Women Go Backwards

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This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

It's perplexing. Last weekend Danica Patrick finishes a highly respectable sixth place in the not-so-long-ago All-Boys Indianapolis 500. Serena Williams as of just a couple of days ago is reported in the headlines of the world's sports pages as The Only American left in the French Open….not the only American woman, but the Only American, intimating that her stature allows her to represent all American tennis players, above Andy Roddick and the other ranked male players who were eliminated before her. Sixteen-year-old Australian Jessica Watson draws fascination from people of many nations as she singlehandedly circumnavigates the globe in her sailboat.

All this respect for women athletes, yet the recently issued report on gender in televised sport reveals abysmal findings as to just how little respect is given women athletes by media on a daily basis. The report, issued regularly since 1989 by the Center for Feminist Research out of the University of Southern California has one section from observing sports news on three network affiliates over a period of time that bears the glaring headline: "Coverage of women's sports plummets." The result of monitoring these network affiliates? In 2009, the percentage of time these networks devoted to women's sports compared to men's sports was a measly 1.6%, the lowest level by far in any year measured over these past two decades.

Girls and women are playing sports in numbers vastly higher than twenty years ago. Women professional athletes are signing bigger contracts than ever before. Women are climbing the highest summits, sailing the toughest seas, wrestling in boys' programs, playing football and boxing and driving race cars in more of a mainstream way than ever before. Yet they get less and less respect and attention from the media?

For instance, another finding of the USC report (to which you can access a link at KCRW.com/TheScore) is that the virtual revered FINAL WORD of sports information, ESPN's Sports Center, has drastically fallen off in its reporting of women's sports. During all Sports Center broadcasts, there is a continuous scrolling ticker across the bottom of the screen, where scores and even breaking news carry as much weight in today's world of short attention span as what the anchors on camera are talking about. In the most recent 2009 study of the Sports Center ticker, a slim 2.7% of the reporting involved women's sports. Six years ago, in 2004, a significantly higher amount of space and time, 8.5% was devoted to women athletes. How could we possibly going backwards in the eyes of ESPN and network affiliates when we are purportedly going forward in our school programs and our professional arenas?

Have you got an explanation because I don't? Don't be shy. I'd even like to hear from you if you don't like or get women's sports. Is it that sports are truly the last differentiation between the genders and there are many men just won't give up that last stake of territory? I'd just like to know why? Weigh in, if you have a moment, at KCRW.com/TheScore.

And, as always, thanks for listening.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.

Banner image: Sixteen-year-old Australian sailor Jessica Watson sails her bright pink 10.23-metre (33.56-foot) yacht during a media photo opportunity on Sydney Harbour on October 7, 2009. Watson began her attempt to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world in Sydney on October 18, with plans to travel north to the equator above New Zealand, around South America's treacherous Cape Horn and back via the Southern Atlantic and the Cape of Good Hope, completing a 23,000 nautical mile sail. Photo: Gred Wood/AFP/Getty Images



Diana Nyad