Molly Arenberg, a former Division I college soccer player and cross country runner, noticed the differing amounts of coverage while reading the newspaper each morning, so she began emailing the New York Times to ask why it didn’t devote more stories to women’s sports. With no response, she started a petition. Then, on June 18, at the suggestion of a friend, she launched the Scoreboard For Equality Tumblr page to track the number of stories about women’s sports each day.
“Every morning I go to the main sports page of the NYT, USA Today and the Washington Post,” Arenberg told ThinkProgress in an email, noting that she will start tracking more outlets soon. “I only track the main sports page, or the ‘hub page’ where most readers go first. This is because most of the tabs under each newspaper are all-male leagues (e.g. NFL, college football, NHL), which means if I tracked every article under each tab, the percentage would be way worse.” She posts to her site each morning in a scoreboard motif under headlines like “Only Women’s Tennis Newsworthy for NYTimes,” and the bottom of each scoreboard includes a running tally.
As of Tuesday morning, when I talked to Arenberg, the share of sports stories in the New York Times devoted to women’s sports stood at 4.9 percent (articles that mention both men’s and women’s sports count as one in favor of each).
But the problem isn’t just that women’s sports aren’t being covered, Arenberg said. It’s how they are covered in the rare instances they are. Women’s sports coverage, she said, is often devoted to “catfights” like the recent controversy between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, while legitimate coverage about leagues like the newly-founded National Women’s Soccer League are largely ignored. “The only time they do cover the league is about the league’s instability,” Arenberg said, pointing to a recent Times piece about the league’s unstable financial footing. True, the NWSL is the third such attempt to make a women’s soccer league succeed, but devoting actual coverage to “one of the most popular sports for young women in the United States” may have its own positive effect.
“Here’s an idea for all of these highly respected newspapers: stop squashing the coverage of women’s sports,” Arenberg said. “Covering women’s professional and college sports is good journalism. Then wait and see even more growth of women’s sports. Then write an article on that.”
For now, Arenberg hasn’t heard from any of the outlets she is tracking, though she received a positive response from Joanna Lohman, who plays for the NWSL’s Boston Breakers. But the site is only in its beginning stages, and Arenberg is hoping to cause changes in both how and how much the media covers women in sports. “Despite the incredible oppression women have faced, especially in sports, women sports are growing rapidly and thriving,” she said. “Yet these media sources chose not to cover this or develop readership, but instead perpetuate insulting tropes.”