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With the NHL lockout and the present wrap-up of the CFL season, it’s likely that Canadian sports fanatics aren’t tuning in to quite as many broadcasts as they would hope to at this given moment. Alternatively, viewers are still tuning into NFL, NBA and a plethora of other sporting events around the world. While tuning into such sports broadcasts– whether pre-game, halftime, and just to catch the end of game discussions among sports broadcasters–take a moment to ponder the last time you watched a sports broadcast and considered the gender of the panel member. I would be curious to know the percentage of individuals who concluded that the reporter was a male.

Section five of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights identifies that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” While acts of freedom have been implemented in several democratic societies, equality remains a constant struggle for individuals within democratic and other political cultures alike. While many greater struggles of course exist, the aim of this review is to address gender bias pertaining specifically to sports journalism, broadcasting, and air times of men’s and women’s sports events on television.

Male broadcasters for a college football game in the USA (image source: pennstatelive)

In many countries current laws have helped to alter job markets so that they allow for equal opportunities among men and women. Unfortunately, sports broadcasting is an industry which seems to be falling short of the bench mark for equal representation and credibility amongst male and female reporters.

In their work The Credibility of Female Sports Broadcasters: The Perception of Gender in a Male-Dominated Profession, authors Amanda Gunther, Daniel Kautz  and Allison Roth strive to identify gender bias in terms of male and female sports broadcasters. Specifically, they center their research on determining why stereotypes are consistent within the field of sports journalism and sports broadcasting. The authors use qualitative and quantitative research methods to establish whether or not men and women are viewed as equally knowledgeable within the particular industry.

This academic work originally theorizes that gender bias would result in women being seen as less credible sports broadcasters in comparison to men. In order to explore their hypothesis, they investigate the history of women within sports journalism and the question of credibility in terms of gender bias. They investigated by conducting a structured a survey with 181 participants, as well as conducting focus groups and focus interviews, posing questions such as: “Do you believe that there exists a credibility gap between male and female sports broadcaster, based solely on gender?” When all research was completed and examined, their results illustrated that “the majority [of respondents] found [both genders] to be equally knowledgeable.”

Earlier studies by Ordman and Zillman proved a different viewpoint than that of Gunther, Kautz & Roth. Based off a hypothesis that assumed both male and female audience members to deem women less involved with and this less knowledgeable of sports, and therefore judged as less competent, their research proved their hypothesis to be true. More specifically, data they collected confirmed that “female sports reporters are perceived as less competent than their male colleagues. The female reporter was also perceived as less informed about sports generally and specifically.”

Chopper on Sky Sports HD2

Sports broadcast is a predominantly male-centered media sector (Photo credit: William Hook on Flickr)

Perhaps female sports broadcasters are seen as being less competent due to the social stereotypes surrounding women and sports. Specific behaviours are often identified by individuals in society in terms of what consitutes acceptable behaviour for both genders. This identification is known as the self-categorization theory. Reid, Palomares, Anderson & Bondad-Brown, researchers and authors of this theory, explain that self- categorization in terms of gender roles anticipates that “women will suffer the costs of negative stereotypes when gender is salient. In this case, women will be expected to conform to the female stereotype, and negatively evaluated when they are assertive because they will be perceived as conforming to the male stereotype.”

Women’s competence in terms of reporting– specifically in terms of sports journalism– can also be linked to a variety of roles played by women in the media. While more primary female roles are appearing in television shows, they still often depict gender-specific stereotypes and are not always shown as equals compared to their male counterparts. The fact that male characters on television are more likely to be employed and hold high status positions than female characters  is something shown in various gender role studies.

One particularly relevant study (by Lauzen, Dozier, Reyes, Glascock et al) focused specifically on sampling television broadcasts between 2003 and 2004 and used artefacts that included drama and comedy genres. This study focused specifically on observing the age of characters within the plots, but also analysed how gender played a factor in establishing character roles. Examining previous studies done on prime time television through literature review and quantitative analysis, it was determined that age and gender identities within specified mediums showed an inaccurate representation of the U.S population. With this being an established fact, is it not surprising that the depiction of women within sports broadcasting can be linked to inaccurate representations of women in general?

Recent television shows, specifically drama genres, have done excellent work in fleeing from female stereotypes by portraying women as doctors, lawyers, athletes, women of their communities as well as mothers. But why is it that women can be doctors, lawyers, community members, and mothers, but not sports broadcasters?

After consideration and discussion with family and friends, I realized that circumstances, in some ways are changing. Canadian sports channels such as TSN, Sports Net, and even NHL reports on CBC are currently being led by confident and articulate women who are equally as knowledgeable compared to their male counterparts. Intrigued by this idea of male to female ratios in broadcast crews, I visited both TSN and Sports Net’s websites to try and retrieve a list of broadcasters’ names but failed to recover any. Still, all photographs featured on their home pages were of male broadcast teams.

In this magnificent world we live in that is constantly fostering growth, the work force is also progressing to create equal opportunities amongst men and women. Sports broadcasting is just another example of a sector that is lagging in this respect, and it’s time for that to change.