More than 40 years after Title IX passed, participation levels for girls and women in sports is at an all-time high in the U.S. We can celebrate the fact that we have the highest number of participation opportunities for females at all levels than ever before. However, male athletes still dramatically outnumber female athletes, and we have yet to see gender equality in the number of college scholarships available and amount of media coverage and resources directed to girls’ and women’s sports.
The Chicken or the Egg?
A false narrative has been created that reinforces the idea that “no one” is interested in women’s sports. As a result of this perceived lack of interest, many women’s sports are not covered by the media, and if they’re not covered, then people don’t see women’s sports and aren’t interested. You can begin to see where “the chicken or the egg” scenario comes into play here.
The reality, however, is that many people are very interested in women’s sports. Just last year there was an outrage over the lack of access and media coverage of the NCAA Women’s College Hockey Championships. We can further illustrate this point with basketball: Currently in its 16th year, the WNBA is far surpassing the attendance figures seen in the 16th year of the NBA. Women’s sports may be more popular than many people realize.
New Developments in Women’s Sports Coverage
In fact, in the last six months some really exciting developments have occurred that might point to a cultural shift and spark even more growth in women’s sports, as we see more and more women’s sports on TV. ESPN, for example, just signed a contract to show both more WNBA games and college women’s basketball games than we’ve ever seen before. Last spring we were also able to view full coverage of the NCAA Women’s College World Series (WCWS). These three developments in major media coverage show that ESPN and other media outlets are making a major commitment to women’s sports. Scholars, fans and advocates for women’s sports hope increased coverage will lead to a rise in visibility and popularity which will then lead to even more coverage. It’s a domino effect. However, keep in mind that currently female athletes receive just 2-4% of all televised sport media coverage on major news networks and ESPN—a number that has declined in the last decade.
I love watching the array of talented female athletes getting prime time TV coverage, and the recent expansion and improvement in production quality is one major step forward. The impact of this coverage is important because it can lead to many positive consequences for young girls and women. Too often there’s a double standard at play in sports media coverage. When male athletes receive media attention, such coverage is primarily focused on their skilled performance. This is not always the case for females. If we see female athletes being covered consistently and in legitimate ways that highlight athletic ability and competence, then young girls and women see the possibility of what it looks like to be a female athlete.
I am optimistic for the future of women’s athletics, but action is still needed.
3 Tips to Support Female Involvement in Sports
There are a large number of barriers to sports participation for both young boys and girls, but from our research, we know that there are many more for girls. Barriers are complicated, complex, numerous and depend a great deal on the social position of the girl. For some families, it’s money, for some it’s transportation, and for some it could be access to quality coaches. No matter the barrier a young female athlete faces, here are three ways parents and schools can encourage girls to become involved, and maintain involvement, in sports.
- For parents, finding an activity the girl likes and enjoys is of utmost importance. It could be anything: basketball, cross country, yoga, dance, etc. You can best help by presenting the options available and then letting the girls choose.
- For schools, offer programs girls want. As Title IX states, gender equity is required for boys and girls in every educational program that receives federal funding.
- Parents and schools can work together to hire quality coaches who know what they’re doing and who ensure a physical, emotional and psychologically safe environment for all sport participants.
4 Ways to Support Women’s Sports
There are four simple things you can do if you want sustainable women’s sports—or better yet, growth (these aren’t new ideas, but they are worth saying again).
- Attend. If you have a college or professional team in your area, buy season tickets. If you can’t go to all the games, buy a full package and split it with someone or share your tickets with friends, colleagues, neighbors or family. Consider donating a ticket or two to a deserving girl, so she can attend and develop a love of sports.
- Watch. Tune in when women’s sports are on TV. Eyeballs on the screen matters a lot to networks and sponsors. The more viewers, the more advertising dollars and the more often networks will cover women’s athletics.
- Click. Get online and support those outlets that write legitimately about women’s sports. Then, share those stories via social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. Clicks show interest and lead to an increased ability to attract sponsorships, which is good for women’s sports!
- Advocate. When you don’t see a particular game or sport covered in the newspaper or TV (at a local, regional or national level), write a letter to the editor or network.
For more on women’s sports, visit my personal sport commentary blog One Sport Voice.[sc:nicole-lavoi] [sc:subscribe]
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