As the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments start this week, CBS and ESPN, respectively, will air a steady stream of segments on various coaches and teams. A sports information director (SID) for each team will help the media coordinate interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and those ubiquitous promo segments we will come to know through the course of these tournaments. On the men’s side, few of these SIDs will be women, part of a bigger trend in the sports information industry, according to a recent study by researchers at the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism appearing in the current issue of the Journal of Sports Media.
Sports information directors handle media relations for college athletic departments and are often assigned to work with specific teams. Using a survey of 775 sports information directors across the nation, the study showed that work assignments were sharply divided along gender lines. In particular, men composed 86 percent of all the SIDs in charge of working with football and 79 percent of all those assigned to men’s basketball. Conversely, the top seven sports most often assigned to women are women’s sports: women’s basketball, women’s volleyball, softball, women’s soccer, women’s tennis, women’s cross country and women’s outdoor track.
We applied Joan Acker’s theory of gendered organizations to sports information as an industry to suggest that the practices and norms of the organization reproduce socially constructed gender differences as a natural component of sports. Biologically, women are just as capable of working with football or men’s basketball, but the implicit idea that men are better able to handle these “tough” and high-profile sports, regulates the division of labor in this industry.
Furthermore, in the current sports media climate, sports like softball, women’s soccer and the like simply do not receive the exposure and visibility of a men’s basketball or football. If women are relegated to spaces where they work with “lower profile” sports, we naturalize the idea that women belong on the fringe of sports.
The survey showed that women are generally leaving the profession between six and 10 years of service, preserving sports information as a male-dominated industry. Those in hiring and decision-making capacities (mostly white men, according to the study) should interrogate sport assignments. A more equitable distribution of responsibility may foster a more optimistic career outlook for women, leading to longer job tenures and a more diverse profession in general.