After the epic Baylor-UConn game appeared on national television, the game story also earned a spot on cnn.com’s mobile page. Given that the mobile front page includes about eight headlines on average, cnn’s choice to include the recap represented some nice exposure for women’s collegiate basketball.
The story largely focused on the exciting game, top-level early-season competition and the superstar battle between Maya Moore and Brittney Griner.
However, in discussing Griner, the author included a parenthetical quote from a UConn player expressing amazement at her size near the end of the story.
There is no question that at six-foot-eight, Griner’s stature is unusual. After all, the average height for women in the United States is five-foot-four and 95 percent of 20-year-old women in this country are under five-foot-10.
Given that Griner has received national coverage since she was in high school – and plenty more during her first year of college during the 2009-2010 season, her stature is well-documented and thus remarking on her unusual height is something of old news.
Further, the quote lacked any reference to Griner’s play in this major early-season game and instead brought a focus to Griner’s unusual body. In including the comment, the piece became part of an ongoing narrative that focuses on women’s bodies over their athleticism.
Researchers have long written on the ways in which popular media coverage often emphasizes women’s aesthetic appeal, a practice achieved through featuring female athletes in passive poses rather than action shots, for example, or focusing on their off-the-court activities instead of their on-court athletic endeavors. Both strategies ultimately present female athletes as female first and athlete second.
Remarking on Griner’s body is a new twist on this old theme. When we view female athletes depicted in revealing dresses or with their kids away from athletic competition, we are invited to focus on their femininity – and ultimately their feminine bodies -- as opposed to their athleticism. Focusing on Griner’s unusual body redirects our attention in the same way, taking the focus away from her exploits on the court and returning our gaze to her body.