“Whoever controls the media, controls the mind” – Jim Morrison

The words segregation and inequality are often used to describe the relationship between men and women. Within our society, we are segregated by ethnicity, age, and gender at a very young age (Trolan, 2013). One of the first things an individual learns within society is differentiating between whether they are a boy or a girl. At a very young age, we are mentally programmed to segregate based on our physical appearances: male and female. Inequality comes next. Whenever groups of people or isolated and divided, they will always feel that they are treated unfairly. It is clear through history that women have been treated as lesser of the two compared to their male counterparts. In more recent times, it is not as obvious but inequality still exists in the form of segregation within sports and media coverage. Mass media helps society with this by enforcing negative stereotypes through televisions shows, advertising and digital films (Jackson, 2014). How can the media justify their actions in imposing inequality in media coverage between genders? Further segregating athletes based on their body types rather than reporting on their level of athleticism and skills?

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Women in sports have always been preceded as the lesser of the two compared to men in their athleticism or skills. In a world where roles are heavily defined by the gender of an individual rather than their skills or potential, women are often neglected from the public eye through biased media coverage through major networks. With the most recent summer Olympics in Rio de Janerio, the difference in media coverage between genders is clearer than ever before. Female athletes had received different sports media coverage that segregated them by gender apart from their counterparts within the same sporting event. They also received different type of coverage where their appearance and physic were often discussed more than their ability to perform as an athlete (Kane & Lenskyj, 1998).

While men’s sports received more coverage overall, female athletes were left with filler air times and were often outshines by male dominate events (Melton, 2016). A study was conducted in 2015 by the University of Southern California and found that a major sports network, ESPN, only spent 2 percent of it’s broadcast time on women’s sports where as giving the other 98 percent of their airtime to male athletes. That would actually be considered a decline in female athlete sports coverage according to another study conducted in 1990 with the AAF television study (Duncan & Messner, 1998). Where they found that men’s sports received 92 percent of total network airtime where as women received 5 percent. The remainder three percent went towards gender-neutral topics. A fair example of this can be seen at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Within Canadian teams alone, although female athletes won more medals overall, they received only a portion of the coverage male athletes had within 16-day broadcasting. The Canadian men’s teams didn’t win a medal until the 9th day of the events and yet they got play-by-play coverage and the female athletes were only mentioned in the highlights (Spencer, 2016). It was as if the networks did not anticipate any of the female athletes to place on the podium.

Most noticeably, women received large amounts of coverage only for events defined as more feminine, such as gymnastics and beach volleyball, rather than more masculine or male dominated sports, such as basketball, soccer or rugby (Jones, 1999). Simply even looking at the individuals who are identified as sports experts or reporters from the networks are generally male. Despite the sport that is being broadcasted, the panel of sports experts reporting on the event are predominately male if not all male. Even for a generalized feminine sport like female gymnastics, at the Rio Olympics, two of the three colour commentators were male. Even just researching on the medal count for Canada at the Rio Olympics, I didn’t even know the Canadian women’s team in team pursuit had won a bronze medal or that a team from Canada had even competed in that event.

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This inequality of media coverage also extended to play-by-play commentary within the Rio Olympic games. Where commentators often made very sexist or typical comments towards the athletes regarding the performance and appearance. In the case of Serena Williams during the 2002 U.S. Tennis Open, she received a great deal of attention regarding the outfit she wore rather than her outstanding performance (Schultz, 2005). During the 2002 U.S. Open, Serena Williams wore a black slim one-piece outfit that has been described as body-clinging, faux leather, black cat suit, openly sexualizing a female athlete on her attire rather than her performance in the competition. Serena Williams ended up winning the tournament but has become more well known for wearing a outfit deemed outrageous. Remarks were made about her physic as well describing her as muscular rather than having the typical feminine slim petite figure. Imposing a double standard onto women athletes, where they are expected to present top levels of athleticism without distributing signs of masculinity with their bodies (Couture, 2016). On the other hand, the media coverage male players receive almost entirely consist of commentary about their skills and performance during the game (Melton, 2016).

This inequality of media coverage also extended to play-by-play commentary within the Rio Olympic games. Where commentators often made very sexist or typical comments towards the athletes regarding the performance and appearance. In the case of Serena Williams during the 2002 U.S. Tennis Open, she received a great deal of attention regarding the outfit she wore rather than her outstanding performance (Schultz, 2005). During the 2002 U.S. Open, Serena Williams wore a black slim one-piece outfit that has been described as body-clinging, faux leather, black cat suit, openly sexualizing a female athlete on her attire rather than her performance in the competition. Serena Williams ended up winning the tournament but has become more well known for wearing a outfit deemed outrageous. Remarks were made about her physic as well describing her as muscular rather than having the typical feminine slim petite figure. Imposing a double standard onto women athletes, where they are expected to present top levels of athleticism without distributing signs of masculinity with their bodies (Couture, 2016). On the other hand, the media coverage male players receive almost entirely consist of commentary about their skills and performance during the game (Melton, 2016).

This inequality of media coverage also extended to play-by-play commentary within the Rio Olympic games. Where commentators often made very sexist or typical comments towards the athletes regarding the performance and appearance. In the case of Serena Williams during the 2002 U.S. Tennis Open, she received a great deal of attention regarding the outfit she wore rather than her outstanding performance (Schultz, 2005). During the 2002 U.S. Open, Serena Williams wore a black slim one-piece outfit that has been described as body-clinging, faux leather, black cat suit, openly sexualizing a female athlete on her attire rather than her performance in the competition. Serena Williams ended up winning the tournament but has become more well known for wearing a outfit deemed outrageous. Remarks were made about her physic as well describing her as muscular rather than having the typical feminine slim petite figure. Imposing a double standard onto women athletes, where they are expected to present top levels of athleticism without distributing signs of masculinity with their bodies (Couture, 2016). On the other hand, the media coverage male players receive almost entirely consist of commentary about their skills and performance during the game (Melton, 2016).

In the recent Rio Summer Olympics, athletes also receive the similar media coverage from sports experts/commentators. In the one of the events for the U.S. women’s gymnastic team, an American commentator commented on how easily the U.S. women’s team won the round by commenting, “might as well be standing in the middle of a mall” (Melton, 2016). Referring to the stereotypical things a average teenage American girl would be doing on her free time. Rather than commenting on the high level of skill in completing the event and physical shape the U.S. women’s gymnastic team were in, the commentator chose to make a stereotypical remark. This isn’t the first time that the broadcasting networks have gave female athletes segregated and unequal sports coverage.

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In addition, in the media coverage for female athletes that had won Olympic medals, they were presented as partner figures of their male counterparts and some female athletes’ names were never even mentioned. This would include Chicago Tribune’s coverage of bronze medal Olympian Corey Cogdell-Unrein who competed in trap shooting (Melton, 2016). In a posting, she was labeled as “wife” of a Chicago football player, not mentioning her name once in the article. A study conducted by Cambridge University also found that words such as “strong”, “great”, and “fast” were often used to describe male athlete performance while female athletes received comments such as “married”, “older”, and “pregnant” (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

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A study that was conducted by Vincent, J. (2004) found that media coverage around female athletes focused more on their physical appearance rather than their athletic skills and abilities. Taking into account of hair, make-up, and body shape, female athletes received a segregated type of broadcast coverage compare to male athletes. The study also revealed that, for female athletes, their heterosexual attractiveness dictated their success within their sport, regardless of actually level of athleticism or skill. The study gave a former tennis star, Anna Kournikova and Maria Sharipova, as examples. Although Ms. Kournikova never won a single major tennis tournament, she was considered one of the highest net-worth player in the league due to her “scantily clad figure and Eurocentric features” making her the most photographic player. The media coverage she had received focused more on her family life, boyfriends, and nightlife more than her skill or athletic ability. For Maria Sharipova, who has won major tennis tournaments and was a phenomenal athlete, also received a high level of media coverage due to her attractive features. Very similar to Serena Williams in the previous example, her skills as a tennis player was often over looked and the media coverage she has received focused more on her soft skin as a young beautiful girl.

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The inequality and segregation of media coverage female athletes is not something that can be fixed over night or by a singular group. To take a step forward, one thing media stations should implement that would fight against inequality towards female athletes would be to hire more gender equal team within sports coverage (Davidson, 2016). The source of some sexualized and stereotypical comments made by reporters or sports commentators are often said simply because they are not well informed or lack the sensibility within a male dominated work place (The Current, 2016). By creating a more gender-neutral workplace within sports media, it would allow for more background researching and sensible sports reporting. Rather than referring the female athletes as “girls”, even though majority of the stated athletes are over the age of 24, sports commentators can use words like “women” as they are identified within their sports categories (Jackson, 2014).

Cambridge University Press. (2016, August 1). Aesthetics or athletics? Retrieved November 25, 2016, from Information For The Media: http://www.cambridge.org/about-us/media/press-releases/aesthetics-or-athletics/

Couture, J. (2016). Triathlon Magazine Canada and the (Re-)Construction of Female Sporting Bodies. Sociology of Sport Journal , 124-134.

Davidson, C. (2016, July 20). Five strategies for creating gender equality in the media. Retrieved November 25, 2016, from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/media-network/2016/jul/20/five-strategies-creating-gender-equality-media

Duncan, M., & Messner, M. (1998). THe Media Image of Sport and Gender. Mediasport , 170-185.

Jackson, S. (2014). Globalization, corporate nationalism and masculinity in Canada: sport Molson beer advertising and consumer citizenship. Sport in Society: Culture, Commerce, Media, Politics , 901-916.

Jones, R. M. (1999). Pretty versus powerful in the sport pages: Print media coverage of U.S. women’s Olympic gold medal winning teams. Journal of Sport and Social Issues , 183-192.

Kane, M., & Lenskyj, H. (1998). Media Treatment of Female Athletes: Issues of Gender and Sexualities. Mediasport , 186-201.

Melton, M. (2016, August 22). Social Media Points Out Sexism in Olympics Coverage. Retrieved November 25, 2016, from Learning Eenglish – Voa News: http://learningenglish.voanews.com/a/social-media-highlights-sexism-in-olympic-games-2016/3475395.html

Schultz, J. (2005). Reading The Catsuit. Journal of Sport & Social Issues , 338-357.

Spencer, D. (2016, August 15). Rio report card, Day 9: De Grasse first Canadian man to medal, women’s basketball team collapses. Retrieved November 25, 2016, from The Star: Rio 2016: https://www.thestar.com/sports/olympics/2016/08/15/rio-report-card-day-9-de-grasse-first-canadian-man-to-medal-womens-basketball-team-collapses.html

The Current. (2016, August 10). Rio 2016: Felmale Olympians face sexism in media. Retrieved November 25, 2016, from The Current: http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-august-10-2016-1.3713483/rio-2016-female-olympians-face-sexism-in-media-1.3714648

Trolan, E. J. (2013). The Impact of the Media on Gender Inequality within Sport. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences , 215-227.

Vincent, J. (2004). Game, sex, and match: The construction of gender in British newspaper coverage of the 2000 Wimbledon championships. Sociology of Sport Journal , 435-456.

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