Gender Stereotyping in Televised Sports: A Follow-Up to the 1989 Study
Investigated by Margaret Carlisle Duncan, Ph.D., Michael A. Messner, Ph.D.
Edited by Wayne Wilson, Ph.D.
The Amateur Athletic Foundation’s 1989 study, “Gender Stereotyping in Televised Sports,” received national attention in both the popular media and scholarly publications. The study has become required reading in several college and university courses. And, hundreds of copies of the report have been requested by and distributed to national television networks.
This new study is intended to measure what, if any, progress has been made in the four years following the original report. Its findings are both encouraging and frustrating.
On the positive side, broadcasts of national events such as the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament and the U.S. Open Tennis Championship communicate a significantly higher level of respect for women and their accomplishments as athletes. The demeaning practice of referring to adults as “girls” has virtually ended. Announcers, in general, portray women athletes in more positive terms. Production values of women’s sport events have improved. At the local level, the “humorous” sexual objectification of women has become less frequent.
Unfortunately, problems remain. The percentage of women’s sports coverage on the 11:00 p.m. local sports news remains unchanged from 1989. Announcers covering national sports events still display ambivalence about women’s athleticism. Production values, while improved, continue to lag behind those in men’s sports coverage. In a variety of ways, local and national broadcasts continue to send the message that women’s sports are less worthy than men’s.
We have made considerable progress in four years. Broadcasters, particularly those at the national level, are to be commended for the changes that have occurred. More progress needs to be made in the next four years. Inequities still exist. As I wrote in 1989, these inequities are unfair. They are wrong and they must be changed.
Anita L. DeFrantz
Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles
I. Summary of Findings
A. Televised Late-Night Sports News
• Women’s sports were underreported and underrepresented in the six weeks of 11:00 p.m. television sports news on three network affiliates sampled in the study. Men’s sports received 94% of the air time, women’s sports 5%, and gender neutral topics 1%. These proportions were almost identical to those found in the 1989 study.
• The near-invisibility of women athletes on televised sports news was exacerbated by an almost total absence of interviews with women athletes or coaches. On the 126 newscasts examined, there were 137 interviews with men athletes or coaches, and only 4 interviews with women athletes or coaches.
• When the news devoted substantial time to a report on women’s sports, too often the focus was on a gag feature (nuns playing celebrity volleyball), a relatively unknown, marginal sport (sport parachuting) or a scandal in women’s sports (a runner accused of cheating in a marathon). In-depth coverage of established women’s sports such as golf, tennis, running, and basketball was almost nonexistent.
• Compared with the 1989 study, which criticized the use of female spectators as sexual objects of male news commentators’ humor, the 1993 study found far less humorous sexual objectification of women. Moreover, men were used in such comical roles with about the same frequency that women were used.
• Over the six week period, three quarters of the small number of stories about women’s sports that did occur appeared on expanded-format Sunday sports reports. All three stations combined aired only one women’s story on a Monday, no stories on a Tuesday and one on a Wednesday.
• The number of men’s stories that included video clips was far greater than the number of women’s stories with moving footage, 545 compared to 45. However, the percentage of stories accompanied by video was nearly identical for men and women, 83% versus 80%.
B. Technical Production of Women’s and Men’s NCAA Basketball
• There were notable improvements in the quality of production, camera work, editing and sound in the 1993 women’s games, compared with the 1989 study. Still, the production quality of the women’s games tended to be of uneven quality, and overall, still lagged behind that of the men’s games.
• We noted a dramatic improvement, compared with 1989, in the quality of slow-motion instant replays and the technical coverage of women’s free throws. Though still lagging behind the coverage of 1993 men’s games in quality and quantity, this improvement indicates a rise in the production values of the women’s games since 1989 (e.g., more cameras being used).
• Pregame shows, halftime shows, and postgame shows were consistently longer, and of higher quality in the men’s games. Moreover, the halftime shows of the women’s games were continually used to build audience interest in the upcoming men’s games, rather than focusing on strategies, statistics, or human interest stories related to the women’s games.
C. Verbal Commentary on Women’s and Men’s Basketball and Tennis
• Women basketball and tennis players often were called “girls,” in 1989, while men were never referred to as “boys.” The 1993 study found that this form of verbal infantilization of women athletes has all but disappeared.
• In tennis commentary, women athletes were called by their first names less frequently than in 1989, a decline from 52.7% to 31.5% of the time. Men, in 1993, were referred to only by their first names 12% of the time.
• The 1989 study found that tennis commentators tended to downplay women’s athletic successes and to speak ambivalently about women’s strength and power.
The 1993 study revealed that although some gender asymmetries persist, commentators express greater respect for women athletes’ abilities and less ambivalence about their strengths.
• Basketball commentators’ explanations of women’s and men’s successes and failures still reflected gender asymmetries. While commentators in the women’s games consistently attributed errors in play to individual women (e.g., “She missed the shot.”), commentators in the men’s games remained silent in the face of male athletes’ errors, or tended to attribute a player’s error to the superior play of his opponent, or to forces outside of his control.
• Gender was verbally, visually and graphically marked (e.g., “Women’s National Championship”) an average of 110 times a game in women’s basketball, nearly double the rate of gender marking in the 1989 women’s games. By contrast, gender was almost never mentioned in men’s basketball games, which would be referred to, for instance, as “the National Championship.”
II. Policy Recommendations Implied by Findings
• Televised sports news should provide more coverage of existing women’s sports, and the vast majority of this expanded coverage should be devoted to respectful, in-depth reporting on serious, established women’s sports.
• Producers and commentators of televised sports news should make a serious effort to include coverage of women’s sports in every broadcast–not just as an occasional feature on Sunday night.
• Television news stories on women’s athletic events should include interviews with women athletes and coaches in roughly the same proportion as stories about men athletes are accompanied by interviews.
• Announcers should consciously adopt a standard usage of first and last names and it should be applied equally to men and women athletes of all races. The recent dramatic shift away from calling women athletes “girls” may serve as a positive example of this kind of conscious linguistic shift.
• When gender marking is necessary for clarity, it should be done in ways that are symmetrical and equivalent for women’s and men’s events. If announcers use phrases such as “women’s game” and “women’s national championship,” then they also should refer to gender when discussing men’s sport (e.g., “men’s NCAA Final,” “smartest player in men’s tennis,” etc.). The same symmetry should apply to the use of graphics.
• Commentators should consciously adopt a standard and gender symmetrical way of describing women athletes’ and men athletes’ successes and failures.
• The practice of using women’s events to promote men’s events while ignoring women’s events during men’s competition should cease. If one event must be used to build an audience for another event, it should be done symmetrically.
• Television networks should continue their movement toward equal quality of coverage of women’s athletic events. The amount of resources and the production quality should be equivalent in the coverage of men’s and women’s sports.
• Television networks should commit themselves to more equal coverage of women’s events such as college basketball. Regular season games should be aired regularly.
III. Description of Study: Sample and Method
The study addressed both quantitative and qualitative aspects of televised coverage of women’s and men’s sports. As with the 1989 study, the major questions concerned the quality of actual coverage of women’s versus men’s athletic events. Therefore, we examined televised sports programs in which men’s and women’s coverage could be analyzed comparatively.
First, we studied 3 two-week segments (a total of six weeks) of late-night televised sports news coverage on each of three local Los Angeles network affiliates. Second, we examined the “Final Four” of the women’s and men’s 1993 NCAA basketball tournaments. And third, we analyzed the women’s and men’s singles, women’s and men’s doubles, and mixed doubles matches of the 1993 U.S. Open Tennis Tournament.
Televised Sports News
The 1989 study focused on a six-week segment (July 2-August 15) of sports news broadcast on the 11:00 p.m. edition of a single station, KNBC in Los Angeles. In the 1993 study, we studied the same time period, but expanded our sample to three Los Angeles network affiliates: KNBC (Channel 4) KCBS (Channel 2), and KABC (Channel 7). In addition, we chose to improve the reliability of our data by sampling local television news from three different seasons. Thus, we examined two-week segments of news in the following time periods: March 15-28, 1993; July 12-25, 1993; November 8-20, 1993. Amounts of airtime devoted to men’s versus women’s sports were measured. In addition to the quantitative measures, we analyzed the quality of coverage in terms of visuals and verbal commentary.
We compared and analyzed televised coverage of the Final Four of the 1993 women’s and men’s NCAA basketball tournaments that appeared on CBS. As was the case in 1989, we chose the Final Four for comparative analysis, rather than regular season games, because there were relatively few women’s regular season games actually broadcast on national television. Final Four coverage amounted to three women’s games and three men’s games, including introductions, pregame, halftime and postgames shows. Types and levels of technical production as well as visual and verbal framing of the contests and the athletes were examined.
Coverage of the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament on September 6,7,8,10,11, and 12, 1993 on CBS and USA networks was analyzed. Televised coverage on these days consisted of four women’s singles matches (one fourth-round match, one quarterfinal, one semifinal, and the final), one women’s doubles match (the final), four men’s singles matches (a quarterfinal, two semifinals, and the final), one men’s doubles match (the final), and a segment of the rain-postponed mixed doubles final. Women’s singles and doubles matches spanned a total of 8 hours, 6 minutes, or 486 minutes of televised time, while men’s matches ran a total of 11 hours, 53 minutes, or 713 minutes of televised time. The televised segment of the mixed doubles final was 31 minutes long.
The research design and methods of data collection and analysis (both quantitative and qualitative) were identical to those of the 1989 study.
In Stage 1 of the research, the Amateur Athletic Foundation taped all of the sports news segments, the NCAA basketball games, and the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament matches.
In Stage 2, a research assistant (Jensen) viewed all of the tapes and compiled a written preliminary analysis.
In Stage 3, one investigator (Duncan) independently viewed all of the tapes and added her written analysis to that of the research assistant.
In Stage 4, two investigators (Duncan and Messner) analyzed the data using both sets of written descriptions of the tapes, and by viewing portions of the tapes once again.
In Stage 5, one investigator (Messner) wrote up the research report.
IV. Description and Analysis of Findings
A. Six Weeks of Televised Sports News on Three Network Affiliates
1. Quantitative Description
We noted, in the 1989 study, that female athletes rarely received coverage on the televised sports news. The 1993 study reveals virtually no change in the quantity of coverage of women’s sports and women athletes over the four-year time period, as indicated in Table 1.
Percentage of Sports News, by Sex
(1989 and 1993 Compared)
Of the 126 newscasts we examined on the three stations, 88 (70% of the total) contained no coverage of women’s sports whatsoever. In fact, women’s sports rarely appeared on television newscasts on weekdays. All three stations combined aired a single women’s sports story on a Monday, no stories on a Tuesday, and one story on a Wednesday. As weekends approached, women’s sports fared slightly better. The three stations aired seven stories on women’s sports on Thursday and six on the Friday broadcasts. By far, the bulk of stories on women’s sports appeared on expanded-format Sunday sports newscasts. Of the 39.2 total minutes of women’s sports coverage in the sample, 29 minutes (74% of the total) appeared on Sunday. We identified no significant differences among the three stations studied: the quantity of coverage that each of the three stations devoted to women’s and to men’s sports was virtually identical, as indicated in Table 2.
Total Minutes of Sports News
(Including Previews During Regular News)
|Channel 4||Channel 7||Channel 2||Three Station
|Men||237.5 (94.4%)||235.2 (3.7%)||255.1 (93.5%)||727.8 (93.8%)|
|Women||9.5 (3.8%)||13.9 (5.5%)||15.8 (5.8%)||39.2 (5.1%)|
|Both/Neutral||4.6 (1.8%)||2.0 (0.8%)||2.0 (0.7%)||8.6 (1.1%)|
The sheer number of stories on men’s sports far eclipsed the number of women’s stories, but there were also differences in the ways the stories were presented. As Table 3 indicates, stories on women’s sports were far less likely to be accompanied by an interview with a woman athlete or coach than were stories on men’s sports. On the other hand, the proportion of stories on women’s sports that were accompanied by visual footage was nearly identical to that of men. This is an improvement over the 1989 study, which found that most women’s events were reported only verbally, without visuals.
Total Number of Stories, Visuals and Interviews
(Three Stations Combined)
|# of Stories||With Visuals||With Interviews|
|Men||656||545 (83%)||137 (21%)|
|Women||56||45 (80%)||4 (7%)|
Dividing the sample into three separate two-week time periods (March 15-28, July 12-25, and November 8-20) allowed us to sample variations in coverage of women’s sports by season. Of the total 39.2 minutes of coverage of women’s sports, 22 occurred in the March sample, 13.8 occurred in the July sample, and only 3.4 in November. Channel 2’s entire coverage of women’s sports in the two-week November sample consisted of a single, 4-second long story on the female winner of the New York Marathon (the male winner and runner-up received 23 seconds of coverage). See Appendix A a list of women’s sports that occurred during these three time periods.
2. Qualitative Description
We noted, in addition to the obvious quantitative underrepresentation of women’s sports, three prevalent themes in terms of the quality of coverage of women’s sports and women athletes: (a) lack of in-depth coverage of serious women’s athletic events; (b) the silencing of women athletes’ voices, due to lack of interviews with women athletes or coaches; and (c) less sexual objectification of non-athlete women than in the 1989 study.
(a) lack of in-depth coverage of serious women’s athletic events: Unfortunately, the statistics on the underreporting of women’s athletic events (see Tables 1,2, and 3) tend to understate the extent to which serious women’s athletic events such as golf, distance running, tennis or basketball were either ignored or quickly glossed over in the nightly reports. Instead, when a choice was made to focus on a women’s event or a female athlete (usually on a Sunday broadcast), it was often a gag feature or a story on a marginal, but visually entertaining sport. For example, on the March 28 Sunday night Channel 7 sports news, 1 minute, 19 seconds were spent covering nuns playing with bikini-clad women in a celebrity volleyball game. The footage included smirking comments by broadcaster Rick Lozano (“meet 75-year-old Sister Matilda Gerber…”) and comical shots of the nuns making various bloopers, with the “Chariots of Fire” theme song playing in the background.
The same broadcast featured a 2-minute, 19-second piece on a female “sky gymnast” or “aerial freestylist,” who performed a variety of stunts after jumping from a plane. Athletes in this relatively unknown sport obviously possess superior athletic skills and courage, but the broadcasters (Lozano and Todd Donoho) undercut the woman’s athleticism with sarcastic remarks.
In the remainder of the show, Channel 7 managed to squeeze in 8 seconds of women’s tennis (with verbal coverage only), 6-second of women’s basketball (with verbal coverage only) and 13 seconds of women’s golf (with verbal coverage and a video clip). Thus, of 4 minutes and 5 seconds of coverage of women’s sports, 3 minutes and 38 seconds consisted of snide, condescending coverage of a gag feature and of a relatively unknown sport. Twenty-seven seconds were shared by women’s golf, tennis and basketball.
Channel 7 was not the only station to focus more on marginal women’s sports and/or “trashsports” than on serious, established women’s athletic events. Channel 2 also spent 3 minutes and 36 seconds on March 21 featuring the same “aerial gymnast.” And, Channel 4, on its November 14 Sunday report, devoted 2 minutes and 35 seconds to a woman performing trick billiards shots. The only other mention of women’s sports in that night’s report consisted of a six-second report on the woman winner of the New York Marathon.
Another instance where a choice was made to devote more air time to a story on a women’s athletic event was in the case of a scandal. In the San Francisco Marathon, the third place runner was accused of not running the entire course. Channel 4 spent 48 seconds on this story on July 22. Broadcaster Fred Roggin humorously stated, “Nobody’s been able to contact [accused runner] Candy Dodge, but if she’s out there watching, call us, we want to hear your side of the story.” At that point, as the popular 1960’s song “Call Me” played in the background, large letters superimposed over a track filled the screen and flashed for 15 seconds, “CALL US.” Apparently there was not sufficient time left in the broadcast for Roggin to mention the name of the woman who won the race.
(b) the silencing of women athletes’ voices: One area of improvement in televised sports news since the 1989 study, as noted above, was an increase in the proportion of women’s stories that were accompanied by visual footage. Stories on women athletes, on the other hand, were far less likely than those on men athletes to be accompanied by interviews with athletes or coaches. A typical example of how this was played out occurred on the March 27 broadcast on Channel 4. The report opened with a 2-minute, lo-second story on the men’s NCAA basketball tournament games, complete with action video clips from the games, discussions of the statistical performances of the star players, an interview with Indiana men’s coach Bobby Knight, and mention of the upcoming tournament semifinal match-up. This dramatic, in-depth coverage was followed immediately by this report: “In the women’s tournament, Iowa beat Tennessee, 72-56; Ohio State beat Virginia 75-73.” The report, which ran for eight seconds, was accompanied by no footage or interviews. It conveyed none of the excitement of the games (the Ohio State vs. Virginia game was a cliff-hanger) and did not mention the upcoming tournament semifinal match-ups.
When women athletes were interviewed, the quality of the interviews was usually uneven and ambivalent–sometimes even condescending. An example of the latter was a March 21 Channel 2 live studio interview with college basketball star Lisa Leslie. The first comment that interviewer Jim Hill made had nothing to do with Leslie’s performance or women’s basketball at all; instead, he turned to the topic of the men’s game: “I know you’re a big men’s basketball fan; you didn’t get a chance to see the Bruins. I saw when the guys walked off you told them congratulations, which was very nice of you.” Later in the same interview, after Hill brought the discussion back to women’s basketball, he declared, “And you’ve also seen yourself, Lisa, mature, not only as a lady, but as a basketball player on the court, taking more of a role of leadership.”
These two interview fragments illustrate two tendencies in the way women athletes are commonly interviewed and reported on. First, even during the rare focus on a woman athlete, priority somehow is given to men’s sports as the standard. And second, sportscasters seem rarely able to talk to women athletes or discuss their skills without referring to their femaleness.
We did note some moments of good, positive reporting on women’s sports, but these moments were few, far between, and usually very brief. One example that stands out as a very positive piece of sports journalism was the July 18 live interview conducted by Jim Hill on Channel 2 with tennis star Zina Garrison. The in-depth interview lasted 3 minutes and 40 seconds and was devoid of the overt condescension or subtle ambivalence that often plagues interviews with women athletes.
(c) less sexual objectification of non-athlete women: We reported in the 1989 study, that in addition to the relative invisibility of women athletes on the sports news, there was a clear pattern of women in non-athletic roles generously sprinkled throughout the broadcasts either as comical objects of the newscaster’s joke, or as sexual objects (e.g., a bikini-clad woman in the stands of a baseball game). In the 1993 study, we saw far less sexual objectification of non-athlete women in the broadcasts and a more equal use of women and men as comical objects of the newscasters’ jokes.
B. Technical Production of Women’s and Men’s Basketball
There were some identifiable improvements since 1989 in the quality of production and presentation of the play-by-play action in the women’s games. However, the production quality in the men’s games was still demonstrably higher than in the women’s games, particularly in the pregame, halftime, and postgame shows.
1. Visual and Aural Framing of the Contests
As in the 1989 study, the visuals and the sound in the three men’s 1993 contests were consistently of the highest quality. The camera angles and the editing of visuals were technically sophisticated. Graphics were sophisticated, stylish, and frequent. The commentators were “high profile,” experienced, and skillful. The sound was clear. Throughout the games, the shot clock and the game clock appeared on screen frequently and appropriately. We noted in the 1989 study that by contrast, the three women’s contests were characterized by poor sound quality, periodic mistakes in editing, generally less skillful and colorful commentary, far less frequent appearance of game and shot clocks on screen, and the use of fewer camera angles. Graphics were used less frequently, and occasionally incorrectly. In the 1993 study, we identified some notable improvements in the visual and aural framing of the women’s games, but the production quality of the women’s games tended to be of uneven quality, and overall, still lagged behind that of the men’s games.
(a) pregame framing of the contests: Verbal and cinematic clarity combined with some form of either emotional, intellectual, or narrative development are key elements in the creation of an opening sequence capable of instigating and maintaining audience participation. Camera operators should choose well composed, focused, and ideally evocative shots. The editors must combine the shots in a meaningful, continuously evolving fashion, choosing bits of interviews which add excitement, poignancy, or information. Just as in the 1989 study, the openings for the men’s 1993 games, offered a model for this. The openings for the women’s 1993 games, though better than the 1989 openings, failed to measure up to the men’s.
PREGAME SHOWS FOR MEN’S GAMES: Hip, entertaining, and using many of the filmic conventions of contemporary music videos, the opening segment of the Men’s Final Four gets the contest off to a great start. A catchy Paul Simon song provides both the music and theme for the opening. The song, with chorus lyrics, “I’m on my way, I don’t know where I’m goin’…see you, me and Julio down by the schoolyard,” accompanies black and white footage of two teenage boys playing a game of HORSE in an urban schoolyard. Each player goads the other to try increasingly difficult shots, made famous by their heroes in college basketball–“do my man Billy McCaffrey’s move; now a Darrin Hancock reverse shot.”
Exciting NCAA clips are intercut with slow-motion footage of the schoolyard game, filmed in such a way as to make the teenage boys’ moves appear professional, and at times superhuman. Sound effects like the sound of a rocket emanating from a flying basketball and the excited commentary of professional announcers played over the playground HORSE game add to the drama. The last fantasy basketball shot of the HORSE game works as a transition to the main event taking the audience and the ball “off the building, down Bourbon street, and across the river” to the Louisiana Superdome.
An opening of this quality easily captures and maintains the interest of the audience. In mythologizing college players, and fostering the dreams of boys and young men playing schoolyard pick-up games, the opening further increases interest in the upcoming games and in men’s basketball in general. Next, the tone changes with a super wide angle aerial zoom-out from the Superdome, a cut to a closer shot of the dome, a dissolve to a wide, high angle shot from the dome interior, then to a courtside shot, shots of spectators, and finally to announcer Pat O’Brien whose voice we have heard speaking with excitement about sell-out crowds. The stylistic change keeps our attention from straying.
The contest is set up with commentary–laced with words that feel as though they must be capitalized–which lends an epic dimension to the event: “Each [team] banged their way through two games in four cities. They’ve all gathered in the Crescent City for what is clearly a Basketball Classic called the Final Four. What a show this Final Four will be–three #1 seeds, and one #2. Elite Teams.” Pat O’Brien then talks briefly about stars in both of the semifinal games and shows footage from a breakfast interview held earlier with one of them, Eric Montross. Lesley Visser follows from the floor with an update on injured players and descriptions of particular match-ups. More excitement is then created with archival footage from earlier championship games–famous game ending shots by players wearing #23 cut to music, dissolves to contemporary footage of this year’s #23, Rex Walters. Will we see the same quality of play from one of this year’s stars? Interviews and footage shot in the apartment of the “odd couple,” Kansas stars Rex Walters and Adonis Jordan, follow this introduction, allowing us access to their private lives.
Finally, Georgetown men’s coach John Thompson joins O’Brien and James Brown for an intricate game analysis illustrated with an electronic chalkboard–enhancing the sense of elaborate strategizing and a look ahead to the second semifinal game. A five-point graphic and verbal game analysis precedes each of the men’s games as well.
The pregame show for the men’s championship game was perhaps even more dramatic. The 40-minute show, entitled “Prelude to a Championship,” underlined the momentous nature of the upcoming game. The segment included numerous interviews with members of both teams, sophisticated and entertaining graphics, various statistics on the players and the team, and more interviews and expert commentary on what it would take for each team to win the game.
PREGAME SHOWS FOR THE WOMEN’S GAMES: Although more coherent than the introduction to the 1989 women’s games, the introduction to the 1993 semifinal women’s games seemed to express a lingering ambivalence regarding women athletes. The theme of the women’s opening was not a schoolyard game of HORSE (with a direct relationship to a sporting event), but instead, a concept pulled from the television show “Designing Women.” Our players too are “women with designs, designs on a national championship.” A clip from the show’s title sequence begins the opening program with the image of a red rose. A series of dissolves between images of individual players and images of flowers, backed up by the slow paced “Georgia On My Mind,” gets the show off to a sentimental, sappy start.
Commentary about the upcoming games is intercut with clips from the television show acting as transitions. For example, a shot of players arriving at the station is followed by a character from the show excitedly exclaiming “It’s hootenanny time!” The theme music from the show playing under the clips is bland. The sequence ends with a character from the show exclaiming, “We made it!,” followed by an uneven zoom to reveal the stadium interior.
Iowa women’s coach Vivian Stringer had recently lost her husband to a heart attack and a fair amount of attention was given to the many “heartaches this season” which make “Vivian Stringer’s team the sentimental choice.” Next, announcer Mary Carillo built up some excitement outside of the stadium as she spoke about the record breaking sell-out crowds: “You know you’ve really arrived as a big time sport when, for the first time, tickets are being scalped outside your event. That’s what’s been happening here outside the Omni Arena all morning…The Omni seats 16,000 for the Women’s Final Four, and it’s been sold out for over a week…Another first ever for the Women’s Final Four, a Las Vegas betting line on the game–boy, all the sport needs now is a couple of juicy scandals, some dope testing, point shaving, and it’ll be just as big as the guys! Well, hopefully it’ll never get that big.”
The rest of the pregame show consisted of an interview with one of the coaches. Pregame discussion of strategies was hampered by the lack of an expert commentator. Whereas all of the men’s games included at least one pregame expert commentator, such as Georgetown men’s coach John Thompson, the first women’s semifinal game had no expert commentator, though the subsequent two games did.
The pregame show for the women’s championship game consisted entirely of a 1-minute, 35-second-long montage of highlight footage from earlier games, edited to a medium tempo song with the following lyrics– “You better run or you hide, now you slip, now you slide, you say you will but you won’t, you really do or you don’t”–repeated several times. Compared with the 40 minute “Prelude to a Championship” that preceded the men’s game, this very brief, less extravagant prelude to the women’s national championship game may suggest to viewers that it is a trivial event, not worthy of much buildup or preparation.
(b) halftime shows: There was a striking difference in the quality of the men’s and women’s halftime shows. The halftime shows of the women’s games constantly cut back and forth between discussion and analysis of the women’s game and discussion and pregame hype of the upcoming men’s games. For instance, the halftime show of the women’s semifinal game between Ohio State and Iowa begins with a brief interview with Marsha Sharp, women’s coach of the victorious Texas Tech team, followed quickly by a “peek at the scene” [of the men’s games] in New Orleans, where, we are told, “a modern day battle” will soon be fought. This “peek” includes seven clips from interviews with male players in which they tell us what it means to them to have made it to the Final Four. We then return to the women’s game, where Marsha Sharp and Tara Vandeveer, the coach of the Stanford women’s team, offer their predictions concerning the outcome of the men’s games.
Overall, this halftime show allotted about two-thirds of its time to a discussion of the men’s game, players, and teams. By contrast the men’s halftime shows concentrated almost entirely on the men’s games, including statistical overviews of the first half, graphic shot charts, and expert discussions of strategy and tactics for the upcoming second half. During the halftime shows of the men’s semifinal games, there was a single mention of the women’s games: “The women had their national semifinal games.”
The same gender-based differences occurred in the halftime shows of the championship games, where considerable time was spent during the women’s halftime show interviewing the two coaches of the men’s teams. There was no analogous set of interviews with the coaches of the women’s teams during the men’s halftime shows.
(c) postgame shows: The postgame shows of the women’s and men’s championship games also showed contrasts in the production values of the two games. The men’s game ends with dramatic camera cuts back and forth between celebrating, victorious players, and weeping female cheerleaders. Next, we see the ritual championship net-cutting with the announcer’s voice-over intoning that the net-cutting “has to be one of the defining moments of a young man’s life.” The importance and drama of the moment is further underlined by interviews with some of the winning players and an interview with the losing men’s coach, Steve Fisher. The men’s championship postgame show spanned 21 minutes and 23 seconds.
By contrast, as the women’s game ended, the cameras cut back and forth between the celebrating winning team, to lingering close-ups of the tear-streaked faces of the losing players. And although announcer Tim Ryan stated positively that the game was “a dandy,” and “all that a championship game should be,” there were no postgame interviews on the floor or in the locker room, and no coverage of the net-cutting. The postgame wrap-up for the women’s national championship game took only 2 minutes, 25 seconds, and that included a 9-second-long plug for the upcoming men’s championship game and pregame show.
2. Production Values Within the Contests
In contrast to the continued large gap in the quality of the visual and aural framing of women’s and men’s contests, we noted a dramatic closing of the gap in terms of the quality of production within the contests. Overall, production values of the three 1993 women’s contests were lower than those of men’s, but they were considerably improved when compared with the 1989 study.
(a) free throws and slow-motion instant replays: In the 1989 study, we noted that coverage of men’s free throws was characterized by a sophisticated and dramatic narrative structure, including multi-angle camera shots, while the less dramatic and sophisticated coverage of women’s free throws was characterized by a sometimes awkward transition between only two cameras. In 1993, we noted a marked improvement in the coverage of women’s free throws. This improvement likely reflects greater investment in the production of the women’s games than in 1989 (e.g., more cameras, etc.). This improvement in technical production of the contest was also reflected in the use of slow-motion instant replays, as indicated in Table 4, which shows that the number of replays per women’s game nearly doubled from 1989 to 1993. This increase in slow-motion replays in women’s games, however, did not close the gap between the quantity and quality of the use of replays in women’s and men’s games. Replays in men’s games more than doubled from 1989 to 1993. Thus, the men’s/women’s ratio of replays per game, which was 1.3/1 in 1989 actually opened to 1.5/1 in 1993. Moreover, replays in women’s games were rarely shown from more than one angle (only 6% of the time), while 21% of the replays in men’s games were multi-angle.
Slow-Motion Instant Replays, Basketball
(Three Men’s Games, Three Women’s Games)
|1 Angle||2 Angles||3 Angles||Total|
(b) use of statistics: As indicated in Table 5, the number of times statistics were used in men’s basketball games was almost identical in 1989 and 1993, but the reporting of statistics in women’s games rose dramatically, actually slightly surpassing the number used in men’s games. The increase in statistics in women’s games was both verbal and graphic, indicating a rise in production values in the women’s games over the four year period.
Use of Statistics, Basketball
(Three Men’s Games, Three Women’s Games)
(c) those little extras: Though the table above clearly indicates improvement in the quality of production of the women’s games in 1993, the men’s games were characterized by several “extras” that served to improve and enhance the viewing experience.
• When a male player was introduced, during pregame introductions, an on-screen graphic showed his name, position, year in school, height and weight. By contrast, when a woman player was introduced, an on-screen graphic showed only her name and position. Similarly, when a coach in the men’s games was introduced, an on-screen graphic showed the coach’s number of winning seasons and his lifetime win-loss statistics. When a coach in the women’s games was introduced, this information was not supplied to the viewer.
• In the men’s games, after nearly every time-out or commercial break, there was a statistical graphic or a slow-motion replay. This was not the case in the women’s games.
• Following almost every basket in the men’s games, the score and the game clock were shown, adding excitement and emphasizing the pace of the game. This was not the case in the women’s games.
• During the men’s pregame and halftime shows, and at times throughout the men’s games, sophisticated on-screen graphics and expert commentators’ frequent use of the telestrator added both pizzazz and important information about on-court strategies to the viewing experience. These sorts of graphics and telestrator use were far less frequent in the women’s games.
C. Verbal Commentary on Tennis and Basketball
1. Gender Marking
We noted, in the 1989 study, that announcers and on-screen graphics in women’s basketball constantly “gender marked” the women’s game (e.g., “Welcome to the women’s national championship game.”) and women athletes (e.g., “She holds the women’s record for the most points in a game.”). By contrast, the men’s games and the male players were always referred to verbally and in graphics as the universal norm (e.g., “Welcome to the national championship game.” and “He holds the record for the most points in a game.”). We suggested that this practice tends to make women’s events seem derivative and inferior to men’s contests.
As in 1989, we found in the 1993 study that gender marking in women’s tennis was roughly equivalent to that in men’s tennis. This parity likely reflects a need to equally mark “men’s” and “women’s” events for the sake of clarity, given the fact that the women’s and men’s tennis matches take place in the same venue, and are somewhat overlapping in terms of the timing and sequence of the matches.
In basketball, where the events are taking place on a different broadcast, with different announcers, we found dramatic disparities in the occurrences of gender marking in the women’s and men’s games, as Table 6 indicates. In women’s basketball, verbal gender marking remained constant in 1993, but graphic gender marking rose dramatically since 1989. Men’s basketball was gender marked four times verbally in 1993, an increase from zero in 1989. But we see this increase as insignificant. Once again, men’s basketball was consistently referred to as the universal (e.g., “The National Championship Game”), with women’s basketball gender marked constantly (e.g., “The Women’s National Championship Game”).
Gender Marking, Basketball
(Three Men’s Games, Three Women’s Games)
|Men, 1993||0||4||4 (1.3/Game)|
|Men, 1989||0||0||0 (0/Game)|
|Women, 1993||229||47||276 (92/Game)|
|Women, 1989||28||49||77 (25.7/Game)|
The tabulations in Table 6 did not include the use of team names (e.g., “The Lady Techsters”), because we wanted to underline the gender marking choices made by the commentators and producers of the show. However, as Table 7 shows, if we add the number of times that gendered team names were mentioned or included in graphics, we can see that the viewers of the women’s games were once again subjected to a constant barrage of verbal and visual reminders that they were watching women’s basketball and women athletes.
Gender Marking, Basketball, Including Team Names
(Three Men’s Games, Three Women’s Games)
|Men, 1993||0||4||0||4 (1.3/Game)|
|Men, 1989||0||0||0||0 (0/Game)|
We noted one other example of a kind of gender marking that is not indicated in the tables above. When statistical graphics of women players such as star Sheryl Swoopes were shown on screen, they often included a photo of the player in non-athletic clothes, with styled hair and jewelry. By contrast, the photos of the men that accompanied such statistical graphics always showed the men in their basketball uniforms.
2. Hierarchies of Naming By Gender and By Race
The 1989 study reported that in tennis and in basketball, women athletes were continually called “girls,” while men athletes were never called “boys.” We also found a strong tendency in tennis, and a somewhat less dramatic tendency in basketball, for commentators to refer to individual women athletes by their first names only, while nearly always using the last name, or first and last name, when referring to men athletes. Moreover, we found in men’s basketball that every time announcers did refer to athletes by their first name only, they were discussing men of color. White men were never referred to by their first name only. We labeled this tendency a “hierarchy of naming,” by gender and by race, with the always last-named white men at the top granted adult superordinate status, and the frequently first-named “girls” at the bottom, verbally infantilized. In the middle of this verbal hierarchy were the sometimes first-named men of color who shared in some of this infantilization.
In 1993, we found some significant changes in how commentators refer to athletes. First, and most dramatically, the practice of calling women athletes “girls” has virtually disappeared. We counted only one instance in basketball, and a single instance in tennis of an athlete being called a “girl.” Second, the tendency to call women athletes by their first name only has continued, but at a less dramatic rate than in 1989.
As Table 8 shows, in women’s tennis, first name only use dropped significantly from 1989 (when 52.7% of references to women athletes were first name only) to 1993 (31.5%), but was still far more prevalent than in commentary on men’s tennis. First name use in men’s tennis went up a bit, but we note that the men’s quarterfinal, announced by John McEnroe (who presumably is on a first name basis with Pete Sampras and Michael Chang) accounted for 94 of the 148 men’s first name references. When we subtract this possibly anomalous match from our calculations, first name use in men’s games only amounts to 6.3% of the total, slightly less than the 1989 percentage. It is worth noting as well that in the mixed doubles segment, where gender was perhaps most salient, women were referred to by first name only 41.4% of the time, while men were never referred to by first name only.
Naming of Athletes, Tennis
(Including Mixed Doubles Match)
|First Name Only||First/Last||Last Only|
|Men, 1993||148 (12.0%)||360 (29.2%)||726 (58.8%)|
|Men, 1989||44 (7.8%)||127 (22/4%)||395 (69.8%)|
|Women, 1993||302 (31.5%)||214 (22.3%)||443 (46.2%)|
|Women, 1989||304 (52.7%)||107 (18.5%)||166 (28.8%)|
In basketball commentary, first name use in describing women declined, while first name use in describing men rose from 1989 to 1993. Though men’s rates are now a bit higher than women’s rates, 2% compared to 1%, both are extremely low. Women and men basketball players, in 1993, were almost always referred to by last name, or by first and last name. As in 1989, nearly all (90%) of first name references to men were to men of color. But we are doubtful of the significance of that number, since the vast majority of male players in the Final Four games were men of color. Men of color played 76.3% of the total minutes in the three games.
3. Verbal Descriptions of Women and Men Athletes
Basketball and tennis announcers, in the 1989 study, often described women’s and men’s action differently. For instance, announcers tended to attribute strength and power to male athletes, and weakness to female athletes. In the 1993 study we found, in both women’s basketball and in women’s tennis, that commentators more frequently noted women’s strength and power. There were also some changes, and some continuities since the 1989 study, with respect to commentators’ attributions of women’s and men’s successes and failures.
(a) attributions of success and failure: Basketball and tennis commentators, in the 1989 study, appeared to hold two formulae for success: one for men, the other for women. Men appeared to succeed through a combination of talent, instinct, intelligence, size, strength, quickness, hard work, and risk-taking. Women also apparently succeeded through talent, enterprise, hard work, and intelligence. But commonly cited with these attributes were emotion, luck, togetherness, and family. Women were likely to be framed as failures due to some combination of nervousness, lack of confidence, lack of “being comfortable,” lack of aggression, and lack of stamina. Men were far less often framed as failures. Men appeared to miss shots and lose matches not so much because of their own individual shortcomings (nervousness, losing control, etc.), but because of the power, strength, and intelligence of their male opponents.
This framing of failure suggests that it is the thoughts and actions of the male victor that win games, rather than suggesting that the loser’s lack of intelligence or ability is responsible for losing games. In short, we argue that men were framed as active subjects in control of their own destinies, women as reactive objects.
In the 1993 study, we found greater respect for women athletes’ abilities and less ambivalence about their strengths. This change was especially evident in the women’s tennis commentary, where there was a clear tendency to attribute the failures of a woman to the strengths of her opponents (e.g., “Martina Navratilova isn’t gonna let her get away with that.”). There was far less speculation about the women players’ possible “nervousness” and lack of being “comfortable,” and instead, far more positive discussion of the women’s abilities and strategies than in the 1989 study.
In the basketball commentary, though, we observed that announcers’ explanations of on-court errors and failures tended to be different for male and female players. When women made errors in play, the commentators pointed them out repeatedly and meticulously, and attributed them directly to the players who made them (e.g., ‘She missed that shot.”). Comparable errors in the men’s games tended to be disguised or redefined by commentators in one of four ways: (1) errors were not spoken of at all (e.g., no comment was made about a missed shot); (2) an error by one player was attributed to the superior ability of an opponent (e.g., after a bad pass: “I think he surprised Jalen Rose with his defensive ability to stop what normally Rose throws over the top of guards’ heads.”); (3) errors were minimized by commentators noting that they did not reflect the player’s true skills (e.g., “It’s kind of unusual to see Jordan throw that one away.”), or that the error was caused by factors beyond a player’s control (e.g., “It was a tough ball to catch, though, ’cause the backboard was causing some problems.”); and (4) errors were described using descriptive words that seemed to attribute the cause of the error to chance, rather than to a player’s actions (e.g., “The ball hits the rim and bounces off.”).
We also observed some continued differences in the ways that commentators described and explained men’s and women’s successes in both basketball and tennis. First, the commentators for the men’s basketball games and the men’s tennis matches continually and enthusiastically described and discussed the implications of how “big” the male players’ bodies were, how “big” their shots or strokes were, and indeed, how “huge” and “big” their games and matches were. For instance, in the men’s basketball championship pregame show, the announcer opened with, “We have the two most talented teams in the country, maybe the two biggest from one through eight in depth. Although this place is the Superdome, and real big, that court’s going to look real small with all the big bodies out there tonight.” In the tennis matches, “big” powerful serves received a great deal of commentators’ attention. An IBM speed gun was used to measure the speed of each serve, while announcers commented on the men’s “big” 115 mile-an-hour serves. In fact, it appeared that players’ serves were evaluated mainly according to how fast they were. One woman player, Helena Sukova–at 6’2″, taller than some of the male players–shared in the glittering attributions of size and power. Numerous references were made to her size and the athletic advantages it confers: “the great reach of Sukova,” “this woman, who has all kinds of natural power,” “her 97-mile-an-hour serve,” and so on.
These kinds of comments are similar to those made about male players such as Cedric Pioline and Pete Sampras, who also were featured as being powerful, having “big” serves and “big” forehands. This can be seen as a kind of equity between “big” male and “big” female players. However, the commentators’ reverence of the “big” tends to privilege the masculine attributes of power and large size in such a way that these become the standard measure of success in tennis. This places most women players, who on the whole are smaller and less powerful than the male players, at a permanent disadvantage.
A second difference in the attributions of men’s successes, compared with those of women, was that male tennis players were six times more likely to be credited by commentators for their intelligence. Several different male players were continually described as being “smart,” “intelligent,” “,a thinker,” “a thinking man,” “wily,” “canny,” “clever,” and “heady.” These attributions were used to describe some of the women players, but rarely.
V. Analysis and Interpretation of Findings
Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, girls’ and women’s participation in sports and fitness activities has skyrocketed in the United States (Cahn, 1994; Snyder, 1994). And although equity for women athletes is still far from a reality (Lopiano, 1993) this numerical increase in women’s athletic participation has been accompanied by dramatic improvements in female athletic performance, and by a broadening of public support for girls’ and women’s sports (Nelson, 1991; Wilson and the Women’s Sports Foundation, 1988). But one would never know these facts simply by looking at televised sports. The world of sports on television is still presented, for the most part, as a male-only world (Kane & Disch, 1988, Kane and Greendorfer, 1994).
There are two general issues that should be addressed in discussions of televised coverage of women’s sports. First, Which athletic events are covered? Television producers, editors, and sports news broadcasters engage in information “gatekeeping,” which is “the process by which billions of messages that are available in the world get cut down and transformed into the hundreds of messages that reach a given person an a given day” (Shoemaker, 1991). Our study of televised sports clearly indicates that the dominant fact about television’s coverage of women’s sports is the lack of coverage. Second, How are athletic events covered? Once gatekeepers decide to cover an event, numerous decisions are made as to how an event should be covered: How much time, how much money and how many human resources should be devoted to producing an event (Creedon, 1994; Duncan, 1993; Theberge & Cronk, 1986)? How should a news story or live athletic event be “framed” by broadcasters? What parts of a story or an event should be covered or not covered, what should be emphasized, de-emphasized, or ignored (Messner & Solomon, 1993; Sabo & Jansen, 1992; Theberge, 1989)? Our study of sports news, women’s and men’s NCAA basketball, and the women’s and men’s U.S. Open Tennis Tournament show some notable improvements in the quality of coverage of women’s sports since our 1989 study. But overall, the quality of coverage of women’s and men’s sports is characterized by persistent gender asymmetries as well as some continued overt biases against women’s sports.
Televised Sports News
In contrast to our 1989 study of televised sports news, the 1993 study indicated that men (athletes and spectators) appeared to be used as (sometimes sexualized) objects of commentators’ jokes in roughly the same frequency that women are so used. Channel 4 commentator Fred Roggin directly referred to this issue in his November 9 broadcast when he stated, while showing footage (with strip-tease music playing in the background) of a hockey brawl in which a male player’s shirt was ripped off, “We may be sexist here but we’re equal opportunity sexist. Ladies, this is for you.” We believe that it is appropriate for sports news to be presented humorously–after all, sports is entertainment. But before heralding sports newscasters’ “equal opportunity sexism” as a great leap forward for women, we should consider that the increase in the humorous sexualization of men, and the continued humorous sexualization of women, takes place in a context where the quantity of coverage of women’s sports and of women athletes is still dismally low. Women athletes are, for the most part, still missing in action.
One might presume that spending roughly 94% of the air time on the television sports news simply reflects the reality that there are far more men’s sports to cover. Indeed, during the 3 two-week segments of television news that we examined, there were more men’s sports taking place than women’s sports. This was especially true during the July and November segments, when two men’s professional sports for which there is currently no women’s counterpart–professional baseball and football, respectively–dominated the sportscasts. So it should not be surprising to see more overall television news coverage of men’s than of women’s sports. However, as Appendix A shows, there were many women’s sports taking place during these three time periods that simply were not being covered in the news. The gatekeepers of televised sports news clearly allotted a disproportionately high amount of coverage to men’s sports. The fact that women’s sports took up only about 5% of all the air time on the sports news, and that much of this time was concentrated on expanded-format Sunday shows, leaving other days (especially Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays) with virtually no coverage of women’s sports, amounts to the continuation of what Gerbner (1978) called the “symbolic annihilation” of women. As we stated in the 1989 study, if it is not reported, in the minds of most people, it simply did not happen.
On the rare occasions that women’s sports were covered, the near-invisibility of women athletes was exacerbated by the choices that the sports news producers made in terms of which women’s sports to cover and how to cover them. The choice to spend what is essentially “token” time for women’s sports by covering “gag” events, “trashsports,” or relatively unknown women’s sports, while ignoring or granting very brief coverage to women’s golf, tennis, running, and basketball sends a message that women’s sports is an oddity, a joke that at best deserves minimal public attention. And although there as an improvement since the 1989 study in the proportion of women’s sports stories that were accompanied by visual footage, the overall low number of such stories still resulted in far fewer visual shots of women than of men athletes. In the 126 newscasts we studied, there were a total of 545 visual shots of men’s sports (4.3 per broadcast), and only 45 visuals of women athletes (about 1 for every 3 broadcasts). Even more dramatic, we think, is the lack of women athletes’ voices on the sports news. Interviews not only add to the drama of a report on a big game or match, they also serve to “humanize” the athletic performer for the television viewer. During the 126 broadcasts, 137 interviews with male athletes or coaches were presented (a little more than 1 per broadcast), while a total of only 4 interviews with women athletes or coaches were presented in the entire 6-week sample.
Lack of stories, lack of visuals of women playing sports, and lack of interviews with women athletes and coaches all result from choices made by the producers of televised sports news. For viewers, these production choices amount to an almost uninterrupted cacophony of words about men’s sports, a visual barrage of images of male athletes in action, continually supplemented by the voices of the male athletes themselves. By contrast, when women’s sports are covered at all, they are relegated to the margins of the sports reports. Commentators don’t say much about women’s sports. They don’t show much footage of women’s sports. And, the voices of women athletes are almost never allowed to break the constant baritone of the voices of the male commentators and the men they interview.
Technical Production of Women’s and Men’s Basketball
There were some notable improvements in the production values of the 1993 Women’s Final Four NCAA basketball games, when compared with the 1989 games. Most obvious were the improvements in the production quality of the play-by-play. More cameras appear to have been used in the games in 1993 than in 1989. There was an increase in the use of instant replays, as well as in the use of verbal and on-screen graphic statistics. These changes enhance the viewing experience. Still, the production values of the women’s contests were uneven when compared with the consistently high quality of the men’s games. Moreover, the pregame, halftime, and postgame shows were much shorter, and of lower quality than those of the men’s games.
We can only speculate on why there is not more live, televised play-by-play coverage of women’s athletic events such as NCAA basketball. One reason might be based on an economic justification. Television producers might argue that the sports audience, constituted mostly of men, want to watch men’s sports, not women’s sports, so they are, “Just giving the people what they demand.” And, some recent studies might seem to support this “supply and demand” perspective. Cooper-Chen notes, for instance, “In the United States and abroad, women watch more [television] than men in every time and program category except one: sporting events” (Cooper-Chen, 1994). However, the fact that girls’ and women’s participation rates in sports activities have dramatically increased in recent years suggests that these data do not reflect a lack of interest among women in watching women’s sports. Rather, they may reflect a lack of interest in watching the events that television producers choose to show, and a rejection of the ways they choose to show them.
In fact, television producers do not simply passively respond to what the audience “wants to see.” Rather, television networks, in conjunction with athletic organizations, consciously “build audiences” for major events like the men’s NCAA Tournament, the NBA play-offs, the World Series, or the Super Bowl.
Successful audience-building for something like the men’s NCAA tournament involves: (a) showing large numbers of regular season games on television, so when the tournament arrives, fans already know the teams, the players, and even the announcers; (b) creating “stars” who are marketable “characters,” around which fan interest and identification can be nurtured (The NBA has paved the way with this strategy); (c) “hyping” upcoming games with a barrage of televised and print ads asthe event approaches; (d) preparing flashy, dramatic, and informative pregame shows that create excitement and anticipation in the viewers; (e) using halftimes and “dead times” during the games to build interest and knowledge about upcoming games, or to air pre-taped or live interviews with players and coaches in upcoming games; (f) relying on televised sports news to add to the excitement by covering the games, supplying interviews with players and coaches, and hyping upcoming games. When done successfully, this “audience-building” situates the televised sports fan in a familiar cognitive and emotional field. The fan who tunes in to the semifinals or the championship games is thus already predisposed to feel as though he or she is “part of the action.”
By contrast, audiences were not actively built for the televised Women’s NCAA Final Four games. Each of the above audience-building principles was ignored: (a) very few regular season women’s games were shown on television, thus most fans could not be expected to have been familiar with the teams or the players until the last few games were aired; (b) though on game day, networks introduced the audience to one or two women star players “up close and personal,” very few, if any of the star women basketball players were known by name in advance by most sports fans since few regular season games were aired, and electronic and print media gave so little attention to women’s sports; (c) networks spent few resources in building fan excitement or knowledge through advertisements about the upcoming Women’s Final Four; (d) the pregame shows tended to be shorter, less technically sophisticated, less dramatic (in fact, ambivalent), and less informative than the men’s pregame shows; and (e) major portions of the pregame, halftime, and postgame shows of the women’s games were used to build audience interest for the men’s upcoming games, thus substantially lessening the very limited time available to build audience interest and knowledge about women’s basketball.
As a result of this lack of audience-building, along with other differences in the framing and presentation of the women’s basketball games, and the continued ambivalence of announcers (discussed below), viewers of the women’s games were far less likely to experience the breadth and depth of emotions, or to receive the volume of information that viewers of the men’s games did. Despite the improvements since the 1989 study, the 1993 men’s games were likely to be experienced as exciting events of historic import, while the women’s games were likely to be experienced by viewers as less exciting, less dramatic and less informative.
Verbal Commentary on Tennis and Basketball
The greatest degree of change we observed when comparing the 1989 with the 1993 study was in verbal play-by-play commentary. These changes were distributed differently between tennis and basketball commentary. The most dramatic change was the virtual elimination–in both tennis and basketball commentary–of the practice of calling women athletes “girls.” The fact that adult athletes are no longer being verbally infantilized in this way is a major step towards equality for women in sports.
Another evident, but not as dramatic, change was the decline in the practice of calling female athletes by their first names only, while referring to men by their last names, or first and last names together. In basketball commentary, this practice disappeared, with both women and men basketball players being referred to almost always by last, or by first and last names. In tennis, this gender differentiating pattern persisted, but to a lesser extent than in 1989. First name only use in identifying women tennis players dropped from 52.7% in 1989 to 31.5% in 1993. Though this is a substantial drop from the 1989 percentage, it indicates that tennis commentators continue to verbally infantilize female athletes, while verbally granting male tennis players a more respected, adult superordinate status (Messner, Duncan and Jensen, 1993; Duncan, 1993b). This was especially evident in the mixed-doubles segment that we studied, where the women players were referred to by first name only 41.4% of the time, and the men always were referred to by their last names, or by first and last names. Though this was a rain shortened segment of mixed doubles, we think it is notable that in the only sport we studied in which women and men were directly competing with each other, commentators utilized a most extreme hierarchy of naming.
Some gender differences and inequities were still evident in the practice of gender marking women athletes and women’s events. Gender marking is a problem when it is done asymmetrically, with women’s events and women athletes constantly being “marked” and male athletes and men’s events always being presented as the gender neutral “norm” or universal standard. This asymmetrical gender marking has the result of “defining women athletes and women’s athletic programs as second class and trivial” (Eitzen & Baca Zinn, 1989, 362).
The practice of asymmetrical gender marking was clearly evident in coverage of NCAA Final Four games, where once again the men’s games and the male athletes were almost never gender marked and were nearly always referred to as the universal norm. Meanwhile, gender marking in the women’s games actually rose substantially, compared with the 1989 study. In the 1993 Women’s Final Four, graphic and verbal commentary reminded viewers 110 times per game that they were watching a women’s event. This happened an average of only 1.3 times in the men’s games. As we argued in the 1989 study, gender marking of certain events (e.g., “We will now cut to the men’s doubles match.”) is often useful for viewers’ sense of clarity about what they are about to watch. As in the 1989 study, we found that commentary on the 1993 U.S. Open Tennis Tournament utilized this kind of symmetrical gender marking for clarity.
Some of the more overt gender differences in the ways that commentators describe women and men basketball and tennis players declined or disappeared since the 1989 study. Commentators’ increased respect for women tennis players’ strength and power is especially notable in this regard. On the other hand, commentary on women’s basketball still expressed certain levels of ambivalence about women’s strength and power (Duncan and Hasbrook, 1988). Moreover, there still appear to be two different formulae for describing women’s and men’s success and failures in basketball commentary. When a woman made a mistake, it was nearly always reported by the commentator as her mistake, her missed shot. By contrast, when a man made an error or missed a shot he should have made, his actions were likely to be framed by the commentators in ways that saved face for the athlete. These gender differences in verbal attributions of strength and weakness or success and failure are more subtle than they were in the 1989 study, but the net result is that female athletes are still being described as less competent than men athletes.
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Selected List of Sports Events in Which Women Competed in 1993:
INTERCOLLEGIATE WOMEN’S SPORTS IN SEASON
Track & Field (Outdoor)
March 18-21 Standard Register Ping
March 25-28 Nabisco Dinah Shore, Rancho Mirage (CA)
March 15-21 Lipton Championships
March 22-28 Virgina Slims of Houston
March 22-28 Light N’ Lively Doubles Saddlebrook
March 28 Family Circle Cup
TRACK & FIELD
March 20-21 US Masters Indoor Championships
March 28 IAAF World Cross Country Championships, Amorbieta, ESP
March 6-17 Sled Dog – lditarod Trail Sled Dog Race
March 16-21 Synchronized Swimming – U.S. Junior Championships, Fort Collins (TX)
March 16-21 Synchronized Swimming – U.S. National Team Trials , Fort Collins (TX)
March 17 Basketball – NCAA Division I First Round
March 17-20 Swimming & Diving – NCAA Division I Championships
March 17-20 Biathlon – World Cup, Canmore, CAN
March 20 & 21 Basketball – NCAA Division I Second Round
March 25 & 27 Basketball – NCAA Division I Regional Championships
March 20 Speed Skating – World Short Track Team Championships, Budapest, HUN
March 26-28 Speed Skating – World Short Track Championships, Beijing, CHN
March 27-31 Fencing – NCAA Champioships, Detroit (Ml)
March 28 Rowing – FISA World Cup, Grand Prix of Mexico, Mexico City, MEX
July 15-18 JAL Big Apple Classic, New Rochelle (NY)
July 22-25 U.S. Women’s Golf Open, Carmel (IN)
July 19-25 Federation Cup Frankfurt, GER
July 12-18 Citroen Cup Kitzbuhel, AUT
July 13-18 BVV Prague Open Prague, CZE
July 19-25 Pathmark Tennis Classic
TRACK & FIELD
July 12 IAAF/Mobil Grand Prix, Nice, FRA
July 23 IAAF/Mobil Grand Prix, The London Games, London, GBR
July 5-15 14th Maccabiah Games, Israel
July 8-19 World University Summer Games, Buffalo (NY)
July 15-19 6th Pan American Junior Championships, Winnepeg, CAN
July 22-August 1 World Games IV, The Hague, NED
July 23-27 U.S. Olympic Festival ’93, San Antonio (TX)
July 24-August 2 17th World Games of the Deaf, Sofia, BUL
July 9-16 Yachting – 420 Ladies World Championship, Sardinia, ITA
July 13-18 Water Polo -VIII Women’s Water Polo World Cup, Catania, ITA
July 13-17 Synchronized Swimming – U.S. Open Championships, Irvine (CA)
July 14-17 Powerlifting – Masters European Championships, Moscow, RUS
July 14-25 Field Hockey – 4th Intercontinental Cup Women, Philadelphia (PA)
July 16-18 Wrestling – Championnat du Monde Lutte Feminine Junior, Gotzis, AUT
July 17-18 Judo – US National Junior Olympic Championship, Elizabeth (NJ)
July 17-18 Water Skiing – National Championships
July 17-18 Canoe – Slalom World Cup #I, La Seu d’Urgell, ESP
July 17-18 Cycling – European Championship 8, European Superclass 5, Marsla, SWE
July 17-25 Softball – II Women’s Interncontinental Cup, Haarlem, NED
July 22-24 Water Polo – 5 Nations Meet/Open Women, Bonn, GER
July 22-25 Rowing – American Rowing Championships
July 23 Cycling – Coupe de Monde Cross Country, Mammoth Lakes (CA.)
July 24-25 Canoe – Slalom World Cup #2, Lofer, AUT
July 25-31 Softball – Men & Women’s Modified World Championship, Salinas, PUR
INTERCOLLEGIATE WOMEN’S SPORTS IN SEASON
November 6-8 Mazda Japan Classic
November 8-14 Virginia Slims of Philadelphia
November 15-21 Virginia Slims of New York
TRACK & FIELD
November 14 New York City Marathon, NY (NY)
November 23 NCAA Cross Country Championships
November 19-29 17th Central American and Caribbean Games, Puerto Rico
November 11-21 Field Hockey – NCAA Division I, Regional and National Championships
November 12-21 Weightlifting – World Championships, Melbourne, AUS
November 13-21 Soccer – NCAA Division I, Regional and National Championships
November 16-21 Volleyball – World Grand Champion Cup Women, Ancona, ITA
November 18-20 Bodybuilding – World Women’s 8 Mixed Pairs Championships, Warsaw POL
November 20-21 Alpine Skiing – Ladies’ World Cup, Veysonnaz, SUI
November 20-21 Field Hockey – NCAA Division I Championships
Margaret Carlisle Duncan, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Michael A. Messner, Ph.D., University of Southern California
Kerry Jensen, M.F.A.
Faye Linda Wachs, University of Southern California
Wayne Wilson, Ph.D., Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles
Sponsored by The Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles, July 1994
© 1986 AMATEUR ATHLETIC FOUNDATION OF LA
The Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles is the private, nonprofit institution created to manage Southern California’s endowment from the 1984 Olympic Games. The AAF awards grants to youth sports organizations, initiates regional sports programs and operates the Paul Ziffren Sports Resource Center, a state-of-the-art learning center designed to increase knowledge of sports and its impact on people’s lives.
David L. Wolper, Chairman
Anita L. DeFrantz, President.