“It is a lady’s business to look beautiful and there are hardly any sports in which she seems able to do it.” –Sportswriter Paul Gallico, 1936
“Well, the vast majority of WNBA players lack crossover sex appeal…. The baggy uniforms don’t help.” –Bill Simmons, HBO sports personality, circa 2006
“Women’s sports in general not worth watching.” –Sports Illustrated contributor Andy Benoit on Twitter, 2015
In March 2015, former NCAA ice hockey player Dani Rylan announced the formation of the National Women’s Hockey League, the first paying professional women’s hockey league in North America. For players like Kaleigh Fratkin, a defenseman from British Columbia, it was a life-changing opportunity to continue playing, for a salary, after college. But both as a college player at Boston University and once Fratkin arrived as a pro in Connecticut—one of the league’s four franchise areas, along with New York City, Boston, and Buffalo—she was struck by how many people had never seen a women’s hockey game before.
“They just aren’t aware of it,” says Fratkin, who recently signed with the New York Riveters. Women’s hockey is largely ignored by the mainstream sports media, she says, and fans don’t have any “weird sort of telepathy” that tells them the sport exists.
It’s not just women’s hockey that’s being ignored. According to the University of Minnesota’s Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, women’s athletics receive only about 4 percent of all sports media coverage. Other studies have put television time as low as 1 percent.
Yet, 44 years after the passage of Title IX, women and girls in the United States are playing and following sports in unprecedented numbers. Forty percent of all sports participants are female, according to the Tucker Center, and roughly a third of fans of major sports are women. The evolution of women’s sports over the last four decades has been dramatic; the media coverage, not so much.
“Mainstream sports media outlets are essentially ‘mediated man-caves,’” said Dr. Cheryl Cooky, an associate professor of American studies at Purdue University. “It’s a space where men can go and know it’s going to be by, for, and about men.”