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The Absurdity of ESPNW and Women’s Sports Media Coverage

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Dana Point, CA - October 8, 2014 - St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort: 2014 ESPNW Summit. Photo: Eddie Perlas / ESPN Images)

By Reneé Garrick, Esq. |

The more women play, the less people seem to care. Studies show that despite an increasing number of women and girls playing sports, sport media coverage for women’s sports continues to decline.

I had once great hope that online coverage could become the equalizer we desperately needed, removing the competition with men’s sports for airtime, but the most prominent sports website in the country forces visitors into a deep dark hole right down to the dregs of the website in order to find any coverage of women’s sports, by which time many visitors no longer care.

ESPN is a notable exception. They created a website specifically for women’s sports: ESPNW which somehow, tragically, has managed to make matters even worse. The cursive and soft as tissue paper layout would be offensive enough on their own. But it blows don’t stop there.

As of the date of this writing, navigating to the ESPNW.com homepage reveals the most prominent woman on the page is Disney “princess” Mulan.  Please don’t misunderstand, Mulan is a badass and worthy of celebration. However, I struggle to recall an instance of a Disney prince taking center stage on any other sports media website, 20th anniversary or not. The gesture, while perhaps well-intentioned, immediately chips away at the credibility and seriousness of coverage and re-frames perceptions about women athletes as impostors posing as something they are not.

The typecasting built in to the site’s structure continues throughout and solidifies ESPN’s perception and treatment of women’s sports as separate but equal. And hopefully by now we all understand the merits of the separate but equal framework.

ESPNW has four tabs: sports, voices, lifestyle, and culture. I am still hoping someone can explain to me how ‘sports’ be one on four equally prominent tabs on any ESPN website? In contrast, ESPN.com is chock full of real-time sports content, with nary a lifestyle piece in sight. Drafts, match predictors, “NBA Trade Machine” and ESPY votes match up against a variety of sentimental articles between pieces on Jurassic World.

All that is not to mention that a shocking number of articles and videos on ESPNW’s homepage feature male athletes, while you’d be hard pressed to find a single female athlete on ESPN’s homepage.

Sports media is powerful. It doesn’t just respond to us sports consumers, it helps create our demands and perceptions. Sports media isn’t waiting for fans to become interested in women’s sports, it is helping create the apathy.

This apathy creates far reaching consequences for women in sports business, and business generally, as it becomes ever more a “boy’s club.” The lessons sports teach from an early age are lauded the world over. Shouldn’t women and girls learn them too? I mean, how will Steph Curry explain to Riley that she isn’t every bit as tough or as valuable as LeBron James Jr.?

Reneé Garrick is an attorney with significant media and sports experience having worked with three of the four major sports leagues during her career. Garrick graduated from Muhlenberg College with a BA in Political Science and Business Administration in 2012 and from Harvard Law School with a JD in 2015.

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