The NCAA’s sexism was front-page news during March Madness. Was women's basketball?
That's right, friends. #CoveringtheCoverage is back!
PRE-INTRO WARNING: I went overboard with graphs and screenshots in this one, so the entire newsletter will not likely fit in your email inbox, click here to view in a browser so you don’t miss any single thing.
Welcome to Power Plays, a no-bullshit newsletter about sexism in sports, written by me, Lindsay Gibbs.
I have missed you all greatly, and since I’m currently in making-up-for-lost-time mode, I am going to resist the urge to do a long preamble, and just dive right into things.
So, um, do you remember the 2021 NCAA women’s basketball Final Four? Believe it or not, it took place this month. As in, just a few weeks ago. That doesn’t sound right, but I have checked the calendar multiple times, and it’s somehow true!
Let me quickly refresh your memory: During March Madness — which in Power Plays world applies to both the women’s and the men’s tournaments, no matter what the fuckwads at the NCAA have to say — gender inequity was the talk of the town. And while part of me wanted to scream at everyone, “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN LIKE THIS,” I was, of course, thrilled the NCAA’s sexism was finally generating the outrage it deserve. (Plus, it was fun watching Mark Emmert get roasted from every angle.)
But while the media was covering the NCAA’s misogyny extensively, I couldn’t help but wonder, how much was the media covering the actual tournament itself? You know, the basketball part?
That’s where Power Plays comes in. Yes, Tori Burstein and I are back with another edition of #CoveringTheCoverage, this time breaking down the newspaper coverage of the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball Final Fours.
Okay, friends. Let’s do this.
POST-INTRO WARNING: I went overboard with graphs and screenshots in this one, so the entire newsletter will not fit in your email inbox, so click here to view in a browser so you don’t miss any single thing.
The men’s Final Four got twice as much coverage as the women’s
For this Final Four edition of #CoveringTheCoverage, Tori and I focused on the six primary newspapers we have tracked throughout this project: USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, Dallas Morning News, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, and the New York Times. Those are our six primary papers because they all have wide circulation and are based in a variety of geographical locations around the country.
Tori looked at the print editions of each paper from Wednesday, March 31 (the day after the men’s and women’s Elite Eights concluded) through Monday, April 5 (the day after the women’s championship game, and the day of the men’s championship game.)
In the chart below, you can see the number of NCAAW stories and NCAAM stories published in each paper during that six-day stretch, and the percentage of total sports coverage each category represented.
One-third of the sports coverage during that time frame was devoted to the NCAA basketball tournament. But within that, the men’s tournament received almost twice as much coverage (21.41%) as the women’s tournament (11.41%).
Here is a very easy way to visualize this discrepancy:
There were some bright spots, though — especially in the New York Times
It is, of course, not great that the men’s Final Four got twice as much coverage as the women’s. However, when we dive into the data on a per-paper basis, the situation doesn’t look quite as dire.
Here are my biggest takeaways from this beautiful chart:
The Los Angeles Times gets a failing grade. In the six days Power Plays tracked, the LAT had 33 stories about the men’s tournament, compared to only five about the women’s tournament. Obviously, UCLA making it to the men’s Final Four is responsible for a large portion of that discrepancy, but there’s no excuse for a gap that extreme.
USA Today’s coverage was pretty evenly balanced, and the Dallas Morning News’s gap wasn’t as large as I expected given Houston and Baylor were both in the men’s Final Four.
Five of the six newspapers had more coverage of the men’s tournament than the women’s tournament.
However, the one exception was the New York Times, which deserves a standing ovation. The NYT published 10 stories about the women’s tournament during the Final Four, compared to only 6.5 stories about the men’s. The NYT has been making a concerted effort to boost its women’s sports coverage, particularly about basketball, by working with some of the best WNBA writers in the business on a freelance basis, and their hard work is making a huge difference.
The front page always tells a story
It’s important for us to tally not just the number of stories, but also the placement of stories, since that’s another big indicator of what each paper values. Here’s the data from the front pages of our selected papers:
Want to see this in a pretty chart?
Well, friends, you’ve come to the right place:
Some of these numbers are quite jaw-dropping. This time, let’s start with the good:
Fifty. Percent. (50%!!!) of NYT Sports’ front-page coverage during the Final Four was of the women’s tournament. That does not mean 50% of the college basketball coverage on its front page was about the women’s tournament. That means women’s college basketball accounted for 50% of the front-page real estate in the NYT’s sports section between March 31 and April 5. That is dance-around-your-living-room-and-pop-your-preffered-bottle-of-bubbly-drink good.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Los Angeles Times had *zero* coverage of the women’s tournament on the front page, which is less than ideal!
While the Washington Post had more coverage of the men’s tournament than the women’s tournament overall, it featured the women’s tournament on the front page more often — five times to four.
Let’s take a second before we continue to go back to squealing over the NYT.
But unfortunately, the gender gap in sports coverage remains gigantic
There are certainly reasons to be optimistic about the coverage of women’s sports if you just focus in on the Final Four data. But when we step back and look at the big picture, things still look pretty bleak.
The reality is, every single paper still overwhelmingly covered more men’s sports than women’s sports during our six-day span, and it wasn’t even close. I made many charts to help us examine the problem.
The shades of green below represent men’s sports coverage, while the shades of yellow represent women’s sports:
If we stop parsing out the Final Four data, here’s how each paper’s men’s sports and women’s sports coverage stacks up:
The situations at the Los Angeles Times, Dallas Morning News, and Washington Post are especially atrocious.
Here are Power Plays, when we started monitoring coverage, the initial goal was to see media dedicate at least 33% of its coverage to women’s sports. The only paper that got even somewhat close to the 33% goal was the New York Times, which came in at 27.17%.
Yes, women’s sports only got 13.4% of the sports coverage during this span. Want another way to visualize how sad this is?
Here, have a teeny, tiny sliver of pie:
Now, I do realize that more men’s pro sports were happening during March than women’s pro sports, but not to the extent that the coverage discrepancy would have you think!
Essentially, if women’s sports got any coverage from papers, it was Final Four related, as the NCAAW tournament accounted for about 85% of all women’s sports coverage in our study. Meanwhile, the NCAAM tournament accounted for about 25% of all the men’s sports coverage during the same frame.
There’s still a long way to go.
Local coverage matters at least just as much as national coverage. So, we thought it would be fun to punch in and take a look at the coverage each team received from their local markets.
Now, I think it’s important to take these numbers with a grain of salt. Like, this isn’t the time to jump on The State and declare they had the worst coverage, because, after all, South Carolina didn’t make it to the national championship game. (Plus, I mean, its numbers are very comparable to the Arizona Republic and the San Francisco Chronicle; and it’s not a surprise that Hartford Courant is the leader of the pack.) We didn’t collect as much separate data from these papers as we did from our primary six, and we haven’t been tracking them for an extended period of time.
The only thing we really have to compare these numbers to is the Los Angeles Times, which devoted 31% of its overall sports coverage and 73% of its front-page sports coverage to the men’s NCAA tournament when UCLA made its Final Four run. So, I guess, if we use that as a control group, we could leave here feeling incredibly depressed.
BUT I WON’T HAVE THAT.
So, I’ll just say this: While it’s frustrating that these local papers only devoted about 13% of their sports coverage to the NCAAW tournament during the Final Four, the fact that most of those stories were making it to the front page, and that a quarter of their front-page real estate was women’s basketball related during the Final Four, is a good sign!
Speaking of good signs …
Here are many front pages filled with women’s Final Four coverage, scroll and feel invigorated!!!
(Unfortunately I did not screencap New York Times front pages before they disappeared, so while they are the standout star of this newsletter, they are not included below. Therefore, remember, there are even more reasons to be pumped up than you see below.)
(Also, these are in no particular order.)
I love you all so much. Thanks for supporting Power Plays and sticking with me. I’ve got exciting announcements coming soon. In the meantime, take care of yourselves!!