mizzou women’s tennis team had to share their locker room and tennis courts with the public. The men's team did not. At the same time, Mizzou built a new basketball facility; a facility that violated Title IX (an act that supposedly requires equal treatment of men and women. Mizzou is also not the only college to violate Title IX; and it happens more often that would be expected. The fact is that many colleges would rather drop programs to comply than to add more athletic opportunities for women.
Women make up to 40% of sport and physical activity participants, yet are only given 6-8% of media coverage; and as was the case with Vonn, oftentimes the coverage they do get is redirected towards their life outside of athletics rather than focusing on them as a competitor. In most of the articles written about women athletes, they are supposed to be seen as feminine. If they pose for a magazine cover or just for a picture, they are supposed to seem extremely feminine. While this isn’t necessarily a negative, men are not asked to be anything other than athletes when they portrayed by the media. In contrast, articles on women often focus on life outside of sports. If the woman is a mother, it is about her life as a mother. If she is engaged, it is about the wedding. The sports media simply cannot keep their focus on how the women they cover are strong athletes.
In a world where women are supposed to be on the rise in many professions, the media seems to constantly be forcing women back down from the heights they are trying to reach, especially in athletics. Female athletes should be portrayed the same as their male counterparts; as strong, athletic individuals playing the sport they have a passion for, not simply as a wife, or a mother. While those are great things to be, what female athletes accomplish in competition is really the only story the sports media should tell. In other words, the sports media should learn to see women athletes the same way they have always seen the men.
You can follow the author of this article on Twitter at @katieeliselee.