Pay attention to what you don’t see in our sports coverage

Gender bias in sports media is hiding in plain sight. Every day.

Chances are, however, that you don’t recognize it because you read, see and hear only what’s in front of you, and you fail to contemplate what’s not in front of you.

But pick up a newspaper (if people still do that), go to a mainstream media sports website, or tune your flatscreen to an all-jock TV channel, and if you look and listen closely enough (you won’t have to strain) you’ll notice what’s absent from the coverage.

That’s right, female sports.

Oh, sure, the jock outlets acknowledge activity on the distaff portion of the playground, but it’s extremely sparingly and often done begrudgingly, like a parent allowing a child to stay up an extra hour on a school night. Just don’t do it too often, if you know what’s good for you.

I mean, if an editor were to deliver an inordinate amount of female sports coverage, chances are readers/viewers would be lickety-split with a reminder that “nobody cares” about the girls and women who run, jump, throw, skate and bounce balls.

The only sports that seem to generate close to equitable content are tennis and, in Canada, curling. Oh, there’s also figure skating. For some reason, mainstream news snoops are rather smitten with female fancy skaters, most likely because they tend to be dainty and delicate creatures who smile a lot and perhaps remind them of their sisters or daughters. But that’s only 10 days every four years when the Olympic Games torch is aflame.

Otherwise, sports reporting remains a man’s world run (mostly) by men, talked about (mostly) by men, and written about (mostly) by men.

That was confirmed (once again) earlier this year by TIDES, The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, which studied, then graded 100 newspapers/websites with a big, fat F for their gender hiring practices. That F doesn’t stand for fantastic, fabulous or fine.

“While women saw slight improvements in 2021, the overall record of the sports media for having women in prominent positions remains terrible,” said Richard Lapchick, Director of the Institute.

Here’s the evidence:

  • 83.3 percent of sports editors were men.
  • 75.8 percent of assistant sports editors were men.
  • 82.2 percent of columnists were men.
  • 85.6 percent of reporters were men.
  • 75.3 percent of copy editors/designers were men.
  • 78.1 percent of web specialists were men.
  • 63.7 percent of upper management were men.

No surprise, therefore, that the huge majority of decision-makers assume the consumer wants (demands?) a steady diet of the big-ticket items, which is to say major men’s professional team sports. So why would they be inclined to force-feed readers/viewers a bag of unsalted peanuts and a glass of soda water when nachos, cheeseburgers, extra-large pizza with double cheese, and pints (tall boys, naturally) are available. Pig out, boys.

All of which explains the numerous studies that historically peg the amount of female-centric content in sports coverage anywhere from 3-to-5 percent. (See: USC/Purdue University.)

The gender bias is blatant and yet subtle.

For example, Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail recently wrote an essay on the Canadian men’s national soccer side giving Mexico the cold shoulder in a frost-bitten, World Cup qualifying skirmish in frigid Edmonton.

“For the first time in our sporting history,” he submitted, “Canada may have an enemy that isn’t Slavic or Scandinavian.”

Say again? I assume “our sporting history” includes women’s hockey, so what part of the Canada-U.S. rivalry in Ponytail Puck does Kelly not understand?

I mean, I realize Donald Trump did a few loopy things while in the White House, but I don’t recall him selling America―lock, stock and the right to bear arms―to a Slavic or Scandinavian nation. The good, ol’ U.S. and A. is still in North American, due south of our Frozen Tundra, and there’s no True North sporting thrust-and-parry that matches the bitterness and intensity of Canada vs. the Yankee Doodle Damsels on a sheet of ice.

But Kelly’s comment is typical of mainstream jock journalism. Unless someone has lit the Olympic Games torch, female sports is a tree falling in the forest and no one has been assigned to see or hear it.

Another example would be the debut of the Toronto Six, a member in good standing of the Premier Hockey Federation (nee National Women’s Hockey League). The Six dropped the puck on the first home assignment in franchise history on Saturday, and whupped the Connecticut Whale in front of a packed York Canlan Ice Arena. Here’s how mainstream media in the Republic of Tranna handled the event:

TSN: 0 coverage on 60-minute highlights show.
Sportsnet: 0 coverage on 60-minute highlights show.
Toronto Sun: 0 words in print edition; 0 words on website.
Toronto Star: 0 words in print edition; 135 words of CP copy on website.

The following day, the unbeaten and first-place Six doubled down with another victory over the Whale, which warranted a 55-word sports brief in the Star and no mention on the TV highlight packages or in the tabloid.

In another daily on another patch of the Frozen Tundra, the Winnipeg Free Press boasts of a robust record on the female sports file, yet the numbers scream, “That’s bogus!”

September 2021
Men’s articles/briefs: 409
Women’s articles/briefs: 29
Editions that included local female sports coverage: 7 of 30.

October 2021
Men’s articles/briefs: 456
Women’s articles/briefs: 32
Editions that included local female sports coverage: 11 of 31.

The Freep toy department is governed by men and its stable of scribes is devoid of females, although that isn’t unusual given that, across the vast land, Jills who write about jocks are as scarce as smiles and belly laughs at a gravesite.

That isn’t apt to change any time soon because, based on the latest TIDES study, change to gender bias on the sports media landscape is moving slower than the globe’s glaciers, and the women don’t have a Greta Thunberg prepared to stand up and raise a big stink about it.

Thus the bias, both blatant and subtle, shall continue unchecked, and the men who make the decisions don’t need to care.

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