Friday, June 15, 2012

French Open coverage provides window into coverage of men's, women's sports

Print news coverage of the recently completed French Open offers an interesting look at how men’s and women’s can be covered. An Associated Press article said that women’s singles winner Maria Sharapova became the 10th female to win all four major tournaments. Another Associated Press report mentioned both how men’s singles champion Rafael Nadal stopped tournament runner-up Novak Djokovic from becoming the first man to win four consecutive Grand Slams since 1969 and that Nadal won his record seventh French Open singles title.

The reference to men in describing Djokovic’s attempt at his fourth straight major victory is important because it pays respect to the fact that women players have accomplished that feat. Often accomplishments of male athletes are never restricted to their own sex. For example, Landon Donovan is called the leading goal scorer in the history of U.S. soccer. However women’s national team players Michelle Akers, Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach have all scored more goals competing for the United States than Donovan. This is written not to disparage Donovan but to call attention to the fact that the achievements of women athletes should not be given short shrift.

This brings us back to Nadal’s record seventh French Open title. The Associated Press and many other news outlets did not mention that Chris Evert won seven French Open titles. (The Los Angeles Times did mention Evert as a seven-time winner.) Nadal’s accomplishment could be written as a “men’s record seventh title” or even “record-tying” with a nod given to Evert.

With this in mind, it is time for journalism stylebooks to be updated. The change proposed is that for sports where both men and women play that the sex of the sport is mentioned for both (i.e., men’s lacrosse and women’s basketball) and that the accomplishments for athletes of each sport are placed in more nuanced context (i.e., calling Landon Donovan the leading scorer in U.S. men’s soccer history).
-- Steve Bien-Aime

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