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Broadcasting And Homophobia In Sports Media Essay

Sports and sports media have been one of the ‘last bastions’ of heterosexual masculinity in today’s society and, thus remains in control of the sporting environment and of the men, women who perform within that environment (Davison & Frank, 2007, p. 338). Within the sporting confines, each ‘sex’ either male or female has their own roles to play. Thus, when one member of a ‘sex’ decides to bravely expand their gender role, they are stereotyped and labelled as different and chastised within the sporting community and the media. This paper will examine sports broadcasting and how the broadcasters stereotype gender. The papers theorises that sports media coverage reinforces gender stereotypes and homophobia.

One of the most common misconceptions when talking about sex and gender is that they are synonymous. This assumption is not only prevalent in sports and sports broadcasting but it is also a problem with gender researchers (Lorber, 2008, Chapter 2). ‘Sex’ refers to biological differences, such as physiological differences and genitalia differences, while ‘Gender’ refers to socially constructed differences of the a person’s biological makeup and assigns social meaning to them. This social meaning will define a person’s gender as being either masculine or feminine (Deckha, 2010).

According to the Collins English Dictionary stereotyping is defined as a fixed conventional notion or conception of an individual or group of people (2008). Homophobia is defined as a strong dislike of a person based on their sexual orientation (Collins English Dictionary & Thesaurus, 2008). Both stereotypes and homophobia can be basic or complex generalizations which people apply to individuals or groups based on their appearance, behaviour and beliefs.

To understand social norms that area embedded in sports and to explore current values and power structures regarding men and women, it is necessary to investigate the effect that the media may possibly have in influencing beliefs about gender-appropriate sport behaviour. The media is a powerful factor which influences our beliefs, attitudes, and the values we have of ourselves and others as well as the world surrounding us. It seems that sport reporting of athletics continues to reinforce the ongoing division between males and females, and to reproduce traditional expectations regarding femininity and masculinity.

One is able to witness the biased attitude directed toward the athletes who attempts to participate in a sport that are non-traditional to his/her gender. Figure skating, for example, has been dominated for many years by women. Often if a person refers to figure skating, it is natural to automatically think of a female athlete because of the many more women who have participated in the sport than men. However, if a man chooses to figure skate he is generally referred to, by others, as a homosexual. Most likely this accusation of being gay has developed because figure skating is viewed as a popular women's sport, and regarded as somewhat of a delicate and feminine sport. Opposing this feminine image, men are generally perceived as being tough and masculine. If men do not maintain this expected image, and choose to participate in sports that have been dominated mostly by women, their sexuality is questioned.

There are many examples of sports broadcasters and sport media using stereotypical and homophobic comments when they are talking about the athlete’s appearance and mannerisms. In the early 1930’s a female athlete named Mildred Ella Didrikson, won two gold medals and one

silver medal for women’s track and field in the 1932 Los Angeles games. She was characterized by the sport broadcaster of the day; print media as being “deficient femininity” and “disturbingly masculinity”. This characterization led to fears of lesbianism within the women’s sports (Cayleff, 1992), which still exists today. In 2007 while conducting a sports broadcast, CBS college basketball announcer Billy Packer used the term “fag out” when he referred Charlie Rose who he was co-anchoring with (YouTube). Also in that same year, an ESPN sport broadcasters said “that’s kinda gay’, when describing an athlete’s hands and catching a football (YouTube). In the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, sport journalist from RDS TV, Claude Mailhot and Alain Goldberg commenting on male figure skater Johnny Weir said, “Weir's feminine style may reflect badly on other male figure skaters. They'll think all the boys who skate will end up like him" and “it sets a bad example.” They went on further to say “We should make him pass a gender test at this point” (The Toronto Star). These examples are just a sample of some of the stereotyping and homophobic comments that were made my sports reporters and broadcasters but do not represent all sports reporters and broadcasters. There are a few sports reporter who have emphasises the negative attitude within the sporting community and the media about gay athletes. Justin Bourne a former NHL player and now a sports reporter for USA Today wrote an article in 2009 about the attitudes within the sporting community and homosexuality. Bourne identifies the negative attitudes with the professional players and how that negativity will affect the ‘coming out’ of gay athletes (2009).

There are several possible explanations that might lead a sports reporter to reinforce gender stereotype and homophobia in their articles or broadcasts. These are hegemonic masculinity within sports writing field, the gender of the reporter, and the back ground of the reporter.

Hegemonic masculinity is defined as the configuration of gender practices, which strengthens male dominance in society usually at the expense of the weaker gender (Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005, pp. 829-859). One way mass media contributes to ensuring hegemonic masculinity in sport and sport reporting is through the hiring of only male reporters and the use of traditional gender-specific captions, similar to the examples discussed earlier, and often frame these differences between female and male athletes which minimize the athleticism and accomplishments of the athlete in particular women, masculine females and feminine males (Ibid).

Since sport writing has historically been a male-dominated profession, hegemonic masculinity is reinforced within all aspects of the profession. According to survey of more than 300 U.S. newspapers, males comprise 95% of sport editors, 87% of assistant sport editors, 93% of columnist, 93% of reports, and 87% of copy editors. This hegemonic masculinity of sport reporting field has lead to the over emphasized lesbians and underestimating gay men in sport (Kain & Anderson, 2009, pp. 799-818). The majority of sport reporters are males who have played sports, most likely as a child where they were taught what is means to be male and dominant, and further taught what it means to be feminine and/gay (Ibid) . Later they either played professional or semi-professional sports where their negative teachings were further reinforced and the uses of stereotypes and homophobic remarks were common place (Ibid). These gender-bias and homophobic teachings then causes the reporter to minimize or criticise those that challenge their dominance both in sports and sports reporting.

In a study conducted by a professor at Pennsylvania State University found that men cover sports differently than their female counterparts. Male reporters are more likely to focus on athleticism and masculinity of the athlete while female reporters will focuses on the athleticism of the athlete (Pennsylvania State University, 2009). The researchers found that the “lack of female sports writers can make a real difference in the ways the athletes are presented in coverage” (Ibid). This difference could reinforce gender stereotype and create negative attitudes towards those athletes that choose to challenge the social norms of sports. Since the majority of sports reporters are male then the hegemonic masculinity is reinforced. The focus of the stories also plays an important part on hegemonic masculinity within sport and sport writing/broadcasting. Although female sports reporters are making inroads in the sports writing/broadcasting field, they are drastically at a disadvantage of being promoted because of hegemonic masculinity with in the field. As such, female sport reporters will often focus their stories more on male athletes than the female athletes in order to ‘fit-in’ within the organization. This implies that female sports reports also contribute to hegemonic masculinity within the sport writing/broadcasting field (Kian, 2007).

If learning theory were to be applied to the male reporters’ dominance, then the gender differences or stereotypes are based on the reporter’s personal experiences. These preconceived notions subconsciously determine gender roles and influences a reporters decision-making process. In the case of those who are responsible for hiring sport reporters, management could subconsciously hire male sports reporter instead of female reporter in order to reinforce their dominance in the field.

If framing theory were to be applied to the gender of the sport reporter, where the framing process involves the editor or the reporter selecting and highlighting certain aspects of reality, while omitting or obscuring other aspects. As mentioned, male reporters are more prone to (Adams & Tuggle, 2004, pp. 237-248).

As Alexander (1994) noted, television sports coverage often reinforces stereotypes about what is acceptable sports participation for females. By limiting women's coverage to "socially acceptable" sports, the two programs under study frame other women's sports as uninteresting or unimportant. By giving proportionately much more coverage to male athletics, Sports Center and Sports Tonight paint all women's competition as less important by comparison. "Regardless of what is actually happening to the relationship between women and sport, it is the media's treatment and evaluation of that relationship that will shape its direction and content" (Boutlier and San Giovanni, 1983, p. 184).

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