• Life Ready Through Sport •

Gender Stereotyping in Televised Sports

By Margaret Carlisle Duncan, Ph.D., Michael Messner, Ph.D., Linda Williams, Ph.D., Kerry Jensen
Edited by Wayne Wilson, Ph.D.


Television both shapes and reflects the attitudes of our society. National networks and local stations broadcast thousands of hours of sports coverage each year to millions of viewers. The way in which television covers, or fails to cover, women engaged in athletics affects the way in which female athletes are perceived and also tells us something about the status of women in our society. The Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles has sponsored research on the topic of television coverage of women’s sports with the hope that it will lead to a more informed discussion of the issue.

The study presented here analyzes the quantity and quality of women’s sports coverage and compares it to the coverage of men’s sports. It examines six weeks of local sports coverage on a Los Angeles television station during summer 1989; the “Final Four” of the 1989 NCAA women’s and men’s basketball tournaments; and the women’s and men’s singles, women’s and men’s doubles, and the mixed doubles of the 1989 U.S. Open tennis tournament.

Our major findings are summarized at the beginning of the report and are followed by several policy recommendations. An explanation of methodology, a more detailed discussion of each finding and an interpretive essay appear later in the report. While the report does offer some cause for optimism regarding the status of women’s sports on television, the weight of the evidence clearly suggests that women’s sports is underreported and that what coverage does exist is inferior to that afforded men’s sports.

Sport is an important part of the human experience. Television is a powerful medium. Women and girls comprise a majority of our population. Their experience in sport should be reported and reported accurately. Broadcasters who fail to do so fail in their professional responsibility. This report, “Gender Stereotyping in Televised Sports,” identifies problems with the way that the broadcasters we studied treated women’s sports and it suggests solutions. Although this study did not examine every national network, all of the networks and their local affiliates can learn from it. We may debate the solutions, but there is no denying the fundamental finding of the study: The television programs that we examined did not cover women’s sports as well as they covered men’s sports. This inequity is unfair. It is wrong. It can be changed and it must be changed.

Anita L. DeFrantz
Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles

I. Summary of Findings

A. Televised Sports News: Women Are Humorous Sex Objects in the Stands, but Missing as Athletes

• Women’s sports were underreported and underrepresented in the six weeks of television sports news sampled in the study. Men’s sports received 92% of the air time, women’s sports 5%, and gender neutral topics 3%.

• The television sports news did focus regularly on women, but rarely on women athletes. More common were portrayals of women as comical targets of the newscasters’ jokes and/or as sexual objects (e.g., women spectators in bikinis).

B. Women’s and Men’s Basketball: Significant Differences in the Quality of Technical Production Tend to Trivialize the Women’s Games, While Framing Men’s Games as Dramatic Spectacles of Historic Significance

• The quality of production, camera work, editing and sound in men’s basketball were superior to that of women’s games.

• Slow-motion instant replays were utilized more often in men’s basketball games (18/game) than in women’s games (12.7/ game). Replays in men’s games were more likely to be shown from more than one angle and to be accompanied by on-screen graphics.

• Viewers of men’s basketball games were more often informed of relevant statistics than in women’s games. In men’s games, there was an average of 24.3 on-screen graphic statistics and 33.3 verbal statistics, for a total average of 57.6 statistics per game. In the women’s games, there was an average of 9.3 graphic on-screen statistics, 29 verbal statistics, for a total average of 38.3 statistics per game.

• The network-produced openings which introduce events, often revealed a marked difference in how men’s and women’s events were framed. Men’s basketball contests were framed as dramatic spectacles of historic import. By contrast, women’s basketball contests were given the feel of neighborhood pickup games.

C. Tennis and Basketball: Women Players Constantly Are “‘ Marked” Verbally and Visually, and Are Verbally Infantilized. Male Athletes of Color Share Some of this Infantilization

• Gender was verbally, visually and graphically marked (e.g., “Women’s National Championship”) an average of nearly 60 times per game in women’s basketball, and never was marked in men’s games (which would be referred to, for instance, as “The National Championship Game”).

• Women athletes frequently were referred to as “girls” and “young ladies.” Men athletes, never referred to as “boys,” usually were called “men,” “young men” and “young fellas.”

• In the tennis commentary, women athletes were called by only their first names 52.7% of the time, while men were referred to by only their first names 7.8% of the time.

• In basketball, first name only descriptions by commentators were patterned along lines of race as well as gender. Women athletes were referred to by first name 31 times, men 19 times. Among the men, all 19 instances of first-name use occurred in discussing men of color. First names only never were used in discussions of white male basketball players.

• Commentators’ use of martial metaphors and power descriptors was more frequent in men’s basketball (82 descriptors) than in women’s basketball (28 descriptors), and more frequent in men’s tennis (34) than women’s tennis (17).

• Commentators’ verbal attributions of strength and weakness for men and women athletes contrasted sharply. In discussing men basketball players, commentators used a total of 146 descriptors suggesting strength, and 38 descriptors suggesting weakness (a strength/weakness ratio of 3.84/l). Attributions of strength and weakness for women basketball players totalled 95 and 103 (for a ratio of 0.92/l). In tennis, there was a similar pattern. Men’s attributions of strength and weakness totalled 59 and 10 (5.9/l ratio), while women’s totalled 51 and 24 (2.1 /l ratio).

D. Less Overt Gender Stereotyping Exists in Basketball and Tennis Commentary, When Compared with Past Studies

• Though the televised sports news was clearly biased against women, in basketball and tennis coverage there was very little of the overtly sexist language, sexualization and/or devaluation of women athletes that existed in the recent past. In fact, there appeared to be conscious efforts by some commentators to move toward non-sexist reporting of women’s sports.


• Televised sports news should provide more coverage of existing women’s sports.

• Televised sports news coverage of women’s sports should include visual as well as verbal coverage in proportions that are roughly equivalent to the coverage of men’s sports. Viewers should be able to hear about and see women’s sports on the news.

• Sports broadcasters should cease the sexist practice of focusing on female spectators as sexualized comic relief.

• Television networks should commit themselves to more equal amounts of coverage of women’s events such as college basketball. Regular season games should be aired regularly.

• Television networks should commit themselves to equal quality of coverage of women’s athletic events. The amount of resources and technical and production quality should be equivalent in the coverage of men’s and women’s sports.

• Women athletes should be called “women” or “young women,” just as men athletes are called “men” and “young men.” Announcers should stop referring to adult female athletes as “girls” just as they avoid referring to adult male athletes as “boys.”

• Commentators should consciously adopt a standard usage of first and last names and it should be applied equally to men and women athletes and athletes of all races.

• 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 increase their use of strength descriptors when announcing women’s sports. They should reduce the use of descriptors implying weakness in women’s sports.

III. Description of Study: Sample and Method

The study addressed both quantitative and qualitative aspects of televised coverage of women’s sports. The major questions, though, concerned the quality of actual coverage of women’s versus men’s athletic events. Therefore, we chose to examine televised sports programs in which men’s and women’s coverage could be analyzed comparatively. First, we studied six weeks of televised sports news coverage on KNBC, Los Angeles. Second, we examined the “Final Four” of the women’s and men’s 1989 NCAA basketball tournaments. And third, we analyzed the women’s and men’s singles, women’s and men’s doubles, and the mixed doubles matches of the 1989 U.S. Open tennis tournament.


Televised Sports News

Six weeks of sports news broadcast on the 11:OO p.m. edition, July 2 through August 15, 1989, from a single station, KNBC in Los Angeles, were taped and analyzed. During 1989, KNBC emerged as the top-rated local news broadcast in the Los Angeles market, and its lead sports reporter was awarded the Golden Mike award by the Radio and Television News Association of Southern California for his sports report. Amounts of air-time devoted to men’s versus women’s sports were measured. In addition to the quantitative measures, researchers analyzed the quality of coverage in terms of visuals and verbal commentary. Finally, visual and verbal presentations of non-athlete women in television news sportscasts were examined.


We compared and analyzed televised coverage of the Final Four of the 1989 women’s and men’s NCAA basketball tournaments that appeared on CBS and ESPN. It should be noted that we chose the Final Four for the comparative analysis, rather than regular-season games, because there were so 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/lead-ins and halftime shows. Types and levels of technical production as well as visual and verbal framing of the contests and the athletes were examined.


The four final days of televised coverage on CBS and USA Network of the U.S. Open tennis tournament on September 7-10,1989 were analyzed. Televised coverage on these days consisted of four men’s singles matches (two quarterfinals, one semifinal, and the final), three women’s singles matches (two semifinals and the final), one men’s doubles match (the final), two women’s doubles matches (a semifinal and the final), and one mixed doubles match (the final).

Research Method

Stage 1 of the study consisted of an extensive review of the literature on sports media from which the investigators constructed a list of research questions and created the research design. The televised news, basketball games, and tennis matches were then recorded on videotape. In Stage 2 of the study, the entire research team (the three investigators and the research assistant) conducted a pilot study of the tapes. The pilot study had two out-comes: (1) The research design was fine-tuned-a list of specific questions and verbal descriptors was constructed; (2) the graduate research assistant was trained to analyze visual and verbal commentary. The research design which we constructed aimed to analyze the data both qualitatively and quantitatively.

Quantitative Analyses: For the televised sports news, we compared the number of minutes devoted to men’s sports/male athletes to the number of minutes devoted to women’s sports/female athletes for each individual broadcast, and also computed totals by gender for the six-week period. We converted the totals to percentages. For the basketball games and tennis matches, we counted the incidence of verbal and graphic gender marking, strength and weakness descriptors, martial metaphors and power descriptors, types of naming of individual athletes, use of statistics, slow-motion instant replays and on-screen graphics.

Qualitative Analyses: We employed a descriptive textual method in the analysis of the oral commentary during television broadcasts. We also analyzed the visual aspects of the television broadcasts-production, camera work, editing-by drawing on the research assistant’s graduate training in cinematography. In Stage 3 of the research, the research assistant viewed all of the tapes and compiled a written preliminary analysis.

In Stage 4, one investigator independently viewed and analyzed all of the tapes and then added her written analysis to that of the research assistant. Finally, in Stage 5 the data were analyzed and compiled for this report by two of the investigators, using both sets of written descriptions of the tapes, and by viewing portions of the tapes once again.

IV. Description and Analysis of Findings

A. Six Weeks of Televised Sports News: Women Are Humorous Sex Objects in the Stands, but Missing as Athletes

1. Quantitative Description

During the six-week period, 42 complete evening broadcasts were examined; 21 contained no coverage of women’s sports. Male athletes received the lead coverage 40 times, women twice. Women’s sports were normally covered, if at all, in the middle or toward the end of the broadcast. Out of approximately 264 minutes of total sports coverage over the six-week period, 244 minutes (92%) covered men’s sports, 12 minutes (5%) covered women’s sports, and 8 minutes (3%) covered gender-neutral topics.

2. Qualitative Description

The Sunday night sports show (the longest of the week) began with a sophisti-cated visual sequence accompanied by music with a snappy rhythmic tempo. The visuals were comprised of a rapidly changing montage of 17 sports scenes. Two of these shots were of women-one a tennis player, the other of a bikini-clad body builder strutting across the stage in time to the music. The framing of this show suggested its content: mainly men’s sports with one or two token female athletes. Men’s sports tended to receive both visual and verbal coverage; women’s sports tended to receive only verbal coverage. The commentators were far more likely to refer to women athletes by their first names and the men athletes by first and last, or simply last names. And actual coverage of women’s sports, though occasionally good, was sometimes framed in insulting ways. For instance, on the July 25 broadcast, the only mention of a female athlete was essentially a gag feature. Footage showed golfer Patty Sheehan driving her ball straight into the water, and was accompanied by this com-mentary: “Whoa! That shot needs just a little work, Patty. She was out of the hunt in the Boston Big Five Classic.” The story which followed showed a man making a hole-in- one at a miniature golf tournament.

Though female athletes were rarely covered-and when they were covered, it often was ambivalently-women in non-athletic roles were generously sprinkled throughout these broadcasts. Women appeared most commonly either in the role of comical object of the newscaster’s joke, or as a sexual object. In fact, these two roles were often overlapping, and were given significantly more air time than were female athletes. For instance, by far the longest single story (3 minutes, 50 seconds) on a woman in the six-week period focused not on a female athlete, but rather, on “Mor-gana, the Kissing Bandit,” a woman with enormous breasts who has made a name for herself by running out onto baseball fields and kissing players.

The most common depictions of women in these broadcasts were the fre-quent visuals of scantily clad female spectators, accompanied by verbal sexual innuendo by the commentators. For instance, on July 3, the broadcast showed a clip of a female baseball spectator reaching into her breast pocket and attempting to get something out, accompanied by the commentator’s “Be still, my beating heart!” Shots of- and comments about- women’s breasts (always large) were frequent. On July 10, viewers saw female spectators in bikinis dancing in the stands, breasts jiggling, with the comment: “Why we love this game-because it’s a great sport and it’s part of America. Take yesterday in Oakland [shot of one bikinied woman], we’ re talking great weather, we’re talking great atmosphere ….” The male commentators appeared to be aware that this sort of locker room humor was not acceptable to all people, but they essentially communicated that they didn’t care: It’s all in good fun. For instance, on July 14, a broadcast which had no coverage of women’s sports, there were several shots of female spectators, including one of a particularly bosomy woman wearing a tank-top at a Minnesota Twins baseball game. The commentator queried, “Isn’t baseball a great sport? Just brings out the best in everyone! Okay, I know we’ ll get complaints, but it’s not like we snuck into her back yard and took her picture. We’re talking public place here!” Shortly thereafter, we were shown male tennis star Andre Agassi changing his shirt during a match, and the same commentator declared, “In tennis the big moment in an AA match when he changes shirts. Equal time for that incident in the Twins game.”

3. Analysis and Interpretation

The examples above encapsulate the general tone and consistent framing of gender on this televised sports newscast. Women athletes were largely ignored. Instead, women were more often presented “humorously” as sex objects. Men, on the other hand, almost never were presented as sex objects (we observed men presented as sex objects only twice in the six-week period). But when men were viewed as sex objects, it was within their roles as athletes-and in the case of Agassi, as an elite athlete. Thus, the framing of women reinforced the image of women as non-athletic sex objects on the sidelines. The rare sexual framing of men reinforced the equation of male sexuality and masculine power. The verbal disclaimer (“it’s not like we snuck into her back yard…”) echoed the kind of rea-soning that frequently is used to rationalize harrassment of and violence against women: “I couldn’t help myself, she was so scantily clad!” Moreover, the attempt to humorously label this kind of coverage as “equal time” can only be seen as extremely cynical commentary which insults women, whether athletes or not.

It is not surprising that men’s sports were covered more than women’s sports. In fact, during the six-week period studied, there were simply more men’s sports to cover. Men’s professional baseball, which has no women’s counterpart, drew a large propor-tion of coverage during this period of time. But the 92% coverage of men’s sports to 5% women’s still amounted to a disproportionately high coverage of existing men’s sports. During this six-week period numerous unreported or underreported sports events involving women took place, including five professional women’s golf tournaments with $1.6 million in prize money; three Virginia Slims professional tennis tournaments and Wimbledon totaling more than $2 million in prize money; the national gymnastics championships; the U.S. Olympic Festival ’89; and major competitions in swimming, diving and cycling (See Appendix A). The ignoring or underreporting of women’s sports events contributes to what Gerbner (1978) called “the symbolic annihilation” of women. Put simply, if it is not reported, in the minds of most people, it simply did not happen.

What was most disturbing about these television news broadcasts was the con-fluence of, on the one hand, the conspicuous absence of coverage of women athletes with, on the other hand, the ways that women were consistently placed in the role of sexualized comic relief. It should be emphasized that what is presented as “news”-and how it is presented-is the result of concrete choices made by human beings. In the case of the six-week period of television sports news that was examined, the choices of what to cover and how to cover it reflected a very sexist bias against women.

B. Women’s and Men’s Basketball: Differences in Quality of Technical Production

We observed demonstrable contrasts between the ways that the women’s and men’s basketball games were produced and presented. Overall, the production of the men’s games was of much higher quality than the women’s games. 1. Visual and Aural Framing of Contests The visuals and the sound in the three men’s contests can be summarized as highly professional. The camera angles and the editing of visuals, were technically so-phisticated. 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 appropri-ately. The three women’s contests, on the other hand, were characterized by lower sound quality, periodic mistakes in editing, generally less colorful commentary, far fewer appearances of game and shot clocks on-screen, and the use of fewer camera angles. Graphics appeared less frequently, and occasionally incorrectly.

For instance, in the Auburn versus Louisiana Tech women’s semifinal game, Steve Physioc spoke about Auburn while the graphic pertained to Louisiana Tech. Two examples of these different levels of technical quality, consistent through all the games, were the open-ing/ framing of the contest and the coverage of free throws. a) Opening/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 op-erators must choose well-composed, focused and ideally evocative shots. The editors must combine the shots in a meaningful, continuously evolving fashion, choosing bits of interview which add excitement, poignancy or information. The opening of the men’s games offered a model for this. The opening of the women’s games tended to ignore these tenets.

Men’s Games

Each of the men’s games was introduced with a sophisticated and dramatic montage which drew the viewer into the event. The variety of camera angles, shot dis-tances and shot transitions, artfully edited, created a kinetic, exciting effect and spoke of high production values. For example, the championship game between Michigan and Seton Hall opened first with Quincy Jones playing the piano and singing; followed by a montage of artfully edited sights and sounds of excited fans, team mascots and dome officials discussing preparation for the event; two hands checking the hoop; a bouncing ball accompanied by upbeat music; the coaches yelling instructions to play-ers; scoreboard lights; and the band leader cuing his musicians (“2,3,4…”). As the band music began to the beat of a heavy drum, a spinning basketball became the NCAA logo, a small child wearing an oversized Michigan visor was lifted in time to the music, a baby grinned, a spectator spread a handful of tickets poker-style, the camera zoomed out from the tickets, and then rapidly back in to a Michigan logo on a young woman’s cheek, and then to a low-angle shot, with closely miked sound, dramatizing the swoosh of the ball through the hoop. A cheerleader told us she was praying for her team’s win. We saw a man dressed as a pirate carrying a large Seton Hall flag. A player emerged from the locker room. And, a Catholic priest blessed the Pirates. Finally, filmed high-lights of each team’s semifinal wins brought the opening to an emotional climax of ecstatic coaches and players celebrating, jumping on one another. The driving sequence ended on a strong downbeat, and moved us out to the Seattle skyline to orient us geographically, and then we were brought down gently with a lyrical sequence of soft dissolves. The camera slowly swept over the band, continuing the same movement in an extremely wide shot of the dome interior, a shot of the mascot and a tracking shot of the row of cheerleaders. A deep male voice welcomed us to the NCAA championship. Then, commentators Jim Nantz and Brent Musberger began the work of intensi-fying the dramatic conflict. This is a “remarkable tournament,” we heard from Musberger, who then laid out five clearly articulated points, each accompanied by clever graphics concerning game analysis. As the players were introduced, two cameras kept us close to the players, and low angles emphasized their bulk. The frequent cuts to cheerleaders during introduc-tions were well-composed low-angle shots designed to emphasize the huge dome inte-rior, with star filters over the camera lense enhancing the lights. As we approached tipoff, James Brown of CBS assured us that both teams were “fully armed and ready to do battle,” while extremely long shots characteristic of epic drama moved us out of the dome. And, a verbal and visual emphasis on sports luminaries in the audience (Bill Walton, Magic Johnson and a good luck telegram from Senator Bill Bradley) added to the aura of importance surrounding the event.

Women’s Games

Generally speaking, even when they were not directly framing the women’s con-tests as “preliminary” to the men’s, the opening/framing of the three women’s games were far less technically sophisticated and less dramatic than those of the men’s. The opening of the women’s championship game stood in contrast to the opening of the men’s game, described above. Whereas the men’s coverage focused on the drama of the event, the opening of the women’s game focused, in a sentimental way, on the back-grounds of several of the players. Narration began over images of little girls, many in dresses, playing basketball on a playground, and continued over short photographic histories of several players. Meanwhile, synthesized music played over the sequence of images and softened the images of rough basketball playing. As we viewed the se-quence of images of individual players (2-4 photographs, spanning from infancy through high school and college), interspersed with interviews with the players’ moth-ers, a male voice reported the following: The familiar sounds of the playground echo with the lifelong dreams of youth. For our college stars, there is a kaleidoscope of memories with the fantasies of yesteryear, and the promise of today. Many of these young ladies have been pushed to peak per-formance by sibling rivalry. [Brief interview with a mother then voice continues.] To pursue with eagerness the phantoms of hope and expect that age will perform the promise of youth. Talent carries with it authority which makes it preferable to all the pleas-ures of age. History shows development through the competition of sport. [Another brief interview with a mother.] As their talent blossoms through the years, their expectations become realizations. They have now reached new heights. [The voice over is now accompanied by game footage of jump-shooting players.] It has been said that success is not a destination but a continuous journey and for these women, their journey has taken them down a long and arduous road. And so dreams become reality. The echoes continue to be heard as children emulate luminaries while the heroes of today are the dreamers of yesteryear. The verbal commentary was flowery and difficult to follow. The music was not as upbeat as that in the men’s game. And the visual images were ambivalent: At best, they showed some athletically talented basketball moves that may have built some sense that an important game was about to occur. At worst, they trivialized these ath-letes as childlike, cavorting on the playground. As the women’s games were being discussed in the openings, at half-time, and throughout the contests, the men’s games continually jumped into the frame. For instance, as the audience awaited the Maryland versus Tennessee NCAA semifinal game, ESPN’s Bob Ley and Dick Vitale interviewed players and coaches of the men who would play the next day. Then, we saw low-angle kinetic shots of women play-ing ball as the game was introduced. But immediately, we were back to the men: “Certainly, for the men’s games some amazing institutions and happenings,” and we learned about the annual pilgrimage to Friday’s men’s open practice. Then we re-turned to interviews with the women players. This sort of cutting back and forth from coverage of today’s women’s games and tomorrow’s men’s games tended to mark the women’s game as preliminary, less important. At best, it constructed a frame of emo-tional ambivalence around the women’s game: This game is not an event of great importance in the world of sport. Player introductions also contrasted sharply with those in the men’s games. Usually, a single camera followed a player as she left the bench, traveled down the row of teammates and out onto the floor. The cuts from traveling player to stationary bench sometimes were abrupt and jarring. And, the timing was off somewhat. During the Auburn versus Louisiana Tech introductions, there was a brief period in which nothing was shown before the next player was announced and rose from her seat. Moments later, there was a confusing, noncommittal shot with no clear focus.

1. Coverage of Free Throws

A comparison of the coverage of free throws in the women’s and men’s games offered a specific example of the more general issue that fewer cameras, less expert camera work and editing, and lower quality sound equipment characterized the cover-age of the women’s games.

Men’s Free Throws
A sophisticated narrative structure of free throws repeated itself through the three men’s games. For example, in the men’s championship game, a close-up of Seton Hall’s John Morton concentrating intensely in preparation for his foul shot followed a long shot which established the setting. A wide shot allowed viewers to see the suc-cessful drop through the hoop, with a medium shot showing the reaction of Morton’s team and a close up of the coach nervously chewing his hand. A camera behind the basket captured Morton’s preparation for his second shot with a smooth camera move keeping the ball in frame as it fell through a second time. We then saw the coach’s re-action on the bench before returning to watch the game in real time. The narrative structure combined with camera shot variety to dramatically frame the moment.

Women’s Free Throws
The framing of free throws in the women’s games was generally far less dramatic than in the men’s. In the women’s games, only two camera positions alternated. The transition from one position to another was not always smooth. For instance, in the Maryland versus Tennessee semifinal game, viewers saw a wide angle shot of the court as Maryland’s Deanna Tate prepared to shoot. This was followed by a confusing shot of another player’s back, a close-up of Tate as she shot, a wider shot to view the trajectory of the shot and finally a close-up of the back of a potential rebounder’s head. Women’s free throws were usually followed immediately by long shots of the court as play resumed. Coaches’ and teammates’ reactions on the bench and close-ups of the shooter’s face were far less frequent than in the men’s games. As a result, compared with the men’s free throws, the narrative drama of the moment was diluted.

2. Slow-motion Instant Replays

The number of plays which were shown in slow-motion instant replay was higher in the three men’s games (43) than in the three women’s games (34). But this gap was actually greater when we take into account the fact that replays in men’s games were more likely to be shown from two or more angles (11 times in the men’s games; 4 times in the women’s games). The average number of instant replays per game was thus considerably higher in the men’s games (l8.0/game) than in the women’s games (12.7/game). The replays in the men’s games also were more likely to be accompanied by sophisticated graphics and superlative descriptions.

3. Use of Statistics

The use of statistics-both graphic and verbal-was less frequent and less re-fined in women’s games than in men’s games. Graphic statistics often appeared dur-ing free throw attempts in men’s games, but not nearly as frequently during women’s games.

Use of Statistics (Average Per Game, by Sex)

Men's Games33.324.357.6
Women's Games29.09.338.3

C. Tennis and Basketball: Women Players Constantly Are “Marked” Verbally and Visually, and Are Verbally Infantilized. Male Athletes of Color Share Some of this Infantilization

1. Gender Marking

In women’s basketball, gender was constantly marked, both verbally and through the use of graphics. Viewers continually were reminded that they were watching the “Women’s Final Four,” the “NCAA Women’s National Championship Game,” that these were “some of the best women’s college basketball teams,” that coach Pat Summit “is a legend in women’s basketball” and that “this NCAA women’s semifinal is brought to you by…” As Table 2 shows, gender also was marked through the use of graphics in the women’s games which CBS broadcast, but not in the ESPN game. The CBS logo marked the women’s championship game: “NCAA Women’s National Championship,” as did their graphics above game scores.

ESPN’s graphic did not mark gender: “NCAA Semifinal.” In the three women’s basketball games which we examined, team names were gender marked 53 times graphically, 49 times verbally (a total of 102 times). However, we chose not to count gender-marked team names in our tabulations because they were the responsibility of their respective universities, not the networks or commentators.

During the women’s games, when commentators were discussing the next day’s men’s games, the men’s games were sometimes gender marked, (e.g., “The men’s championship game will be played tomorrow.”). But during the men’s bas-ketball games, we observed no instances of gender marking, either verbal or graphic. Men’s games were always referred to as universal, both verbally and in on-screen graphic logos (e.g., “The NCAA National Championship Game,” “The Final Four”).

Gender Marking in Women’s Basketball (Total Number)

Mrlnd. vs. Tenn.21012
La. Tech. vs. Auburn02121
Tenn. vs. Auburn261844

Women’s and men’s tennis matches were verbally gender-marked in a roughly equitable manner (e.g., “Men’s doubles finals,” “Women’s singles semifi-nals”). Verbal descriptions of athletes, though, at times revealed a tendency to gender mark women, not men. For instance, in the mixed doubles match, the com-mentators informed viewers several times that Rick Leach was “one of the best doubles players in the world,” while Robin White was referred to as one of “the most animated girls on the circuit.” A notable instance of graphic gender marking in tennis was the tendency by CBS to display a pink on-screen graphic for the women’s matches, and a blue on-screen graphic for the men’s matches.

2. Hierarchies of Naming by Gender and Race

The data revealed dramatic contrasts between how men athletes and women athletes were referred to by commentators. This was true both in tennis and in basketball. Women were referred to variously as “girls,” “young ladies” and “women.” On occasion the naming of women athletes was ambivalent. For in-stance, Steffi Graf was called “the wonder girl of women’s tennis.” By contrast an-nouncers never referred to male athletes as “boys.” Male athletes usually were referred to as “men,” “young men” or “young fellas.” Second, when commentators used only a first name to identify an athlete the athlete was more likely to be female than male. This difference was most pronounced in tennis commentary, as revealed in Table 3.

First and Last Name Use in Tennis Commentary
(Totals and Percentages by Sex)

 First OnlyLast OnlyFirst & Last
Men44 (7.8%)395 (69.8%)127 (22.4%)
Women304 (52.7%)166 (28.8%)107 (18.5%)

In basketball, the degree of difference in the use of first names of players was not as dramatic, but the pattern was similar. In the three women’s basketball games, we counted 31 incidents of women athletes being referred to by first names only. This occurred 19 times in the men’s games. What was most notable, though, was the fact that in each of the cases in which men were referred to by their first names only, the players were men of color (Rumeal [Robinson], Ramon [Ramos], etc.). White male basketball players never were referred to by their first names only.

3. Verbal Descriptors of Women and Men Athletes

There were consistent and clear contrasts between the quality and quantity of certain kinds of verbal descriptors which commentators used in discussing women and men athletes. a) Attributions of Strength and Weakness Examples of verbal attributions of strength were: powerful, confident, smart, big and strong, brilliant, gutsy, leader, mature, quick, dominant, takes control and aggressive. Examples of attributions of weakness were: mental mistake, weary, fatigue, frustrated, jittery, not comfortable, panicked, indecision, vulnerable, losing concentration, shaky, worries, lost control, dejected, a little flat and choking. (See Appendix B for a full list of discriptors.)

Commentators’ verbal attributions of strength and weakness for men and women athletes contrasted sharply. As the data presented in Table 4 demonstrates, commentators in men’s tennis used nearly four times the number of verbal attributions of strength as those of weakness. In women’s tennis, verbal attributions of strength and weakness were roughly equal in number. Similarly, Table 5 shows that in men’s bas-ketball, verbal attributions of strength outnumbered attributions of weakness by a nearly six-to-one ratio. In women’s basketball, attributions of strength outnumbered attributions of weakness, but by only a two-to-one ratio.

Verbal Attributions of Strength/Weakness in Tennis
(Totals and Ratios, by Sex)

 StrengthWeaknessRatio (S/W)

Verbal Attributions of Strength/ Weakness in Basketball
(Totals and Ratios, by Sex)

 StrengthWeaknessRatio (S/W)

In addition to these differences in quantity, the quality of attributions of strength and weakness for women’s and men’s events also tended to differ. In basketball, women’s attributions of strength often were stated in ambivalent language which undermined or neutralized the power and strength descriptor: “big girl,” “she’s tiny, she’s small, but so effective under the boards,” “her little jump hook,” etc. A difference in descriptions of coaches also occured. Joe Ciampi (male) “yells” at his team, while Pat Summit (female) was described twice in the Auburn versus Tennessee game as “screaming” off the bench. Men coaches were not described as “screaming,” a term which often implies lack of control, powerlessness, even hysteria.

Even strong descriptors, for women, often were framed ambivalently: “That young lady Graf is relentless.” And, whereas for women, spectacular shots sometimes were referred to as “lucky,” for the men, there was constant reference to the imposition of their wills on the games and on opponents. In men’s doubles, for example, the announcer stated, “You can feel McEnroe imposing his will all over this court. I mean not just with Woodford but Flach and Seguso. He’s just giving them messages by the way he’s standing at the net, the way he kind of swaggers between points.” There was little ambivalence in the descriptions of men: These were “big” guys with “big” forehands, who played “big games.” Clearly, there was the constant sug-gestion of male power and agency in the commentary. Even descriptions of men’s weaknesses often were framed in a language of agency: “He created his own error…” Discussion of men’s “nervousness” was qualified to make it sound like strength and heroism. For instance, early in the Becker/Krickstein match, the audience heard this exchange by the two commentators: “They’re both pretty nervous, and that’s pretty normal.” “Something would be wrong if they weren’t.” “It means you care.” “Like Marines going into Iwo Jima saying they weren’t nervous, something’s a little fishy.”

Verbal Martial Metaphors and Power Descriptors
Examples of verbal martial metaphors and power descriptors used by commentators were: buries, bangs in, yanks, firepower, ambushed, explode, whips, hits, punches, fights, battles, knocks, routed, pounds, misfire, attack, stalk, force, exert pressure, wrestling, squeezing trigger, scorch, fully armed, duel, shootout, bullet pass, penetrate, warrior, big guns, jam, powers ball in, fire away, hit bullets, blasting away, bolo punch, drawing first blood and weapons (See Appendix B). Table 6 shows that gender differences existed in the use of such descriptors.

Martial Metaphors and Power Descriptors
(Basketball and Tennis Totals, by Sex)


In tennis, commentators used twice as many martial metaphors and power descriptors when discussing men’s play. In basketball, the quantitative difference was even more dramatic. Martial metaphors and power descriptors were used in men’s games nearly three times as often as in women’s games. In place of frequent words and phrases that invoke images of power in men’s games, fewer and less evocative power descriptors were used for women. For example, instead of one who “attacks” the hoop, a woman might “go to” the hoop. Where a man’s play might be referred to as “aggressive” a woman might be called “active.” With negative outcomes, there also were differences: Where men “misfire,” apparently women simply “miss.” Where a man might “crash through” the defense, a women was described. as “moving against” the defense. And the word “nice” was used ad nauseum in describing moves, passes and shots in women’s games. Though “nice” also was used at times in men’s games, it was not as common.

Verbal Attributions of Success and Failure
Verbal attributions of success used at least once in men’s games were: experience, physical condition, strength, hustle, knowledge of game, quickness, skill level, intelligence, good judgment, height of team, good teamwork, good blood lines and genetics, guts, poise, physical ability, speed, gifted physically and mentally, perfect timing, old-fashioned hard work, courage, size, talent, good leadership, good coaching and showing no emotion. Verbal attributions of success used at least once in women’s games were: good coaching, getting along with each other, helping each other out, close chemistry, bigger and better, skill and luck, patience in offense and defense, big hearts, good athlete, quick, courage, leadership, hard work, hustle, composure, emotional preparation, execution, skills, teamwork, experience and victory because they are family .

Verbal attributions of failure used at least once in men’s games were: bad judgment, too hesitant, lack of concentration, fatigue, wear and tear, impatience and abandoning game plan. Verbal attributions of failure used at least once in women’s games were: size disadvantage, nerves, laziness because of dependence on a teammate, inactivity, lack of composure, tight rims and not settled into offense (See Appendix B). As Table 7 demonstrates, the ratio of verbal attributions of success to those of failure differed by gender. Attributions of success in men’s basketball outnumbered attributions of failure by a better than five-to-one ratio. For women, attributions of success outnumbered attributions of failure by a better than two-to-one ratio.

Attributions of Success and Failure in Basketball
(Totals and Ratios, by Sex)

 SuccessFailureRatio (S/F)

In both basketball and tennis, there were qualitative differences in the ways that success and failure were discussed for women and men athletes. In fact, two for-mulae for success appeared to exist, one for men, the other for women. Men succeeded 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 frequently cited with these attributes were emo-tion, luck, togetherness and family. Women also were more 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 suggested that it was the thoughts and actions of the male victor that won games, rather than suggesting that the loser’s lack of intelligence or ability was responsible for losing games. Again, we encountered the theme of male agency and control. Men were framed as active subjects, women reactive objects.

4. Less Overt Gender Stereotyping Exists in Basketball and Tennis Commentary, When Compared with Past Studies

Though the televised sports news was clearly biased against women, in the basketball and tennis we found very little of the overtly sexist language, sexualization and/or devaluation of women athletes that was documented in studies over the past two decades. We noted some obviously conscious efforts by commentators to move toward non-sexist reporting of women’s sports. For example, in the Maryland versus Tennessee women’s basketball game, Steve Physioc at times re-named “man-to-man defense” to “player-to-player” defense.


An individual who watches an athletic event constructs and derives various meanings from the activity. These meanings result from a process of interaction between the meanings that are built into the game itself (the formal rules and structure, as well as the history and accumulated mythology of the game) with the values, ideologies and presuppositions that the viewer brings to the activity of watching. But viewing an athletic contest on television is not the same as watching a contest “live.” Televised sport is an event which is mediated by the “framing” of the contest by commentators and technical people (Clarke & Clarke, 1982; Duncan & Brummett, 1987; Gitlin, 1982; Morse, 1983; Wenner, 1989). Thus, any meanings that a television viewer con-structs from the contest are likely to be profoundly affected by the framing of the con-test (Altheide & Snow, 1979; Antin, 1982; Conrad, 1982; Duncan & Hasbrook, 1988; Fiske & Hartley, 1978; Innis, 1951; McLuhan, 1964; Morse, 1983). It is already well-documented that women’s sports are under-covered on television (Boutilier & San Giovanni, 1983; Duncan & Hasbrook, 1988; Dyer, 1987; Felshin, 1974). The vast majority of televised sports are men’s sports. Just as with newspaper editors, those who make decisions about what will be covered on television usually argue that they are simply “giving the public what it wants.” Programming decisions clearly are circumscribed by market realities, and research does indicate that with few exceptions, men’s athletic events draw more spectators than women’s. But one question that arises concerns the reciprocal effect of, on the one hand, public attitudes, values and tastes, and on the other hand, the quantity and quality of coverage of certain kinds of athletic events. What comes first: public “disinterest” in televised women’s athletics, or lack of quality coverage? Perhaps a more timely question now that women’s sports are getting at least incrementally more coverage is: How do the ways that women’s and men’s sports are covered on television affect the “interest” of the public in these events?

A. Visual and Aural Framing of Contests

It has been well-documented that television is, in its essence, a medium which constructs and manipulates feelings (Corcoran, 1984; Gitlin, 1982; Real, 1989; Wenner, 1989). It follows, then, that television networks’ different levels of commitment to producing, editing and presenting men’s and women’s sports are likely to produce very different feelings in viewers-feelings that operate below the level of conscious thought. The men’s games are produced and framed in such a way that viewers are likely to feel that they are privileged to be watching an exciting, dramatic spectacle which is of historic importance. The television crew clearly has done its job in creating an emotionally-charged context. The eyes of the world appear to be focused on this all-important event. The viewer is invited to sit back and enjoy it with everybody else.

By contrast, women’s games have a lower budget feel to them. The lower technical quality, less colorful or exciting visuals and less informative verbal commentary, combined with production decisions which frame the women’s contests ambivalently combine to add to viewers’ perhaps already existing sense that women’s basketball is less important, and of lower quality. The overall effect of the presentation of the women’s games is that we are viewing not a dramatic, historic spectacle, but rather, a less-than-dramatic game. This ambivalent framing of women’s basketball is likely to add to viewers’ already-existing doubts about the importance of the women’s game. The subtext seems to be that the real event is tomorrow “up the road at the Dome.”

B. Commentary on Women and Men Athletes

Language is never neutral. An analysis of language reveals embedded social meanings, including overt and covert social biases, stereotypes, and inequities. There is an extensive body of literature which documents how language both reflects and rein-forces gender inequalities (Baron, 1986; Henley, 1977, 1987; Lakoff, 1975; Miller & Swift, 1977, 1980; Schultz, 1975; Spender, 1980; Thorne, Kramarae & Henley, 1985; Van Den Bergh, 1987.) In a recent study of the gendered language of sport, sociologists D. Stanley Eitzen and Maxine Baca Zinn (1989: 364) argue that: [Gendered] language places women and men within a system of differentiation and stratification. Language suggests how women and men are to be evaluated. Language embodies negative and positive value stances and valuations related to how certain groups within society are appraised. Language in general is filled with biases about women and men. Specific linguistic conventions are sexist when they isolate or stereotype some aspect of an individual’s nature or the nature of a group of individuals based on their sex.

The sports media reflect the social conventions of gender-biased language. In so doing, they reinforce the biased meanings built into language, and thus contribute to the re-construction of social inequities. This study identified three general areas of difference in the language used to discuss and describe women and men athletes: (1) differential verbal and graphic gender marking; (2) differential use of first names when discussing players; and (3) differential use of verbal descriptors by commentators. We will discuss briefly the implications of these differences.

1. Gender Marking

Our observations of tennis reveal that women’s and men’s matches are verbally gender-marked in a roughly equivalent manner, though the pink (for women) and blue (for men) graphic on-screen logos tend to mark gender in a manner which reinforces conventional gender stereotypes. In basketball, the data reveal a dramatic asymmetry: Women’s games are constantly gender marked, while men’s games are never gender marked. Team names (e.g., “Lady Techsters, Lady Tigers, Lady Volunteers”) are an example of gender marking that has been criticized by sociologists as “contributing to the maintenance of male dominance within college athletics by defining women athletes and women’s athletic programs as second class and trivial” (Eitzen & Baca Zinn,1989: 362). In the three women’s basketball games examined, team names are gender marked 53 times graphically, 49 times verbally (a total of 102 times). However, we chose not to count gender-marked team names in our tabulations (see Table 2) because they are the responsibility of their respective universities, not the networks or commentators.

We can conclude, though, that the combination of on-screen graphics, verbal commentary, and team names and logos amounts to a constant level of gender marking in the women’s games. By contrast, the men’s games always are referred to simply as “the national championship game,” etc. As a result, the men’s games and tournament are presented as the norm, the universal, while the women’s continually are marked as the other, derivative (and by implication, inferior) to the men’s.

2. Hierarchies of Naming by Gender and Race

The language which the commentators use to describe women is often infantilizing, (“girls,” “young ladies,”) while the language used to describe men (“men,” “young men,”) linguistically grants them adult status. This occurs despite the fact that the women and men athletes are all roughly the same age, particularly in the case of basketball players who are all college students, and thus are nearly exactly the same age.

As Nancy Henley (1977) has demonstrated in her research, “dominants” (either by social class, age, occupational position, race, or gender) are most commonly referred to by their last names (often prefaced by titles such as “Mr.”). Henley points out that “dominants” generally have license to refer to “subordinates” (younger people, employees, lower class people, ethnic minorities, women, etc.) by their first names. The practice of referring more “formally” to dominants, and more “informally” to subordinates linguistically grants the former adult status, while marking the latter in an infantilizing way. This “hierarchy of naming”-by gender as well as by race-is clearly evident in the sports events which we analyzed. Tennis commentators’ tendency to utilize the first name only of women athletes (52.7% of the time) far more frequently than men athletes (7.8% of the time) reflects and reinforces the lower status of women athletes. The data also suggest that it is not simply gender hierarchy which is being linguistically constructed here. There also appears to be a “hierarchy of naming” operating. At the top of the linguistic hierarchy sit white “men,” whose last names always are used; followed by black “men,” who sometimes are called by only their first names; fol-lowed by “girls,” and “young ladies,” who frequently are called by only their first names. We find no racial differences in terms of how women athletes are named. This suggests, following the theory of gender stratification developed by Connell (1987) and applied to sport by Messner (1989), Messner & Sabo (1990) and Kidd (1987), that sports media reinforce the overall tendency of sport to be an institution which simultaneously (1) constructs and legitimizes men’s overall power and privilege over women; and (2) constructs and legitimizes heterosexual, white, middle class men’s power and privilege over subordinated and marginalized groups of men.

3. Differences in Use of Descriptors for Women and Men Athletes

The combined effect of focusing more on strength than on weakness, more on success than on failure, and of using many and varied martial metaphors and power descriptors when describing men athletes has the effect of linguistically weaving an aura of power, strength and human agency around male athletes. By contrast, commentators in women’s games tend to utilize martial metaphors and power descriptors far less frequently, to employ a much higher proportion of verbal attributions of weakness, and tend to focus on reasons for an individual’s failure, rather than reasons why her opponent won. In the USA tennis broadcast, commentator Anne White repeatedly undercut her descriptions of the women’s strength, power, and skill with allusions to their emotionality. There was so much discussion of the affective states of the female players that one is left with a sense of apparent emotional fragility of female athletes. As a result of this sort of practice, even attributes of strength for women are often verbally couched in ambivalence (e.g., “strong girl”). As a result, commentators tend to weave around women athletes a linguistic web of ambivalence.

Can these differences always be interpreted as implying “sexism” on the part of the commentators? After all, there are identifiable objective differences in men’s and women’s style of playing basketball and tennis. For instance, the “vicious slam dunk” in men’s basketball has very few counterparts in women’s basketball. And in mixed doubles tennis, the only example of women and men playing as teammates and as opponents, commentary abounds about the men’s power and domination of vulnerable women opponents, and about men needing to “cover” for their weaker female team-mates. This commentary does reflect a common reality in strategies of mixed doubles play. Men’s serves, overheads, and other shots, do tend to be more powerful than women’s. In terms of “power descriptors,” then, the question is not just quantitative, but how and when power descriptors are used comparatively. The commentary can either dwell on this in ways that over-emphasize these differences, or commentary can focus on other issues of strategy and on the positive things that the women do. Most of the commentary which we examined does the former. Here, a “real difference” constantly is marked and over-emphasized by the commentary, resulting in the reassertion of the association of men and masculinity with power, and the association of women and femininity with weakness (Duncan & Hasbrook, 1988; Messner, 1988, 1990).

4. Less Overt Gender Stereotyping in Commentary Compared with Past Studies

Studies of the 1970’s through the mid-1980’s, revealed that women athletes, when they were reported about on television at all, were likely to be overtly trivialized, infantilized, and sexualized (Boutilier & San Giovanni, 1983; Dyer, 1987; Felshin, 1974). Though the televised sports news that we analyzed was obviously overtly biased against women, most of the gender bias in the commentary on women’s basketball and tennis was fairly subtle.

Though subtle stereotyping can be as dangerous as overt sexism, we see the de-cline of overtly sexist language as an indication that some commentators are becoming more committed to presenting women’s athletics fairly. For instance, as we noted, Steve Physioc re-named “man-to-man defense” as “player-to-player” defense. This is an example of a conscious decision to replace androcentric language with language which is not gendered. Though Physioc did not do this consistently, the fact that he did it at all was an indication of his awareness of the gender biases built into the con-ventional language of sports. Critics might argue that changing language subverts the history or the “purity” of the game. The general response to this argument is that terminology used to describe sports constantly is changing. Viewed in this context of change, Physioc’s use of “player-to-player defense” can be viewed as a linguistic recog-nition that something significant has happened to basketball: It is no longer simply a men’s game. There are women players out there, and the language used to report their games should reflect it.

Language does not simply change as a “reflection” of social reality. Language also helps to construct social reality. Thus, it is imperative that those who report and comment on sport become conscious of the values underlying the language that they use on television. They can choose to use the conventional androcentric language- and thus help to shore up an old system of male dominance and superiority. Or they can choose to consciously create and use language which is not gendered. The choice to use non-sexist language is a choice to linguistically affirm the right of women athletes to fair and equal treatment. And it will contribute to the construction of a more egalitarian society (Van Den Bergh, 1987). We speculate that the differences in our findings, when compared with these recent studies, are an indication that public discussion of these linguistic patterns has raised the consciousness of commentators. What was being done at a less-than-conscious level by well-meaning, but perhaps subtly biased commentators, was revealed by researchers and journalists and discussed in public forums. Commentators then chose to change the ways that they report. If this interpretation is correct, it is indeed a positive phenomenon which speaks optimistically of the possibilities for change.

VI. References

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Appendix A

A Selected List of Sports Events in Which Women Competed
July 2, 1989 – August 15, 1989


July 7-9: Jamie Farr Toledo Classic ($275,000)
July 13-16: U.S. Women’s Open ($450,000)
July 20-23: Boston Five Classic ($350,000)
July 28-30: Atlanta City Classic ($225,000)
August 4-6: Greater Washington Open ($300,000)


June 26-July 9: Wimbledon All-England Championships ($1,430,387)
July 17-23: Virginia Slims – Newport ($200,000)
August 7-13: Virginia Slims – Los Angeles ($300,000)
August 14-15: Virginia Slims – Albuquerque ($100,000)


July 3-13: World Maccabiah Games
July 5-16: Fencing – World and Pan American Championships
July 7-9: Gymnastics – U.S. Championships
July 10-23: Cycling – Women’s Tour de France
July 17-27: Water Polo – FINA World Cup
July 21-30: U.S. Olympic Festival ‘ 89
July 24-29: Cycling – Senior National Track Championships
July 31-August 4: Swimming – Phillips 66/U.S. Long Course National Championships
August 2-8: Pentathlon – World Championships
August 5-12: AAU Junior Olympic Games
August 8-15: Yachting World Championships
August 11-19: Softball – Major Fast Pitch Championships
August 12-13: Waterskiing – National Show Ski Championships
August 14-20: Cycling – Senior World Track Championships
August 15-19: Diving – Phillips 66/U.S. Outdoor Championships

Appendix B

List of Descriptors
(Used at Least Once)

1. Martial Metaphors And Power Descriptors

A. Basketball

Men: Buries, bangs in, yanks, firepower, ambushed, explode, whips, hits, punches, fights, battles, knocks, routed, pounds, misfire, attack, stalk, force, exert pressure, wrestling, squeezing trigger, scorch, fully armed, duel, shootout, bullet pass, penetrate, warrior, big guns, jam, powers ball in, fire away

Women: Penetrate, knock, fire, power move, explode, active, neutralize, drive, top gun, explodes, big gun, slaps, rifles, battling

B. Tennis

Men: Weapons, smash, stab, like a heavyweight championship fight, bullets, bolo punch, waging battle, guns, killed, attacked, fires, destroyed, blasting away, drawing first blood, jumping on each other, keeping his guns in his pockets, first strike player, here’s a guy that wants to gather the guns right now, the ball hit the net cord like a rifle crack

Women: Battle, avenge, attacks, arsenal, stab, counter-puncher, dogfight, explode, bullet, rockets, duel

2. Attributions of Strength and Weakness

A. Basketball

Men: Leadership, confident, strong move, wisely, power move, very calm, no emotion on sidelines, fearless, composure, smart, great hands and power, big team, incredible upper body strength, strong forearms, solid fundamentals, power, tough hands, great bulk, very intelligent, big strong body, powerful hands, big and tall, brutal, brilliant, good judgment, leader, pressure-free, focused, not nervous, master, gutsy, poise under pressure

Women: Good decision, smart move, excellent body control, holding up to presure, wisely done, leader, great player, mature, poised, shows no emotion, great athlete, big girls, powerful, strong, finesse, angry young lady, body strength, outmuscles, courage, so strong, aggressive, tough, tremendous athlete, mobile, active, confident, quick, composure, finesse, imposing figure, well-composed, directs traffic, comfortable, offensive power, dominant force

Men: Mental mistakes, jittery, not a very smart shot, struggles, tired, panicked, not rested

Women: Weary young lady, frustrated, out of sync, not responding well to pressure, needs to settle down, overanxious, tiny, small, frustration, little girl, dependence, struggles, trouble, not as comfortable, hesitant

B. Tennis

Men: Power, big serve, big tall guy, very strong, chooses, understands the art, directs traffic, jam him in the body, with authority, deadly backhand, calculated risk, very strong, imposing his will, lightening strikes, daring them to hit him, heavy second serve, he’s his own man, his own law, doesn’t flinch at the net, huge reach, solid, cool control, has the last word, hardest hitter, big forehand, not afraid, pounds the ball, savvy, fighting spirit, very smart, huge serve, tough scrapper, he dives for hard shots-see his knees are scarred up, the guns are out of his pocket, stubborn, tremendous fighter, doesn’t need our advice, fools him, playing high-risk tennis, reach back and find it when you need it, big Boris Becker, big hard first serve important as a weapon, heavyweights, very intelligent, fit and confident, very athletic, two huge power players, swinging driving volley, big power grip forehand, tremendous power, faked him out, success breeds success, bang that first serve in- marvelous, such a natural big point player, heavy hitting, destroyed Noah, left some flesh on the cement, yank him around, hitting the ball about 800 miles an hour, eyes like a hawk, continues to dictate points, plays his big bang theory: big serve, big return

Women: Confidence, got it together, forces, storming back, playing aggressively, big returns, alert, dictating policy, in control, gutsy, took initiative, quicker and stronger, in complete command, intelligent lobbing, tough, tenacious, experienced, hits the ball so hard, dominant, big weapon, naked aggression, big forehand, pounds ball, terrific aggression, relentless, applying pressure, very fit person, strong mentally, so fit, great keenness and enthusiasm, intense, cocky shot, very strong, intimidating, huge forehand, Navratilova’s short little compact swing, fakes her out, smart play, coming through in the crunch, makes it look easy, big forehand, aggressive at the the net, taking the initiative, lauching the return, she’s pumped, aggressive and intense, so solid, she can put some high-power on that overhead, smart backhand, good get, raising her spirits in this game and playing with a lot of emotion, big swing, really exhibited some positive body language on that serve, when the going gets rough Martina really responds, big brilliant forehand rally, explodes up the middle, taking control at the net, emerging as the hero, a real tug-of-war

C. Mixed Doubles

Men: Kill, intimidate the girl, take control, when in doubt, hit the ball back to the woman, drill the ball at the woman

Women: Smart girl, not showing any signs of tension, confident

Note: In mixed doubles, attributions of strength for men are often simultaneously attributions of weakness for women, while attribution of strength for women are often ambivalent.

Men: Doesn’t have a huge game or big weapons, a little indecision, most vulnerable man on the court, stamina might be a problem, butterflies, emotionally bottled up, having some trouble getting loose, feeling dizzy, body wracked by torture, losing concentration, young kid, nervous sweats, he wasn’t attacking or moving well, he knows he had a chance on that serve, and that’s why he’s moaning to himself, he just created his own error and that’s what makes you so mad, not feeling that confident, still on himself, shaky start, didn’t have that spunk in his legs, having trouble with his serves, weary, worries, that hurts, too tired, had a back problem, had groin problems, looked a little leg weary, couldn’t handle it, a very nervous game

Women: Nervous, nearly lost it all, nerves, less aggressive, shaky, lost control, not a very intelligent attempt, running out of gas, so much work for her, after she lost… she wanted to go home, became tired and sore in her previous match, tired and wounded, starting to come unglued, depressed, leg weary, buy time and rejuvenate, has faded out before, not getting any stronger, mind is willing but the body isn’t, tired swings, running on fumes, dejected, suffering, extremely upset about her loss, confused, lower neck injury, lack of confidence, just didn’t get under the ball, a little ticked off that she missed that one, in a quandry, not real centered right now, needs to put some more hard work in on the tennis court, a little flat, doesn’t have that spring in her step, snoozing at the net, feeling a little pressure, screaming, on emotional overflow, a little perturbed, really hard on herself, still upset from yesterday, first serve continues to be a mystery, a little lack of enthusiasm on that play, flat-footed all day, seems mystified (by her own shot), getting a little bit desperate, tentative, (partners) yakking in each other’s ears, emotionally draining, grimacing, tension, distraught, missed a lot of balls today, missed at least 12 serves during practice, concentration lapse, lucky to get his ball, choking on her serve

3. Attributions of Success and Failure

A. Basketball

Men: Experience, physical condition, strength, hustle, knowledge of game, quickness, skill level, intelligence, good judgment, height of team, good teamwork, good blood lines and genetics, guts, poise, physical ability, speed, gifted physically and mentally, perfect timing, old-fashioned hard work, courage, size, talent, good leadership, good coaching, showing no emotion

Women: Good coaching, getting along with each other, helping each other out, close chemistry, bigger and better, skill and luck, patience in offense and defense, big hearts, good athlete, quick, courage, leadership, hard work, hustle, composure, emotional preparation, execution, skills, teamwork, experience, victory because they are family

Men: Bad judgment, team can be too hesitant, lack of concentration, fatigue, wear and tear, impatience, abandoning game plan, bad judgment

Women: Size disadvantage, nerves, laziness because of dependence, inactivity, lack of composure, tight rims, not settled into offense


Co-Investigated by
Margaret Carlisle Duncan, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Michael A. Messner, Ph.D., University of Southern California
Linda Williams, Ph.D.
Kerry Jensen, Research Assistant, University of Southern California

Edited by
Wayne Wilson, Ph.D., Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles

Sponsored by
The Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles
August 1990

5th Annual LA84 Foundation Summit - October 27, 2016 - Learn more