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Sports Broadcasting Reinforces Gender Stereotypes And Homophobia Media Essay

Sports and sports media have been one of the ‘last bastions’ of heterosexual masculinity in today’s society and, thus masculinity and heterosexuality remains in control of the sporting environment and of the men and women who perform within that environment (Davison & Frank, 2007, p. 338). Within sport, each sex; either male or female, has their own roles to play, and 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 attempt to explain why sports reporters/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 such as genitalia differences, which defines men and women. While ‘Gender’ refers to socially constructed differences of 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 explore the social norms within sports and to explain the struggle between men and women, it is necessary to understand the affects that the media may have in influencing a person’s or a societies’ beliefs about gender-appropriate sport behaviour. The media is a powerful tool which influences society, our beliefs, attitudes, and values. Sport reporting/broadcasting of athletics continues to reinforce the division between males and females, and to reinforce societal norms regarding femininity and masculinity. If we examine figure skating, for example, this has been dominated for many years by women. Often when a person mentions it, they automatically think of a female athlete because of the dominance of women participating in the sport more so than men. However, if a man chooses to figure skate he is generally referred to, by others, as a homosexual as it is not perceived to be a gender appropriate sport. This assumption of being gay has most likely been developed because figure skating is perceived to be a feminine sport which women compete in. Men are generally perceived as being tough and masculine and if they do not maintain this expected image, and choose to participate in a sport that appears to be inappropriate for their gender, their sexuality is questioned by sports reporters/broadcasters.

There are many examples of sports reporters/broadcasters using stereotypical and homophobic comments when they are talking about the athlete’s appearance and or mannerisms. In the early 1930’s a female athlete named Mildred Ella Didrikson, who won two gold medals and one silver medal for women’s track and field in the 1932 Los Angeles games, was characterized by the sport broadcaster of the day; print media as being “deficient femininity” and “disturbingly masculinity” (Cayleff, 1992). This characterization led to fears of lesbianism within the women’s sports (Ibid), which still has an image problem today (Knight & Giuliano, 2003, pp. 272-284). 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 the 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 reinforcing comments that were made by sports reporters/ broadcasters but do not represent all sports reporters/broadcasters. There are a few sports reporters who have emphasised that the negative attitude within the sporting community and the media about gender and gay athletes are detrimental to the 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 stated that the negative stereotyping and homophobic attitudes and remarks by professional sports players and the media has a negative effect on the ‘coming out’ of gay athletes and suggests they changes to support athletes (2009).

Sometimes the reporter/broadcaster’s reinforcing comments on gender stereotyping and homophobia are not as overt. The way in which the reporter/broadcaster describes the athlete could also be used to stereotype the athlete in a covert manner, for example, when the describing male athletes, the reporter could use words as “big,” “strong,” and “gutsy” all words that communicate strength and dominance, while using words such as, “weary,” vulnerable,” and “panicked” for women, which connotes weakness. Even the way in which the reporter/broadcaster introduces the athlete can also form stereotypical views of the athlete. The uses of the athletes first and last name reinforces strength while the use of only one name could imply weakness (Duncan, Messner, Williams, & Jensen, 1990). According to Duncan, Messner, Williams, & Jensen report, the use of gender-bias language by sports reporters/broadcasters contributes to the inequality of the sexes (Ibid).

There are several possible explanations that might lead a sports reporter/broadcaster 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 background 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). 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 the sport reporting field has lead to over emphasizing of lesbians and underestimating of gay men in sport. It has also lead to the lack of coverage of female sports (Kain & Anderson, 2009, pp. 799-818).

One way mass media contributes to ensuring hegemonic masculinity and the reinforcement of stereotyping of gender and homophobia 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. Often these captions frame the differences between female and male athletes which minimize the athleticism and accomplishments of the athlete in particular women, masculine females and feminine males (Ibid).

The background of the reporter is also essential, since 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, also what it means to be feminine or gay (Ibid) . Later they either played professional or semi-professional sports where their negative teachings were further reinforced and the use of gender stereotypes and homophobic remarks were common place (Ibid). These gender-bias and homophobic teachings could cause 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).

The way in which a sports reporter/broadcaster focuses their stories also plays an important part on hegemonic masculinity, gender stereotyping and homophobia within sport and sports reporting/broadcasting. The way in which the story is framed such as the over emphasising of a female or males’ masculinity or femininity, or their personal lives could creates media hype. This media hype then sells newspapers and creates a market for future stories. In stories about female athletes, the trend will be on the sport instead of the athlete, while stories about male athletes will not only focus on the sport, the athlete, and also on external matters such as their private lives and extra marital affairs (Centre for Gender Equality Iceland, 2006; Kian, 2007). The increased stories of male athletes and the emphases on the male’s external lives produces media hype that supports masculinity and heterosexuality within sports, while the lack of female athletes story could support the underlying notion that women’s sports are less interesting (Ibid). Since mass media helps to socialize young boys into sport and the fact that the majority of sports reports are about males, masculinity and heterosexuality, it helps to produces cycle of hegemonic masculinity. Where young boys are taught that they are dominant which reinforces gender stereotypes and the non acceptance of gays/lesbians in sports.

Although female sports reporters are making inroads in the sports reporting/broadcasting fields, they are drastically at a disadvantage of not being promoted because of hegemonic masculinity with in the field. As such, female sports 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 reporting/broadcasting field (Kian, 2007).

If learning theory were to be applied to the field of sports reporting, then gender differences and preconceived stereotypes of athletes are based on the reporter’s personal experiences. These preconceived notions subconsciously determine gender roles which will influence 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. The framing of the sport story is also influenced by the reporter’s personal experience. Each reporter will frame a story based on selecting and highlighting certain aspects of reality, while omitting or obscuring other aspects of reality (Adams & Tuggle, 2004, pp. 237-248). Since the majority of sport reporters are male who are taught and socialized on what is means to be dominant, masculine and heterosexual, then their perceived notions of superiority will influence their story writing in order to protect their dominance in sport and sports reporting.

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