ESPN-The Women's Sports Network? A Content Analysis of Internet Coverage of March Madness

Article excerpt

Sports have long been ingrained into the social fabric of the United States, but many Americans are probably unaware that sport has been estimated to be the sixth largest industry in the United States, annually averaging between $213-324 billion (Pitts & Stotlar, 2002; "The Sports Industry," 2008). However, participation in sport at all levels was predominately limited to men and boys throughout most of U.S. history (Rader, 2004). That changed with the passage of Title IX of the 1972 Educational Amendments. Title IX is a federal statute that prohibits sex discrimination in schools receiving federal assistance. Before Title IX's passage by Congress, there were fewer than 32,000 women in college sport, and under 300,000 high school female athletes (Steeg, 2008). By 2007, those numbers had risen to more than 170,000 and 3 million, respectively (Steeg, 2008).

It is not surprising mass media regularly produce a great deal of sport content via magazines, newspapers, radio, television, and, in recent years, the Internet. However, despite the vast increase in the number of women and girls who actively participate or once played organized sports, research has consistently shown sport media generally provide far more coverage of men's sports than women's sports (Duncan, 2006; Kane, 1996). This holds true in nearly all levels of competition and in the vast majority of sports. Moreover, the coverage of women's sports by media often trivializes and minimizes the accomplishments of female athletes through portrayals, images, descriptors, and narratives, regardless of the medium examined (Bishop, 2003; Messner, Duncan, & Cooky, 2003; Pedersen, Whisenant, & Schneider, 2003). These trends have certainly held true for the limited research published on media coverage of men's and women's college basketball.

For 3 weeks each spring, mainstream U.S. sport media turn much of their focus toward college basketball. March Madness, the nickname commonly used to describe The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I men's and women's basketball tournaments, is ingrained in U.S. culture (Billings, Halone, & Denham, 2002). The NCAA derives roughly 90% of its total revenues just from the 3-week men's Division I tournament (Matheson & Baade, 2004). However, all of the research on media coverage of NCAA basketball tournaments focused exclusively on television. Most of those studies found broadcast commentary of March Madness reinforced gender differences commonly found in research on sport media content. Generally, male athletes were revered and praised for their athleticism, while female athletes' skill and accomplishments were trivialized. Furthermore, television commentators often unfavorably compared women's players to men's players (Billings et al., 2002; Duncan & Hasbrook, 1988; Eastman, & Billings, 2001; Hallmark & Armstrong, 1999; Messner, Duncan, & Jensen, 1993; Messner, Duncan, & Wachs, 1996).

These findings, along with results from most research on sport media content, led scholars to conclude mainstream sport media perpetuates and reinforces hegemonic masculinity (Hardin, Lynn, Walsdorf, & Hardin, 2002; Miloch, Pedersen, Smucker, & Whisenant, 2005).

Theoretical Background and Purpose

Derived from Gramsci's (1971) concept of hegemony in an examination of social classes, hegemonic masculinity ideologically reinforces androcentrism as a primary characteristic of Western society that hierarchically places women in positions below men (Connell, 2005). Hegemonic social systems use ideology to create consent for dominance of one group over another (Gramsci, 1971). In modern society it is assumed media play a large role in how consent is obtained (Connell, 1990; Pedersen et al., 2003). Scholars have claimed sport is one of the primary forces helping to preserve hegemonic masculinity in the Western World, while also noting that sport also assists in upholding antiquated definitions of gender and negative stereotypes of women who do not conform to traditional notions of femininity (e. …