Gender Differences in Print Media Coverage of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece

Article excerpt

Abstract

All Summer Olympics articles from The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times newspapers were analyzed (August 14-30, 2004). Column inches, placement (front, front of sports page, or inside sports section), focus (male/female star or team), and media regard (number of quotes, speaker) differed by gender. Articles on female athletes were more often placed inside the sports section as opposed to the front pages of the newspaper or the sports section. Articles on male athletes focused on a male star or team; however, articles on female athletes were significantly more likely to focus on the team and not the female star. Men were quoted more than expected based on the number of male athletes. Men were more quoted even in articles focused on female athletes.

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By 2004, the U.S. had had 32 years to wean sports enthusiasts away from virtually an all-male playing field to embrace the public stories of female athletes. Title IX, passed in 1972, gave female athletes, their daughters, and their granddaughters the opportunities to compete regionally, nationally, and internationally and to see their endeavors highlighted in headlines and photo captions. This embrace of female athletes was most evident in the final soccer match in July 1999 between the U.S. women's team and China's in the Women's World Cup. A record crowd attended the match, and a record number of TV viewers tuned in (Starr & Brant, 1999). Newspaper readers, then, would expect similar enthusiasm, reflected in press coverage, when many of those same soccer stars, such as Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, and Brandi Chastain, played for the laurels in Athens in 2004. "They were the ones who came along at just the right time to watch women's sports change before their eyes, and nudge that change along themselves when they could," wrote USA Today reporter Christine Brennan after the gold medal ceremony (Brennan, 2004, [paragraph] 2). There were a record number of female athletes competing in Athens, many of them mong the 103 U.S. medal winners. Was there gender disparity in print media coverage of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens?

Sports are an entrenched part of our lives that helps define our culture. Sports are closely tied to the traditional power structures, as Rowe (1999) pointed out. Thus, the concept of superior athletic performance is ideologically constructed in ways that champion the physical abilities of men over women and give greater prestige to sports that require male body advantage over female body advantage (e. g., muscle mass over aesthetic grace, such as football over gymnastics). Sports perpetuate beliefs about male superiority by using the male body to represent power and dominance (Kane, 1996). "Successful female athletes continue to be constructed in stereotypical and traditional conceptions of femininity that supersede their athletic ability" (Fink & Kensicki, 2002, p. 317). Lakoff and Scherr (1984) noted this may be because it is difficult for many to judge women based on an understanding of a man's sport, such as the hammer throw and wrestling. Terminology and emphasis may be too gender-specific for some sports, making coverage of nontraditional female sports more awkward. However, it is mass media that feeds images to the public and reports on social change.

Metropolitan newspapers represent an important portion of this mass media. Although women's participation in professional, Olympic, intercollegiate, and interscholastic sports reached unprecedented highs by 1991, research at that time showed that media coverage of female athletes still lagged behind that of men's (e. g., Duncan, Messner, & Williams, 1991). Male athletes received more newspaper coverage than female athletes through the end of the last century (Fink, 1998). Duncan and Messner (2000) noted a "continuing failure of sports news shows to adequately cover women's sports" (p. 5). This has great impact, according to Fink (1998), when significant increases in participation rates have not been linked to similar increases in media attention. …