Gender in Televised Sports: News and Highlights Shows, 1989 - 2009

Participation and excitement over women’s sports may have exploded in recent decades, but you would never know it if you receive your information from nightly TV news and sports highlights shows.  Nearly four decades following the passage of Title IX, coverage of women’s sports on news and highlights shows still lags far behind that of men’s sports.  In fact, a 2010 CFR-sponsored study revealed that coverage of women’s sports on television news and highlights shows was at its lowest levels ever, since 1989 when the study began.


“Gender in Televised Sports,” authored by Michael Messner, professor of sociology and gender studies, with Purdue University’s Cheryl Cooky (a graduate of the USC gender studies program), revealed that in 2009 coverage of women’s sports plunged to only 1.6% of all airtime on LA’s three network affiliate sports news broadcasts. ESPN’s popular highlights show “SportsCenter” was no better, devoting only 1.4% of its airtime to women’s sports.
Since its release this past June, the “Gender in Televised Sports” report has generated considerable public discussion.  Advocacy organizations like the Women’s Sports Foundation reported the findings, and professors are using the report in their courses.  Numerous bloggers and radio commentators discussed the research.  National periodicals, including the Washington Post, the New York Times, and The Nation ran features on the report.  However, the TV news and highlights shows that were the subjects of the report’s critical scrutiny continued to deliver a steady flow of men’s football, basketball, and baseball coverage in to America’s living rooms.
In an introduction to the “Gender in Televised Sports” report, noted athlete and sports commentator Diana Nyad wrote, “I confess to being shocked to learn that since 1989 very little has changed in the world of televised sports news. As a matter of fact, for women athletes, and fans of women’s sports, things have devolved, rather than having evolved. It is frankly unfathomable, and unacceptable, that viewers are actually receiving less coverage of women’s sports than they were twenty years ago…and that the sports news is still being delivered almost exclusively by men. There is no doubt that there has been a gender revolution in American sports in recent decades. Millions of girls play sports every day. Tens of thousands of women compete in college and professional athletics…It is time for television news and highlights shows to keep pace with this revolution.”