Mainstream spectator sports are an extremely important component of American society. Overwhelming amounts of people at least casually watch sports, with an astounding 111.5 million tuning in to watch the 2014 Super Bowl, making it the most-watched piece of programming in U.S. history. If you repeated this fact to most people, chances are they wouldn’t be surprised, as the fact is that mainstream spectator sports have become ingrained in our society. As a result, whether unconsciously or not, what we see on our television screens when watching these sports does have an influence on our values, thought processes, and ideas.
This is all the more reason for us to be concerned about the overwhelming lack of coverage of women’s sports in the mainstream media. Turn on any episode of SportsCenter and I would be shocked if more than a couple minutes of the programming is spent on covering women’s sports. In fact, only 1.4% of the show’s airtime is spent covering anything relating to women’s sports. This trend extends to the realm of sponsorship and media coverage as a whole as well. The Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation reported that in 2013, only 7% of sports media coverage and 0.4% of total sponsorship money was attributed to women’s sports. In my opinion, such a disparity is unacceptable and shows a need for change in our values as spectators and 21st century American citizens.
Throughout history, there have always been gender norms and institutional barriers that have dictated what you can and cannot do because of your sex, as Professor LaVaque-Manty’s chapter on Being a Women and Other Disabilities notes. Women in particular have historically been prevented from pursuing athletics in the same way that men have, but thankfully this has changed drastically. Now, thanks to Title IX in part and a general upward trend, there are just about as many women as men participating in NCAA athletics. Though participation in women’s sports has gone up, the increase in media coverage has not caught up by any means, as noted above. What does this say about the value that we place on women in sports? If I were to judge our media coverage as any indication, it shows that we as a society do not care enough about making opportunities for women in sports.
The landscape of women’s sports in the mainstream media needs to change. This lack of coverage of women’s sports in the mainstream media, regardless of whether they are as entertaining to spectators or as lucrative to sponsors as their male counterparts, demonstrates that we don’t care as much about the pursuits of women as men. Often, big-name professional athletes are role-models for children and aspiring athletes. What does this lack of media coverage do to the aspiring female athlete or young women who is looking for a role-model? In my opinion, it discourages them from pursuing the things they want to do. They can often end up with the idea that society doesn’t care as much about what they do as compared to a boy. This type of demoralization is an effect of this lack of media coverage that we need be aware of. We should be taking steps to reduce these barriers for women, not perpetuate them.