In case you’ve been living under a rock this week and haven’t heard: NBA superstar LeBron James made The Decision to leave his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers to play for a star-studded cast in Miami. The media hype bordered on ridiculous: powerhouse sports network ESPN made an hour-long documentary earlier in the week, and broadcast a two-hour special for the announcement.
It’s a striking contrast to how the network and most of its competitors treat women’s sports. Researchers at USC recently released a study finding that since 2004, news coverage of women’s sports dropped from 6.3 percent to a ghastly 1.6 percent of all sports coverage on major networks in 2009. And on Sportscenter, home to LeBron-mania, the numbers are slightly worse, at 1.4 percent. The study also found that the nation’s top sports news announcers are overwhelmingly white and male. In Los Angeles, 39 percent of announcers are white and 99.5 percent are male.
The dismal numbers aren’t just a matter of feigning interest in women’s sports. Young girls and women continue to play sports in record numbers, according to recent data, and the numbers of women of color in collegiate sports are growing. Fans have certainly shown interest as well. Nearly 11 million people attended women’s NCAA games this past year and 1.6 million tuned in to watch the NCAA women’s championship basketball game between UCONN and Stanford. But as interest grows and as new professional leagues pop up, network coverage continues to dip—well, with the exception of particularly attractive athletes.
“There has been this continued explosion of participation and interest in women’s sports and it just hasn’t been reflected in TV news and highlight shows,” Michael Messner, author of the report, told sports columnist Dave Zirin.
Photo: ESPN home page for Women’s Basketball