An unglamorous look at women in athletics

Common sense, an even an occasional glimpse at the sports pages, will confirm the problem that MPR’s Midmorning tackled today — women’s sports don’t get the attention they deserve, it may discourage more girls and women from participating in sports, and the media too often portrays women as sexual beings before showing them as outstanding athletes.

Mary Jo Kane, professor in the School of Kinesiology and director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota, used Minnesota native Lindsey Vonn as an example, saying she was constantly portrayed in sexual tones rather than athletic ones.

“It’s because there are too many men — and in particular white men — in sports journalism,” added Don Sabo, professor of Health Policy and Health Education at D’Youville College in Buffalo.

Unanswered in the hour was whether Vonn, herself, is making it more difficult for women to be portrayed as athletes. Vonn has crafted her sexy image. Just check our her website.


In a recent tournament, the Associated Press reported on what Serena Williams was wearing while reporting on the results of her tournament. It struck me as despicable, but it’s also a role Serena Williams has cultivated. Check her website.


Dr. Kane said this isn’t about an individual female athlete, it’s about why corporations don’t want to sponsor female athletes as athletes. She suggested that women athletes who market their own sexuality do so because of the need for corporate sponsorships.

It also may have something with the Williams’ sisters non-athletic businesses which push the glam, and the fashion, and the perfumes.

In the recent Minnesota Lynx run to their championship, there’s no question that many people — mostly men — dismissed the WNBA, often appearing personally threatened by the success of female athletes. But it’s also true that many men overcame their gender and their whiteness to support the squad. And so did the media.

For example, when’s the last time you read or watched a story about Lindsey Whalen that stressed sexuality and glamor? The Star Tribune’s Jim Souhan — he hates everybody — lavished nothing about athletic praise on the squad at season’s end.

By the way, Dr. Sabo indicated during the show that NPR did its part to diminish the coverage of women’s sports. “They had Diana Nyad,” he said. “Now, she’s out. Instead we have Tom Goldman.” (Disclaimer: Nyad was at one time also the highest paid non-executive in American Public Media)

That didn’t stop NPR, however, from providing consistent and compelling coverage of the athlete’s recent attempt to swim to Cuba. It was written by Greg Allen, a white guy.

That, too, is worth acknowledging. Maybe a corner has been turned.