No, that's not a typo: Only 1.6 percent of sports coverage on L.A.'s three major network affiliates went to women's sports. On ESPN Sportscenter, it's 1.4 percent. It's just slightly higher when you add in ticker-tape coverage. And it's getting worse, not better: Those numbers are down from about 5 percent in 1989. And a major part of that drop, according to study co-author Michael Messner of the University of Southern California, is because of a drop in "insulting or trivialization or humorous sexualization of women athletes, like a nude bungee jumper or leering court reports on tennis players like Anna Kournikova or later Maria Sharapova."
When you see that kind of coverage disappear, what also disappears is coverage of women's sports at all. I think part of this has to do with the fact that a lot of these sports reporters, on the evening news especially, are the same guys, basically, who we saw in 1989 and 1993: Fred Rogan at KNBC, Jim Hill at KCBS, it's the same reporters and they are doing the same stuff. I think one of the keys to this when thinking about Sportscenter and the evening news is it's kind of a men's club, though Sportscenter does include a couple of women reporters, but the news shows really don't. It's been really interesting this week since our report came out: Only women reporters have seen fit to cover this as a story. I think there is some reason to think if we could desegregate the sports desk on newspapers and in TV news and so forth, you might get a little bit more respectful coverage of women's sports….
I think they make conscious decisions about what they cover every day, but I think there is a tremendous amount of inertia as well. And only a part of it has to do with the fact it's men making most of these decisions. Men are capable of doing really good sports reporting on women's sports, and a lot of men really like women's sports. But I think there is a fear on a lot of their parts if they don't stay with the big three sports. About three-fourths of all the news coverage we saw was of men's football, men's basketball and men's baseball. So it is important that we recognize that it's not just women's sports that are getting edged out of this, it's a whole lot of the other men's sports as well.
It's not that women's sports are unpopular. As Messner points out, more than 11 million people attended NCAA women's basketball games in 2009-10, and Title IX has helped foster an explosion in girls' participation in sports in recent decades. But with male-heavy newsrooms and intense bottom-line pressures from the bosses, there's just no room in corporate reporting for the female half of sports news.
Read Dave Zirin's interview with Messner at TheNation.com (7/6/10).