Panel on women’s sports way off-target in blaming media for bias

On Wednesday night, the Distinguished Lecture Series held a panel presentation with the ever-clever title, “Images of Women, Sexuality and Nationalism: What’s (Olympic) Sport Got to do With it?” This panel convened at the Hubert H. Humphrey Center and included a group of four female aficionados and a moderator, all of which are “internationally recognized scholars.”
The crux of their long-winded, formulaic and sometimes questionable evidence was the mistreatment and labeling of female athletes in the media as nothing more than physically and sexually appealing to men.
A standing-room only crowd of 300 watched and listened as the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport sponsored- scholars dissected the masculine appeal and sports media portrayals of these “innocent” women being exploited by various publications as nothing but sex objects.
Mary Jo Kane, the very knowledgeable director of the Tucker Center at the University, used a variety of slides in her presentation to depict just how mistreated female athletes are.
One of her “deplorable” slides was a picture taken from a Sports Illustrated cover in the late 1980’s when tennis legend Chris Evert retired. The photo was a picture of Evert wearing basic tennis attire from the late 80s, with a tennis racquet in her arms and a smile on her face.
A second photo was a picture of three American figure skaters from a cover of People magazine. They were wearing their skating leotards.
And a third photo was taken from Parade magazine, a supplement of the St. Paul Pioneer Press for the Winter Olympics at Nagano, Japan in 1998. This was the first season women’s hockey was an Olympic sport. It was a picture of a U.S. goalie on the ice in full uniform, without her mask.
No bare skin was shown in these photos, except for the women’s face.
This is evidence women athletes are viewed as sex objects for men, via the media?
The name Anna Kournikova was brought up by the “experts” on more than one occasion. Each time it was to state that her physical attractiveness is the reason she is popular, and thus making millions of dollars in endorsements. A photo of the then-16 year old beauty queen was shown.
These women feel Kournikova is being treated unfairly, as her body is the subject around office water coolers far more than her tennis accomplishments.
The accomplishments we should be so much more enthralled about consist of zero career singles titles. The 18-year old “veteran,” by tennis standards, reached the semi-finals of a major championship at Wimbledon in 1997.
What was the rest of the world missing?
To answer that question we need to refer to the WNBA, a league that, according to Dr. Pat Griffin, has a hypocrisy of taking lesbian fans’ ticket money, but won’t promote any lesbian players in the league.
Such as …
I consider myself very tolerant and accepting to all forms of sexual orientation, but let’s imagine such a WNBA commercial.
“Hi, this is Girl Incognito of the Minnesota Lynx. Tonight’s game is Homosexual Night, where all couples who can prove they’re gay or lesbians get in for free. I’m a lesbian too, so don’t be afraid. And I want to see you all there tonight at Target Center.”
A marketing department’s dream.
Then again, Wednesday night was take-your-shot-at-sportswriters- night. Rest assured I could write a book about idiocies by the media and its related subsidiaries, but I kept my mouth shut through most of the witty insults.
While discussing Chinese athletes Olympic training as brutal, Dr. Susan Brownell referred to sportswriters as “not at the vanguard of progressive reportage.”
I’ve never heard of “progressive reportage,” but I would guess she meant it as some kind of put-down.
But given that sport readership is male by a vast majority in this country, the bottom line of all publications (except, of course, The Minnesota Daily) is to bring in the “green.” Staged sexual photos in magazines are, at the bottom line, voluntary.
Plus the cry of inequality failed to mention the cover photo Marion Jones on the previous issue of Sports Illustrated. Was her butt sticking up in the air because she was on the starting block, or was this yet another subtle shot of Marion Jones being portrayed as a sex object?
Many times women have been misrepresented in the media and are some men’s personal sexual source rather than an example of remarkable progress and incredible athletic ability.
The flaw is these experts don’t offer at least the chance of having a series of possible explanation.
Besides, it’s not in my job description to raise anyone’s kids.

Mark Heller is the associate editor and welcomes comments at [email protected]