When women receive airtime, the coverage is lower in technical quality and production value when compared with coverage of men’s sports, the study finds. Even when social and digital media are taken into account, women athletes remain at the periphery of sports reporting.

“Over the past 30 years, we have not seen meaningful change in the amount of coverage women athletes receive,” says Cheryl Cooky, a professor of interdisciplinary studies at Purdue University.

In 1999, Cooky joined Michael Messner, professor of sociology and gender studies at the University of Southern California, in looking at how mainstream news media portray women’s sports. Cooky specializes in the social and cultural dynamics of sport, and her work focuses on representation of sport in the media. She has appeared as an expert consultant in a number of documentary films and on several television and radio shows.

“For a long time, the narrative around women’s sport in the United States was one of wholesale, linear progress,” Cooky says. “However, the research speaks holistically to the ways in which progress has not been universally linear. While some aspects have improved, deeply entrenched forms of inequality have kept other aspects from growing.”

Cooky says the representation of women’s sports is a point of concern on multiple fronts. The minimal airtime deprives young girls of athletic role models, and the manner in which women athletes are presented affects how people value their sports and their contributions to society.

In the 1980s and ’90s, the study shows, women athletes were generally subject to trivializing sexualization or humor; this shifted in the 2000s, when athletes were typically framed as wives, mothers, and girlfriends. Both approaches diminish perceptions of the athletes’ abilities and conform to heteronormative roles and expectations. The 2019 report shows women athletes receive more respect than in the past, but there is a clear lack of energy and excitement.

Read the full article about women's sports coverage by Brian Huchel at Futurity.