Friday, November 25, 2005

Lesbians in sport: Coverage perpetuates myth, not reality

I am intrigued with two sports stories that appeared several weeks ago but then vanished almost as quickly as a mall parking spot on Black Friday: those involving WNBA player Sheryl Swoopes and Penn State women's basketball coach Rene Portland.
Portland, who made no secret in the early 1990s that she discriminated against lesbian players, was accused of doing so recently by a player who was dismissed last season despite being one of the team's top scorers. Meanwhile, Swoopes, the only WNBA player to market her own shoe, disclosed in ESPN The Magazine last month that she is lesbian.
The story about Swoopes demonstrates at least in part why the Portland story hasn't -- and may never -- fully develop. As Dave Zirin points out in an essay in The Nation, Swoopes' revelation was reframed to perpetuate the myth that lesbians in sport are welcome, prominent and well-protected. That kind of framing hides the truth: that lesbians still face blatant discrimination. It remains extremely risky for a lesbian to be honest with her coaches, teammates and the public about her identity.
Thus, lesbian athletes often play in silence, deciding that the price for coming out may be too high. That allows homophobic coaches to continue to discriminate against players they perceive as lesbian. Those players -- even after they're gone -- are often too afraid to come forward.
Thus, the "non-story" continues, helped along by sports journalists who are themselves afraid to pursue the story for fear it will anger coaches on the beats they cover (For instance, it's curious that sports writers at the Centre Daily Times, the paper local to Penn State, haven't written about the controversy.).

Monday, November 21, 2005

Wonder why you don't see more women's sports in newspaper sports sections?

One reason could be that so few women who work in newsrooms cover sports. A Center for Sports Journalism survey found that women are scarce in sports departments in comparison to the rest of the newsroom. Racial minorities are employed at a slightly higher rate than are women. Check out the summary.

Saturday, November 19, 2005


I'm starting this blog to share research we're doing at the PSU Center for Sports Journalism and to offer my unedited commentary on issues involving sports media. Sports media compose a huge industry in the United States with an undeniable impact on American culture and values. I hope you'll visit often and provide your feedback on the topics posted here.