Everything changes; nothing changes

A new study arrived this week, this one looking at the status of women in sport media. To no one’s surprise, the conclusion was consistent with other research on the representation of women. Sports media continues to be pale, male, and stale.

As an aside, I don’t know who first came up with that clever, biting summary of the state of most things in the world, but I send my thanks.

Image shows young women playing soccer on a field. Photo by Jeffrey F Lin on Unsplash

I digress. The study was carried out by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES), its first since 2018. It found:

79.2% of the sports editors were white and 83.3% were men.

72.0% of the assistant sports editors were white and 75.8% were men.

77.1% of the columnists were white; 82.2% were men.

77.1% of the reporters were white; 85.6% were men.

77.0% of the copy editors/designers were white; 75.3% were men.

72.4% of web specialists were white; 78.1% were men.

You might ask why does it matter? Because it does. If we have absorbed one fact in the last few years is that unconscious bias exists in all aspects of our lives. Or as Richard Lapchick, author of the ESPN article said of the review of more than 100 newspapers and websites: “These are same outlets that determine what stories to cover, when to cover them and how they are portrayed. Diversity, equity and inclusion among the staff in our media is crucial to news being representative of our society.”

We default to what we know. We highlight, either deliberately or unintentionally, the things that matter to us. The absence of women and people of colour in sports media, or other media usually means fewer stories about the things that matter to those who belong to groups historically excluded from decision-making, content creation, and participation.

Or as Lisa Wilson, a former president of the Associated Press Sports Editors Association said: “We need those voices. We need that perspective. We need them making coverage and hiring decisions.”

The study results are mixed. While there were tiny shifts when it comes to women, the rate of improvement is still quite low and slow. Improvements for people of colour were better with measurable increases in representation among Black reporters, editors and columnists.

We also need better coverage of women in sports by women because media coverage has an impact on pay rates. Women atheletes do not receive the amounts of money male athletes receive. Josh Strupp writes:

“In America, on average, a woman makes 89% of what a man makes, despite having the same amount of experience and holding the same position. The average salary of an NBA player is $7.7M. In the WNBA, it’s closer to $75,000, so the female athletes are making about 1% of the salaries of their male counterparts. Anthony Davis makes $27M a year; one of his closest comparators statistically and in terms of dominance — Natasha Howard — makes $117,000 a year. In the case of Davis and Howard, she’s making 0.43% of what he makes.

We also cannot underestimate the impact of seeing someone who looks like you in sport, on and off the field as it were. Role models inspire us: to aim high, to do better, to excel. How many little girls saw themselves playing hockey because of Hayley Wickenheiser? How many people imagined themselves behind the desk providing colour commentary? How many saw Simone Biles address the giant elephant in the room –mental health — making it easier for others to report similar experiences?

When I first started working training in a gym, I was surrounded by posters featuring ultra thin, ultra fit women in fashionable workout gear. I didn’t like the messages and I did not like the images. I did not see myself on those walks — not the then current version of me, and especially not even someone I thought I might like to become. If I, a white, middle class, middle-aged woman with a fair amount of privilege, felt excluded, what is it like at all for others?

Not good. As Maya Angelou said, when you know better, you do better. I hope the APSE take their report card seriously and embark on a program of real change. The Ds and Fs peppering their review really need to shift upward and turn into As and Bs. It is the 21st century after all.

— MarthaFitat55 lives and writes in Newfoundland and Labrador.