Coverage of Female Athletes in the News

As of January 16, the University of South Carolina is leading the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) women’s basketball, with Stanford University and the University of Louisville in second and third place, respectively. Missing from this top three is the longstanding legend, the University of Connecticut, which is struggling in the absence of leading scorer Paige Bueckers, following a knee injury.

Many avid NCAA basketball fans only follow the men’s teams, and they wouldn’t be able to tell you those rankings. Unfortunately, this is common for women’s sports across all levels. A lack of coverage is a large contributor to this issue. According to a 2019 study by Purdue University’s Cheryl Cooky, “Coverage of women-athletes on televised news and highlight shows, including ESPN’s SportsCenter, totaled only 5.4 percent of all airtime.”

From the perspective of young female athletes, being able to watch women play at a collegiate and professional level is crucial. Allie Golden (I), captain of Boston Latin School  girls’ varsity soccer, basketball and lacrosse teams, says that seeing “successful female athletes serve not only as [an] inspiration for girls with dreams of going pro, but it also serves as a reminder that these goals are achievable.” Despite their importance, live women’s games are often difficult to access and not available to watch after they are aired.

Aside from the lack of coverage, female athletes often face inequalities in programming. The infamous weight room controversy of March Madness 2021 is a prime example. Despite the same amount of men’s and women’s teams competing in the NCAA Division I basketball tournament, the NCAA provided the men with significantly more equipment and resources. Although this situation garnered a large amount of attention and support for the women, it is only one instance of the many unknown discrepancies between the treatment of female and male athletes that goes unaddressed.

The differences in treatment begin at a young age. Golden recalls having to join a boys’ hockey team at age 7, as there wasn’t one for girls in her neighborhood. Despite dealing with various similar situations since then, she says that gender discrimination in sports “is something that I notice less now, not because it doesn’t happen anymore, but because I’m fairly used to it.”

Even at BLS, there have been many examples of girls’ athletics receiving less than boys’ athletics. Both Golden and Head Coach of BLS girls’ varsity basketball, Ms. Keri Orellana, pointed to 2017, the year when the boys’ locker room was completely renovated. Despite pushback from female athletes at the school, however, the girls’ locker room   did not receive the same upgrade.

Across professional sports, there is often a pay gap between male and female athletes. The United States Women’s National Soccer Team’s (USWNT) fight for equal pay to their male counterparts has been going on for a long time. Although they exhibit stronger performances, the United States Soccer Federation continues to pay them less.

USWNT athletes, including Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, have been crucial in leading this fight. Head Coach Orellana remarks that those who are willing to speak up against inequity always face backlash. She, however, emphasizes the importance of their activism: “When does it change if someone doesn’t take that chance? If someone doesn’t start setting that standard? […] We need advocates.”

The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) has advocated for athletes. The WNBA was founded in 1996 and has progressed tremendously since its beginning. There is, however, still much work to be done to make it comparable to the National Basketball Association (NBA). The WNBA has just 12 teams with 12 roster spots each. Professional women baskeball players earn significantly lower salaries than their male counterparts, and the WNBA lacks an equivalent league to the NBA’s developmental ‘G’ league. After a major push for higher salaries for women in the league, an agreement was made to gradually increase the salaries by 30 percent by 2027. Even in 2027, however, their salaries will still be less than that of those in the NBA.

Generally, women are underrepresented in the sports industry. The number of men coaching women’s sports teams is extremely high, and women are not very visible in other sports careers such as broadcasting, refereeing or team management. This is problematic because, as Head Coach Orellana notes, “The importance of being able to see people who look like you is huge.”

Progress continues in regards to improving the sports world for women; however, there is still a long way to go.