Questioning the bias towards sexes in sports journalism

Co-written by Zack Bodenstein

Photo by Edwin Martinez // flickr

The sports section is a staple in most major news outlets – sadly a more accurate name for it may be “the men’s sports section.”

It is well-known that coverage of sports is massively slanted towards men and men’s sports. We know that this is not equal treatment of the sexes, but this reality is not often challenged by sports viewers.

From a journalistic standpoint, this amount of bias in favour of men is baffling. Such blanket preferential coverage would be the kiss of death in any other field of reporting, yet sports appear to be immune from this legitimate criticism.

In 2006, the Handbook of Sports and Media reported that 90 per cent of sports coverage was devoted to men’s sports. Women’s sports did not even constitute the final 10 per cent – horses and dogs received three per cent of views, and the remaining two per cent was awarded to an ambiguous “other.”

The projected idea here assumes that the reader will automatically prioritize men’s sports over women’s. It is a harmful, sexist form of bias that is deeply intertwined in its reporting – be it in written articles, televised coverage, sports analytics – it seems that no platform is safe from this bias.

But this may be an issue in news itself. When the sports newsroom is lopsided in gender, it may may influence what is published.

A report by Poynter found that American newsrooms were 63.1 per cent male and 36.9 per cent female in 1999. What is truly scary is that by 2012, these percentages had stayed the same. Even scarier is that in 2013, it became worse; 63.7 per cent of newsrooms were male and 36.3 per cent were female.

Because men clearly dominate the overall newsroom, their own bias towards interest in male athletes, or a bias of the organization itself, overrides what is reported.

“There may be a bias on the part of the decision makers to reinforce male-dominated ideals. That male sports are better, more interesting, and provide better stories,” said Berlin, who teaches Journalism and Sports Media at Ryerson University.

One study on the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games proved hopeful.

The study compared news coverage of the games in each year. In 1992, coverage was dominated by men’s sports, and women’s sports received few views.

But in 1996, NBC’s programming included significantly more coverage of women’s athletics. There were 11 sports studied, and women’s coverage increased in six of the areas studied. Men’s coverage actually decreased in four of 11 sports.

The hope lies in the fact that NBC’s 1996 coverage had a greater viewership than 1992. People wanted to see women, and when they actually could, they did.

The thing about news is that no matter how interested you may be in something, you can’t find it until a reporter decides to publish it. People want to see women’s sports, and until they can, they won’t.

Sports needs to provide more coverage to women, and the answer may lie in uprooting the gender inequality in news itself.

 

Also published by The Blank Page: http://home.blnkpage.org/opinions/questioning-the-bias-towards-sexes-in-sports-journalism/

 

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