Since When Are Sports Feminizing?

Long-touted as the epitome of masculinity with an undertone of “dumb jock,” big-name American sports such as baseball and football have traditionally been considered a boys’ club. (And yes, we know better than anyone that 44% of the NFL’s rabid fan base is female, but that’s a stat for another time.)

But the ultimate boy’s club, ESPN network, is “so masculine it’s almost feminine,” according to author Tom Shales, who was quoted in a New York Times piece documenting the shift. Readers who don’t tune into SportsCenter get the impression that the channel is a veritable hub of body-envy and sartorial innovation. The piece focuses on what message of masculinity is being expressed by the third highest-rated network on cable, but our interest was caught by a slightly different question: What message of femininity does this article transmit?

The author writes—as do others—that this fixation on appearance and the new prominence of topics that should perhaps be sidelined (Troy Polamalu’s heavily-insured locks, for example) are edging closer to center stage, and injecting an element of femininity into the network. Since when is caring how you look feminine? Isn’t it just… human? Much like the term “athletic” has ceased to imply “masculine,” there’s no reason why beyond-basic hygiene should still be considered a purely feminine realm. But comments like that of an enthusiastic ESPN female co-host, “When athletes come in to do interviews, it’s almost like a fashion show,” don’t exactly convey that women are capable of enjoying sports as more than pedestals for kitted-out footballers.

This is the mindset that is so often damaging to companies when turning their attention to female consumers. There’s an inherent belief that to catch female attention, all one must do is add the word “shoes!” and dye the product or service pink. Appealing to women isn’t about discussing hair or taking a (what you believe is) feminine approach. It’s about recognizing that female consumers are consumers before females. They enjoy and benefit from the same entertainment, products, and services as their male counterparts. We firmly believe that creating a woman-friendly company begins with being a company that’s friendly to women—note that ESPN is still a magnet for harassment lawsuits and sexual scandals. Despite the interpretive tie-tying and value of hair products, ESPN is not feminine. What “feminine” truly is… well, that’s up to you.

See you at the Super Bowl.

(Image from The Faster Times, via AP. Worth checking out.)

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April 13, 2024
by Mary Lou Quinlan

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