Posted by: Ethan | June 8, 2010

Breaking the Apathy Barrier

Nicole M LaVoi passed along an article concerning apathy in the media about women’s sports. A sample:

When’s the last time you can remember seeing major coverage of a women’s sports story that didn’t involve Venus or Serena Williams?

[…]

Regardless of the gender dynamics, sports journalists should be concerned over the myopic focus of reports on just three professional sports leagues, even at local TV stations. For years, we have heard that the local audiences can get pro sports news from ESPN and online – so why should local TV sports departments keep focusing on the same stuff as the big boys?

Hear, hear.

Speaking for myself, as I am watching footage of the recently concluded 2010 French Open as I type this, I was getting down on myself for not providing more timely coverage of women’s sports, but determined that I tend to provide “experiential” coverage. I was not present at the French Open and therefore I wouldn’t have much of value to say (except perhaps to reinforce that the tournament was being played) without borrowing heavily from the Tennis Channel, for example.

However, as I remind myself of the three tenets of my mission – inspire, encourage, and empower – raising the profile of women’s sports is one of the aims of this blog and I do need to make a point of being more “on the ball” for lack of a better phrase.

I will have more to say about that in a future article, but now I want to address the topic of apathy concerning women’s sports in the media.

Indeed, I have experienced the attitude first hand that women’s sports are at best “filler” and certainly not to be given the same stature as any given sport played by men. One such example was a male soccer fan dismissing the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup as the “chick cup”. With respect to the World Cup that is set to kick off later this week, I contend that the women deserve recognition no matter who wins the Cup. The men’s tournament has been around longer, and I expect it to have more of a following as a result, but when any given country wins the Cup, men or women, it should be big news. Certainly in the winning country.

Perhaps it is the size of the USA that provides the atmosphere for any given sport to be buried in a virtual sea of choices. Perhaps it is the litany of cable networks and internet sites. Or perhaps it is a dearth of major networks that force decisions about what is “news” and what is “filler”.

To touch back on the Tennis Channel, I have been impressed with the parity of coverage in the French Open and other tournaments I have seen on that network. By focusing on a single sport, the network is (apparently) more concerned with tennis, the sport, and not one or two big stars at the expense of everyone else. When Roger Federer lost, the network didn’t discontinue their coverage. When Serana Williams lost, the network didn’t lose interest in the women’s side.

Further, the Tennis Channel models good media behavior by highlighting good technique by players of either gender. I have made mention in the past (elsewhere) that I found myself using the WNBA to apply the fundamentals of basketball to my personal practicing, despite the odd feeling of thinking about how say, Kelly Mazzante sets her feet before launching a three-pointer. The Tennis Channel conditions the viewer, and ostensibly the avid tennis player to take cues from players of both sexes and improve their game.

Sadly, there does seem to be a sense on networks like ESPN that a sporting event isn’t “news” or “real” unless men are playing. The recent NCAA basketball tournament was an excellent example, as the NCAAW selection show featured up to four participants, including Trey Wingo, whereas the NCAAM program featured at least seven. Both tournaments feature the same number of teams so I am unsure why more “firepower” was needed to break down the men’s bracket.

As for the title of this article, and its inspiration, I think apathy is only allowed to persist as long as people feel that there is no other alternative. Many times I have had people feed off of my enthusiasm for any number of women’s sports and admitted that they tuned in to see the game or expressed interest in attending because they wanted to be part of the excitement. Clicking the links to various online women’s sports coverage is beneficial, but building up actual buzz about it is even more enticing. I have noticed that media outlets don’t like to be left out of the Big Event. In short, if you build it up, they will come.

Sure, I am being hopelessly naive but can you remember a time you tuned in to see any female athlete(s) because you heard about how exciting they were, or how important the game was, or just caved in to the peer pressure and didn’t want to be left out of the water-cooler talk the next day?

Major networks like to think that they dictate the water-cooler conversation. Give them something else to talk about.

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