Coverage of women’s sports is peppered with “disguised” sexism, according to new research.
The 25-year study suggests dull, lackluster coverage makes female sports events seem less exciting than men’s – harming everything from women athletes’ salaries to ticket sales.
Researchers found new segments on women’s sport are shorter, include fewer interviews and less entertaining commentary.
And coverage of womens’ sports features matter-of-fact reactions which make female athletes seem less exciting, according to the research.
The team behind the study say the coverage equates to subtle sexism which is difficult to challenge but harms female sports.
Lead author Michela Musto, a doctoral student at the University of Southern California, said: “Sports news shows now disguise sexism in their ‘matter-of-fact’ reactions to women athletes’ performance, subtly sending viewers the message that women’s sports lack the excitement and interest of men’s sports.”
The study, published in the journal Gender and Society journal, was co-authored by Michael Messner, also from the University of Southern California and Cheryl Cook, from Purdue University in Indiana.
Every five years beginning in 1989, they examined six weeks of sports news on three Los Angeles-based network affiliate stations and three weeks of ESPN’s SportsCenter.
The team found women’s sports coverage tended to be overtly sexist from 1989-1999, trivializing by linking women to their conventional roles as mothers, wives and girlfriends from 1999-2009.
But now, based on the most recent data from 2014, coverage depicts women’s sports in a lackluster manner, which the researchers call “gender blind sexism.”
The study revealed women’s sports coverage had less air time, entertaining language, interviews, in-game footage and compliments.
SportsCenter’s segments on men’s sports averaged two minutes and five seconds and stories about men’s sports on the local stations averaging 47 seconds.
But women’s stories averaged one minute and 17 seconds on SportsCenter – nearly 50 percent shorter than men’s sports stories – and 44 seconds on the local affiliates.
They found commentators made jokes and used action-packaged language with rapid speech more often when discussing men’s sports than women’s sports.
Players, coaches and other sports figures were interviewed in one out of every three men’s sports stories on SportsCenter and the local affiliate stations.
But for women’s sports stories they appeared in only one out of every four stories on the local stations and none of the SportsCenter stories.
Game footage highlighting impressive plays accompanied most of men’s sports segments – in 83.1 percent of local news and 88.6 percent of SportsCenter stories.
Instead of featuring in-action game footage, women were frequently shown on the bench cheering for their teammates or hugging one another while celebrating a victory.
Sports commentators also rarely gave women lavish compliments, though they regularly called men’s athletic accomplishments “perfect,” “beautiful,” or “amazing,” according to the study.
Musto added: “The stubborn persistence of the lower quantitative coverage and the poor production values serve as key to marginalizing women within the male-dominated, male-controlled institution of sport.
“Ultimately, the continued belief that women’s sports are less interesting may limit television ratings, ticket sales, the amount advertisers are willing to pay for broadcast time during women’s events, the potential for corporate endorsements for women athletes and the salaries of players and coaches.”