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Disparities in Women's Sports

By Jennifer Chiu

Sports are some of the most watched events on television, with thousands of fans and viewers cheering for their favorite athletes or teams. However, disparities still exist between men and women in the sports opportunities that they receive, especially in the way that they are covered by sports media. For example, anger erupted on social media in 2016 over an article the Chicago Tribune published, titled “Wife of a Bears' lineman wins a bronze medal today in Rio Olympics.” The athlete the article referred to was Corey Cogdell-Unrein—but her name was nowhere to be found in the title. Critics immediately took to Twitter and other social media to criticize the newspaper for its apparent sexism, with one commenter sarcastically replying, “Congrats to that Bears lineman who apparently deserves all the credit here,” Katie Rogers at the New York Times reports. Although the Chicago Tribune later edited the title to include Cogdell-Unrein’s name, it kept her moniker as a wife of a Bears’ lineman, focusing more on her gender rather than her athletic ability.

There have also been concerns about the amount of coverage given to women. Outside of large events like the Olympics, news media rarely covers female athletes, who only appear around 4-5% of the time otherwise. There is a clear imbalance between attention given to male athletes and female ones who are equally, or more, talented than their male counterparts. By refusing to cover women in sports, the media perpetuates the idea that women are less talented or less deserving in this field. To combat this, news and media sources must show as much attention and respect for women in sports as they do for men.

People have also raised many criticisms about the way that media portrays women, not just in the amount of coverage but the quality of coverage. A report published by researchers at Cambridge University discovered coverage of female athletes tended to revolve around their identities as women at significantly higher numbers compared to men. Not only were men mentioned three times as often as women, but more gendered terms were often used to refer to the women. The term “girl” was used 8% more often to describe women than “boy” to describe men, showing a trend towards infantilization of women. Additionally, the report mentions that “...common word associations or combinations for women, but not men, in sport include ‘aged’, ‘older’, ‘pregnant’ and ‘married’ or ‘unmarried,’ [but] for men in sport…adjectives like ‘fastest’, ‘strong’, ‘big’, ‘real’ and ‘great.’” The words associated with women relate to their gender roles, while those associated with men focus on their athletic performance. Many female athletes have also been sexualized, while those who don’t fit into the traditional notion of femininity are chastised as being too “masculine.” One example is when Venus and Serena Williams were called “brothers” that were “scary” to look at, devaluing their worth both as women and athletes by reducing them to their appearance.

These disparities mean that the sports industry has much to cover if it wants to ensure an equal playing ground for both women and men. First, the amount of coverage given to women must increase—in all events, not just big names like the Olympics. Then, coverage must be reformed to appreciate and applaud women for their achievements and efforts, not push sexist notions of traditional femininity. Rather than focusing on gender, sports media should focus on athleticism and ability. Huge strides have been made to close the gap between men and women in sports in the last century, and now it is the sports media’s job to continue that fight.

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