“Cover the Athlete” is an issue raised about what is wrong with the media coverage of female athletes. Sports channels such as TSN, ESPN, CBS, and Sports Centre cover mostly all of the high level sports competitions. These channels are in charge of interviewing players, narrate what is occurring in a game for viewers, and replaying the highlights of games. Yet the problem is that these sports news channels are not only covering those aspects of a game in the case of females. There is sexist commentary, and inappropriate interview questions that are focused on the physical appearance of women. The issue is why the media is putting value on women’s looks, rather than their athletic ability? Sports coverage focuses on physical appearance that not only trivializes a woman’s accomplishments, but also sends a message that her value is based on her looks, not her ability.
Let me show you some examples of cases where news reporters were more focused on women athletes physical appearance, rather than their athletic ability:
- A reporter commented on Serena William during one of her tennis matches and said “Generally, I’m all for chunky sports stars … but tennis requires a mobility Serena cannot hope to achieve while lugging around breasts that are registered to vote in a different US state from the rest of her.”
- After Eugenie Bouchard won a match at the Australian Open a reporter asked her “Can you give us a twirl and tell us about your outfit?”
- Tennis player Simona Halep is asked by a sports resporter “As your profile rises, people find out more about you, your breast reduction surgery was three or four years ago. Does that play any part in your success? What about outside the tennis?”
“Cover the Athlete” is a Toronto based campaign that raises awareness of the inappropriate media coverage female athletes are subject to. The campaign created a parody video showing how male athletes might react if they were asked sexist questions that female athletes often have to deal with. The campaign is asking the media to stop asking athlete’s different questions based on their gender. In the video below, you can see that males are extremely uncomfortable when they are asked questions that females are often subject to that are based on appearance. The unequal treatment therefore makes women feel as though all the hard work they just put into a sporting event has come down to their “looks” or “style”. It devalues women in sports and makes them feel as though their athletic abilities were not even appreciated or respected.
The two major concerns here are the existing sex inequality and mass media’s role towards it. It is problematic that it’s 2015 and sexism is still a large part of our society. This is a major set back to the dramatic changes women have faced in the progression of elite sports throughout history. There is a constant issue of sex inequality, where females are often the ones subject to face the challenges in elite sports. Additionally, the concern is the role that mass media takes towards sex inequality in sports. The media has a large voice in which everyone seems to listen to and believe in. The concerns of mass media in the role of sex inequality are shown through the video “Cover the Athlete”. Media conglomerates are given an important power in the world of sports, they have a role to cover the sporting events, and should not be doing anything else but that. The physical appearance of athletes should not be a topic that media outlets such as TSN and ESPN should take a part in.
The issue of sex inequality and mass media’s role in it is also applicable in the situation of sex testing in elite sports, where females are being tested and males are not. Female athletes are subject to a process of testing, vetting, and treatment of an athlete that can takes months, a time during which she is ineligible to compete. Claudia Wiesemann argues in “Is there a right to know one’s sex?” which is a critique of olympic sex-testing, that not only is it unfair the be testing females, and not males, but it is also unfair in the way that sex testing is conducted. Wiesemann discusses the issue that when a female athlete’s sex is in question, it is usually due to the physical appearance of the individual. Again, it is seen that female’s physical appearance takes precedence over their athletic ability. Additionally, when a female athlete’s sex is in question, the privacy of such the situation is entirely disregarded. The media is quick to expose cases where a female athlete is undergoing sex testing. The media not only exposes such private and intimate information to the public, but they do it in a way that brings embarrassment and shame to the athlete that is undergoing the testing. Even if the results come back negative, and the female is able to then carry on in competing, the media generated “scandal” surrounding the testing has lasting effects on the athlete.
Wiesemann additionally discusses the case of Caster Semenya. This case examines a South African runner named Caster Semenya, she is the winner of the 800m final at the World’s Athletic Championship in Berlin 2009, and was subject to sex testing, as her female sex had been questioned on the bases of her physical appearance. Here, the media was quick to cover her case and bring it to the attention of the world, which resulted in the embarrassment and ridicule Caster Semenya had to face. The media seems to be the common denominator in the case of sex inequality in sports. The problem of sex inequality may still be present without the media’s voice, yet the media seems to make the problem much worse and result in lasting effects on female athletes, especially in the case of Caster Semenya.
Profession female athletes deserve to be treated just as professional male athletes by mass media. They should have the same coverage content and should not be looked at based upon physical appearance. In the end the only important thing that needs to be covered is the incredible athletic ability that individuals of both sexes express through sport.
Further readings on this topic:
7 times women have been asked sexist questions by news reporters –
The attack on Serena Williams –
More on the “cover the athlete campaign” –
Is there a right not to know one’s sex? The ethics of ‘gender verification’ in women’s sports competition,” by Claudia Wiesemann, J Med Ethics