Updated May 15, 2022


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As James Brown states, “This is a man’s world . . . but it would be nothing without a woman. . .” and although this may be true in the real world, in the world of sports it is quite the opposite (Brown 1966). If someone was asked to name three male professional athletes, many people would not have a problem. However, if asked to name three female professional athletes, there would be some hesitation. Why is that? When talking about sports, the NBA, NFL and MLB are often referred to but there are several professional sports leagues that are female dominate such as the WNBA, Canadian Women’s Hockey League and Women’s Professional Soccer. Because of sexist stereotypes, female athletes tend to be classified as weaker than males in athletics. They are deemed not as entertaining due to the lack of physical action. ESPN is the premier sports network that have about 11channels under their contract but unfortunately, they do not cover women’s sports as frequently as they do men’s sports.

This review of literature is focusing on the lack of coverage in print media of female athletes and more specifically women of color. Several studies have been conducted on just female coverage mainly within Sports Illustrated (SI) and affiliated magazines. As females are already the minority, focusing on African-American women will increase the lack of coverage due to race. The hypothesis of this research is that African-American female athletes are being significantly under and misrepresented in print media compared to those of the Caucasian race.

Literature Review

Psychologists, sociologists and media scholars have approached studying the media’s portrayal of African-American female athletes with different methods, but many

Found that the media often describes African-American and white female athletes differently (Bryd & Utsler, 2007). When viewing television and listening to radio broadcasts, many distinctions can be observed from listening to how the announcer gives credit between the two races, as well as how biases surface during broadcasts. It was found that during NFL broadcasting, African-American players were seen as just mere athletes while their racial counterparts were seen as “thinking men” (Bryd & Utsler, 2007).

When analyzing the 2004 Summer Olympics, black athletes were portrayed more in strength sports than those aesthetic sports like gymnastics, swimming, and cheerleading which seemed to promote black excellence due to over representation within sports media focusing on power and aggression. When in truth black athletes won 26% of medals but received 36% of coverage (Wade, 2008). This suggested that the African American race was a more athletic race.

Many past articles have focused on race in athletics as a whole and have not gone into depth based on race and gender. However, there are some studies that contribute to the specifications of race and gender in sports coverage. According to Wade, race and gender of target audiences may have an effect on representation of female athletes (Wade, 2008). Results of this content analysis were based on 92 magazines from Sports Illustrated, Sports Illustrated for Women and Her Sports based upon two time-periods, 2000-2002 and 2004-2008 (Wade, 2008). Several articles have stated that the passage of Title IX had a major impact on female involvement in sports. This law was part of the 1972 Education Amendment, which required equal opportunity for women. This kept private clubs as well as public funded programs from excluding females (Leath & Lumpkin, 1992).


In one of the first studies conducted on this topic that spanned two decades (1956-1976), Leonard Reid and Lawrence Soley examined the amount of female coverage and discovered that it ranged from 3.2% to 6.9% (Kane, 1996). Although female athletics have experienced successful increases, the media has not fully caught up. Over the last few years many studies have validated the research findings that female athletes are still under-represented and has not increased that much. In the original study by Lumpkin and Williams, it was found that 91% of coverage in Sports Illustrated was by men (Kane, 1996). Between the years of 1954 and 1987, Sports Illustrated articles were reviewed with results that have been supported before. With an increase of 1.1%, females were recorded being in SI 8% compared to the 90.8% of males (Martin & McDonald, 2012). In a follow-up study by Fink and Kensicki between the years of 1997-1999, it was recognized that females were only offered 96 of 958 SI articles (Martin & McDonald, 2012).

When it comes to males in sports media, African-Americans receive more coverage than those who are white even if more white athletes are participating in that sport. Stereotypically, black athletes in general are seen as “naturally” athletic while whites are seen as a more intellectual race. It brings in racial roadblocks as blacks are often viewed as animalistic and uncontrolled. Wade analyzed the titles associated with the images. After analyzing 92 Sports Illustrated/Sports for Her issues, it was found that images with white females had 97.9% athletic title verses a feminine title whereas black females had 66% (Wade, 2008). When also looking at the photographs it was found that African-American females are more likely portrayed in a team setting rather than individual sports such as tennis. Out of 2176 total white female images, Wade’s study showed 1042 (47%) covered white female athletes and 1134 white unknowns while there was only a total of 87 black female images, 30 (34%) covered black female athletes and 57 black unknowns (Wade, 2008).

During the years of 1954 and 1987 the research showed that black women received the least amount of coverage in Sports Illustrated. Out of 3723 featured articles, only sixteen featured black women (Kane, 1996). In the same study, it was examined that women appeared on the cover 114 out of 1835 and out of those 114 only 5 featured black women (Kane, 1996). Similarly, Lumpkin and Williams concluded there was an overall lack of coverage of African-American female athletes in Sports Illustrated features (Wenner, 1998).


Jones and Greer (2011) found that men’s televised sports gave a more positive arousal than women’s sports to young men and women; however, women felt more positive when watching female athletes break gender norms (p. 363). The number of photographs, the types of activity or inactivity of subjects in photographs, and camera angles are all ways that photographs can be used to present gender and/or racial differences. Looking at the covers as well as pictures in the magazine, the poses by female athletes were analyzed. Compared to the males being shot in more action/athletic poses, the poses were seen as more passive and soft. Characteristic of the misrepresentations included pictures of female athletes as “pretty” rarely seen in action shots or involved in male dominated sports such as basketball. Therefore, based on gender appropriateness, sports become stereotyped into three categories: masculine, feminine, or neutral.

Several studies have shown that women are highly represented in sports in which the feminine ideals of grace, beauty, and glamour — such as gymnastics and figure skating — are emphasized (Furrow, 2010). Lumpkin and Leath (1992) stated “In their comprehensive study of Sports Illustrated, white females in golf, tennis, and swimming received the most coverage and African-American athletes were featured in only basketball, tennis and track and field (p. 122). A study of Sports Illustrated and Women’s Sports& Fitness found that black women appeared rarely and when depicted they were likely to be seen in team sports which are considered more masculine (Furrow, 2010). Authors investigated that only 34% of photographs of women were engaged in athletic action compared to 55% being in a non-sports setting (Martin & McDonald, 2012). When compared to men’s photographs 66% to 23% respectively, it shows the type of pictures targeted to a specific audience. As 5% of female photos have some type of pornographic pose, literature states females are depicted in a more provocative manner (Martin & McDonald, 2012). However, when it came to white female athletes, they tend to receive more media coverage in socially accepted female sports such as cheerleading and gymnastics. On the other hand, black females were portrayed as more aggressive and powerful sports such as boxing (Wade, 2008). “Black women athletes are seen as more athletic so their femininity is discounted as irrelevant” (Wade, 2008). This mentality reinforces the perception that African-Americans are more physical than they are intellectual.


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THE UNDER REPESENATION AND MISREPRESENTATION OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN FEMALE ATHLETES IN PRINT MEDIA. (2022, May 15). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/the-under-repesenation-and-misrepresentation-of-african-american-female-athletes-in-print-media/

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