By Fred Bowen
Thursday, August 12, 2010; C08
If you watch ESPN or local sports news on TV, you might notice something missing: women's sports.
A study by the University of Southern California recently looked at three weeks of ESPN's "SportsCenter" and six weeks of three TV stations in Los Angeles and found that 96.3 percent of the shows' airtime was taken up by men's sports while only 1.6 percent of the shows were about women's sports. (The other 2 percent looked at other activities, such as dog sports.)
Wow! Talk about a lopsided game.
The folks at USC, who have been doing these studies for the past 20 years, found that TV sports shows are covering women's sports less than ever. In 2004, 6.3 percent of the shows' airtime was about women's sports. In 1999, it was 8.7 percent. That's not great, but it's better than 1.6 percent.
Television sports shows cover women's sports less even though more girls are playing sports. In 1989, boys outnumbered girls in high school athletics 3.4 million to 1.8 million. Now the numbers are much closer, with 4.4 million high school boys playing sports and 3.1 million girls.
Still, about 72 percent of the sports on TV are the three big men's games: football, basketball and baseball.
Wait a minute: Lots of women play basketball, including the WNBA and NCAA college hoops. But the study showed that TV shows cover men's pro and college basketball about 10 times as much as women's hoops.
So if you love women's sports, what can you do? First, support women's teams and go to the games. Ask your parents and friends to go to the games. Get tickets for the Washington Mystics or the Freedom soccer team. And don't forget all the wonderful local women's college teams.
Second, watch women's sports on television whenever you can. Women's teams need all the fans they can get. Television news shows and newspapers are businesses that cover the most popular sports. In Washington, TV stations, radio shows and even KidsPost talk about the Redskins because so many people watch the games and are interested in the team.
Finally, don't give up. Recently, I read the book "When the Game Was Ours," about basketball legends Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Author Jackie MacMullan mentions that Game 6 of the 1980 NBA championship between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Philadelphia 76ers was not on live TV. It was on tape delay late at night.
Thirty years ago, even the men's NBA was not a big-time sport. It took years for the NBA to become so popular. Maybe with a little help, the same can happen with women's sports.
Fred Bowen is the author of 15 fiction and nonfiction sports books for kids. His book "Off the Rim" contains a chapter on the history of women's basketball.