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Coverage of Women’s Sports in Four Daily Newspapers

By Margaret Carlisle Duncan, Ph.D., Michael Messner, Ph.D., Linda Williams, Ph.D.
Edited by Wayne Wilson, Ph.D.


“Coverage of Women’s Sports in Four Daily Newspapers” is the second study sponsored by the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles examining media treatment of women in sports.

Our earlier study, “Gender Stereotyping in Televised Sports,” dealt with both the amount and qualitative content of television coverage of women’s sports. This study on newspapers is concerned primarily with the quantity of coverage in four daily newspapers. These four dailies were among those named in 1990 by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top–10 daily sports sections in the country.

As was the case with the television study, we have found that women’s sports are extraordinarily underreported. And, as was the case with television, we feel that this situation is wrong and must change. Sports writers and editors have a professional obligation to report the facts as journalists. The reality is that there is an entire world of women’s sports that is excluded from the sports pages which we examined.

Even though the amount of coverage of women’s sports is discouraging, the situation is not altogether bleak. The most promising finding of the study is the effort being made by USA Today to ensure that female competitors are represented. That paper’s coverage of women’s sports, as measured in a variety of ways, was more thorough than that which existed in each of the other three papers. USA Today‘s example indicates that a paper can indeed cover women’s sports without fear of reducing circulation or reader interest.

It is the intention of the Foundation to conduct similar studies of television and newspaper coverage in the future. Both studies have been published with the purpose of fostering constructive discussion of the issue. It is our hope that interested readers will work with us in the future to develop studies that will be even more useful in understanding the issue of media coverage of women’s sports.

Anita L. DeFrantz
Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles


We examined four newspapers: USA Today, the Boston Globe, the Orange County Register, and the Dallas Morning News to determine how much coverage was devoted to women’s sports in each newspaper and in aggregate, and how that coverage compared to that of men’s sports. Key measurements included: (1) the number of stories, (2) the length of stories measured in column inches, (3) the page placement of stories, (4) the number of photographs, and (5) the number of stories accompanied by photographs.

Stories and photographs were divided into four categories for purposes of comparison:
men-only, women-only, both and neutral. Stories in the “both” category contained information about both men’s and women’s sports. Neutral stories did not focus on either male or female athletes. Examples of neutral articles included stories about the International Olympic Committee’s selection of a site for the 1996 Olympic Games.

The four newspapers examined represented different parts of the country and were among those named in 1990 by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top 10 daily sports sections in the country. We examined each paper’s Monday through Friday editions beginning with July 2, 1990, and ending with September 28, 1990. Saturday and Sunday editions were not analyzed.

A thorough review of literature about sport and the print media prompted the development of central research questions and the key measurements listed above. Our data collection was based on a quantitative method developed and used by one of the co-investigators in her doctoral dissertation. Two research assistants, one undergraduate and one graduate student from the University of Southern California, examined each newspaper and recorded the data on coding sheets. The data were compiled by staff at the Amateur Athletic Foundation. Next, the data were analyzed and the results written by the investigators. A more detailed account of the methodology appears in Appendix A.


• Stories focusing exclusively on men’s sports outnumbered stories addressing only women’s sports by a ratio of 23 to 1.

• Even when all men’s baseball and football stories were eliminated from the total number of men’s stories, men’s stories still outnumbered women’s stories by an 8.7 to 1 margin.

• Women-only sports stories accounted for 3.5 percent of all stories; men’s stories made up 81 percent of the total.

• Front page stories covering only women’s sports were even more scarce, comprising 3.2 percent of page one articles, compared to 5.3 percent devoted exclusively to men’s coverage

• There were 28.8 times as many column inches devoted to men-only sports stories as there were to women-only sports stories.

• Photographs of male athletes outnumbered those of female athletes 13 to 1.

• 92.3 percent of all photographs were pictures of men.

• In each newspaper, fewer than 5 percent of all stories were devoted to women only. USA Today, however, provided a significantly higher number of women’s stories and women’s photographs than any of the other newspapers.



In all of the newspapers, as indicated in Table 1, stories about men were far more frequent than stories about women. The ratio of men-only stories to women-only stories was 23 to 1. Women-only stories accounted for 3.5 percent of all stories. If stories about both men and women were counted along with women-only stories, the percentage of stories containing at least some information about women’s sports was 15.5.

Table 1
(Totals & Percentages by Sex)

Of the 301 women-only stories, 43.5 percent appeared in USA Today. Although USA Today had by far the highest number of women’s stories, the number of stories in each paper devoted to exclusively women’s stories was below 5 percent in all four papers examined.

Major league baseball was played during the entire period of the study. Professional and college football also began their seasons during the period. Baseball and football are sports practiced predominantly by men and boys. More stories were written about these two sports than any other topic. In fact, they account for 62 percent of all of the men-only articles and half of all of the stories published. There were 2,627 men’s baseball stories and 1,643 men’s football stories covering the two sports at all levels of play. We counted a total of 8,491 stories in all categories combined. When the number of men’s baseball and football articles was subtracted from the total number of men’s stories, men-only stories still outnumbered the women-only stories by a margin of 8.7 to 1.


As Table 2 demonstrates, USA Today‘s women-only stories were, on average, longer than those dealing exclusively with men’s sports. In the other three papers, the men’s articles were longer. The greatest disparities in average length occurred in the Dallas Morning News in which men-only articles were 25 percent longer than the women-only stories and the Orange County Register with a 27 percent difference.

Table 2
(Average Column Inches per Story, by Sex)

The differences in average story lengths were not as dramatic as the differences in the number of stories. However, when the data on the number of stories were combined with those on story length, the result overwhelmingly favored stories exclusively about male athletes (Table 3).

Table 3
(All Newspapers Combined, by Sex)

Almost 80 percent of all column inches were devoted to men-only stories. Furthermore, since the stories that contained information about both male and female athletes typically contained more information or items about men’s sports, the imbalance between coverage of men and women was even more pronounced than Table 3 implies.


Stories focusing only on women’s sports accounted for 3.2 percent of the front page stories while stories about men-only made up 85.3 percent. Stories containing information about both male and female athletes were 9.9 percent of the front page total (Table 4).

In USA Today, 74 percent of the front page articles were about men only. In each of the three other papers, more than 90 percent of the front page stories were about men exclusively. USA Today also had the highest percentage of front page stories about both men and women with 21 percent, compared to 6 percent in the Orange County Register, 3 percent in the Dallas Morning News and 2 percent in the Boston Globe.

Table 4
(Total Stories, by Sex)

At first glance, it might appear that most women-only stories were buried in the back pages. The reality, however, was not that simple. While 29.6 percent of all women’s stories appeared on or after page 9 compared to 18.4 percent for the men, Tables 5 and 6 show that 44.2 percent of women’s stories were placed before page 4 versus 38.5 percent of the men’s stories. Still, in terms of absolute numbers, men’s stories outnumbered women’s stories in all parts of the sports section.

Table 5
(Total Stories, Percentages)

Table 6
(Total Stories, Percentages)


There were many more photographs of men than women in each paper (Table 7). Slightly more than 92 percent of all photographs were pictures of men. By a wide margin, USA Today featured the greatest number of women’s pictures.

Table 7
(Total Photographs, Percentages, by Sex)


Some photographs in the sports sections were not related to any story. Most, however, were used to enhance stories. The great majority of stories with accompanying photographs were stories about men-only. However, a higher percentage of women’s stories than men’s were accompanied by one or more photographs. Almost half of all of the women-only stories had pictures compared to less than a third of the men’s.

Table 8
(Total Stories w/Photo, Total Stories per Category, Percentages)


Our findings indicate that there was a huge statistical difference in the quantity of men’s and women’s stories, the total number of column inches, and the number of photographs of male and female athletes. Stories exclusively about men’s sports were, on average, longer and appeared more often on the front page than those about women only. These findings are consistent with several other studies, most of which have focused on magazines, documenting the underrepresentation of women and girls in the printed sports media (Blackwood, 1983; Bryant, 1980; Duncan & Sayaovong, 1990; Inman, 1987; Leavy, 1975; Luebke, 1989; Lumpkin & Williams, 1991; Miller, 1975; Reid & Soley, 1979; Women’s Sports Foundation, 1987).

We were encouraged by the example of USA Today, a newspaper that sells more than 1.3 million copies a day. USA Today had more women’s stories than any other paper in the sample. In fact, 43.5 percent of all women-only stories in the study were published in USA Today. In part, the greater number of women’s stories can be explained by the fact that the paper had more total stories than the Boston, Dallas and Orange County papers. But, a more likely explanation is that USA Today‘s editors have made a conscious effort to treat women’s sports seriously. USA Today also had more photographs of women, more stories about both men and women, and was far more likely to give stories involving women front page billing. In addition, it was the only paper in which women’s stories were not shorter than men’s. Although USA Today provided a significantly higher number of stories and photographs on women than the other papers in the sample, the aggregate figures indicate that the imbalance in reporting is as extreme today as it was a decade ago. In fact, given the greater number of girls and women playing sports today, the underrepresentation may be even more pronounced than it used to be.

We analyzed a three-month period from July through September. During this time, golf and tennis, two sports in which women have a long tradition of world-class competition, were at the heights of their seasons. The Goodwill Games and the U.S. Olympic Festival featuring hundreds of female athletes in dozens of sports took place. Several national and international competitions involving female athletes occurred (see Appendix B). And, inter-collegiate and interscholastic competition in several women’s and girls sports got under way in September. Yet, only 301 women-only articles appeared in four newspapers during three months.

Given the well-documented underreporting of women’s sports, the confirmation of previous reports by this study, and the fact that there are many women’s events and athletes that could be reported, the obvious question is, Why aren’t more stories written about women’s sports?

To answer this question researchers must move beyond the kinds of quantitative and qualitative studies of the print media which, to date, have characterized research in the area. One key to the answer must be the attitudes, opinions and practices of newspaper sports editors. Sports editors are, after all, the arbiters of what gets reported and how it gets reported.

If there are 23 times more men’s stories than women’s, it is because of the decisions made by sports editors. If one newspaper consistently provides better women’s sports coverage than another, it is because their respective editors have differing opinions of what constitutes news and what is appropriate content for their papers and their readers. Yet the literature, with few exceptions (Theberge & Cronk, 1984), tells us little about how sports editors do their jobs and why they make the decisions they make. We believe that a better understanding of this process may suggest strategies and solutions for eliminating the problem of underrepresentation of female athletes.

There are several relevant questions that should be addressed. How do editors define their roles? How do they decide what to cover? How do budgetary and staff constraints affect their editorial decisions? How do sports editors resolve the conflict between their professional journalistic responsibility to cover the news fully and the pressure to sell newspapers? Do they rely on formal market research, instinct, or some other factor to determine what they think interests their readers and potential readers? If they rely on market research, is it valid research? How, if at all, do editors’ personal attitudes toward women and women’s sports affect the coverage which appears in their sports sections?

We also believe that it would be useful to begin to address the extent to which the print media reflect reader interests and the extent to which they shape reader interest. Defenders of the sports media status quo claim that newspapers and other media devote little coverage to women’s sports because relatively few people care about them. Even if, for the sake of argument, we accept this premise, the question remains, Why is there a lack of interest? Is it because women’s athletics are inherently uninteresting or is it because the media through under-reporting have failed to “legitimize” women’s sports? Scholars need to consider ways to test the claim made by traditionalists that women’s sports, even when covered and treated seriously by the media, will fail to generate widespread public interest.

It is our expectation that people will continue to conduct both quantitative and qualitative investigations of women’s sports coverage. Such studies are valuable because they enable us to chart change or the lack of change. At the same time though, we urge our colleagues in research to explore the topic in new and creative ways that not only will define the scope and content of media coverage, but also will yield a better understanding of why women’s sports remain underreported.


Blackwood, R.E. (1983) The content of news photos: Roles portrayed by men and women. Journalism Quarterly, 60(4), 710-714.

Bryant, J. (1980) A two year investigation of the female in sport as reported in the paper media.
Arena Review, 4(2), 32-44.

Duncan, M.C. & Sayaovong, A. (1990) Photographic images and gender in Sports Illustrated for Kids. Play & Culture, 3(2), 91-116.

Inman, K. (1987) Too little too late: Sports Illustrated‘s role in the growth and development of women’s athletics. Unpublished paper. University of Texas.

Kane, M.J. (1989) The post Title IX female athlete in the media: Things are changing, but how much? JOPERD, 60(3), 58-62.

Leavy, J. (1975) Sports chic. WomenSports, 4(3), 53-57.

Luebke, B.F. (1989) Out of focus: Images of women and men in newspaper photographs. Sex Roles 20(3-4), 121-133.

Lumpkin, A. & Williams, L. (1991) An analysis of Sports Illustrated feature articles: 1954-1987. Sociology of Sport Journal (in press).

Miller, S.H. (1975) The content of news photos: Women’s and men’s roles. Journalism Quarterly 52(l), 70-75.

Reid, L.N. & Soley, L.C. (1979) Sports Illustrated’s coverage of women in sports. Journalism Quarterly, 56(4), 861-863.

Rintala, J. & Birrell, S. (1984) Fair treatment for the active female: A content analysis of Young Athlete magazine. Sociology of Sport Journal, l(3), 231-250.

Theberge, N. & Cronk, A. (1984) Work routines in newspaper sports departments and the coverage of women’s sports. Sociology of Sport Journal, 3(3), 195-203.

Women’s Sports Foundation (1987) Preliminary study of the media’s coverage of women’s sports.



• Newspapers: The four newspapers were received by mail subscriptions. We examined only articles appearing in the sports section of each paper.

• Number and types of stories: The seemingly simple task of determining what constituted a story proved to be the most difficult methodological issue.

In general, if an item contained prose, it was considered a story. However, the captions of photographs were not considered stories. This meant that some short items were counted as stories including, for example, the “Tip-off” section of USA Today and the “FYI” section of the Dallas Morning News. We even counted as stories lists of top-25 teams if the listings included brief prose discussions of each team. Columnists’ columns addressing multiple topics, bylined compilations of a variety of sports, and summary round-ups such as USA Today‘s “Sportsline” were treated as single stories for counting purposes. Typically, such items took up only a portion of a page, although USA Today‘s “Across the USA in Sports” occupied a full page.

The practical consequence of this methodological approach was that the statistical disparity between coverage of men’s and women’s sport was reduced. Had we counted items in round-ups and compilation as separate stories, we would have found an even greater difference in the amount of coverage devoted to men’s and women’s sports because such stories typically contained more men’s than women’s items.

It was relatively easy to distinguish between men-only and women-only stories. Examples of articles in the “both” category included stories about tennis mixed-doubles, several of the sports round-up stories, and general reports on the Goodwill Games.

If a story did not focus on either male or female athletes or if it was not possible to determine the gender of the athletes involved, a story was counted as “neutral.” Many horse racing stories fell into this category. Other examples of “neutral” stories included articles about sports equipment and Atlanta’s successful bid for the 1996 Olympic Games.

We did not count team standings charts, statistical leaders lists, box scores or other agate results.

• Column inches: We measured the height of a column and its width and then multiplied the two numbers. Headlines and blank spaces were not measured and no adjustment was made for differences in type face size.

• Page placement: The only factor considered in coding page placement was the page on which the article began.

• Photographs: Pictures of columnists and photographs in advertisements were not counted. All other photographs were. Photographs depicting one or more male athletes as the primary subject of the picture were counted as men’s photographs regardless of what spectators or others might be in the background. Similarly, if a female was the primary subject, the picture was coded as a women’s photograph. Examples of “both” or “neutral” pictures included pictures of equipment, Goodwill Games opening ceremonies and stadiums.


A List of Sports Events in which Women Competed
July 1990 – September 1990


June28-July 1: du Maurier Classic
July 6-8 : Jamie Farr Toledo Classic
July 12-15: U.S. Women’s Open
July 20-22: Phar-Mor Youngstown Classic
July 26-29: Mazda LPGA Championships
August 2-5: Boston Five Classic
August 9-12: Stratton Mountain LPGA Classic
August 16-19: JAL Big Apple Classic
August 24-26: Northgate LPGA Classic
September 1-3: Rail Charity Gold Classic
September 7-9: Cellular One-Ping Gold Championships
September 13-16: Safeco Classic
September 19-21: USGA, U.S. Sr. Women’s Amateur Championships
September 20-23: MBS LPGA Classic


June 25- July 8: Wimbledon
July 9-15: Torneo Internazionale
July 16-22: Virginia Slims, Newport
July 16-22: Estoril Ladies Open
July 23-29: Federation Cup
July 30-August 5: Player’s Challenge Canadian Open
August 6-12: Great American Bank Tennis Classic
August 6-12: Virginia Slims, Albuquerque
August 13-19: Virginia Slims, Los Angeles
August 20-26: OTB International Tennis Classic
August 27-September 9 : US Open
September 10-16: Light ‘n Lively WTA Doubles
September 10-16: Athen’s Ladies Open
September 17-23: Clarins Open, Paris
September 17-23: Sangenor Austrian Ladies Open
September 24-30: Nicherei International Championships
September 24-30: Volkswagen Damen Grand Prix, Leipzig
September 24-30: Tournoi de Bayonne


June 28-July 1: U.S. Jr. Championships
July 2: IAAF/Mobil Grand Prix, Stockholm
July 4: IAAF/Mobil Grand Prix, Berlin
July 6: IAAF/Mobil Grand Prix, Edinburgh
July 10: IAAF/Mobil Grand Prix, Nice
July 12: IAAF/Mobil Grand Prix, Lausanne
July 14: IAAF/Mobil Grand Prix, Oslo
July 16: Mobil/ Bislett, Oslo
July 18: IAAF/Mobil Grand Prix, Bologna
July 20: IAAF/Mobil Grand Prix, London
July 24-29: U.S. Jr. Olympic Championships
July 28: New York Games
August 2-5: U.S. Master Championships
August 5: IAAF/Mobil Grand Prix, Budapest
August 8-12: World Jr. Championships
August 10: IAAF/Mobil Grand Prix, Brussels
August 15: IAAF/Mobil Grand Prix, Zurich
August 17: IAAF/Mobil Grand Prix, Berlin
August 19: IAAF/Mobil Grand Prix, Cologne
August 27 – September 1: European Championships
September 7: IAAF/Mobil Grand Prix Final, Athens
September 16: Toto Super ’90, Tokyo


July 7-16: U.S. Olympic Festival, Minneapolis/St. Paul Minnesota
July 20-August 5: Goodwill Games, Seattle
September 27- October 3: Asian Games, Beijing



June 30-July 1: Canoe/Kayak – World Cup, Wausau, WI
July 5-15: Yachting – Finn World Championships
July 7-8: Canoe/Kayak – World Cup, McHenry, MD
July 8-16: Fencing – World Championships
July 11-15: Cycling – Sr. Track National Championships
July11-22: Basketball – Women’s World Championships
July 13-15: Synchronized Swimming – Swiss Open
July 13-15: Rowing – Lucerne International Regatta
July 14-15: Canoe/Kayak – Championship International Whitewater Series, Duluth, MN
July 14-21: Softball – Women’s Fast Pitch World Championships
July 14-22: Cycling – Jr. Road and Track World
July 18-30: Yachting – Europe Class World Championships
July 19-22: Rowing – American Rowing Championship Regatta
July 20-22: Taekwondo – U.S. Sr. Finals
July 21-22: Canoe/Kayak – Championship International Whitewater Series
July 22-29: Equestrian – USET National Show Jumping Championships
July 23-27: Archery – 45th NFAA Outdoor Nationals
July 26 -August 5: Equestrian – World Equestrian Games
July 27 -August 4: Roller Skating – U.S. Artistic Championships
July 29 -August 4: Swimming – Phillips 66/USS Long Course National Championships
July 29 -August 4: Bowling – Tournament of the Americas


August 1-5: Rowing – Jr. World Championships
August 1-5: Synchronized Swimming – Jr. American Cup
August 3-5: Karate – U.S. National Championships
August 3-5: Waterpolo – Jr. Women’s Outdoor Nationals
August 4-5: Waterpolo – Sr. Women’s Outdoor Nationals
August 5-9: Roller Skating – U.S Indoor Speed Championships
August 5-10: Archery – National Target Championships/ Championships of the Americas Trials
August 5-12: Racquetball – IRF World Championships
August 5-20: Team Handball – USTHF Jr. National Championships
August 7-19: Shooting – World Championships
August 9-12: Swimming – L.E.N. Competition
August 14-18: Diving – Phillips 66/US Outdoor Championships
August 14-19: Equestrian – North American Young Riders Championships
August 15-19: Canoe/Kayak – U.S. National Canoe/Kayak Sprint Championships
August 15-26: Yachting – 470 Men/Women World Championships
August 17-25: Softball – Women’s Fast Pitch National Championships
August 17 – September 2: Cycling – Sr. Road and Track World Championships
August 20-26: Yachting – Soling Class World Championships
August 21-25: Bowling – National Amateur Championships
August 22-26: Canoe/Kayak – World Canoeing Championships
August 22 – September 2: Volleyball – Women’s World Championships
August 22-31: Bowling – FIQ World Youth
August 23-26: Modern Pentathlon – Women’s World Championships
August 26- September 2: Archery – World Field Championships
August 29- September 2: Table Tennis – World Cup, Japan
August 30- September 2: Roller Skating – U.S. Jr. Olympic Championships


September 19-30: Yachting – Star Class World Championships
September 15-18: Taekwondo – World University Championships
September 22-23: Archery – Pacific Coast

* Also in September – Intercollegiate and interscholastic competition for girls and women across the country in soccer, volleyball, tennis, cross-country, and field hockey.


Co-Investigated by
Margaret Carlisle Duncan, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Michael Messner, Ph.D., University of Southern California
Linda Williams, Ph.D.

Edited by
Wayne Wilson, Ph.D., Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles

Sponsored by
The Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles
January 1991

The Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles is the private, nonprofit institution created to manage Southern California’s endowment from the 1984 Olympic Games. The AAF awards grants to youth sports organizations, initiates regional sports programs and operates the Paul Ziffren Sports Resource Center, a state-of-the-art learning center designed to increase knowledge of sports and its impact on people’s lives.


Special thanks to our research assistants, Kerry Jensen and Stephanie Abrams of the University of Southern California, for their care and diligence in collecting data. Thanks also to Bonita Hester, Shirley Ito and Michael Salmon of the Amateur Athletic Foundation for their help in compiling the data..