The Dramatic Drop in Women’s Sports Coverage: An Interview with Mike Messner

Michael Messner is a professor of sociology and gender studies at the University of Southern California (USC) and is the author of numerous books including Power at Play: Sports and the Problem of Masculinity. He is the co-author, along with Prof. Cheryl Cooky, of a new report called, Gender in Televised Sports: News and Highlight Shows, 1989-2009. Here we discuss this fascinating study. DZ: Let’s talk about your study on gender and televised sports. What did you and Professor Cooky uncover in your research? MM: We looked at the three local networks affiliates here in Los Angeles and also the ESPN Sportscenter at 11 o’clock in the evening. The first time we did this study was 1989 and we have done it every five years since then. The first couple times we did it, 1989 and 1993 coverage of women sports on the evening news shows was about 5%. I know a lot of people back then said that the number would continue to go up as time went by and the media caught up with this explosion of girls and women sports throughout the country. Indeed in 1999 it nudged up to 8.7% of all sports coverage. Then in 2004 it went back down to 6.3% and the most recent data we collected was in 2009 and the coverage on the evening news shows has almost evaporated to 1.6%, the lowest amount ever, and ESPN is right down there with 1.4% of their Sportscenter coverage. We were pretty stunned by the drop off. DZ: To go from 5% in 1989 to at 1.6%, in 2009. How do we understand that coverage has actually gone down as women’s leagues and play have become more prevalent? MM: Well, that’s what the puzzle really is. There has been this continued explosion of participation and interest in women’s sports and it just hasn’t been reflected in TV news and highlight shows. One of the more interesting findings we had was in 1989 and 1999 the big chunk of women’s sports coverage we did see on these shows was what we called insulting or trivialization or humorous Continue Reading

Don Imus and the State of Women’s Sports

The radio shock jock Don Imus has joined a special corner of media hell. It’s a corner occupied by Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and all the other personalities who thought that one more twig of bigotry wouldn’t break the camel’s back. That’s what happens when you think it’s good fun to call Rutgers’ women basketball players “nappy-headed ho’s.” It’s hard to imagine Imus was helped by a show of support from his good friend John McCain. Now that the McCainiac is done visiting Iraqi street markets with his army of Spartan snipers, telling everyone how safe it is, he has brought his delusions to Imus’s defense, saying, “He has apologized. He said that he is deeply sorry. I’m a great believer in redemption…. I have made many mistakes in my life…and I have apologized, and most people have accepted that apology.” The rest of the Imus regulars, from John Kerry to Tim Russert, have done their best impressions of rats sashaying off a sinking ship. They, and a coterie of other media and political elites, have spent years giving “the I-man” nods and winks while he called African-American journalist Gwen Ifill “a cleaning lady,” New York Times sports reporter Bill Rhoden a “quota hire” and tennis player Amelie Mauresmo a “big lesbo.” All this in addition to Imus’s rampant Islamophobia, evident when he brays for war or calls Arabs “ragheads.” Imus’s corporate masters at MSNBC and CBS, who have called him “brilliant and provocative,” have given him a nice two-week vacation, and then it will be business as usual. Or maybe not. This time Imus may have taken someone tougher and more tenacious than he. Her name is C. Vivian Stringer, and if he’s only known her as the coach of Rutgers’s slandered team, he’s in for a rude awakening. For thirty-five years Stringer has been building her Continue Reading

Why I’m Done Defending Women’s Sports

As I was gurgling joyously after following a thrilling World Cup final, with the USA winning 5-2 over Japan on the strength of “Big Game” Carli Lloyd’s hat trick, my e-mail dinged. I was asked to be on a radio show tomorrow to discuss whether people really, actually care about women’s sports. I typed back a rather rude “no,” because, frankly, I’m done with the media-debate spectacle of “defending” women’s sports. It’s exhausting, like debating with some ham-faced think-tank goon about whether global warming is real or having to argue whether that name of the Washington football team is honestly and truly racist. It’s like any verbal dispute where fact and opinion are used interchangeably by troglodytic axe grinders who seem to get an erectile boost from the frustrated outrage of others. Every damn Women’s World Cup, every NCAA women’s finals, every Olympics, women’s sports again go on a media trial that would make the old judges of Salem blush. This last e-mail was merely the latest. I have done too many radio shows in the past week where the question was not about the chances of the US Women’s national team or which teams could potentially topple them. They were about why “no one cares,” or whether women’s sports are as good as men’s sports. It’s tired. It’s also way behind where people actually are. Absolutely, it is great to see Seth Myers and Amy Poehler take up the fight, and it is always fun to see the look on someone’s face when you tell them that John Wooden in his last years preferred women’s NCAA basketball to the men’s game. But it’s also increasingly irrelevant. While I’m being asked why “no one cares,” the Women’s World Cup is getting ratings that would make the NBA or Major League Baseball weep with joy. While ESPN Radio self-parody Colin Cowherd says that men are stronger Continue Reading

Why Don’t People Watch Women’s Sports?

“It is a lady’s business to look beautiful and there are hardly any sports in which she seems able to do it.” –Sportswriter Paul Gallico, 1936 “Well, the vast majority of WNBA players lack crossover sex appeal…. The baggy uniforms don’t help.” –Bill Simmons, HBO sports personality, circa 2006 “Women’s sports in general not worth watching.” –Sports Illustrated contributor Andy Benoit on Twitter, 2015 In March 2015, former NCAA ice hockey player Dani Rylan announced the formation of the National Women’s Hockey League, the first paying professional women’s hockey league in North America. For players like Kaleigh Fratkin, a defenseman from British Columbia, it was a life-changing opportunity to continue playing, for a salary, after college. But both as a college player at Boston University and once Fratkin arrived as a pro in Connecticut—one of the league’s four franchise areas, along with New York City, Boston, and Buffalo—she was struck by how many people had never seen a women’s hockey game before. “They just aren’t aware of it,” says Fratkin, who recently signed with the New York Riveters. Women’s hockey is largely ignored by the mainstream sports media, she says, and fans don’t have any “weird sort of telepathy” that tells them the sport exists. It’s not just women’s hockey that’s being ignored. According to the University of Minnesota’s Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, women’s athletics receive only about 4 percent of all sports media coverage. Other studies have put television time as low as 1 percent. Yet, 44 years after the passage of Title IX, women and girls in the United States are playing and following sports in unprecedented numbers. Forty percent of all sports participants are female, according to the Tucker Center, and roughly a third of fans Continue Reading

Pregnant Women Just Earned More Workplace Rights in Illinois

Once upon a time, when a working woman became pregnant, she’d typically be expected to leave her job and retreat into full-time domestic duties. These days, white-collar career women sport proud baby bumps under power suits, and across the workforce, women now regularly serve as the main breadwinners, and must work before, during, and after pregnancy. Yet many workplaces are still stuck in a Victorian mindset about what pregnant women can and can’t do on the job. Now a new law in Illinois is set to modernize the way bosses deal with pregnant employees. The so-called Pregnancy Fairness law, which Governor Pat Quinn signed into law yesterday, establishes distinct civil rights protections for pregnant workers who require a modest adjustment to their duties to do their jobs. The employer still has the right to refuse but only if it could prove that the accommodation “would impose an undue hardship” on the business. Most working women will keep working during their pregnancy, often into the third trimester. Yet labor law has lagged in accommodating pregnancy at work. Since 1978, pregnant workers have had limited protection against discrimination by their boss under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. But countless women have been denied the reasonable accommodations they have requested in order to keep working, like being allowed to sit on a stool at the register. Sometimes they are unnecessarily forced off the job. Today, pregnancy discrimination protection, along with paid sick leave, equal pay, and flexible scheduling, ties into a suite of policy demands that labor feminists are pushing to bring gender justice to work. Recently, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued new guidelines on pregnant workers’ entitlement to light duty, and a recent expansion of the Americans with Disabilities Act clarifies the employer’s obligation to accommodate health conditions related to pregnancy. Building on that framework, Continue Reading

US Navy ship with 2 women rescued at sea reaches Japan

WHITE BEACH NAVAL FACILITY, Japan (AP) — Two women from Hawaii who were adrift on a storm-battered sailboat in the Pacific for months set foot on solid ground Monday at a U.S. Navy base in southern Japan. The USS Ashland rescued Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava and their two dogs about 1,450 kilometers (900 miles) southeast of Japan, and brought them to America's White Beach Naval Facility after waiting for a typhoon to pass. The two women, sporting USS Ashland knit shirts, were standing with the commanding officer and others high on the bridgeway as the ship docked. They later spoke to reporters on the flight deck before clearing customs and walking down metal stairs to the dock. They had left Honolulu on May 3 aboard Appel's 15-meter (50-foot) vessel, the Sea Nymph, for what was supposed to be an 18-day trip to Tahiti. Storms flooded the engine, destroying the starter, and damaged the mast so badly that they couldn't generate enough wind power to stay on course, they said. The two women tried to return and at one point in June were within 1,345 kilometers (726 nautical miles) of Oahu but couldn't make it, Appel said. "We knew we weren't going to make it," she said. "So that's when we started making distress calls. We were hoping that one of our friends who likes to go deep sea fishing and taking people out might have gone past the 400-mile mark and might have cruised near where we would be." The women said they drifted aimlessly and sent unanswered distress calls for 98 consecutive days. They were thousands of miles in the wrong direction when a Taiwanese fishing vessel found them. Towing the sailboat damaged it further, but Appel said she paddled over to the Taiwanese vessel on a surfboard and made a mayday call. The Ashland, which happened to be in the area to avoid a storm, traveled (160 kilometers) 100 miles and found them the next day, said the ship's commanding officer, Cmdr. Steven Wasson.The women said they ran out of food for the dogs Continue Reading

Where are all the women sports stars in video games?

When EA Sports launches FIFA 16 later this month, gamers for the first time in the franchise’s 23-year history will be able to play as real-life women soccer stars. Until now, female gamers who were soccer fans were relegated to avatars like Lionel Messi or Christiano Ronaldo. With that change, soccer joins a handful of other sports, including hockey and UFC, that have been slowly introducing female professional athletes into the player mix in recent years. But video games still have a long way to go before they accurately capture the role that women now play in professional sports, not to mention their rapidly rising participation in gaming—women now account for almost half of gamers (across all genres of games). Some popular women’s sports don’t even exist in the video-game world, like basketball, despite the fact that the WNBA has been around for almost 20 years. In other sports, female gamers still have only two or three actual star athletes to choose from, rather than the endless player options that male gamers have. VOCATIV: WOMEN'S SOCCER IS STILL LAGGING BEHIND THE MEN Believe it or not, all of this is actually a huge improvement from the early days of video games—when the only women that popped up on the screen were generic female characters donning pixelated bikinis. Volleyball games like U.S. Championship V’Ball, released in 1988 on Nintendo and arcades, were virtually the only options that included female athletes. Dig & Spike Volleyball, released on Super Nintendo in 1992, allowed players to choose teams from different countries. But while the men’s teams competed indoors and were fully clothed, women could only play on the beach and sported bathing suits. Sports games became increasingly popular in the early ’90s. Franchises like Madden NFL, NBA Jam, NHL and FIFA let sports fans play as their favorite Continue Reading

Program helps young Queens girls find their passion in sports

Cyclist Deirdre Bader, who competed in the 2000 Olympics for Ireland, will be a special guest when the annual Girls & Women in Sports Day kicks off in Flushing on Saturday.   Bader runs an after-school track cycling program at the Kissena Park Velodrome and will be on hand for the weekend’s events, which will include clinics, giveaways and fitness classes.   Youngsters can play soccer, street hockey, volleyball and even double dutch as they learn how athletics can improve their health and self-esteem. “This is a celebration of girls participation in sports,” said Kelly Gillen, deputy chief of recreation for the Parks Department in Queens. “We want to introduce girls to sports fitness and healthy lifestyles.” Tennis great Billie Jean King’s Women Sports Foundation started the day more than two decades ago to foster a love of athletics and fight discrimination against women. “It used to be there there were sports girls played and sports boys played,” Gillen said. “There are so many more opportunities for girls now." The program, which runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., is free and open to the public. Registration starts at 10 a.m. The recreation center is located at 131-40 Fowler Ave. For more information or to pre-register call (212) 360-3312 or email Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Delawareans mark International Women’s Day

On the eve of International Women's Day, an asset management company placed a statue of a little girl in front of Wall Street’s iconic charging bull to highlight a lack of gender diversity and equality in the workplace.In Maryland, schools in Prince George's County closed for the day after some 1,700 teachers and 30 percent of its transportation staff requested leave for the day.In Washington, D.C., thousands of women sporting red, the symbol for the day, began gathering at Freedom Plaza — home base for a women's rally.Other women under the hashtag #WeShowUp went about their day, choosing to highlight the ways that "showing up" contributes to their workplaces, homes and communities.No matter your politics, International Women's Day has been dominating the social media conversation. In Delaware, it has been no different, with posts from organizations like AIDS Delaware and the Delaware Art Museum to people like Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki and Sen. Tom Carper. Here's what they're saying. Continue Reading

Women make freedom plea for accused father-son pimp team

Five women who the Manhattan district attorney’s office claims were forced into prostitution by a livery car service owner and his son are standing by their accused pimps. “We’re a family,” said one of the women, who refused to give her name, outside a Manhattan courthouse. “It’s not a crime to have more than one woman in your life.” The women all sported homemade T-shirts with words of support for Vincent George Sr. and Vincent George Jr., who are accused of using a music recording company and the car service to launder millions of dollars for their bordello on wheels. They were also indicted on charges of trafficking the girls under threat of violence, according to prosecutors. The father and son were in court Tuesday in an unsuccessful attempt to get out on bail. “We are not victims,” read one of the women’s T-shirts. One of the women sported a “King” tattoo on her neck, which prosecutors claim was a way for the Georges to mark them like property. Another had a barcode tattooed on her body, the DA says. The women wept in court when they saw the Georges and nearly collapsed outside the courtroom after the judge refused to grant bail. The men are not charged with promoting prostitution, which the woman admit is their profession. [email protected] Join the Conversation: Continue Reading