August 22, 2005

Box Scores and Bylines

Gender on the Page

Gender on the Page 

One of the most notable trends in sports over the past thirty years is the increasing prominence of women in sports at the amateur, collegiate and professional levels. In 1971, the year before Title IX was passed, there were fewer than 30,000 women competing in college sports. Today, there are nearly 150,000. Professional leagues likes the WNBA and WUSA have created superstars such as Diana Taurasi and Mia Hamm. Despite this growth, it appears individual women as well as female teams are still relatively marginal in the world of newspaper sports reporting.

Men overwhelmingly dominate sports-page coverage. This was true for stories on sports teams as well as individual athletes.

The study first looked at stories on individual athletes. These included both stories on athletes as performers as well as personal profiles. Both were disproportionately male-dominated. Overall, 35% of all stories on athletes were devoted to men and just 5% covered women.

The study also examined stories on men’s and women’s sports teams. The gap between coverage of male and female sports teams is also striking. While a third (33%) of the stories we looked at covered men’s teams, a mere 3% dealt with women’s teams.

The light coverage of female athletes varied little across the different circulation categories. Regardless of circulation size, men consistently dominated.

Main Characters in Sports Front Stories
 
Large Circ.
Medium Circ.
Small Circ.
Total
Athletes
39%
39%
41%
39%
Male
35
35
34
35
Female
4
4
7
5
Sports Teams
33%
38%
38%
36%
Male
31
35
33
33
Female
1
3
5
3
Coach
5%
7%
7%
7%
Male
5
7
7
6
Female
1
*
*
Administrator/
Management
4%
4%
2%
4%
Male
4
4
2
4
Female
*
*
Other
19%
12%
12%
14%

When it comes to who is providing the news to reporters and the public, sources appear heavily slanted towards men. Only 14% of front-page sports stories had at least one female source while 85% of sports stories used a male source. On A1 (50%) and front-page Metro (58%), women fared better though this was considerably less than the rate of men. Again, no circulation category was significantly more likely to use women as sources.

This dearth of reporting on women’s sports, we should note, is not limited to newspapers. Other research finds that the percentage of sports stories and airtime dedicated to women’s sports on television is now as low as it was in 1989. (1)

We can only speculate as to why there appears to be so little gender diversity on the front page of America ’s sports sections. As noted earlier, the big three sports—baseball, basketball, and football—dominate the sports section’s front page. Women have yet to be given the opportunity to participate in football and baseball at any level, and while the WNBA and NCAA women’s basketball tournament have become increasingly popular, there were few front-page stories dealing with women’s basketball leagues.

Another explanation could be that sports journalism departments have generally been reluctant to hire women for their desks. One estimate is that women only make up approximately 13% of sports departments, and that less than 6% of the Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) members are women. (2)

One final point, however: the ratio of men to women as the primary newsmaker in all the categories we studied—including politicians, professional individuals, and citizens—was overwhelmingly in favor of men. So sports reporting is hardly an exception to a broader trend.

(1) “Gender in Televised Sports: News and Highlights Shows, 1989-2004,” a study commissioned by the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles.

(2) Leah Etling, “An Uphill Climb,” APSE Newsletter, June 2002.