Where are the Women? The Absence of Female Athletes in Media Coverage by Meghan Morgan

As I got ready for work, a story about the US women’s soccer team advancing in the World Cup grabbed my attention. A true American, I’m not a huge soccer fan and I don’t normally follow the sport but of course I knew the women’s World Cup was happening.

But that wasn’t why the story caught my attention. I noticed it precisely because it was a story about women’s sports on the morning news. Sandwiched between a report on another dismal White Sox loss and continuing coverage of the adventures of the Stanley Cup, this station had managed to find time during a four hour morning news broadcast to report on women’s sports.

This seems like good news, right? Women’s sports are finally getting some well-deserved air time. Just in time for my 9-month-old daughter to see positive female role models in the sports world.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case. A recent study out of USC reports that when it comes to women’s sports -and that means actual coverage, not the ticker we’re all accustomed to blocking out unless we’re waiting for a specific game score – women are not faring so well.

Last year, only 3.2 percent of network coverage was given to women’s sports. Sportscenter, the go-to place for your quick sports updates, devoted only 2 percent of its coverage to women’s sports. Two percent! Even more astounding is that in 1989 women’s sports received five percent of coverage. These numbers are especially disheartening when you consider the numbers of women and girls playing sports at all levels continues to increase each year.

Are we really going in the wrong direction? The short answer is yes. The long answer is also yes, but in a more complicated way. In 1989 female athletes received more coverage but much of it was sexist, related to how a female athlete looked and less about their actual athletic talent. When that approach was rightly criticized, the solution became to cover women’s athletics less.

The dearth in coverage is especially frustrating when you consider the explosion of news shows in general, and sports news shows in particular, in recent years. There are now entire channels devoted to a single sport and numerous stations that cover sports all day, every day. There’s certainly time and I don’t believe the problem is a lack of interest. Sure, the media follows the stories. But the media also creates the stories. They decide what to cover and how to cover it and right now they are not choosing to cover women’s sports in a way that generates or increases the interest of the public.

At a recent Cubs game, a new father caught a foul ball in one hand while feeding his infant son a bottle with the other. I’m not even a Cubs fan and I saw the story featured three different times on three different broadcasts. This story signifies there is not a lack of time to cover women’s sports so what is it?

The Women’s Media Center recently released its annual report, which examines how women fare across all media platforms, in all areas of coverage. This report makes it clear. The failure is not limited to sports coverage. It exists on all levels. Women are also reporting stories, both on air, in print, and online, far less than men.

How can we be part of the solution and increase awareness? We can speak out. The men who own and operate media outlets need to hear that their audience notices. They need to know that women, who in most cases make up a large part of their audience, want to see themselves reflected more fairly in the media.

Speak up. Question why there are fewer women’s sports stories, and reporters, and writers. Applaud the women that are represented. Watch their broadcasts. Follow them on social media. Promote their success. We need to teach young girls and women to speak up and speak out. To question what they are seeing. To recognize the absence of women and women’s sports. And to believe that they can make a difference.

WIS