Women's sports coverage still lacking
article published April 14, 2000 by the American Society of
By Josť Alfredo Flores
Blame it on the women. At the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in
Atlanta, the U.S. women's basketball, soccer, softball and
gymnastics teams brought home gold and set the stage for what's
considered an explosion in women's sports.
Since "The Year of the Woman," as it was widely known, there has
been a boom in women's sports coverage , from the 1997 launch of
the Women's National Basketball Association to the 1998 U.S.
women's gold-medal hockey team to the 1999 Women's World Cup
Champion U.S. team. April 2001 will see the arrival of the
Women's United Soccer Association.
Despite such overwhelming popularity, very few reporting beats
were created to cover professional women's sports teams and
women's sports in general. This lack of coverage was the central
topic among the female sports journalists and athletes on a panel
Newspapers continue to lag behind coverage on television and the
"The sports world is changing, and we're barely reflecting this,"
said Christine Brennan, sports columnist for USA Today and
best-selling author of books on ice skating. "There is no excuse
During the weekend of Feb. 12-13 this year, three sports events
fought for television ratings. Tiger Woods was going for his
seventh consecutive golf tournament victory at the Buick
Invitational, the National Basketball Association was
stagingAll-Star weekend and Michelle Kwan was favored to win
the U.S. Figure Skating Championship.
Kwan won, but despite being a native of Los Angeles and a student
at UCLA, her feat was reported on page 13 of the Los Angeles
Times sports section.
"Why do I see figure skating all the time on TV and don't see it
on the front pages of sports sections?" Brennan asked. "TV
ratings are a measure of the popularity of the program, and
newspapers do not reflect this."
Just six years earlier, the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan Winter
Olympics rivalry brought figure skating to the forefront of the
sports world. CBS' coverage of the 1994 Short Program in figure
skating received a 48.5 ratings share, the sixth highest-rated
program ever. The only other sporting events with better ratings
were Super Bowls XVI and XVII. Despite the overwhelming increase
in interest, no figure skating beats were created.
Niche publications were created to fill the void. "The explosion
in women sports happened five years ago, but we're still waiting
for coverage of this explosion," said Sandy Bailey, editor of
Sports Illustrated for Women, which launched last month.
Much of the reason for the expansion of women's sports involves
Title IX, the 1972 law that requires federally funded
institutions give equal support to men's and women's sports.
An example of Title IX influence occurred during last year's
Women's World Cup, which brought more than 650,000 fans to
stadiums across the United States during the tournament's 32
matches, with 40 million fans watching at home during the final.
Many of the team's players including Mia Hamm, the world's most
prolific female soccer scorer with 106 career goals were born
about the time the law was passed. "They are the personification
of Title IX," Brennan said.
"People don't see how enjoyable this form of entertainment can
be," said Whitney Smith, who covers the Tennessee Lady Vols
basketball team for The (Nashville) Tennesseean. "The women's
game doesn't have the flash of the above-the-rim game seen in
men's basketball, but women should be allowed to display their
Many female sports writers say editors who oversee their work
tend not to cover women's athletics because the majority of their
readers are businessmen, who have only recently shown any
interest in these stories.
"With newspaper sizes getting smaller and others folding, it's a
gamble to try something new," said Amy Shipley, Olympics sports
beat writer for The Washington Post. "People cover what they are
used to watching."
Susan Bischoff, deputy managing editor of the Houston Chronicle,
says newspapers can't afford to ignore women's sports. "What many
editors don't realize is that girls are interested in sports, and
if they can't read about the WNBA or the U.S. women's soccer team
in the newspaper, they'll find that information on the Web or
elsewhere. In a time of dwindling circulation, newspapers cannot
lose these potential readers."
Subsequently, many female sports reporters either change sections
or leave journalism altogether. "Frustration, not the family, is
the culprit," Bailey said.
Meanwhile several professional female athletes are upset that
newspapers treat their leagues as second-class by sending either
interns, rookie or disinterested reporters out to cover their
"I can't tell you the amount of times when I had to go to a press
conference and work to get [reporters] excited," said
professional golfer Meg Mallon. "One time, a reporter told me
that I was lucky that their paper was covering our golf event and
that I better give them something to write about."
Cynthia Cooper, two-time most valuable player and three-time WNBA
champion with the Houston Comets, said she is confused with
teammate Sheryl Swoops during interviews.
"I'm tired of being Sheryl, " Cooper said. "Some journalists just
don't care. They don't do their homework, and with the Internet
it's so easy to find out about WNBA players."