Everyone knows that when children–or anyone, for that matter–are involved in sports and athletics, they are healthier physically. It’s also fairly well-known that participation in sports helps children be more successful, socially and academically. Girls especially have a better body image and higher self-esteem and are less likely to smoke, drink, or become pregnant at a young age. Both boys and girls learn teamwork and leadership skills, as well as how to set goals and develop the discipline necessary to reach those goals. There can be no doubt that sports participation, be it part of a school or local team, or just pick-up matches in the neighborhood or with a church/youth group is incredibly beneficial.
But where do girls turn for athletic role models? According to the 2010 Gender in Televised Sports: News and Highlights Shows 1989-2009 report, only 1.9% of the televised sporting news in the US was devoted to women. Clearly, girls are at a massive disadvantage when it comes to looking to sports news for athletic role models, as 96% of the news is dedicated to male sports. There is an upside, such as it is. Over the last 20 years, reporters have become significantly less derogatory in how they refer to female athletes, possibly lending weight to the old adage, “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
Possibly more disconcerting than the lack of coverage is the type of coverage that is there. Most of the televised news coverage of female athletics is either about controversial or negative events. On one hand, we see highlights of Usain Bolt’s newest world record, while on the other, we see Marion Jones and her use of performance-enhancing drugs. Little to no mention is made of Stacy Dragila’s multiple world records in the pole vault. No mention is made of the multitude of male soccer players who remove their shirts after scoring a goal, but when Brandi Chastain scores to win the Women’s World Cup for the American team and rips off her shirt (leaving her in a fully covering sports bra), it’s unseemly. Never mind that we see women in far less every time an advertisement for lingerie appears on the TV.
So, where can girls turn for sports role models? It’s left up to parents, coaches, and teachers to encourage girls in sports and find positive stories and role models. Though I think it can be argued that perhaps they should be seeking out positive role models for both boys and girls anyway, the extra pressure to counteract the televised news coverage (and lack thereof) is frustrating.