by Jacob B.
Social media is a double-edged sword that has the potential to bring viewers together to give rise to a voice to people or groups that are willing to engage with it. However, social media has the potential to turn into a virtual warfare. Anthony Carmona describes social media as an “envisaged function of creating a positive communication link among friends, family, and professionals. It is a veritable battleground, where insults fly from the human quiver damaging lives, destroying self-esteem and person’s sense of self-worth” (Carmona, n.d). This quote relates to the effect that media has on the sport by altering the way people view certain sports and to the levels of participation in different athletics. Due to the way media portrays sport with stereotypes and stigmas, there has been a steady decrease in the rates of participation in sports form 1992 (approximately 45.1%) to 2010 (approximately 25.8%). A decrease of 20 percent has been seen in a span of 18 years, affecting more females than it has male participants. Media uses methods of live coverage, magazine covers, and poor commentary to sculpt the public’s views and beliefs on sports which gives rise to popular stereotypes that are ongoing in today society.
Representations of professional athletes in advertising – particularly in magazine spreads and the like (for example: Sports illustrated, Men’s Fitness, etc) serve to reinforce the socially constructed traditional male and female roles. Weber and Carini (2012) conducted a study to determine the difference in coverage between men and women in Sport Illustrated magazines from 2000-2011. Despite women being 40% of the total registered competition they only appeared on 4.9% of the Sports Illustrated covers. In 2009 women’s sport suffered its lowest live coverage of athletics from ESPN’s SportsCenter at 1.4%. Weber and Carini emphasize the fact that Sports Illustrated uses the lack of coverage to as a selling technique and to increase their popularity. Due to the limited coverage, when Sport Illustrated releases a magazine dedicated to women athletes, the public reinforces it by purchasing the articles that place women in poses that try to promote their physical beauty rather than their athletics.
Despite female athletes’ tendency to be seen as ‘overcoming’ traditional traits of femininity: that is, delicacy, fragility, and weakness, in media and in magazines they are brought back to being objects of male gaze. While dominating in their chosen field of sport or athletics, when placed on the cover of a magazine they resemble stereotypical images of women. If an individual was to do a simple Google search of male cover athlete for Sports Illustrated and compared them to female cover athletes, the difference is self-evident. Men are shown wearing their gear and often in an intimidating or aggressive pose, whereas women are placed in poses that makes them look laid back and appealing to an outside gaze.
During the opening ceremonies of the Pyeongchang Winter Games, Tongan athlete, Pita Taufatofua marched out carrying his country’s flag wearing nothing but a traditional Tongan mat. CBC provided coverage from three reporters (a male and two female) during his walkout the women reporters emphasized on the athletes body image stating “he always comes to the opening ceremonies topless and greased up – I have no issues with that” too many this does not seem like a big issue until the male reporter replying to the comment’s about the athlete by saying “you have gone through the whole scenario and yet, you haven’t mentioned his name, which is Pita Taufatofua and he’s a cross country-skier”. This portion of CBC’s coverage raises thoughts to how this situation may have been viewed publicly if the roles were reversed, and it was men talking about a female athlete in a similar fashion. Or if a women wore similar attire during the opening ceremonies, would the media praise her the same or would they criticize the women for wearing such revealing clothes and oiling up her skin?
In recent years sports have become more accepting of homosexual athletes, however, it comes with a price. Since the first appearance of AIDS, the disease has been tied to and associated with homosexuality. Because of this social stigmatization, AIDS is viewed as the fault of homosexual athletes and thus the media and public subjugated the athletes and in turn, AIDS were viewed as a form of punishment for those who engage in sexual activity. Heterosexual men who participate in sexual activity have more leeway with the responsibilities of the outcome of their encounters because it is viewed as a hegemonic masculine trait. Understandably this is a major concern and has a direct correlation with athletes who are not public with their sexuality.
The media has come a very long way with the faults that it has, however, there is still a lot more that can be done. When media is capable of providing a form of gender equity, the stereotypes will diminish and therefore a safer sporting environment will be available where individuals will not be in fear in participating in a sport outside the “norm” or won’t feel like they need to hide their sexuality in fear of being discriminated against. Emma Watson said that “ Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong… it is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum not as two opposing sets of ideas.” (Watson, Goodreads, n.d) sport shouldn’t be a reason to hide a part of who you are, or limit you from participation.
Weber, J. D., & Carini, R. M. (2013). Where are the female athletes in Sports Illustrated? A content analysis of covers (2000–2011). International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 48(2). Retrieved February 15, 2018.
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Carmona, Brainyquote, n.d. Retrieved from https://www.brainyquote.com/search_results?q=Anthony+Carmona
Wight, C. (2018) Leisure Meanings+Sport Participation Rates. Retrieved from https://lms.unb.ca/d2l/le/content/129657/viewContent/1398260/View