Dispelling Myths About Women’s Sport: Post Women’s World Cup 2015

Even if Dave Zirin doesn’t want to keep defending women’s sport in the wake of the Women’s World Cup that smashed ratings (although I know he will!), we at the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport decided to write a piece that will help change the narrative and dispel false narratives about women’s sport.red card_iStock_000003976608XSmall

Read our exclusive on espnW titled Even in the Wake of a Record-Setting Women’s World Cup, Myths Still Surround Women’s Sports where we refute the four most common myths about women’s sport.

The statistics surrounding the 2015 Women’s World Cup (WWC) make it abundantly clear that people are interested in women’s sport.  In sum, the WWC final:

  • was seen by 25.4 million viewers on Fox—a record for any soccer game, men’s or women’s.
  • generated record numbers of viewers on the Fox Sports Go streaming app.
  • drew 2 million more viewers than Game 7 of the compelling 2014 World Series between the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants in October which attracted 23.5 million on English-language television.
  • eclipsed the recent NBA Finals Game 6 featuring Golden State’s title-winning victory over Cleveland last month on ABC with 23.25 million viewers.
  • buried Chicago’s Stanley Cup-winning victory in Game 6 over Tampa Bay last month on NBC with 8 million viewers.

Despite these statistics, many myths about interest in women’s sport continue to prevail. Help prove that interest in women’s sport does exist and join the #HERESPROOF social media campaign! Click here to see the infographic we put together on 2015 WWC viewership.

HERESPROOF infographic_3_2015

Some good, some bad outcomes of the #wwc2011

1. You have to hand it to Japan. They won the game and many hearts along the way. I’d like to think this a universal sentiment, but unfortunately it is not. To see backlash, racism and jingoism from fans pertaining to the WWC Final click here.

2. I find it interesting that the “success” of the WWC has been attributed to Title IX. Wendy Parker provides an alternative viewpoint here.

3. SI.com columnist Ann Killion writes “In the past, women’s teams were expected to do more than just play. They had to build a movement, change their culture, make history. This team is liberated from that.” She lists some things the current US players do not need to do…but what are the responsibilities of female athletes? What should they be?

4. Dave Zirin @EdgeofSports and The Nation writes highlights the “raunch culture” of women’s sports in his piece. “raunch culture” is when women athletes buy into the idea that it’s somehow empowering to display their naked bodies for men’s magazines.” Some members of the women’s French national soccer team decided to provide resistance to raunch culture and the idea that sex sells women’s sport by providing a caption: “Is this how we should show up before you come to our games?” (to see the accompanying picture click here)

5. Despite some of the negative outcomes of the WWC2011, I’m happy to report that much of the coverage and commentary seemed to allude to the fact that women’s soccer is fun to watch because the women are GOOD ATHLETES.

The WWC2011 picture above was created in Wordle.

6. Based on the data, the Women’s World Cup Soccer Final set a new Twitter record for tweets per second, at 7,196….more than killing Bin Laden, the Royal Wedding, the SuperBowl or NBA finals!

Tidbits and Stories Related to Women’s Sport

Since there is so much going on in women’s sport right now I thought I’d post some stories, links and videos of interest.

WOMEN’S WORLD CUP 2011 (WWC, #wwc2011)!

USA player Abby Wambach celebrates her goal against Brazil in final minutes of game

Who has caught the fever and excitement? I’m torn about the coverage because the WWC has been fantastically covered by ESPN and ESPN2. However given that coverage of women’s sport has DECLINED since the 1999 USA World Cup win, women’s sport is only on ESPN Sports Center is less than 2% time, and appears only 1.6% on major networks, we should consider the big picture of overall coverage patterns (for the full report by Messner & Cooky, 2010 click here). When female athletes are featured, it is usually in ways that sexualize them, which is why the WWC coverage has been such a nice example of covering women’s athleticsm. Just for fun I typed in “women’s sport” into Google Images, and the FIRST picture I got was this one of beach volleyball. It really makes me wonder why this picture is first…one step forward, one step back….

Is this the best picture to represent "women's sport" on Google?

There has been some interesting dialogue about the coverage of WWC 2011 in comparison to the WWC 1999. Until Sunday’s game unforunately the WWC was barely a blip on the radar. While fans watch hours of men’s sport that is boring, lopsided, and not compelling, it appears that women’s sport is only “watchable” when it is drama filled, dramatic spectacle.

Read the SI.com piece by Georgia Turner here, and read Wendy Parker’s blog on why she is sick of female athletes having to be “role models” and “good girls” and why she thinks the way to promote female athletes is through their athleticism (well played Wendy!). I also like Jennifer Doyle’s From a Left Wing blogs about the WWC. There are so many good blogs about the WWC on Women’s Talk Sports, I can’t possibly mention them all.

Rachel Maddow did a great segment on MSNBC about the USA v. Brazil game and fans’ reactions to that game (most of whom are young males!). The fan segments challenge notions that young men aren’t interested or don’t watch women’s sport. LOVE IT.

However, just when there is hope (not just Hope Solo, the goal keeper for the USA WWC team) for legitimate coverage of women’s sport, I get a link sent to me about this story on the WWC with the headline “Brazil Didn’t Mind Losing to the U.S. Women Because the Goalie’s Hot.” SIGH….another step back.

And just for fun and unrelated to WWC, watch a funny and clever video of Justin Timberlake as he tries his hand at a variety of college sports, leading up to his presentation of the Capital One Cup trophy at the ESPYs.

Let’s not leave out men’s sport. Read After Atalanta’s blog critiquing an espnW opinion piece about “overweight MLB players” Good stuff!

You Don’t Often See This!: Sexualized Male Athletes

Vanity Fair layout of World Cup players

Today a student (thanks A.N.!) sent me a link to a Vanity Fair piece on the upcoming men’s soccer 2010 World Cup being held in South Africa this summer. The title of the story, The World Cup’s Stars Wear Their Flags—And Little Else—For Annie Leibovitz pretty much summarizes the piece.

I’ve written often about how media routinely sexualizes female athletes, rather than focus on their athletic abilities and achievements.  This Vanity Fair piece and June issue  is a rare example of the same pattern for male athletes. The argument is not that male athletes are never sexualized. The main point is that female athletes are disproportionately sexualized in the media (female athletes only receive 6-8% of all sport media coverage ) compared to male athletes. The other point is that when female athletes are sexualized it often undermines perceptions of their athletic abilities, while when male athletes are sexualized it rarely leads to the perception their athletic achievements are questionable. What do you think?

Example of Reproducing Traditional Gender Roles in Soccer

This example comes from Fox Soccer.com titled Soccer Wives and Girlfriends. Why this is on a sport website is interesting food for thought. I looked for “Soccer Husbands  and Boyfriends” on the WPS website but (thankfully) did not find any. It is picture essays like this that relegate women to the sidelines. Not to mention only including pictures of male soccer player’s female partners and companions is not very inclusive.

What if the athletes were boys, not girls?

question_mark_3dIn a previous blog, I wrote about a male soccer coach in Minnesota who had his U12 elite girls’ team throw a game to the U13 girls’ team in the same club (Minnesota Thunder Academy).

A great MN female youth soccer coach I emailed with has a great point about this scenario. She writes,

Could you imagine if a coach had told a team of highly competitive boys to purposely throw a semi-final game to get an invitation to go on to a regional tournament? I believe people would be outraged – I definitely don’t think the sentiment would be “ Let’s move on, we have learned from the mistake.” This team he asked to purposely lose is a hand picked, highly skilled, immensely competitive group of girls and he asked them to bow out of a game – and most people seem to be okay with it! I can pretty much guarantee this would have NEVER happened if this was a boys team. I am not even touching on the fact that this was against any and all spoken/unspoken rules regarding coaching ethics. I am very concerned that a coach of his caliber would have his girls team lose on purpose because it was the “classy thing to do” – I ask myself would he have done this if he was coaching boys? That question hasn’t even come up in the communities because, I am saddened to say, I think most people still look at girls sports on a different level than boys. The playing field definitely does not seem to be level.”

Well said Coach!

How Not to Coach Soccer: A Lesson From Minnesota

iStock_minority girls soccer_XSmallWhen I’m not writing about gender, the other part of my research, teaching and outreach pertains to youth sport—mainly studying and trying to improve sport parent sideline behavior, and helping coaches be more effective. When a story broke last week about a Minnesota club soccer team, many of my colleagues and former students forwarded the story link to me which got quite a bit of press here in Minnesota and around the country.

In short, two of the Minnesota Thunder Academy (MTA) teams played each other in the State Cup final to see who would advance to the Regionals—it was the 12-and-under girls v. the 13-and-under girls. The game ended with penalty kicks, when Coach Abboud asked the younger girls to pass the ball nicely to the opposing keeper, in essence throwing the game to the older U-13 team, instead of taking the penalty kicks to win the game. Chaos, tears, frustration, confusion, emergency meetings at all levels, commentary, opinions, anger, a public apology from Abboud, and parental support for the coach ensued. To read all the details go to, the Inside Minnesota Soccer article, the Star Tribune article, and Coach Mark Abboud’s own contrition on his blog.

Let me put this incident into a broader context of youth sport trends. The MTA is one of the most elite of soccer clubs, for “serious soccer players”, meaning they hand pick the best kids from other clubs around the state. In fact, the MTA girls recently joined the inaugural Eilte Clubs National League…yes, “national” league for 13-year-olds.

Winning_iStock_000005893466XSmallSome would argue this type of sport club is the poster child for everything that is wrong with youth sports-specialization, not developmentally appropriate, a win at all cost philosophy, year-round training, privatization, overuse injuries, burnout due to high stress and anxiety, dropout, overzealous parents, highly paid coaches with big egos, treating children like “mini-professional” athletes, and highly structured and governed adult-run clubs and organizations (to name a few).

red card_iStock_000003976608XSmallSport provides many “teachable moments”. Good coaches teach athletes to give full effort, focus on what they can control, treat opponents with respect regardless of the situation, and accept the outcome with grace. One decision by a coach does have an impact on everyone involved, and this is a cautionary tale of how not to coach because, simply put, it taught the wrong lessons. In soccer terms, this coach deserves a red card, and possibly more severe sanctions.

P.S.-A critical gender note. Notice the Minnesota Thunder Academy that houses both boys’ and girls’ teams is the namesake of the men’s team (the Thunder), and not the women’s team (the Lightening).thunderightning