An extensive 25-year study found undeniable undercurrents of sexist media coverage and misogyny against women in sports. The study focused on sports coverage and commentators to show not just the prevalence of sexism in sports news, but also how the language and tone of sexism have changed.
Commentators tend to cover women’s sports with bland narration, making it appear to spectators that women’s sports just aren’t as exciting as men’s sports.
The study also found that for news coverage, highlights and news updates for women’s sports had almost 50% less airtime.
Cheryl Cook from Purdue University conducted the study along with Michela Musto and Michael A. Messner from the University of Southern California. The research was published in the journal, Gender & Society.
Starting in 1989, every five years, the researchers analyzed six weeks of sports news on three Los Angeles network stations and three weeks of ESPN’s SportsCenter.
One interesting aspect of conducting such a long reaching study was observing how the language and tone of sexism changed in sports news. For example, in the 1990’s coverage of women’s sports was rife with blatant misogyny, linking the female players to society’s conventional gender roles of mothers and wives.
The most recent data from 2014 shows a tonal shift in sports commentators, covering games with bland and lackluster air. The researchers call this “gender bland sexism” because it subconsciously makes the viewer think women’s sports are not as exciting.
“Sports news shows now disguise sexism in their ‘matter-of-fact’ reactions to women athletes’ performance, subtly sending viewers the message that women’s sports lack the excitement and interest of men’s sports,” the researchers wrote.
A breakdown of the data collected in 2014 reveals that women’s sports get nearly 50% less air time for news stories. While sports commentators take on a fast-paced, joking, and rousing tone when covering men’s sports, female athletes and coaches get fewer interviews, and there is less replay of game footage and highlights of exciting plays.
“The stubborn persistence of the lower quantitative coverage and the poor production values serve as key to marginalizing women within the male-dominated, male-controlled institution of sport,” said the authors.