Gender Bias in Sport
Merriam-Webster (2007) defines bias as a “bent or tendency; an inclination of temperament or outlook; especially: a personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment.” Gender bias further defines the construct whereby either males or females face unreasoned judgment or prejudice.
In sport, gender bias can be found at all levels and in all aspects of culture. Females have been the unfortunate recipients of most gender bias in sport. Gill (2000) uses the term “gender marking,” which refers to the use of Women’s Final Four in NCAA Division I basketball as opposed to the Men’s Division I Tournament, which is simply called the Final Four. These designations beg the question as to why the women’s tournament needs to be qualified and not the men’s. Similarly, the LPGA refers to the Ladies Professional Golf Association but the men’s is simply called the PGA (Professional Golf Association). The NBA (National Basketball Association) and WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association) follow suit.
The qualifying designation is not restricted to the United States, however, as one only has to look at the World Cup, the most prestigious soccer tournament in the world. The World Cup for men is simply called the World Cup, while the World Cup for women is called the Women’s World Cup.
ESPN has a feature during its broadcasts called the “Bottom Line,” which appears at the bottom of the television screen. A graphic scrolls the scores. During basketball season, men’s college scores are preceded with the designation of “NCAAB” with the “B” presumably meaning Basketball. The women’s college scores, however, are preceded by NCAAW. The ‘W’ obviously qualifies the sport as women’s.
There are other examples of gender bias with regard to mascots at all levels of sport, mostly with the qualifier of “lady” being used before the mascot’s name. This label conjures up the idea that girls or women prance around in ballroom gowns as they play sports. On the other hand, one will not find a mascot’s title for a boy’s or men’s team preceded with the qualifier of “gentlemen,” such as the Gentlemen Tigers. Gender bias regarding mascots can also be found with schools that add the “ette” to the women’s mascot team, such as the Devilettes, as opposed to the Devils.
Although some progress has been made in the reduction of bias toward women in sport, there is much that still needs to be accomplished. With the advent of Title IX in 1972 and the increasing prominence of women in the culture of sport, I believe that we will continue to see an upward trend in the reduction of gender bias.
Gill, D.L. (2000). Psychological Dynamics of Sport and Exercise. Champaign, Illinois, Human Kinetics Books.
Merriam-Webster Online. (2007). (Electronic version). Pulled 2/3/07 from http://www.m-w.com.