I recently had the opportunity to give the Tucker Center’s Distinguished Lecture where I laid our current and historical data on the Paradox, Pitfalls & Parity: Where Have all the Women Coaches Gone? You can watch the lecture here (I start about 14mns in, so fast forward!!)
A puzzling paradox exists when it comes to women occupying sport leadership positions—particularly coaches. Two generations removed from Title IX, female sports participation is at an all-time high, yet the number of women coaches is near an all-time low. At the college level alone, female coaches are in the minority, representing just 43% of all head coaching positions in women’s sports nationwide. It is simply not possiblethat as each new generation of females becomes increasingly involved in and shaped by their sport experience—especially at the most elite levels of competition as evidenced by the dominance of the U.S. female athletes at the 2016 Rio Olympics—they simultaneously become less qualified to enter the coaching profession.
In this lecture I answered three questions I frequently get about women in sports coaching:
1. Why do women coaches matter? Why should we care?
2. Why is there a stagnation in the under-representation of women coaches?
Elizabeth Daniels, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
Mary Jo Kane, Ph.D., Director, Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, U of Minnesota
Cheryl Cooky, Ph.D., Associate Professor of American Studies, Purdue University
Nicole M LaVoi, Ph.D., Co-Director, Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, U of Minnesota
Sports Illustrated (SI) recently named Serena Williams its Sportsperson of the Year. As scholars who have spent our academic careers examining media coverage of women’s sports, we are thrilled to see a highly accomplished female athlete awarded this most prestigious title. Considering her on-the-court accomplishments in 2015 Williams is clearly worthy, having won three major tennis titles, amassing an overall 53-3 record, and extending her No. 1 ranking for a third consecutive year. Williams has now joined an elite club of past SI winners: Only 8 other women and one women’s team are in this elite group compared to 68 male athletes or men’s teams. It should be noted that Williams is only the second women of color to be awarded this distinction (track & field star Judi Brown King was the first in 1987). This honor is especially poignant on the heels of Williams’ return to the WTA’s Indian Wells Tournament this past spring after a 13-year boycott of the tournament where she endured racist comments from the audience in 2001 about which tournament organizers did nothing. SI noted her commitment to drawing attention to issues of race in sport was part of why Williams was selected. Serena Williams has proven herself to be a champion time and time again despite discriminatory and harmful distractions leveled at her by sport audiences and media. For example, she was subjected to critiques of her muscularity this summer in an article in The New York Times on body image in sport, which some argued was a thinly veiled commentary regarding black women’s bodies and how they do not fit white, middle-class norms of beauty.
In spite of Williams’ unprecedented accomplishments as arguably the greatest female tennis player in U.S. history, she was featured on the cover in a sexually provocative pose. Perhaps anticipating criticism for such a choice—SI is, after all, a sports not a fashion magazine—they immediately emphasized the point via tweet that this portrayal was Williams’ idea. The choice to feature Williams dressed in an all-black lace bodysuit and patent leather power pumps perched on a throne as Queen of the Court has been supported by some who see this portrayal as empowering. We suggest that there were other choices available to SI and to Williams herself, ones that are not only empowering, but powerful. Unfortunately, such an editorial choice is not new at SI. Anna Kournikova (5 June 2000), Jennie Finch (11 July 2005), and Lindsey Vonn (8 February 2010) have all been portrayed in similarly sexualized ways. Serena Williams herself has appeared in SI’s Swimsuit Issue in 2003. Perhaps not surprisingly, SI has a poor track record when it comes to depicting highly accomplished female athletes outside of the Swimsuit Issue. A recent study of SI covers from 2000-2011 found that women were on only 35 out of 716 covers, and just 11 of those 35 covers showed female athletes in poses comparable to male athletes (2). Clearly, it is a rarity to see a female athlete portrayed as an athletic champion on the cover of this incredibly influential U.S. sports magazine. Regrettably, female athletes are similarly ignored in broadcast media (3). As a result, we fail to see female athletes on any regular basis portrayed as accomplished athletes in mainstream sport media and we have all written previously about how this paucity of coverage negatively impacts interest in women’s sports (4).
Sexualized images of female athletes, in contrast, are not hard to find–simply google ‘female athletes.’ Numerous scholars have also documented that the sexualization of female athletes is a common practice (5). Unfortunately, this is part of a broader pattern wherein girls and women are sexualized in media and popular culture. Three major reports from the UK (6), U.S. (7), and Australia (8) have all documented the prevalence of this practice and its negative consequences on girls and women. When women are sexualized in the media, female viewers may think of their own bodies as objects and reduce their personal value to their physical attractiveness instead of to their talents, personality, and contributions to the world. Our own research has shown that this is precisely how adolescent girls and college women respond to sexualized images of female athletes (9). In addition, sexualized images of female athletes do not generate interest in women’s sports (10). Research also indicates that media images which portray female athletes in powerful action photos generate not only interest in, but respect for, women’s sports. Additionally, after viewing such images teen girls and college-age women are more likely to think about their bodies in terms of their physical skills and capabilities. Portraying sportswomen as gifted and accomplished athletes has the untapped potential to make girls and women feel good about their bodies—which is a significant challenge in today’s media environment inundated with unrealistic and idealized images that create body dissatisfaction.
In an ideal—not to mention realistic—world, images which display female athletes (and their bodies) for what they actually do rather than how sexually empowered they may appear would be easy to come by. If this were the case, girls and young women could have magazine covers of their female sports heroes in their bedrooms as a reminder of what women are capable of and as an equally important reminder that our society values them for what their own bodies can achieve on the court, rather than for how sexually attractive they are. Unfortunately, as Sports Illustrated reminds us, female athletes who dominate their sport are currently only celebrated if they look good doing so.
drew 2 million more viewers than Game 7 of the compelling 2014 World Series between the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants in October which attracted 23.5 million on English-language television.
eclipsed the recent NBA Finals Game 6 featuring Golden State’s title-winning victory over Cleveland last month on ABC with 23.25 million viewers.
buried Chicago’s Stanley Cup-winning victory in Game 6 over Tampa Bay last month on NBC with 8 million viewers.
Despite these statistics, many myths about interest in women’s sport continue to prevail. Help prove that interest in women’s sport does exist and join the #HERESPROOF social media campaign! Click here to see the infographic we put together on 2015 WWC viewership.
I LOVE and DISLIKE that 13-year old Philadelphia-based pitcher Mo’ne Davis is creating a stir in the 2014 Little League World Series (LLWS).
LOVE: It is creating awareness that girls can and do play baseball, and can pitch and play successfully against boys. Davis is throwing like a girl–athletic, competent, knowledgeable, competitive.
DISLIKE: Lots of girls outperform boys every day in a variety of sports and it shouldn’t be a big deal and certainly not create a national media event…it should be common knowledge. At 11-13 years-old (the age of LLWS players), developmentally girls are usually ahead of or similar to most boys in height, weight, strength, speed and power. Thus it makes sense Mo’ne and other girls can “hang with the boys” or outperform them. As colleague, Olympian, and Women’s Sport Foundation advocacy director Nancy Hogshead Makar posted: “Way to go Mo’ne Davis! At the same time, there’s too much awe and disbelief that a girl can be a truly outstanding athlete – Especially pre-puberty, where there are very few physical differences. If you’re “AMAZED” – you need to see a lot more female athletes.”
LOVE: The public gets to SEE Davis pitch/bat/field, and SEE her on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Being seen on two of the biggest sports media conglomerates–ESPN and SI--matters. Being seen communicates what is relevant, important and valued. Davis provides visible proof of a performance continuum in sport and communicates positive messages to young girls about athleticism that transcend gender.
LOVE: Mo’ne Davis has become a role model for both girls and boys alike.
DISLIKE: I don’t think children in any sport should be on ESPN at all. Period. It is exploitation pure and simple. It teaches and sends children the wrong message about what sport should be about. If you’ve watched any of the LLWS, it doesn’t take long for the kids to find the camera trained on them and catch them looking into the camera…instead of focusing on the game at hand. It creates scrutiny and pressure on youth athletes, a pressure that not many youth are equipped to cope with yet. How would you like your failures to be broadcast on national TV when you were 12 yrs old? In addition, it is rumored that Davis signed gear is being sold for big money…none of which will benefit HER (else her future college athletic eligibility be nullified).
LOVE: I think it is really cool that Davis appears on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and is also the first Little Leaguer to appear on the cover. Groundbreaking! I like that she is portrayed in action, in her uniform and on the field…markers that communicate athleticism and competence. I love that the coverage of her has increased interest in (record TV ratings, long lines for tickets, merchandise sales, stories written about) and respect for young female athletes.
DISLIKE:ESPN rarely covers girls’ and women’s sport (See this study) and Sports Illustrated rarely puts females on the cover (Go to SI covers and count for yourself! or read one of numerous studies about it) and when they do females are sexualized rather than portrayed as serious athletes, but now that showing Davis will increase ratings and sales she is hyped and promoted. Seems like more exploitation. (Note: it would be really distasteful to sexualize a 13 year old on the SI cover!)
The popularity and hype around Mo’ne Davis is complicated. Images of her are both empowering and transformative, but can also be read as exploitative and regressive. This is what makes sport such an interesting context to examine. What do think?
I recently had the opportunity to work in collaboration with espnW to develop discussion guides for the Emmy-nominated Nine for IX film series.
Nine for IX premiered June 18, 2013, as part of ESPN’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of Title IX. Inspired by the 40th anniversary of Title IX, ESPN Films and espnW produced nine documentary films about women in sports, told through the lens of female filmmakers. Nine for IX Films are a collection of remarkable stories that offer teachable moments and powerful lessons in the history of sports. .
The Nine for IX Knowledge Center is a free resource available to institutions, organizations, administrators, professors, coaches, and students who want to lead thoughtful and engaging discussions around key themes in the films. The Knowledge Center provides discussion guides for each film, film posters, and a sign-up form to receive the Nine for IX DVD set, all free of charge. The Knowledge Center is a tool that goes beyond the entertainment value of the films and leverages the rich educational content of the embedded lessons and messages within the films.
The discussion guides generate thought-provoking discussion topics around key themes and issues present in the films such as gender equality, intersectionality, identity politics, sport and politics, social class, racism, and sexism, along with issues related to sport psychology, sports media coverage, sports marketing, and sports as a vehicle for developing role models. Each unique guide contains Key Concepts, Discussion Questions, Additional Readings and Additional Activities.
I wrote a specific guide for coaches for The 99ers, a film about the 1999 Women’s World Cup Championship team, that coaches can use as a team building activity and to discuss what it takes to develop performance excellence and a positive team culture.
To access the free materials, including obtaining a free DVD box set of the Nine for IX film series, discussion guides, and posters visit the espnW Nine for IX Knowledge Center.
The 2014 March Madness NCAA D-I basketball brackets for the men and women are now set. Teams are anxiously awaiting play. I love March Madness, but I am awaiting something different….word from Warren Buffett. I have tweeted Mr. Buffett (@WarrenBuffett) and Quicken (@quickenloans) to inquire if they were going to also offer a “perfect women’s bracket” contest, as they are offering a $$BILLION dollars$$ for a perfect men’s bracket. No reply.
It isn’t that I want two chances of winning a BILLION dollars (No one is going to win, the odds are 1 in 9 quintillion), it is the message being communicated by offering only a men’s bracket and who benefits from this “perfect bracket” challenge that is the problem.
Women’s sport and female athletes are continuously striving against minimal media coverage to be taken seriously and lauded for their athleticism (to go more in depth on this topic, watch a new documentary on “Media Coverage and Female Athletes”). By offering only a perfect men’s bracket challenge, Buffett & Co. are reinforcing the idea that men’s sport and male athletes are more talented, important, valued, and worthy.
Offering a perfect women’s bracket could of been a win-win and is a missed opportunity:
1. Quicken could have potentially garnered more new home loan clients (which is their goal!), and Buffett could of possibly made more profit (no one is sure exactly what his deal is with Quicken, but it isn’t $0!).
2. It would communicate in equal ways that women’s sport is and female athletes are worthy, valued, exciting and deserving.
3.It might have also inadvertently or directly increased interest in women’s basketball—especially in a demographic that is typically deemed “uninterested” (18-35 year old males).
Why does interest matter? “Lack of interest” by males, who are coveted by sport marketers and sport editors, is used as proof and proxy that “everyone” is uninterested in women’s sport–a statement that is completely false (not all young men are uninterested in women’s sport, and outside that demographic women’s sport fans abound!). Lack of interest is often used as a reason for not promoting or covering women’s sport. Many people are very interested in women’s sport, and particularly women’s college basketball as evidenced by increasing attendance, steady ESPN viewership, and expansion of women’s game coverage. Creating hype around the women’s bracket by offering $1B is a perfect way to bring in new fans, generate interest, and communicate the value inherent in women’s sport, some of which would likely be sustained because “they” (i.e., new fans) would watch, monitor brackets, and see that women’s teams are also exciting and talented!
People love March Madness and love to fill out brackets. College basketball and brackets matter. Placing more value (literally) on the men’s bracket, communicates what and who is valued and worthy, as well as who and what is not.
Now that the 2013-14 Football Bowl Series has come to a close and winners declared, I am posting bowl winners based on a slightly different approach.
The winners of 7 arguably most prestigious bowls in this graphic (click on it to make it larger) are based on the institution’s commitment to gender equity in its hiring of women head coaches for women’s teams for 2013-14.
So if you are a fan of Ohio State and Wisconsin…you have something to cheer about, even though your teams lost their bowl game, your institutions have a higher percentage of female head coaches (FHC) of women’s teams than did your opponents!
Sorry Florida State (54.5%)… yes you beat Auburn (33.3%) both on the field and by % of FHC and even though they didn’t play in the title game, University of Central Florida is the real National Champion as 8 of 9 (88.9%) of their women’s teams are coached by women head coaches! Well done UCF!
Oklahoma State, you lost to Missouri (33.3%) both on the field and in % of female head coaches, but you are the winner the Toilet Bowl as only ONE of 8 (12.5%) of your women’s teams are coached by a woman…you can do better, A LOT better! However OK State to be fair, in 2012-13 NONE (0%, ZERO) of your women’s teams were coached by women, so you are moving in the right direction!
This weekend I enjoyed watching many Regional games for the NCAA Women’s College World Series (WCWS) on ESPN and BTN. I love watching the array of talented female athletes getting prime time TV coverage, as it so rarely happens! Sport media coverage of the WCWS seems to be expanding and improving in production quality. One step forward! ↑
I thought it offensive during the basketball tournament, but when he appeared again during the WCWS it really made me pause…and then it made me outraged. Bobby Knight is no fan or advocate of women’s sport or women in general. Why do I find this offensive?
2. Despite his coaching record and reverence by some, he has a history of abusive behaviors toward athletes that are well documented. While he did not coach women, his abuse of male athletes should not be overlooked or forgotten. There are PLENTY of coaches, male or female, to interview that are real advocates of women’s sport and treat their athletes with care and respect. Why give a controversial coach a voice? Why give Knight any airtime during the two most important and premiere college women’s sport events that are broadcast on ESPN? (I’ll come back to this momentarily)
3. In early 1989 shortly after Knight’s rape comment, my college tennis coach at Gustavus Adolphus College ‘arranged’ (i.e., we stalked Knight in 2 hotel lobbies until midnight waiting for him to return post game, and then our coach pounced on him and convinced him to talk to his team) for our team to ‘meet’ Knight after Indiana played Minnesota here in Minneapolis. None of us wanted to meet Knightas we were well aware of his comment and one of our teammates had been raped the year prior. The thought of facing Knight was traumatic for her and angering to the rest of us. Knight reluctantly agreed and we were treated to a short ‘pep talk’ that included offensive comments like, “Girls shouldn’t play sports like basketball because they don’t look feminine – just sports like tennis where they run around in skirts and look cute” and “female athletes should look like females when they play and wear some make-up, like lipstick and nail polish.” If you knew my teammates, all amazing and strong women, it is unfathomable how Knight escaped that night unscathed. It remains to date one of our most memorable moments as a team. I know his offensive comments and dismissive behavior in part shaped who I am today, and what I do…trying to make a difference in the lives of girls and women through sport.
I am offended due to my personal experience with Knight in addition to his historical record of disregard for women. Here is what is bothering me today: Why would ESPN give Knight airtime during the two most important and premiere college women’s sport events shown on TV? Why does his voice matter in the landscape of women’s sport?What does it say that a major sport network continues to give Knight airtime and treat him with respect when he has a history of abusive behavior as a coach? (especially in light of the Mike Rice/Rutgers coach abuse scandal, where you could argue Rice’s behavior is an emulation of Knight) What does it say about ESPN and their value of and commitment to respectful coverage of women’s sport? Who decided Knight should be interviewed and what criteria did he use? ( I say ‘he” because a large majority of positions of power in sport media are held by men)
In short, giving Knight airtime during premiere college women’s sport events marginalizes female athletes and is offensive to those who are true fans. It sends the message that women’s sport needs a powerful and (arguably) successful male figure to validate its existence. Women’s sport and female athletes do not need, and I would argue by and large do not WANT, Bobby Knight’s validation or appreciation. The whole thing feels patriarchal and patronizing.
Sport and media are inextricably linked–what is communicated (and not) to audiences is important, and this is no exception. Knight appearing on ESPN when he did is about preserving and perpetuating male power and privilege in the world of sport. What better way to undermine amazingly talented female athletes who are the best in their respective sport, playing on ESPN in prime time, than to interview someone with a history of disrespect for female athletes and women in general.
Over the weekend while perusing news, I saw two images of giant statues of male leaders. The first was of the late former North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il (L). The second picture was a statue of late Pope John Paul II (R)– billed as the world’s tallest at 13.8-meter/45.3-foot.
Maybe it was the synchronicity of a short time span that made me think, but I wondered….Where are the giant statues of female leaders (dead or alive!)?
I thought back to all the statues I’ve seen live or virtually, I couldn’t think of one giant statue of a living or former female leader (note: other than the Virgin Mary, who arguably is not a leader in the way I am discussing here). If you’ve seen one or know of one, please let me know. There have been numerous female leaders around the globe, so I am hoping you have knowledge that such statues of women exist.
Why does the lack of giant female leaders matter?First, a statue is a literal symbol of power…past, present and future power. Second, a statue is a visible representation of what is important, valued, and relevant. Third, it communicates who is most important in a society…and more importantly who is not important. If boys and girls only see statues of men, it socializes youth to believe that only men are capable, competent and deserving of leadership positions. An absence of women in power becomes normal and expected. Fourth, it celebrates male leadership in a public space, communicating to the masses that the accomplishments of these men must be many and great, and are to be celebrated uncritically and problematically. Fifth, size matters….the grand scale of these and other such statues signifies that men are bigger and therefore have more value, than women.
I have a feeling this trend is also replicated and true of sport statues. The sport statues I have seen are of male coaches and athletes…so if you know of any sport statues of female coaches and/or athletes let me know. Just as with seeing females in visible position of power and seeing female athletes ON TV, in print or digitally is important, statues of females represent an important aspect of power rarely considered.