Representation of Athletes in the Media

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There has been an abundance literature on the subject of the representation of female athletes in the media, from television coverage and newspapers to magazines and websites. From ancient Greece where it was not allowed for women to partake in or even watch the Olympic Games and the power and independence of the Amazonian tribal warrior woman, to present day and the struggles with underrepresentation and misrepresentation of female athletes in sport media (George, Hartley, Paris, 2001; Creedon, 1994; Bernstein, 2002). The mass media is a sociocultural machine that churns out influential images and articles about (sporting) issues that reflect ideologies, values and beliefs that shape societies attitudes towards that issue, such as the underrepresentation of female athletes and women’s sport causing society to believe that women’s sporting achievement and participation in sport is inferior or of little value or less exciting then male athletes and male sport (George, Hartly, Paris, 2001; Bernsein, 2002; Duncan, 1990; Sagas et al, 2000; Economos, C. D., Brownson, R. C., DeAngelis, M. A., Foerster, S. B., Foreman, C. T., Gregson, J., Kumanyika, S. K. and Pate, R. R., 2001). Harris (1999) puts it that the ‘attitudes towards the institution of sport generate and support sexist ideologies and beliefs about gender’ (; 98). The literature focusses its research analysis on two main underlying issues, these being the amount of coverage and secondly, the type of representation created in the mass media of female athletes and women’s sport. These issues can be broken down further into ‘sub-issues’ which focus on the representation of women in visual media - photos, verbal descriptors – commentary, contextual – articles (Alexander, 1994; Bernstein, 2002). The amount of coverage in all mass media forms in certain time frames are usually consisting of the analysis of media revolving around the largest sporting event in history – The Olympics. It has been proven that aside from the two weeks every four years for the Olympics and arguably the two weeks for the Commonwealth Games, sport media coverage of female sports is almost forgotten, non-existent or even ignored (Jones, 2006), for example; less than 10 per cent of coverage increases to an average of 26 per cent during major sporting events such as the Olympics (Bruce, 2008).

The media’s coverage of female athletes does not carry a fair portrayal of women in sport but serves to reinforce ideologies that women are inferior and are ‘socially constructed as an alternative to their male counterparts, who play the version of the sport that “really counts”’ (Jones and Jackson, 1999. p 99). Many of the ways in which media has been found to represent women can be deconstructed in the photographs used in the media. Lee (1992) found, in his analysis of the Globe and Mail and the New York Times coverage of the 1984 and the 1988 Olympic Games, that male athletes received 60.4% of the photographic coverage in parallel with the female athletes who had only 26%. So we can already begin to understand how the media is responsible for this under and miss representations of female athletes. Vincent, Imwold, Masemann and Johnson (2002) suggests 4 ways in which one can break down the denotations of imagery; 1 – Competitive: where the athlete is actively pictured partaking in his/her sport, 2 – Non-competitive: this is when an athlete is not actively participating in the sport but is in a setting whereby the sport is apparent, 3 – Active: the athlete is physically doing something other than the sport, for example spectating, 3 – Posed: when the athlete is depicted in a non-sport setting and is posed for the camera. Duncan (1990) suggests women represent ‘otherness’ in photographs when there is a focus on A) women’s physical appearance (the ‘best looking’, ‘best kept’ athletes are captured more, B) poses with sexual connotations (images revealing body prats to resemble soft-core pornography), C) displays...
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