While it seems that the gender divide in sports has improved, last week’s events have shown just how far we still need to go. The problem with women’s sports media isn’t simply a lack of coverage; it’s also the way professional league leaders disrespect female athletes.
Look back at this past year of sports. The Women’s National Hockey League was established. Ronda Rousey knocked her opponent out in 14 seconds flat. The San Antonio Spurs, 2014 NBA champions, hired former WNBA star Becky Hammon as an assistant coach. Jen Welter became the first official female coach in the NFL when the Arizona Cardinals hired her. These are just a few highlights.
And how could you forget the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT), which took home gold on an international stage, defeating Japan at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup? This game historically raked in a peak of nearly 23 million viewers in the U.S., shattering any previous men’s or women’s soccer broadcast, according to FOX. It also had record attendance turnout with 1.3 million spectators, according to Sports Illustrated.
It’s funny that, despite how positive the ratings of the Women’s World Cup were, women’s sports coverage in the U.S. is just between two and four percent of total media sports coverage, according to the Chicago Tribune. And these miniscule percentages are declining. Without ESPN, espnW and now Fox, which owns television rights to elite women’s soccer, women’s sports coverage would be microscopic to none.
The most recent victim of female sports getting cheated by the media is the University of Minnesota’s women’s hockey team, one of the most underrated collegiate dynasties to date. On March 20, the Gophers beat previously undefeated No. 1 Boston College in the NCAA women’s hockey championship game. This was the Gophers’ fourth national title in five years — and Loyola’s men’s volleyball team thinks it has something to brag about.
So where could you find coverage of this women’s championship game? Well, you could stream it online or listen to a radio station in the Twin Cities. Other than that, you were SOL.
But why couldn’t you catch the game on television? CBS, which owns the exclusive television rights to the 2016 Women’s Ice Hockey Championship game, refused to air it live.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton took to Facebook to share the frustrations that many of us have. He said he tried to get the CBS local affiliate to air the game, and while two stations were willing, CBS still refused.
“Shame on CBS,” wrote Dayton at the end of his post.
And if this was Twitter, I would give him a big retweet.
But the lack of media coverage isn’t the only problem with women’s sports coverage; there’s also a lack of respect. This past week, Indian Wells CEO Raymond Moore received backlash after his comments about how men have carried tennis’ popularity.
Here’s his exact quote from a news conference on March 20:
“They don’t make any decisions and they are lucky. They are very, very lucky. If I was a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they’ve carried this sport. They really have. And now the mantle has been handed over to [Novak] Djokovic and [Andy] Murray, and some others.”
But Moore didn’t stop there. He went on to talk about the “very attractive players” who could head tennis the way Serena Williams has. He then was asked if he was referencing the players’ physical appearances or game, to which he said “both,” according to NPR.
Serena Williams quickly called out Moore for his inappropriate and “offensive” comments. And she has every right to. She has 69 WTA titles and four Olympic gold medals to her name. She’s currently ranked No. 1 in WTA’s single rankings. She has paved the way for women’s athletics and has been a leader in the body positivity movement.
Moore’s comments downplay everything Williams has worked for in her 20-year career.
Male tennis star Novak Djokovic said Moore’s comments weren’t politically correct, but he added that prize money should be “fairly distributed” based on “who attracts more attention, spectators and who sells more tickets,” according to BBC. Djokovic said that means male players should receive more money than their female counterparts.
Equal pay for male and female athletes has been a hot topic for the past seven or so years. Djokovic may not have meant to insult female tennis players, but his timing couldn’t have been worse.
But the issue behind what Moore said is much bigger than just himself. EspnW contributor Kate Fagan said in a tweet that Moore’s comments are what a lot of the leaders in sports think but don’t say, and I agree.
Not trying to overgeneralize the situation, but take a look at how corrupt FIFA is.
The controversy over sexism heated up when Canada, the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup host, put in a bid for artificial turf, rather than grass, which the men play on. Female elite players filed a discrimination lawsuit against FIFA, but the organization denied the allegations.
The USWNT received $2 million for winning the world cup, yet when the U.S. men’s soccer team lost in the round of 16 in the 2014 Men’s World Cup, it was awarded $8 million. The total payout for 2014 Men’s World Cup was $576 million, compared to $15 million the Women’s World Cup awarded. And let’s remember, the USWNT brought in record television viewership in the U.S.
And let’s look at the NCAA. The only reason there is regulation with female and male athletes at universities is because Title IX regulates it. Before Title IX, there were a lot more opportunities for male athletes to receive athletic scholarship than females. It’s evident female student-athletes don’t get the same recognition as male student-athletes.
You can even look at Loyola’s marketing for the athletic department. Posters and advertisements for Arch Madness, the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) men’s basketball tournament were plastered on campus walls and in the shuttle buses, but did you notice a single out-of-game advertisement for Hoops in the Heartland, the MVC women’s basketball tournament? Probably not, because there wasn’t any.
Women athletes have gained a lot more respect throughout the past few years, but there is still more that can be done. The grumpy, old boys heading the various professional sports league need to become more respectful of female athletes. If they’re not going to be, then someone else needs to take over.