Gender Bias in Professional Sports

Gender bias in sports has been a tradition that has been passed through generations. It dates back to the times when Olympic Games were inaugurated when women were sidelined from taking part in certain sporting events like races that were more than 200 hundred meters as it was feared they could faint. In Greek city state Sparta only virgins were allowed to participate in sports. Despite all the gender prejudices that cloud the professional sporting arena, there has been an increase in the number of women who have developed interest in sports especially in America where many women are now taking part in national college championships.

Superiority ideology has been a major contributor to gender bias in professional sports. Gender bias is witnessed in remuneration of athletes where male athletes are paid well than their female counterparts. During major sports events like the 1992 Olympics women sporting activities were marginalized in terms of media coverage. This actually changed in 1996, when women got a fair share of media attention.

Other incidences of gender bias were reported in Saudi Arabia where only women audience was allowed to spectate in women championships. Several Arabic countries have refused to take part in Olympic Games because they fear the attires the women put on expose their bodies. They say this is a violation of Islamic religious beliefs. Saudi Arabia has been a very strong proponent of this.

Gender Bias in Professional Sports


In the recent past, sports fraternity has witnessed an upsurge in the number of women and men who have developed interest in different sporting activities. Traditionally, certain sporting activities were a preserve of a specific gender. As a matter of fact, soccer was and is still popularly known as a man’s sports. Currently, things have started changing and men have started developing interest in women sporting activities and women taking to traditionally male dominated sporting activities. In spite of all these advancements, there are still many male and female prejudices that frustrate efforts to divorce gender related chauvinistic inclination from the sports industry. This research paper will illuminate gender related biases that have been witnessed in the professional sports industry over the years.

Sports program for women in the US has witnessed a remarkable growth. Many women have considered registering as professional women athletes. The number of women taking part in high school sports has also increased compared to the previous years. In the year 1972, 0.29 million women took part in High School Athletics Competition. In the year 1978, the figure shot up to 2.08 million women. Fifteen seasons then elapsed before a record 2 million mark registered previously was broken (Frankl 1).

The 1993/94 season of these competitions witnessed the number of women grew from 2.13 million to 2.86 million. The women comprised 7.4 per cent of the total number of athletes who participated in the 1971/72 national sports championships. In the 1975/76 championships women participation quadrupled (Frankl and Hansen 9). From the year 1997, the number of women participating in high school championships hit the 40 per cent margin. Women sports is becoming popular but still faces hitches that are gender related. These increments in female precipitation in professional sports have not withered the storm of male superiority ideology (Frankl 1).

In the ancient Greek city states, physical education was a preserve of men. However, Sparta was the exception, because here, virgins often participated in such sporting activities as wrestling and foot races (2). From the history of ancient Olympics, women were only allowed to take part in Heraira games but not other sports activities. From the time Olympics were burnt up to the time when the burn was lifted, women participation in the Olympic Games was strongly opposed. Many Greek leaders advanced religious and aristocratic explanation for there position on denying women a chance to participate in sporting activities (Frankl 3).

Marginalization of women in sports has widely been studied and has adequate data that can be invoked. In the US alone, these data can be verified from the annals of Boston globe, the orange county register and the Dallas Morning. Women sports have partly been marginalized because women have widely been infantilized and seen as sex objects (Davidson 3). There have also been preferential treatments that are accorded to professional athletes based on their gender.

Elissa Steamer one of the women participants in the Los Angeles Skateboard Street X-Games was awarded $ 50 000 for winning gold metal, while a male participant who scooped gold in the same event was paid 25 times more. This was a clear sign that remuneration of professional sports women is also trapped in gender biases. In the Berger beach volleyball series, $ 1000 prize money was set for men while women were offered $500.

Of the $7, 500 which was allocated for winning professional teams in the US, a massive $6,500 went to men’s professional division. Only $1 000 went to the women’s professional wing. Women’s tennis enjoys large following, but the money that top most woman professional tennis player takes home was averaged at $1 434 632 compared to men’s $2 118 815 in the year 1996 to 2000. This meant that for every dollar a male professional tennis player earned, a woman got 59 cents. The top men professional tennis player s were awarded a total purse $63 031 00 compared to women’s $41 000 000 for the same period of time.

Fans do appreciate that women tennis is as interesting as men’s tennis but they further justify the pay disparity by saying that men’s competition is tougher as sometimes men play 5 sets compared to women’s 3 sets. Bowling, golf, and skiing have a very big fan base, but remunerations are greatly influenced by gender biases (Davidson 3). Between 1996 and 2000, payments for professional bowling athletes amounted to $ 130 969 for the males while the women were paid $ 92 123.

For that period men got $7 433 000 while women got $2 278 000 of the total purse for professional bowlers. The average earning for professional bowlers for that period of time was $2 196 000 for males where as females took home only $ 781 056 (Duncan 2). Men professional golf players took home a staggering $ 108 572 200 of the total purse compare to women’s $ 32 817 400 between 1996 and 2000 (Hilliard 2). Total purse for men Alpine skiers averaged $ 2 336 338 where as women skiers got $ 1 907 864.

The traditional male sports, soccer and basketball have registered the worst disparity in pay ever (Lakoff and Scherr 4). An American male soccer player earns $90 000. Professional women soccer players in America gets between $20 000 to $40 000. Coaches that have performed exceptionally well in women coaching have realized that it is extremely hard to make it to the hall of fame just like was witnessed with Anson Dorrance of the university of north Carolina women soccer team. In the year 2001 Muslim Women’s Games, men were barred from spectating.

These women took part in volley ball, basketball, and other sporting activities. The officers who managed the games were absolutely women. This initiative was arrived at when Muslim women pleaded they wanted a sorts sphere they would proudly call their own (Lumpkin and William 2).

Katherine (1) compared the coverage that leading dailies gave to female athletes during the 1996 Olympic games. She critically examined athlete’s profiles in the dailies for any form of gender bias from the reporting perspective and the photograph captions the dailies took of the women. From her study she deduced that women athletes enjoyed preferential treatment compared to their male counter parts hence no evidence of gender disparity in terms of women representation and their coverage in the newspapers.

The study noted that there was improvement in the coverage of women athletes who took part in Olympic Games compared to the previous years when women were openly given black out or openly reported about with a lot of bias. Over the years, the 1996 summer Olympic Games (Katherine 1) was thought of as being a female sporting event because women made a massive 34.4 per cent of those who participated. A record 3 770 women competed in the 1996 Atlanta event.

This was 39 per cent more than the women who took part in the Barcelona meet (Katherine 1). In Atlanta, two women sports featured: softball and soccer. Women’s mountain biking and beach volleyball also featured. At the Atlanta event, women were also perceived as a television audience. NBC airing of the sports prime time hours worked well for women. Gymnastics and swimming was given fair coverage (Katherine 1).

The 1996 Olympic, was planned on the back drop of the bias that Olympic Games has ever had against women. Founder of modern Olympics reiterated that Olympic is supposed to the game of men. However, in 1900 women were allowed to participate in golf and tennis. At a certain point in history of Olympics, women were nearly disallowed from competing in the events because they were perceived as a health risk (Katherine 2). Because women athletes who took part in athletics in 1928 Olympics collapsed, women were not allowed to take part in any track event more than 200 meters. This ban stayed for 32 years (Katherine 2).

In the 1996 event, men had 63 medals more than the women. The international cycling federation gave a directive that allowed only to women cyclists to take part in the Atlanta meet against 9n from the men’s teams. Women are up to date not allowed to take part in wrestling, boxing, pentathlon, and weight lifting at the Olympic level. Women from Arabic countries are forbidden from participating in Olympic Games. This is because the dressing code of the Olympics would totally contradict with the existing Islamic dressing standards. The international Olympic committee membership in 1996 had only 7 women out of the total 106 members (Katherine 3).

Person (2) says that women have benefited from provisions of Title IX. However, there are play grounds where women are still not welcome. Many people have had a belief that women should only take part in activities like cheer leading and ice skating. Many people still insist that energy consuming physical activities are not meant for women (Person 2) like wrestling, rugby and football. Title IX advocates for equal opportunity for all genders but is not so clear about specific sports (Person 3).

Gender inequality is fuelled by male or female perception of what defines feminity and masculinity (Person 3) hence the menace of gender typing which manifests itself early during the girl child’s development. This contributes to a tendency by specific group of people to make generalization about other people on how best they ought to or should behave. Not all female athletes have dared entertain feminist thought. Some women athletes maintain that gender related issues are of no use to them. Women do not develop passion in certain sporting events because of the commitments they have. Title IX is so silent about women participation in professional sports especially outside college athletics.

Women taking part in professional basketball are only paid $ 55 000 contrasted to men’s $4 000 000. Probably due to disparity in pay many ladies tend to shy away from taking part in professional sporting activities. Sponsorship biases are also rampant in professional women sports. They work in favor of men (Person 4). Companies that market their brands only give endorsements most of the time to male athletes first because of obsession with getting fast returns from the money they have used in advertising. Such companies have the feeling that the returns are not likely to be lump some if they engaged the services of female professional athletes as opposed to male athletes (Person 4).

Such mentalities have made many corporate organizations to look down upon WNBA. Media is known to create fans for a particular sporting event. Cleveland cavaliers, Chicago bulls, New York Yankees, and Dallas cowboys enjoy a lot of popularity because of the much attention that the media accord them, their legacy, their successes, and their location (Person 4). The 1993 NCCA basketball competition for both men and women was marred with media biases with much attention given to men than women.

This contributed to the building of audience for men and not women (5). This is suicidal as potential investors normally look at the viewer rating before they can consider investing in such teams. During the NCCA championships, 41 stories were run for men compared to 10 for women. The men’s stories were elaborative with video footages. This was seen as an effort by them to build men by making them have larger audience as opposed to women (Person 5). Women sports have also been dogged by controversy where if women coaches ask for an increase in their pay, men coaches are hired and they are fired. Number of women who have taken coaching jobs is very low.

Forces of demand and supply are responsible for sidelining of women sports in communication media. The media fraternity has over the years been preoccupied with sports that show women’s feminity (Higgs, Weiller, and Scott 1) like gymnastics and figure skating. This has contributed in enhancing the already established societal norms (Higgs et al. 1). Sports media has a greater responsibility in shaping peoples opinion on different sporting activities.

Media fraternity when covering bigger sporting events like Olympics ought to focus on women sports in order to attract female spectators and their viewership. In the 1992 Olympic Games, NBC gave a lot of coverage to women sports within the first week (Higgs et al. 1). Their highest rating within the first two weeks of coverage was on the night when gymnastics was being telecasted. This kind of approach tended to personalize the life of athletes by building emotional identification an approach largely known as feminine narrative form (Higgs et al. 1) a feature commonly applied in soap opera airing.

This approach was basically used in the 1996 Olympic Games to target the female viewers who were between the ages of 35 to 54 years who valued human drama. The coverage of 1992 Olympic Games was characterized with greater coverage of women in individual sports. Commentaries were biased, gender marked, personality oriented, and ambivalent (Higgs et al. 3). American women athletes’ success in the 1996 Olympics was an indication of growth of women sports after the inception of Title IX (Higgs et al 3).

The more than 150 hours of Olympic coverage by NBC was tapped and its content analyzed for same sports activities. Random selection of 60 hours was done. This was deemed as the appropriate sample of the sum total coverage. Quantitative analysis was done based on running time that was dedicated to male and female sports activities, the duration the running took, the length of time the slow motion took, and the duration of the onscreen statistics.

The analysis majored on a characteristic, adjectives used to describe athletes participating in a sporting activity, and the choice of words by reporters used to refer to both male and female athletes. 30 hours of the 60 hours was dedicated to same sports activities. These activities included basketball, volley ball, swimming, gymnastics, field and track events, kayaking, cycling, tennis, and soccer.

The study deduced that compared to other Olympic Games, women were given more media coverage in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics than their male counterparts in the same sport activities. By comparing the quantitative time totals of same sport activities in the 1992 and 1996 Olympic games, it was noted that coverage of women sports increased in 6 sports where as there was a notable decrease in men’s category (Higgs et al. 4). Men’s volleyball was least televised but their track and field events became the most televised in the Olympic Games competition. Women were given more coverage in basketball, volley ball where they enjoyed a 26 and 69 per cent coverage.

Men’s basket ball and volley ball was allotted lesser time (Higgs et al. 5). The rest of the sports that were analyzed during the 1992 and 1996 Olympic competitions were fairly covered. Gymnastics was the most televised in the 1996 Olympic Games and tennis the least covered. In the 1992 Olympic games, women soccer was not a medal entry where as men’s soccer was a medal sports activity. As opposed to the 1992 Olympic meet, the 1996 event steered clear of gender marking and the commentators’ choice of adjectives to describe women was objective despite the fact that slow motion still favored men’s sports. Use of words like girls was replaced with phrases like US women team (Higgs et al 5).

In the 1992 Olympics words such as aggressive and powerful were used 185 times to refer to the male athletes compared to women’s 68. In 1996, they were used 52 times on male athletes and 47 times on female athletes. Ambivalence that characterized 1992 games was not witnessed in the 1996 Olympic Games. Phrase like ‘plenty of game and grit’, ‘perfect execution’, were quite often used to refer to women athletes. Emotional narratives that were used in the 1992 games were never witnessed in the 1996 games. Commentators on several accounts reminded their audiences that the US women basketball team for the last two years had not been beaten prior to coming for the Olympics (Higgs et al. 5).

This statement was used 14 times in the commentaries. Mini narratives were largely used to allow the audience to interact with the athletes closely (Higgs et al. 5). Despite the fact that personal interviews of women athletes were not factored in the study time frame commentators did give highlights on women professional athletes likes talking about the colleges they schooled at , the degrees they had earned, their play level, and their successes in college and national championships.

No much attention was given to the athletes’ social lives as was seen in the 1992 games which were marred by gender bias. Against the 11 slow motions that were done on men’s sports, women had a total of 24 slow motions in the 1996 Atlanta Games (Higgs et al. 6). Use of the first name to refer to men by the media personalities was more than the women athletes. Hierarchy of naming was not so evidenced. The commentators used words that emphasized the strength of women rather than majoring on their weaknesses. These words were captured 25 times against connotations that emphasized weaknesses (Higgs et al. 5).


Gender related issues are still being focused on in reports and sports science researches. This emphasizes how dearly people like to associate kinesiology with modern sports. Any effort made to search for any literature related to gender, men and sports will be met with citations emphasizing differences in sexes. Men and women should be thought of as being more similar than different. The thought that women and men are different has continued to harm and limit opportunities for booth professional athletes and amateur sportsmen.

This issue of gender bias in sports is still entangled with a host of social and psychological prejudices which can only be overcome when a virtue of attitude change is embraced by the stakeholders and funs alike. The government should consider coming up with legislations aimed at outlawing any form of sentiment that undermine gender parity. Any form of stereotypification on basis of gender should be treated as an illegality.

American government’s Title IX has done very little in fighting gender biases in sports despite the fact that it was meant to create equal opportunities for both men and women. Gender bias has also been witnessed in sponsorship and sports branding.

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