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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Brigid McCarthy, Lecturer in Journalism, La Trobe University

Sports media misogyny was alive and well this month.

In just the few short weeks it took for star United States basketball players Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese to shoot their way from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Sweet 16 to the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) draft, two different sport reporters found themselves publicly apologising for their coverage of the women.

First, Los Angeles Times reporter Ben Bolch sparked criticism for describing Reese’s Louisiana State University (LSU) team as “dirty debutantes” in a since-redacted NCAA championships match-up preview.

LSU coach Kim Mulkey lambasted the article and those who failed to criticise it. “If you don’t think that’s sexism, then you’re in denial,” she said.

LSU coach Kim Mulkey shared an impassioned response to an LA Times article.

The Times quickly retracted the comments and Bolch posted an apology with a promise to “do better”.

This didn’t stop Indianapolis Star columnist Gregg Doyel from learning a similar lesson after he engaged in an inappropriate exchange with WNBA number 1 draft pick Clarke at a press conference, prompting yet another apology.

An issue closer to home, too

Australia is no stranger to these moments. It’s still hard to believe it was in this century that The Age columnist Greg Baum wrote “women’s soccer is a joke … women’s cricket is not much better”.

We also saw Kim Clijsters calling out Todd Woodbridge about an inappropriate text about her body, and an Australian Open commentator asking Canadian tennis player Eugenie Bouchard to give him “a twirl”.

Kim Clijsters confronts Todd Woodbridge about a text message he had sent about her.

Just last year, Australian cricketer Maitlin Brown endured a sidelines reporter labelling her a “little Barbie”.

And it’s not just female athletes who cop it, either. In 2022, AFL journalist Tom Morris was sacked over leaked sexist and homophobic comments he made about a female colleague.

Read more:
From forced kisses to power imbalances, violence against women in sport is endemic

Problems in a male-dominated industry

The issue is glaringly obvious. Contemporary sports media is overwhelmingly male.

Only 10% of Australian sports reporters are women (and the United States and Canadian stats are not much better).

Women are consistently reminded that sport is the territory of men, and that those who enter it are subject primarily to men’s perspectives and, too often, ridicule.

While the overt sexualisation and trivialisation that once routinely shaped women’s sport coverage is less common, some subtle but no less harmful forms of marginalisation remain.

Women’s sports are significantly less likely to receive deep analysis than men’s. Coverage tends to emphasise effort over performance and men are significantly more likely to be characterised as “well-liked”.

Sometimes it’s even unintended, and veiled by praise. For example, my study of media coverage of girl skateboarding “prodigies” at the Tokyo Olympics found that while the media celebrated the teen medallists as evidence of “girl power” at work, the coverage largely ignored the structural issues that still impact many women’s progress in skating and beyond.

Read more:
Is this the dawn of a new era in women’s sports?

What is the solution?

Women researchers and journalists have been offering the solution for years: we need more women’s voices in sports coverage.

Diverse perspectives can create better outcomes for women – just ask the medical research sector. Sport media need the voices of women who are not just experts in their sport, but know what it’s like to be a woman playing that sport.

We’ve already been given glimpses of the magic that can happen when women are moved from the sidelines to the desk.

During the same NCAA competition that saw two reporters apologise, ESPN assembled an all-women panel of former players and sports journalists to analyse the tournament.

The trio received considerable praise for coverage of an event that would culminate in ESPN’s most-viewed match (men’s or women’s) on record.

What was so illustrative of the power of women’s perspectives was the panel’s preview of Clark and Reese’s face-off in the Sweet 16, which would also set viewership records.

Moments before the game began, the trio took a moment to nod to the sport’s past players, telling them that because they built the game, this was their night, too.

This could only come from women who know what it is like to play and report a sport that has historically struggled for attention and respect.

Australia got its own peek at the possibilities in March when an all-woman commentary team covered an A-League round – a first for any Australian professional league.

Still, commentator Kate Allman said she was unsurprised it had taken until 2024 to get there, given the “labyrinth of glass ceilings” she’d encountered during her career.

Now, we storm towards yet another Olympics, one likely to result in success for Aussie women on the soccer field, basketball court, in the pool and more.

We need to see more women covering their efforts. And we need more mentoring initiatives to demonstrate to young women the possibilities of a sport media career.

It’s an opportunity to show that sports media can belong to women, too. And that they can play a part in improving coverage for the athletes who deserve better.

The Conversation

Brigid McCarthy does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. Women’s sport is soaring, and old-school male sports journalists need to lift their game –