Every four years when the Summer Olympics roll around, the sport I’m most excited to watch is women’s gymnastics. Watching incredible athletes perform insane flips, tricks and technically intricate beam and floor routines captivates me to no end. I’m always left in awe of the strength and grace of these women. I was recently surprised, however, to learn that there are NCAA women’s gymnastics competitions and I had to ask myself, “How many other people are unaware of this?”
When it comes to United States sports media, the representation of female athletes is extremely—and frustratingly—miniscule. A report from the University of Minnesota’s Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sports indicates that “40 percent of all sports participants are female, yet women’s sports receive only 4 percent of all sport media coverage.” This is unacceptable.
Not only do female athletes and sports fans have to sit through male-oriented advertisements that often demean and sexually objectify women—take almost all alcohol endorsements, for example—but they are forced to scour television channels and the Internet just to watch their favorite female athletes play or miss them entirely.
There are currently 74 colleges in the U.S. that participate in NCAA women’s gymnastics, including SUNY Brockport and SUNY Cortland. While this is definitely smaller than the number of schools that play sports like NCAA basketball or football, that doesn’t mean that the sport doesn’t have a strong fan base.
Remember in 2012 when the “Fab Five” U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics team—featuring groundbreaking African-American gymnast Gabby Douglas—captured the hearts of thousands of men and women everywhere? When the opportunity to watch is presented, it’s hard not to be impressed by these women who are as agile and powerful as ninjas.
Not only is women’s gymnastics a visually dynamic sport to watch, but it also provides viewers with positive female role models to look up to. The same goes for all other women’s sports. By underrepresenting these women and their teams, media outlets convey the message that they don’t really care about female sports and that male athletes deserve more coverage.
How damaging of a message is that to young female athletes everywhere? It is the 21st century, not the 1800s. Many women like sports, play sports and are damn good at playing those sports.
Our country devotes an entire month to the “madness” of college basketball, watching men dribble a ball up and down a court for two hours. These games are given an incredible amount of media attention and are shown in primetime on a major network.
A sport with talented, dedicated women competing and showing the incredible things that a human body can do deserves to be recognized with more than just limited ESPN3 online streams, clips and summary articles.