Girls Kick: Moving the Media’s World Cup Goal Posts

Girls Kick: Moving the Media’s World Cup Goal Posts

by Ariel Dougherty

The World Cup coverage by ESPN (and ABC) washed over the U.S. this summer like a fever — a month long homage to the universal sport as played by men.

The World Cup games have never before held my attention. But this time I joined in and became a modestly regular viewer. The 5:30 a.m. time slot of the day’s first game may not have made it into my viewing schedule, but otherwise I took part in game after game. While I watched the British goalie, Green, fumble a kick by the U.S., I pondered what led me to pay even this close attention to The World Cup?

In 4th through 6th grades in the late 1950s soccer was the game we played at Georgetown Day School in Washington, DC — boys and girls together — during sports. None of us could match Tommy Gieger’s agile footwork, but that did not hamper our enthusiasm.

By the time of high school, it was all boys – all refugees from other counties – that gathered at the Georgetown playground to play football. The high school field was designated for football or baseball. At a woman’s college in the late 1960s, during a sit-in, an early spontaneous consciousness raising session emerged, and in those pre-title IX years, 40 to 50 women unveiled their unfulfilled “closet jock” desires.

My television viewing tends to seek a female voice or protagonist. The World Cup was an exception. It offered none of this – not in the actual games, nor in the accompanying commentary. A brief respite came from Wimbledon coverage of tennis: women referees, ball callers, commentators — and even women players.

The most refreshing sports perspective I found on The World Cup came from spunky young South African women who were part of the Global Girls Media Academy. The group leapt off of a list sent to me by a colleague who is creating a global map of community media. These teenage girls were preparing to report on the international games hosted by their country. In a clip posted on the Internet, they are elegant and forthright. “Sports was not only meant for men,” says one to the camera. Their commentary was a relief from the moderated male voices on ESPN.

Media Disappears Women’s Lives

The real – and dismal – facts about women’s sports coverage on television came in a newly released report. While I was admiring the especially graceful and fancy footwork of the Mexican team (though it was not enough to get them past round 16), Professors Michael Messner and Cheryl Cooky released Gender in Televised Sports: News and Highlight Shows, 1989-2009.

The study centers on the Los Angeles television market and shows that women’s coverage evaporated to 1.6 percent of sports news in 2009. This is a significant drop from what was an abysmal high of 8.7 percent in 1999. ESPN presentations on women’s sports sunk even lower to 1.4 percent on the Sportscenter coverage. The inadequate media coverage lays waste to the many successes that women have made in sports.

Messner and Cooky’s women’s sports media data parallels a global study: Who Makes The News of the Global Media Monitoring Project. Both gather data every five years. In 1995, the first year of data of Global Media Monitoring Project, women’s stories appeared in only 19 percent of print space or broadcast time. By time of the third study in 2005 that figure rose only 2 points to 21 percent. Preliminary data on the 2010 report brings the global media coverage of women’s stories up to 24 percent. While the increments of women’s coverage has been exceedingly slow, it, at least, has never retreated.

That the sports news coverage of women — in a period of such stars as the Williams sisters, Sue Bird and Mia Hamm (before her 2003 retirement) — has diminished so precipitously, over five-fold, is deeply distressing. It represents a significant challenge for women’s right to information as expressed in Article 19 of the International Declaration of Human Rights. Specifically, Article 19 states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless frontiers.” [Emphasis added.]

Aiming to Score

Title IX, as a part of the Education Amendments of 1972, demands that schools accepting federal funds must provide equal sport opportunities for women. There is no Title IX equivalent for media coverage (or for professional women athletes). Not yet.

” Girls’
are now”

Secretly, I wished ESPN had a savvy producer, one smart enough to seek out Global Girl’s coverage of the World Cup simply to get another view. John Skipper, Executive Vice President of Content for ESPN, had visited the GlobalGirl News Bureau in Soweto. According to Global Girls website, the media executive “spoke with the GlobalGirl Reporters about careers in broadcast journalism and encouraged the girls to follow their dreams.”

What Skipper fails to understand is that girls’ dreams are now. Girls want to get to make the kick-off after the coin is tossed and defend their goal posts on behalf of their teams. And have it covered in the media. It is not enough that maybe someday women report on men making goals. What about women’s goals, ESPN?

How about covering all of the FIFA Women’s World Cup games from Germany, June 26 to July 17, 2011? In response to my inquiry, ESPN told me that, thus far, it plans coverage for exactly one day — the “Finals on Sunday July 17 at 2 pm ET.” Dear ESPN: This is not equal coverage.

Ariel Dougherty, is national project director of Media Equity Collaborative, an effort to improve the funding and resources available for a broad range of women’s centered media throughout the U.S. The new film, Women Art Revolution, which she assisted in producing, will be released this fall. She was a co-founder of Women Make Movies. Write FIFA Women’s games at [email protected]. Communicate with ESPN via its website form.

Also see From Our Files on Equality in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

See Say “I Do”: Constitutional Equality is Forever by Carolyn A. Cook in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

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