On Campus Lecture
April 10, 2012 § Leave a comment
The presentation I attended was on March 30, 2012 and was presented by Dr. Cheryl Cooky. Dr. Cooky’s presentation was called It’s not About the Game, Don Imus, Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality in Contemporary Media. Dr. Cooky’s presentation covered a lot of information but her main focus was about how the media frames women who are athletes. Dr. Cooky provides the audience with plenty of examples throughout her presentation on how female athletes are consistently framed by the media in sexist and racist manners.
The presentation begins with an introduction to the Cinderella season by the Rutgers University women’s basketball team. The women’s basketball team had shocked the nation by beating some of the best basketball schools in the country and then later reaching the NCAA championship game against the University of Tennessee. After Tennessee had ended Rutgers fairytale season, radio host Don Imus, who had a sports radio talk show that broadcast in the New York City Metropolitan area, was talking about the women’s championship game. When Imus and his producer were talking about the game, the only thing Imus really mentioned was how “thug” like the girls on the Rutgers team looked. He told his producer that he wouldn’t want to mess with the girls from Rutgers and he mentioned how they all had tattoo’s all over their bodies trying to reference to their thug like appearance. He then said, they kinda look like the Toronto Raptors, a NBA basketball team often characterized by many as a team that looks like a bunch of hoodlums. However, the comment that really got Imus in trouble was when he was describing the Rutgers girls and he said that they looked like a bunch of “Nappy headed hoes”. I actually remember following this story a couple of years ago, so it was easier for me to understand the scenario a little better. I had heard Imus’s remarks on the television before and while I didn’t think of it then, I know wonder why a man who is hosting a sports radio show is even talking about the players appearances. Instead of a sports broadcaster reporting on the Cinderella season or the championship game, Imus decided he would rather state racist and sexist remarks on the air. The comments were racist because almost the entire Rutgers basketball team was African American and he used the word nappy as a reference to the African American player’s hair. The comments were also sexist because instead of focusing on the main point of the story which was about Rutgers Cinderella season, Imus changed the topic to how the females looked. Imus’s comments clearly reinforce the stereotype that women are supposed to look a certain way. Since the players had tattoos and did not look like what our society deems attractive, Imus’s remarks about them being hoes is blatantly a sexist remark.
After Imus remarks, there was a huge uproar by the public. MSNBC tried relentlessly to distance themselves from Imus and his remarks. Many women’s organizations joined together calling for shareholders of MSNBC or any of their affiliates like Microsoft to drop their stocks in the company. Fearing that the companies would lose a lot of money and sponsors, MSNBC eventually fired Imus. After Dr. Cooky explained the Don Imus controversy, she concluded with the study on how the media in general and in the Don Imus case frame sports stories involving female athletes. According to her research, she stated that women and men are not framed the same way when covering sports stories. She said that in men’s sports, the sports coverage tend to be focused more on the game itself and how certain players performed in the game. Her findings on women’s sports however found that the quality of the coverage is much poorer and that women’s sports tend to be sexualized. Her research findings also discovered that when it comes to black female athletes, the media tends to give less credit to their accomplishments and uses masculine characteristics to describe them.
In concluding her paper, Dr. Cooky explained to the audience why there is such a bias in the way sports stories are framed. Dr. Cooky stated that the reason women tend to not get fair coverage compared to men’s sports or the reason women’s sports tend to be sexualized has a lot to do with the hegemony theory. The hegemony theory is when the dominant group controls social institutions in society such as schools, the media, and popular culture which then give them the power to portray stereotypical images of the subordinated groups. Since we live in a patriarchal society, this means that men tend to have control over these social institutions and that men are heavily to blame for why women are perceived in so many unjust manners.
In conclusion, I found Dr. Cooky’s analysis of media framing of women’s sports to be very accurate. With the examples she gave during the presentation, specifically the Don Imus controversy, it is clear that women’s sports do not get the same level of quality coverage as men’s sports. The terminologies many reporters use to describe women’s sports have much higher levels of racism and sexism when comparing it to the coverage in men’s sports. Dr. Cooky’s theory that the hegemony theory is the cause behind why women’s sports tend to be framed in a more negative and bias manner seems to make logical sense. Personally, I believe that as long as we live in a patriarchal society, we will continue to see these racist and sexist terms used when analyzing women’s sports.