In 2021, the Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) received an overall grade of a C on their racial and gender report card, an upgrade from the D-minus they received on the same report card just a few years prior. The curious thing about their C grade, however, is that they received a fairly strong B-plus in the race category, also an improvement on their race grades from years past. If the APSE is making such strides in their racial diversity by hiring a much more racially diverse group of employees, how is their grade still below average?
The APSE actually received the same grade that they had received three years prior in the gender category… an F. The sports media world still remains overwhelmingly white, but it is even more staggering how male dominated it is. Around 84 percent of sports editors are male, and a similar percentage of columnists and reporters are male as well. Strides are being made in hiring more ethnically and racially diverse individuals into the sports media community, but those advancements are not being matched when it comes to the gender diversity in that same line of work. There has been very little change in the numbers of women in sports media over the past decade, even while other groups have been able to make those jumps.
The percentage of African American sports editors has jumped around five percent in recent years, though still a low number at roughly 20 percent. Female sports editors experience a similar shift with growth that sits around five percent as well. Where women have struggled to attain meaningful power is higher than that. Upper management positions in sports media offices are reserved for nearly all men. This is the place where big decisions are made and where changes in the way that women are included and utilized in sports media can be made. That has been the difficulty. For the most part, women do not currently hold the positions where decision making takes place and in turn, do not have the ability to use that power to create a more gender diverse sports media world.
However, the growth is slowly happening. Though women are still woefully underrepresented in sports media and sports journalism, they have advanced in small increments throughout recent years.
“We can be encouraged by the increases,” says former APSE president Lisa Wilson. “It has been a problem for a long time and it will take time to correct. It is still a major problem for women and especially for women of color,” said Wilson.
This issue stretches beyond just the need for women to have paying jobs in the field that they’ve decided to pursue. It is important to give women the opportunity to control how women are portrayed in athletics–an opportunity they don’t presently have. Coverage of women in sports often revolves around their appearance, age, or family life, while men in sports are looked at and portrayed as powerful, dominating role models. This is particularly harmful when we consider that even though around 40 percent of all sports participants are women, yet only about four percent of sports coverage is centered around women. These are jarring numbers that are in no small part due to the fact that women are not the ones getting to tell the story, men are.
As we move forward, more emphasis must be put on this issue. As a sports writer myself, I have a front row view of this. Many of the best writers that I know are women. In fact, perhaps the best writers that I know are women. However, they are not given the opportunity to tell stories like men are. At my place of employment, there is not one single female sports writer. Many female writers and photographers, but none in sports. This is where the problem begins. Publications worldwide should look in the mirror and imagine being graded like the APSE was. What would their report card look like?