by Ashley LeGresley
Although female sports have come a long way in the last century, there is still much inequality between female and male sports in areas such as coverage, salary, and the portrayal of the athletes themselves.
Any sports fan who watches sports on television can easily see that male sports are predominantly featured over female sports. With women accounting for 40% of all sports participation, one would think that female sports would air, pretty much on par with that of their male counterparts (Hanson, 2012). In 1999, female sports coverage only accounted for 8% of all sports media coverage (Hanson, 2012).
Arguably one of the most popular sports news stations, ESPN’s SportsCenter , in 2004 only devoted 2% of its’ show to women’s sports (Hanson, 2012). A 30-day analysis of SportsCenter turned up 807 stories regarding sports, 778 of these were regarding male sports, while 16 were about female sports and 13 were about both female and male sports. These numbers, truly show how female sports are depicted in the sports world, as not important.
In regards to salary, male players and teams make a substantial amount more than female player and their teams, even though they may not win as much, or win as big a title. Reports in 1998 indicated that female players made 74 cents for every dollar that their male counterparts earned (Gettings, 2013).
In 2005, Sue Bird, the top ranked WNBA player made $87 000, which according to Insidehoops.com is the top salary for the WNBA (Seepersaud, 2013). Shaquille O’Neal in that same year made $20 million. These gaps in statistics can be seen in every sport.
Female golfer, Annika Sorenstam made $1.9 million dollars for winning her third U.S Open, while Tiger Woods won $6.8 million for winning the men’s U.S Open in the same year (Seepersaud, 2013)! David Fay, the Open’s Executive Director was questioned why there was such a difference in payouts between the men’s and women’s winnings, his response was the men’s Open has, “more audience members, entries and press coverage”(Seepersaud, 2013).
Lastly, female athletes are portrayed in a different light than male athletes. Female players are exploited for their sex appeal instead of their ability as a player (Hanson, 2012). Male players are shown as strong, muscular, and athletic while female player’s bodies are viewed as sex objects.
A study done in 1990 looked at male and female athletes and the location of their photo shoots; 68% of male players were shot on their court while 51% of women were shot on court (Hanson, 2012). This study then looked at players and whether their pictures depicted them in their uniforms; 93% of males were photographed wearing their uniforms while 84% of females were photographed wearing theirs. A similar study in 1990 looked at athletes’ pictures to see if they were action shots or stills; 62% of male shots were taken while they were in action, and 41% of female shots were action shots (Hanson, 2012).
As seen in Sports Illustrated, a magazine known for its articles about sports teams, and players, female athletes are rarely featured, and when they are, their pictures are not of them in an action shot on the field but of them in very little clothing or none at all, in a location far from the playing field (Hanson, 2012). Starting in 1964, the magazine started issuing an annual Swimsuit Edition with erotic pictures of female athletes, which unless the reader is aware of her athletic capabilities, would think is just a model posing. Certainly this is not women showing off their athleticism, but their bodies.
Unfortunately, if female players are not the “model” physique, or possess female characteristics, then they are considered “butch” by society and are stereotyped lesbians because they play sport and are not feminine enough (Hanson, 2012.) I have seen this personally in my softball career. Players on my team who didn’t wear makeup or “girly” clothing were deemed butch and many students outside of the team thought they were lesbian, when in fact, they were not. The ideas and stereotypes come from the way media shows female athletes. Most of the female athletes featured in magazines or news articles are the most beautiful and sexually appealing, emphasizing on their feminine characteristics instead of their ability to play their sport.
These pictures and articles are easily read and available to younger female and male athletes. By reading and looking at how female players are depicted, it gives youth the wrong idea of how female athletes should be treated and teaches young women that the only way to get ahead in sports is to exploit your body.
For future female players to feel that they are valued as credible athletes and not just seen as females, society has to close the gap between male and female sports, making coverage, salaries, funding and how the athletes are portrayed equivalent. Media must also be very careful in how female players are depicted as this shapes the minds of future athletes and fans.
Gettings, John. (2013), The Wage Gap in Pro Sports: Will equal pay arrive for women in the sports world. http://www.infoplease.com/spot/sptwagegap1.html
Hanson, Valarie. (2012), The Inequality of Sport: Women < Men. Undergraduate Review: A Journal of Undergraduate Student Research. 13. 1: pp. 15-22.
Seepersaud, Steve. (2013), Female Athlete Salaries. http://www.askmen.com/sports/business_150/190_sports_business.html