Reflection: Women, Sports and Media

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Reflection: Women, Sports and Media
May 1, 2018

By MacKaiya Cherry

April 20 was a day for the books, and one that I will always remember. That date marked the Women, Sports and Media conference, hosted by the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism and espnW at the University of Maryland.

The schedule was jam-packed with remarkable women who are dominating in the world of sports journalism.

The conference especially stood out because it combined sports journalism and academic research. I had never thought of the statistics involved with the coverage of women in sports. I knew that women athletes had been underrepresented in sports media but actually seeing the numbers behind the coverage really opened my eyes.

Cheryl Cooky, the first keynote speaker and an associate professor at Purdue University, focused her presentation on the type of language used to discuss men’s and women’s sports.

During television coverage of men’s sports, there tended to be more “dominant descriptors,” Cooky said, for example a term like “monstrous two-handed jam” to illustrate a slam dunk. But when covering women sports, the coverage tended to stick with a “just the facts” portrayal, according to Cooky.

Many of the sportscasters Cooky studied also used different levels of energy depending on the gender of the sport they were commentating.

I had noticed this while watching games and sports news in the past, but I normally paid more attention to the visuals. This presentation opened my eyes to the different treatment of men’s and women’s sports by the media, and moving forward, I will try to evaluate sports media in a more critical light.

Cooky ended her presentation with Breanna Stewart’s 2016 ESPY acceptance speech for Best Female Athlete. In the speech, Stewart implores the audience: “Together, let’s be better.” This resonated with me, especially because of all the women journalists in the room with me at that conference, networking and collaborating on ways to make the industry better for women sports journalists and athletes.

Several more discussions throughout the day built upon that theme, including a panel titled “Coverage of Women Athletes: Then and Now.”

The panel was moderated by Raina Kelley, deputy editor of ESPN’s The Undefeated, and included ESPN reporters Bonnie Ford, Alyssa Roenigk and Mechelle Voepel, as well as reporter and basketball analyst Monica McNutt. These remarkable women talked about the changes they have seen in the coverage of women athletes, with a move toward increased acceptance of athlete’s individuality and uniqueness – but of course there is always room for improvement.

The conference closed with a conversation on how we – as journalists, as researchers, as media consumers – can move forward. Personally, I think we should continue to have conferences like this one.

I learned so much and met so many women that laid the foundations for aspiring journalists like me. I was reminded that I am not alone and that other women in the industry want to help us all to succeed.

As SportsCenter anchor Elle Duncan told conference attendees, “We are an absolute force when we are together.”

I would like to thank the Povich Center and espnW for this amazing opportunity to connect with such exceptional women.

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