As the Women’s World Cup comes to a close this weekend, we are nearing the end of a cycle of commentary that crops up whenever women’s sports are the center of attention. There are myriad think pieces on the state of women’s sports and whether we should be lamenting or praising them. In part, all of them are right. In many ways, things are good. There is a still a ways to go, however, when it comes to resources, screen time, and support. One thing that would help is if we stopped hiding behind a series of predictable excuses for why #female athletes continue to struggle in an era of non-stop sports.
More people in the US are watching women’s sports on TV than ever before but when it comes to getting people into seats at games, it’s an ever-present problem. More girls and women are participating all the time, especially in the United States, where Title IX’s impact is undeniable. Yet there is the ongoing fight to get SportsCenter to show women’s sports more than 2% of the time and the inevitable sexist response to women’s sports that come even from journalists. Sexist coverage of women’s soccer is both dying off and the same as always. Fifa (known for its sexism) recently published a piece about USA forward, Alex Morgan, that started by stating she is “a talented goalscorer with a style that is very easy on the eye and good looks to match.” While ESPN airs hundreds of women’s matches across all kinds of sports on TV or digitally, it can still be work to hard follow a specific league or team. That’s not to say it does not exist but rather that it is often relegated to niche parts of sites or social media, or left out of local coverage entirely.
Yes, things are better than ever for women’s sports but increased coverage – outside of the old favorites like Wimbledon or Olympic gymnastics – is only decades old and that’s a low bar to beat. How to make things better is where we really get stuck, though. Here are the most common excuses why women’s sports are ignored – and why those excuses don’t quite stick.
Some people claim that women’s sports are too boring and then wash their hands of it all. But Will Leitch convincingly argued that if you find sports boring, it’s because you are most likely ignorant of the larger context of the match you are watching. If Leitch is right, there is an obvious need for the media to make that context easily accessible and digestible for fans. Sometimes, though, the boredom threshold might be insurmountable. If someone finds that all the sports that they think are boring just happen to involve women, especially team sports, the problem has nothing to do with how the women play or the backstory to the match.
This is probably why the “it’s boring” defense often goes hand-in-hand with the one that if women want people to pay attention, they just need to be as good as men. But the same people who believe this probably watch the Little League World Series or college #football, or some version of any sport that is not the very highest level. If you are a fan of sport, you consume all levels of it because sport is fun to watch in and of itself. For many observers though, women are not allowed to exist as athletes in and of themselves, but instead in direct comparison to men. This is unfair in a world that vastly under-resources girls and women when it comes to sport, and still in many places actively discourages their participation.