Another Bad Take About Women hit the internet last week. What are the odds, right? I usually just send off a hopefully withering tweet in response to these columns, or allow them to spiral into the cyber abyss without commenting at all. But I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this one, and I have some Actual Things to say about it, so here we go.
The piece in question came from Jason Lisk, managing editor of The Big Lead. It was a column titled, “The Number of Men in Sports Media is Not the Issue With Women’s College Basketball Interest.” In it, Lisk focuses on a Forbes article David Berri wrote about UConn women’s basketball. Berri states UConn’s dominance is not bad for women’s college basketball in the same way Alabama’s success has not been detrimental to college football. He explains and provides evidence for how, from a historic and economic perspective, one team’s greatness does not have a negative effect on a conference or league.
What Lisk takes issue with is a statistic Berri cites as the reason fewer people care about women’s sports: that sports media is overwhelmingly male. In Lisk’s opinion, it is not the makeup of newsrooms, nor the coverage they devote, that drives interest in a topic. Rather, it is interest in a topic that drives coverage.
“So I think “the media” is an easy bogeyman, every bit as much as saying that Connecticut’s dominance is the reason. The truth is that a large segment of the sports-consuming public doesn’t care about women’s sports. I would gladly write a women’s bracketology column like I do for the men’s tournament if I thought anyone would read it.”
I watch more men’s sports than women’s, because my job revolves around contributing to the national conversation in this space. And the national conversation centers on men, unless something in the women’s arena temporarily shifts the focus. Men dominate the sports media landscape, too, as Berri pointed out. There aren’t many female editors and writers; look at these stats he includes about the demographics of the sports media industry:
Approximately 90 percent of sports editors are male.
It is estimated that only about 10 percent of sports coverage is created by women.
Although 40 percent of athletes are women, women’s sports receive only about 4 percent of sports coverage.
Major sites are more likely to cover animals than women’s sports.
These numbers quantify what it feels like walking into a media center after an NFL practice and being the only woman in a room full of 40 other reporters. Or heading up to the press box during MLB all-star weekend with 30 people and and being the only one who isn’t a man. Or looking around a meeting and realizing you’re the sole woman present. In these instances you become acutely, physically aware of the body you occupy.
Something has to change. An industry this homogeneous is detrimental to its product. Whenever newsrooms make an effort to bring in more women and more people of color into what are still very white, very male spaces, the work becomes more nuanced, thoughtful, and potentially less harmful. Having more (or any) women in the room means someone with a different viewpoint is there to read questionable articles — say, perhaps Lisk’s take on why people don’t watch women’s sports — before they publish.
It’s worth mentioning that there are no women currently listed on The Big Lead’s masthead.
There is simply no truth to the argument that people don’t care about women’s sports. Serena and Venus Williams are two of the most famous athletes in the world. The Olympics saw Chloe Kim soar to legendary heights. When coverage ensues, people pay attention. High-profile female athletes are testaments to that. More outlets seem to make an effort to track and celebrate women’s tennis and Olympics sports, and while I wish the same were true for every women’s sport and league, it isn’t. If it were, I feel confident that people would be invested.
It’s important to note there are many outlets and many individual reporters making concerted efforts to rectify this. That job, however, should not fall expressly to women. I don’t think it should be required of me just because I am one. Even if the makeup of the industry stays the same forever, men who work in it should be concerned that only four percent of articles on their websites are devoted to women’s sports.
Especially men like Lisk, who, as the editor of a site, is in a position to make a difference. It actually seems bizarre that he wouldn’t try to, given that he says he’s the “father of two daughters, one of whom plays basketball and is working on her crossover and can shoot from outside in 3rd grade.” He goes on: “I want her to succeed in every way possible and have all the opportunities ahead of her in whatever she chooses.”
Once and for all: being a father of daughters is not a Get-Out-of-Sexism-Free Card. Men, print that sentence out, tape it to the wall above your desk, and please stop using the point to make terrible arguments.
Because the fact is right now, if someone’s daughter wanted the opportunity to succeed as a professional athlete, she wouldn’t get paid nearly as much, or have a shot at being as famous as a man equal to her ability. She would not have the same chances as a boy her age, no matter how good she is. Perhaps if people paid more attention, the market would shift, and she would see her potential salary and reach start to approach that of her male counterparts.
But that interest won’t happen if coverage doesn’t increase. It’s short-sighted to argue that writing about something won’t drive awareness, and frankly, baffling coming from the managing editor of a sports outlet. It’s been proven time and time again that representing all types of people on screen validates people’s own personal experiences. It creates engagement because it speaks directly to people who aren’t spoken about enough. This is also true of written work. Broaden your scope, and don’t rely on unfounded arguments to get you out of doing so.
There are so many women who are qualified and hungry to work in this business. When people in positions of power — most of whom are men — do make genuine, concerted efforts to hire women, mentor them, invite them on their podcasts and shows, and give them opportunities to do great work, it makes a huge difference.
The bottom line is you cannot, for one single second, argue that representation in reporting doesn’t matter. Or the way we talk about and cover women’s sports doesn’t affect public perception and interest. Of course it does. And it falls to everyone, including the fathers of daughters, to do something about it.