Gender bias? Science backs Auriemma

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 By Brandon Cooper > Junior > Journalism > University of Maryland, Photo by Brendan Loy

Nobody in the media called any of University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma’s basketball players “nappy-headed hoes” when he claimed his team was victim to gender bias.
Still, Auriemma was angry because he felt some members of the media were rooting against his team tying and eventually breaking the collegiate record for consecutive wins in basketball because they were breaking a mark set by a men’s team.

“I just know there wouldn’t be this many people in the room if we were chasing a woman’s record," Auriemma said at a postgame news conference. "The reason everybody is having a heart attack the last four or five days is a bunch of women are threatening to break a men’s record, and everybody is all up in arms about it."
With these words said by the Lady Huskies coach, the sports world’s attention was the most focused on gender bias it had been since a certain radio shock jock made the offensive, off-the-cuff joke about the Rutgers women’s basketball team.
Auriemma’s comments pushed the reporters and news outlets that were covering his team’s historic streak to wonder: Is there a gender bias when covering women’s basketball, or is Auriemma just trying to get more attention for his team?
"Because we’re breaking a men’s record, we’ve got a lot of people paying attention," Auriemma said. "If we were breaking a women’s record, everybody would go, ‘Aren’t those girls nice, let’s give them two paragraphs in USA Today, you know, give them one line on the bottom of ESPN and then let’s send them back where they belong, in the kitchen.’"  
Any gender bias in media coverage of women’s basketball could be immediately chalked up to a lack of fan interest in the sport. More people watch men’s basketball than women’s basketball. Therefore, the media in general is going to cover men’s basketball more than they will women’s basketball. It’s the same reason there’s more news coverage for football than there is boxing. 
Still, gender bias involves more than just how much the media covers the sport. It also involves how the media covers the men and women. 
The LA84 Foundation, a non-profit organization created to promote amateur sports, has concluded in multiple studies over the past two decades that the media has shown bias towards women’s basketball and women’s sports in general. Several times over the years the Foundation produced studies that examined the word choice of broadcasters and reporters when they covered men’s and women’s sports.     
Some of the conclusions in these studies still hold true today.    
A study published in 1990 by the LA84 Foundation , which studied the commentary of announcers on ESPN and CBS during the NCAA basketball tournaments in 1989, found the networks constantly calling the men’s tournament the “Final Four” and the “NCAA Basketball Tournament”, while they called the women’s tournament the “Women’s Final Four” and the “Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournament”. 
Today, this still seems to be the case, as women’s basketball games are still constantly characterized by the term “women’s” while men have no gender characterization whatsoever. Take a look at the logos for the upcoming Final Four tournaments in March. The men’s logo has no mention of gender, while viewers are immediately made aware who is playing in the women’s logo.
Another study, published more recently in 2005, found sports news and highlight shows would not show highlights of games of women’s sports, unless it was part of some humorous, non-serious “gag feature”. 
There is still not much attention when covering women’s basketball on the actual games. Recently, aside from Auriemma’s Huskies, the major stories coming out of women’s basketball have dealt with off-the-court issues, not actual games. Instead of actual basketball, the media has focused on Dianna Taurasi’s steroid tests, Brittney Griner’s punch and disgraced track star Marion Jones joining the WNBA. These stories have garnered much more coverage than actual accomplishments and competition on the court. 
The good news for Auriemma is that these studies are showing the bias is growing weaker. Based on the same 2005 study, researchers found women’s sports were being shown with a more serious tone than in years past and that highlights of the sports were being shown more consistently. After all, the Huskies now record 90-game winning streak had plenty of reporters covering it, especially after Auriemma complained about lack of coverage.
So while Auriemma might just be attempting to create conflict to bring more attention to his team’s accomplishment, his comments seem to still be grounded in some truth. But the question remains: Is the media taking women’s basketball as seriously as men’s?


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