From the community | The lack of female voices in sports broadcasting

Feb. 10, 2022, 7:48 p.m.

— Misha Lee is a high school senior from Irvine, California. She is a regular listener of KZSU.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve awoken on Sunday mornings to the smell of hot bacon and the wild chatter of male broadcasters giving football commentary. Announcing for sports games, whether narrating live plays from a match or giving feedback following the conclusion of the final quarter, has always been a dream of mine, stemming from the positive impact athletics has had on my life. However, as a woman interested in a male-dominated career, the statistics depicting the deficit in female involvement in sports entertainment are far from encouraging. I am disappointed to say that KZSU 90.1, Stanford’s student-led FM radio broadcast, is not exempt from this gender disparity.

Stanford athletics is represented by several announcers at KZSU, consisting of students from a wide variety of majors and graduating classes. Out of the 13 individuals who are regularly involved with the sports section of Stanford’s student-run radio station, only one announcer is female, and she will soon graduate in the Class of 2022. 

KZSU’s 12 to one male to female ratio is not far from the national average in the media. Only 10% of sports editors and 11.5% of sports reporters in the United States and Canada identify as female, as cited by Paola Boivin in a Global Sports Matters feature published in March of last year

The large gender gap between female and male reporters has been found to have a strong correlation with what content is being covered in the media. In an article published in May 2019 by Joseph Abisaid and Bo Li, a correlation is drawn between the lack of female presence in sports newsrooms and the disparities in the amount of coverage female sports receive. Significantly higher numbers of male reporters appear to be directly related to the significantly higher coverage of male athletics, and the converse applies to female sports. A study from the University of Southern California and Purdue University found that coverage of men’s sports totaled around 95% of television coverage and the ESPN highlights show SportsCenter in 2019.

In most cases where a women’s sport was highlighted, it was almost always overshadowed by the “Big Three” of men’s sports (basketball, football and baseball), with coverage that was often more frequent and more extensive. The victories of female athletes have historically been cast aside to highlight the achievements of their male counterparts, and without broadcasters fighting for more coverage on female athletics, the imbalance in sports coverage between genders will continue to persist. The disparity in female broadcasters controls the content being reported on, and this lack of representation of women in sports media reinforces the stereotype that sports is a male-dominated activity, hindering all female athletes.

It is incredibly discouraging for female athletes, regardless of what sport they play, to see their progress discounted in favor of highlighting achievements of the opposite gender. Oftentimes, younger individuals find difficulty in taking initiative to pursue their own passions without an example to follow. Popular success stories routinely encourage and inspire children to set goals that far exceed what may be easily attainable. Both the lack of female success in sports broadcasting as well as the undercoverage of female athletics in the media has discouraged young women from pursuing professions in this field, and without a change in the ideas being established in younger minds, this mindset will continue into future generations. 

The percentage of female announcers increases yearly, foreshadowing a future where women will be represented in higher quantities by the media. However, without a shift in equal representation, both in who is headlining and what is being headlined, no progress will be made towards a future that fulfills promises of equality.

By no means does an increase in participation of females in athletic broadcasting sacrifice the positions previously allotted to men, nor does this have to divide sports coverage solely based on gender. Having individuals from different backgrounds comment on the same topics will provide listeners with diverse, fresh perspectives, and introduce a new depth to sports broadcasting. 

On a national level, the sports industry is slowly progressing towards a future of equal representation. More and more all-female broadcast teams are emerging, the most recent being Leah Hextall, Cassie Campbell-Pascall and Linda Cohn, who made history on January 17, 2022, narrating the Arizona Coyotes and Montreal Canadiens game at Gila River Arena as ESPN’s first all-female NHL broadcast team. Teams like these set precedents for future generations, providing aspiring female announcers with examples of women who were once in the same position they were, building themselves up to success through perseverance and dedication.

At Stanford, I think it is up to current students to provide incoming classes with a foundation for success. Beginning with New Student Orientation, freshmen and transfer students can be introduced to KZSU, which as an organization can focus on the deliberate recruitment of female talent. KZSU must work twice as hard to attract female students to overcompensate for the deficit that already exists in the candidate pool.

The KZSU Quarterly Info Meetings are also incredibly important, as they should not only be used to give more insight into the station’s inner workings, but also to make an explicit call for female candidates to join and have their voices heard. Having past and current female KZSU broadcasters speak at these meetings would be beneficial, as female candidates can then hear about the positive experiences women have had while working in sports broadcasting at KZSU.

KZSU should also build broadcast teams composed of both female and male reporters, so broadcasters of both genders can collaborate to create a unique and nuanced commentary style. Broadcasters should be encouraged to explore narration for both female and male sports to eliminate the idea that gender categorizes our interests. Lastly, KZSU must create an inclusive environment, as having a diverse team does not guarantee that female broadcasters feel welcome and heard.

In the coming years, institutions need to encourage an increase in female representation in sports broadcasting, which will then improve the coverage of the accomplishments within female athletics. I believe that can begin at Stanford, starting with KZSU, eventually pushing other collegiate and national institutions to follow suit.

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