Friday, December 31, 2010

Note to espnW: a woman is not a horse

Zenyatta: "Am I not a woman and a horse?"
ESPN recently launched a website for women sports fans, espnW. Today the site listed its top ten stories in women's sports. In cooking up this list, ESPN adopted a flexible definition of the category "woman" by including Zenyatta, the horse, as #4.

Setting aside the rather large problem regarding the network's confusion regarding the category "woman," the list is a rather bland summary of accomplishments. The biggest stories are not always the ones we want to hear - a real list of the biggest stories for women in sports would include a mix of the good and the bad. I've approached this from a journalism standpoint, and have forwarded a few of the stories that I think are most important.  This is quite different from listing accomplishments of female athletes.

  • Mary Kom wins 5th women’s world boxing championship. Indian women dominate the sport and are poised to bring the first Olympic gold medal to the country in the London Olympics.
  • Two South African players charge national women's team coach with sexual harassment – accuse coach of prowling dormitory at night and dropping players from the squad who reject his advances.
  • U Conn claims record for longest winning streak in basketball – Stanford claims honor of breaking 90 game run. Meanwhile the accomplishments of the individual athletes (most notably Maya Moore) are ignored in end-of-the-year awards for athletes.
  • FC Gold Pride - possibly the best women's club team ever assembled - wins season, and folds: WPS is the most competitive professional women’s soccer league in the world, but struggles to win sponsors and is overwhelmed by media blackout.
  • Nigerian women’s soccer team become first African [women's] team of either gender to play in a World Cup Final – as the national association is swamped in scandal, their remarkable achievement goes unnoticed.
  • Mexico beats the US women's national soccer team in a crucial World Cup qualifying match. Sends the latter to a desperate play-off with Italy, and initiates what fans hope will be an extension of the infamous border rivalry in the men's game to the women's game. 
  • Ines Sainz harrassed by New York Jets, international coverage of story revives sexist attitudes about women journalists and sports coverage. Brett Favre sends explicit pictures and texts to hostess working for Jets, given a slap on the wrist fine by the NFL.
  • Serena Williams wins 4th Wimbleton singles trophy, breaks tournament record with 89 aces across her career. 13th title puts her 6th in list of grand slam champions.
  • ESPN names horse as a top story in women's sports.  We LIKE horses. That doesn't MAKE us horses. 
[Since publishing this, I wrote a mildly satirical post for The Guardian's "Comment is Free" page: ESPN makes mare's nest of women in sport. I think I do my best work in the comments section.]

BBC story on Mary Kom, 5 time Women's World Boxing Championship, from Manipur, India


  1. A good list but can I quibble with the 'of either gender' in the piece about Nigeria's women Under-20 team being the first African side to reach a World Cup final? Their male compatriots reached the Under-20 final in 1989. As did Ghana in 1993, 2001 and 2009 (when they finally won it). Nigeria and Cameroon's Olympic titles can hardly be dismissed either.

    That said, the achievement of the Falconets in Germany was a tremendous and historic one.

  2. Thank you for the correction - I picked that up from other coverage, and never checked it.

  3. I think ESPN has stopped trying to be anything other than the coarsest marketing vehicle for it's properties. Their last ombudsman Le Anne Schreiber did a fine job criticizing the network's excesses and priorities (not sports) but the new ombudsman Don Ohlmeyer hasn't gotten within a mile of anything that dings the ESPN brand.

    ESPN also listed 3 horses on their greatest 100 athletes of the 20th century list in 200. Three horses, 6 women, and 91 men.

  4. Hi,

    I don't know if you've been keeping up with things going over at Sky Sports in the UK, but I'd love to see your views on this:

    and here's some mainstream press reactions from England and Ireland:


    and from England:

    and the usually rather bland, Telegraph in the UK:


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