#CoverTheAthlete Campaign Calls out Sexist Media Coverage of Athletes

November 6th 2015

Fast-growing social media campaign #CoverTheAthlete is calling out sports media everywhere for sexist coverage of women athletes.

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The campaign produced this video using real questions that were asked to female athletes and dubbed them over interviews and commentary with male athletes. The results are sobering.

The #CoverTheAthlete campaign is encouraging supporters to send a message to major sports networks including ESPN, Fox Sports, BBC Sport and NBC Sports to stop a practice that they feel has gotten out of control.

“Sexist commentary, inappropriate interview questions and articles focused on physical appearance not only trivializes a woman’s accomplishments but also sends a message that her value is based on her looks, not her ability. And it’s much too commonplace."

#covertheathlete #CoverTheAthlete - covertheathlete.com

#covertheathlete #CoverTheAthlete - covertheathlete.com

#covertheathlete #CoverTheAthlete - covertheathlete.com

#covertheathlete #CoverTheAthlete - covertheathlete.com

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The campaign may have a point. Earlier this year the New York Times came under fire over an article that featured four-time Olympic gold medalist Serena Williams' physique as the topic of discussion.

Serena Williams competing in FranceFlickr/Yann Caradec - flickr.com

The story included quotes and commentary from other female athletes commenting on Williams' more "masculine" and “bulky physique” and came just one day before the then 21-time Grand Slam winner would compete for her sixth Wimbledon title. Although The Times did run other articles actually analyzing the athletic match-up between Williams and her opponent, many people questioned the news judgment and The Times' decision to dedicate an entire article discussing Williams' body image.

Other athletes have faced similar treatment.

During the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, American gymnast Gabrielle Douglas created a firestorm for something other than for her performance and gold medal in the women's all-around event. After a group of people began to criticize Douglas' hair for looking "unkempt" while she was competing, the media used it as news fodder. The topic became so popular that Douglas appeared in an interview with Oprah Winfrey to defend herself and discuss the issue.

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But this kind of scrutiny of female athletes' appearances, especially in the world of tennis and gymnastics, is not something to be surprised about one study says.

According to the study, part of the sexism that appears in women athletics is due to society's love of defining and maintaining clear gender differences. However, sports has the capability to dispel these gender differences and thus, there is a need to sexualize and feminize women athletics. The study offers this explanation:

"Because sports offer women the potential for reducing physical power imbalances on which patriarchy is founded and reified, one way to limit and deemphasize women's physical power and capabilities is to associate female athleticism with female sex appeal."

And depending on how feminine or masculine the sport is or how feminine the athlete appears, the more that people focus on appearance and gender.

For instance, the BBC reports that although men and women are required to compete in the same events in gymnastics, judges have specific criteria based on gender. For instance, men are rewarded for their displays of great strength and power and female gymnasts are rewarded for their displays of grace, endurance and flexibility.

This may be the reason why Gabrielle Douglas became the center of attention for not having the a desirable hairstyle and why some members of the media are given the green light to ask gender-centered questions.

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