Sociology of Sport Journal, 2004, 21, 435-456 © 2004 Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc.
Game, Sex, and Match: The Construction of Gender in British Newspaper Coverage of the 2000 Wimbledon Championships John Vincent This study compared British newspaper coverage of female and male tennis players competing in the 2000 Wimbledon Championships. Content analysis methodology was used to compare the amount of coverage in The Times, Daily Mail, and The Sun. Drawing on Connell’s (1987, 1993, 1995) theory of gender power relations, textual analysis was used to examine recurring themes in the gendered coverage and analyze how the themes intersected with race. Although few discrepancies were found in the amount of coverage, qualitative comparisons revealed that the predominantly male journalists generally devalued the athletic achievements of female tennis players by using cultural and racial stereotypes, trivialization, and sexual innuendo. In comparison, the journalists frequently expressed their reverence for male tennis players’ athleticism, reproducing and legitimizing hegemonic masculinity. Cette étude porte sur une comparaison de la couverture médiatique des joueurs et joueuses de tennis participant aux championnats de Wimbledon de 2000. Une analyse de contenu a été utilisée pour comparer la quantité de couverture au sein des quotidiens britanniques The Times, Daily Mail et The Sun. À partir de la théorie des relations de genre de Connell (1987, 1993, 1995), une analyse textuelle a permis d’examiner les thèmes récurrents dans la couverture médiatique et la façon dont ces thèmes sont reliés à la race. Quoique des divergences aient été notées au sujet de la quantité de couverture, les comparaisons qualitatives ont révélé que les journalistes (le plus souvent des hommes) dévaluent les accomplissements sportifs des joueuses de tennis en les banalisant et en utilisant des stéréotypes raciaux et culturels ainsi que des insinuations à caractère sexuel. En contraste, les journalistes révèrent les qualités athlétiques des joueurs de tennis, reproduisant et légitimant ainsi un type hégémonique de masculinité.
Introduction It is generally accepted that the mass media have become some of the most powerful institutional forces in society. The media are instrumental in directing attention and shaping cultural attitudes and values (Harris & Clayton, 2002; Sage, 1998). Newspapers are one of the most prevalent media forms with the sport section of a newspaper being one of the most widely read sections (Boyle & Haynes, 2000; Coakley, 2003). Thus, the gendered nature of newspaper coverage of sporting events helps to define, normalize, influence, and reflect mainstream societal beliefs about professional sport. This study, the first in a series, compares selected The author is with the University of Alabama, College of Education, Department of Kinesiology, Tuscaloosa, AL.
British newspaper coverage of female and male tennis players competing in the 2000 Wimbledon Championships and seeks to provide insight into how newspapers frame the coverage of gender and how gendered discourse intersects with race.
Research Rationale Historically, the 2000 Wimbledon Championships were significant because Venus Williams became the first woman of color to win a Wimbledon singles title since Althea Gibson in 1958, and Pete Sampras surpassed Roy Emerson’s record for the most grand-slam victories by winning the men’s singles title. The Wimbledon Championships, held at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (the patron of which is Her Majesty the Queen), date back to 1877 and are steeped in socially elitist, White, heterosexual, British patriarchal 19th century traditions. The history of the Wimbledon Championships mirrors the development of many modern sporting institutions that were founded by and for socially elite White males, in part, to overcome the feminizing effects of the industrial age and to reinvigorate the ideology of their “natural superiority” over race- and class-subordinated groups of men and women. The Wimbledon Championships perpetuate the custom of female tennis players playing best of three sets, whereas their male peers play best of five sets, reflecting residual Victorian beliefs that women should not overexert themselves physically and compromise their heterosexual femininity. The shorter duration of women’s matches is used, with the perception that the women’s professional tennis tour has less depth than the men’s tour, to justify inequitable prize money. Ironically, the lack of depth can produce more interest in the women’s event because the women’s draw is likely to have more match-ups between the seeded, “marquee” players than the men’s draw since more of the male marquee players could have been eliminated because of the greater depth of the draw. The Wimbledon Championships remain the only tennis gland-slam event played on a grass surface. Grass is a very fast surface, which, from the perspective of the tennis purist, might make the women’s game on grass more appealing than the men’s game. Professional women players generally do not hit the ball as fast as their male peers, which, paradoxically, enables courtside spectators to have a clearer view of their skillfully crafted ground strokes. In addition, many women play predominantly from the baseline, which generally facilitates longer rallies, encouraging finesse and variation. In comparison, the men’s game on grass often consists of a serve and volley approach, in which the male players’ most frequent strategy is to overpower his opponent. This style of tennis tends to be fairly predictable and produces relatively few rallies, with little variation and finesse. At the beginning of the new millennium, the patriarchal Wimbledon traditions stand in stark contrast to the visibility and commercial profile of elite professional female tennis players such as Martina Hingis, Anna Kournikova, Monica Seles, and Serena and Venus Williams, who have shattered the commercialendorsement glass ceiling and received endorsement contracts comparable with their male counterparts (Spencer & McClung, 2001). A recent study by Koivula (2001) suggests that women’s tennis is increasingly viewed as gender neutral by young people, suggesting that there might be an expectation of equitable media coverage of female and male tennis players competing at the 2000 Wimbledon Championships.
Theoretical Framework This study draws principally on Connell’s (1987, 1993, 1995) theory of gender power relations and adopts the relational view that there are multiple femininities and masculinities operating in a hierarchy of socially constructed power relations. Connell (1993) claimed that although femininities and masculinities vary within social context, the most desired form of masculinity in the hierarchical gender order is hegemonic masculinity. Hegemonic masculinity is normally represented by socially elite, White, Western, heterosexual, able-bodied males, which equates with great social prestige. Through a complex system of socially constructed, economic, and political power relations, hegemonic masculinity subordinates and marginalizes both women and other masculinities (Connell, 1995). According to Connell, there is no hegemonic femininity, but there is an emphasized femininity associated with socially elite, White, heterosexually feminine women who “accommodate the interests and desires of men.” Although hegemonic masculinity is socially constructed and is perpetually being challenged, reinforced, and reconstructed in relation to other forms of masculinities and femininities, the characteristics of hegemonic masculinity are frequently reinscribed as “natural” and “self evident.” Hierarchical and exclusionary cultural practices are necessary to perpetuate the gender order. In Western society these practices marginalize and subordinate women, generally women of color, bisexuals, lesbians, and workingclass women, although some marginalized and subordinated women might acquire hegemonic power without necessarily needing to challenge the status quo. Competitive sport with its emphasis on competition and hierarchy is frequently defined in a language of hegemonic masculinity, which serves to maintain a hegemonic status quo (Connell, 1995). Complementing Connell’s (1987, 1993, 1995) theory of gender power relations, this study also draws on theoretical insights from feminist cultural studies and political economy perspectives. Feminist sport scholars claim that female athletes are marginalized, exploited, and oppressed and thus desire to change sport to counter oppression based on not only gender but also race, class, and ethnicity (Hall, 2002). Feminists view sport and the media as symbiotic institutions that frame sports coverage within a gender hierarchy in which male athletes are portrayed as naturally superior to female athletes. The media perpetuate and naturalize this hierarchy by rewarding female athletes whose physical appearance conforms to a Eurocentric heterosexual femininity with more coverage and, thus, more exposure for commercial endorsements than female athletes who have an androgynous physical appearance (Creedon, 1994). The underlying hegemonic message is that athleticism and femininity are contradictory, and that female athletes must balance their athletic prowess with femininity in order to be accepted socially (Krane, 2001). Scholars in cultural studies view the media as playing an important role in the construction and reconstruction of hegemonic ideologies, such as capitalism, patriarchy, and heterosexuality, by creating and naturalizing social reality (Sage, 1998). Hargreaves (1982, p. 127) asserted that through the use of verbal and visual imagery, “the media re-dramatize and re-present what are already potent dramatic spectacles within a framework of interpretation, which facilitates the passing of ideologically coded messages, that is, preferred ways of seeing sport and society.” It is claimed that when women enter the masculine world of sport, institutional,
cultural, social, and economic powers are used to reinforce gender differences and patriarchal ideology through the subordination and oppression of female athletes (Burton Nelson, 1994; Coakley, 2003; Theberge, 1991). Political economy scholars claim that newspapers are driven by the economic rationales of circulation and advertising revenue. This translates into newspaper proprietors and editors trying to attract the largest and most affluent readership possible, which, in turn, means that newspapers generally reinforce traditional mainstream cultural values rather than act as engines of social change (Cohen, 1993).
Review of the Literature During the last two decades, many empirical studies investigating the interaction of gender, sport, and the media have consistently found that print and electronic media coverage of female athletes have failed to mirror their athletic achievements. Studies of media coverage of female athletes show that they are generally underrepresented compared with their male counterparts (Eastman & Billings, 2000; Harris & Clayton, 2002; Pederson, 2002). Gerbner (1972) referred to the general absence of coverage of women by the media as “symbolic annihilation.” The male-dominated sport media treat female athletic events as the “other” event through a myriad of journalistic and production techniques. When female athletes receive coverage, it is frequently imbued with socially constructed sexrole stereotypes and replete with references to their heterosexual familial roles as wives, mothers, girlfriends, and daughters. This mediated discourse of the heterosexual familial roles of female athletes serves to reproduce the pattern of male dominance in heterosexual relationships (Christopherson, Janning, & McConnell, 2002). Coverage of female athletic prowess and achievement is frequently combined with trivialization and framed with culturally stereotyped commentary about women athletes’ physical appearance and feminine heterosexual attractiveness rather than their athletic prowess and skill (Bernstein, 2002; Eastman & Billings, 2000; Messner, 2002; Pederson, 2002). Historically, African American female athletes have been associated with the so-called race-appropriate school-sponsored sports of track and basketball rather than socially elite sports that require country club membership and private lessons. Female African American athletes have generally received less media coverage than their Caucasian peers, even when they have been successful (Williams, 1994). When African American athletes have received media coverage, it has frequently been imbued with the racial stereotypes of African Americans as “natural” athletes, who rely on their athleticism rather than their intelligence, work ethic, and tactical awareness to succeed (Cole & Andrews, 1996; Sabo & Jansen, 1994). In comparison with media coverage of female athletes, the media generally valorize and revere male athletes for their athletic prowess and judge sporting events by masculine standards. Summarizing a series of studies conducted for the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles, Duncan and Messner (1998) reported that verbal descriptors were used to frame male athletes as strong, active, powerful, and in control. Male athletes were described in terms of their strengths and successes, and liberal use was made of power descriptors and martial metaphors.
Although the Sex Discrimination Act (1975) increased career opportunities for women in the United Kingdom, British journalism remains a male-dominated profession at the turn of the new millennium. Sport reporters operate in a culture in which the mainstream paradigm suggests that sport, masculinity, and corporate culture coexist in a symbiotic relationship (Coakley, 2003). Implicit in this finding is the limited and stereotypical coverage female athletes receive. It has been suggested that when the glass ceiling in journalism cracks, the amount and type of coverage given to female athletes might finally improve (Theberge & Cronk, 1986).
Research Questions This study is guided by four general research questions about British newspaper coverage of female and male tennis players competing at the 2000 Wimbledon Championships: 1. Did female tennis players competing in the 2000 Wimbledon Championships receive significantly less coverage than male tennis players in terms of the number of newspaper articles in selected British newspapers? 2. Did female tennis players competing in the 2000 Wimbledon Championships receive significantly less coverage than male tennis players in terms of the number, size, color, and prominence of newspaper photographs in selected British newspapers? 3. Qualitatively, were female tennis players competing in the 2000 Wimbledon Championships portrayed differently in newspaper articles and photographs compared with male tennis players in selected British newspapers? 4. Were female journalists and photographers significantly underrepresented in selected British newspaper coverage of female and male tennis players competing in the 2000 Wimbledon Tennis Championships?
Methods Newspapers The newspaper articles and photographs of female and male tennis players examined were taken from complete sets of three British newspapers during the Wimbledon fortnight (June 26 – July 10, 2000). The Times, Daily Mail, and The Sun were chosen because of their national prominence, their nationwide circulation, and their extensive sports coverage. The Sun and Daily Mail are generally considered to appeal to a more popular audience than The Times, which is considered the broadsheet newspaper of record. Content Analysis A content analysis of the selected newspapers was employed to examine the amount of coverage female and male tennis players competing in the 2000 Wimbledon Championships received in the selected British newspapers. Content analysis is a systematic method for examining the message or content of the print media in order to draw inferences about the communication system (Budd, Thorp, & Donohew, 1967). Through such analysis, it should be possible to draw inferences
about newspaper coverage of female and male tennis players. The categories for this study were divided into articles (verbal) and photographs (nonverbal) about female and male tennis players competing in the 2000 Wimbledon Championships. The articles’ and photographs’ section prominence (front page, front page of the sports section, the sports section, and other sections) were also coded. Qualitative categories were also devised for the newspaper photographs of female and male tennis players. Each photograph was placed in one of the following categories, based on categories used by Rintala and Birrell (1984): 1. Competitive: tennis players were depicted actively participating in their own sport. 2. Noncompetitive: tennis players were not depicted actively participating in their own sport, but clothing or setting made the athletes’ sport apparent. 3. Posed: tennis players were depicted in a nonsport setting, or by head/shoulders only. Subcategories included the gender of the authors and photographers where this information was available. In this study, the units of analysis for all print and photograph space were square inches and simple number counts. To reduce researcher bias, two independent coders were used. Holsti’s (1969) formula was used to determine the reliability of the coding. The articles and photographs were coded into mutually exclusive, predetermined categories generated after extensive study of the literature. The researcher trained two graduate students (1 female, 1 male) during 10 separate 2-hr training sessions. Extensive coding practice opportunities were provided for the coders. Any coding ambiguities were thoroughly discussed and resolved, with the author being the final arbiter for reliability. Intercoder reliability was 93% for articles and 100% for photographs before coding for this study began. The results are presented with basic descriptive statistics and, where appropriate, chi-square and independent t tests were used to determine statistical significance. An alpha level of .05 was selected to determine statistical significance. Textual Analysis Textual analysis was used to examine the gendered nature of the newspaper coverage of the 2000 Wimbledon Championships and how this intersected with race. The principal theoretical framework of the study, Connell’s (1987, 1993, 1995) theory of gender power relations, necessitated that certain themes relating to the gendered nature of the newspaper coverage be given greater prominence. Thus, by design, this methodology does not aim to reproduce the newspapers’ coverage of the event but to uncover the “textual constructions of realities” permeating the dominant discourse (Sparkes, 1992). Qualitative categories were devised to compare the portrayal of female and male tennis players. Borrowing from the textual analysis methodology used by Lumpkin and Williams (1991), all headlines, article adjective descriptors, and metaphors about female or male tennis players that related to their physical appearance, psychological characteristics, athleticism, family role, race, class, and nationality, or that depicted the tennis players in ambivalent, culturally stereotyped, derogatory, or salacious ways were
underlined, and, using an inductive approach, categories, patterns, themes, and their contextual meanings gradually emerged.
Results This study examined a total of 669 articles and photographs of female and male tennis players competing in the 2000 Wimbledon Championships in The Times, Daily Mail, and The Sun, covering a 17-day period coinciding with the Wimbledon Championships fortnight (June 26-July 10, 2000). Newspaper Articles Quantitative Findings. The first research question guiding this study asked whether female tennis players received less coverage than their male peers in terms of the number of newspaper articles. There was a relatively equitable number of articles covering female and male tennis players competing in the 2000 Wimbledon Championships in the selected British newspapers, with 125 (41%) articles about female tennis players and 155 (50%) articles about male tennis players. There were 27 (9%) articles about both female and male tennis players. Many of the more prominent and presumably more important newspaper articles were accompanied by a photograph. There were 83 (39%) articles with a photograph of female tennis players compared with 111 (53%) articles with a photograph of male tennis players. This disparity in the number of articles with a photograph in favor of male tennis players was significant (χ2 = 4.041, df = 1, p = .044). There were 16 (8%) articles with a photograph of both female and male tennis players. A comparison of the prominence of articles in the “eye catching” front page of the newspapers revealed that there were two articles covering male tennis players and no articles covering their female peers. One of the articles covered Tim Henman’s elimination from the tournament and the other focused on Pete Sampras’s singles victory. The influence of nationalism was found in the articles covering male tennis players on the front pages of the sports section, where six articles featured Tim Henman and two featured Greg Rusedski, both British players. On the front page of the sports section there were 20 (65%) articles covering male tennis players compared with 11 (35%) articles covering female tennis players. This finding was reversed in the “other” sections, where the coverage generally focused on aspects of the tennis players’ personal lives and nonathletic related issues; female tennis players were featured in 22 (65%) articles compared with male tennis players who were only featured in 12 (35%) articles (see Table 1). Qualitative Findings: Female Tennis Players. Textual analysis of the newspaper articles about female tennis players generally found that “women’s tennis at Wimbledon” was portrayed as “a foil to the power of men,” and was considered “a poorer version played at a pace unsustainable to all but a few” (The Times, Saturday, July 8, 2000, p. 34). Much of the coverage of female tennis players focused on their physical appearance and aesthetic appeal rather than their athleticism. Female tennis players were frequently described in culturally stereotyped, infantilized, and egregiously sexist terms by the predominately male reporters, especially in the The Sun and, to a lesser extent, in the Daily Mail (see Table 2).
Table 1 Comparisons of the Number of Newspaper Articles Covering Female and Male Tennis Players Without photosa Expected female male Observed female male Total
Front page of sports sectionc
125 155 280
83 111 194
11 20 31
22 12 34
χ = 3.214, df = 1, p = >.05, n.s.; bχ2 = 4.041, df = 1, p = < .05; cχ2 = 2.613, df = 1, p = >.05, n.s.; dχ2 = 2.941, df = 1, p = >.05, n.s.
All the newspapers reported how British women’s tennis players have resorted to nudity in a bid to get themselves noticed. Failing to grab the headlines for the quality of their tennis, with just Lucie Ahl and Louise Latimer making it past the first round at Wimbledon this year, seven female players and the Lawn Tennis Association have launched a website with the girls pictured naked, except for a strategically-placed Union flag. (The Mail on Sunday, July 2, 2000, p.112) The coverage of female tennis players frequently contained denigrating comments about their athleticism or the quality of their matches. Simon Barnes’s report of Lindsey Davenport’s victory over Corina Morariu typified this when he compared the match with a previous contest between Davenport and Mary Joe Fernandez “a few years ago” that was described as “an embarrassing ladies-excuseme of a match: two silly girls taking it in turns to give each other points” (The Times, Wednesday, June 28, 2000, p. 38). Julian Muscat described one of Mary Pierce’s matches as “another first-round tie, another woman’s seed, another mismatch, another poor advertisement for equal prize money at Wimbledon. But on this occasion, not just another pouting, preening performance from Mary Pierce.” Muscat focused on Pierce’s “turbulent” personal life and described her supposed transformation from being a “highly strung, . . . tormented soul” to being “relaxed” and “serene on her Creatine.” Her boyfriend Roberto Alomar, the baseball player “who once spat in the face of an umpire,” was credited with soothing “his girlfriend beyond recognition” (The Times, Wednesday, June 28, 2000, p. 38). The female tennis players were frequently portrayed as psychologically fragile and emotionally dependent “girls” who were prone to breaking down in tears. Typifying this theme, Janine Self described how Martina Hingis had been “in emotional and playing turmoil after a bust-up with her mother and coach Melanie
“Girl from the Ghetto offers a glimpse of the future”
“It was the day the Piranha Sisters lost their bite.”
Serena & Venus Williams Venus Williams
Serena & Venus Williams Alexandra Stevenson Mary Pierce
“She was the teaser for Kournikova, it hardly mattered that she wasn’t winning. There was so much to admire beyond her game. There still is, to be sure. So tight was her top that it seemed to have grown into her skin. As for her skirt, well . . . ” “whose high level flirting has endeared her to the men’s locker room”
Anna Kournikova “So who cares if she can’t play tennis? . . . The blond beauty who puts the phwoar in Wimbledon . . . more a pretty face than a tennis ace” Anna Kournikova “Kournikova’s first point was won in the fashion stakes as she took to the court wearing a clinging white dress slashed away at the shoulders.” Anna Kournikova “Tennis smasher Anna Kournikova lets down her hair and shows her finest doubles form yet in a low-cut $2,000 Dior denim dress. The Russian beauty, 19, wowed crowds with a flash of thigh too.”
“At one end of the spectrum, there’s Scary Spice in the person of Venus Williams, 6ft 2in of sinuous black muscle. At the other end, there’s Baby Spice in the tasty shape of Anna Kournikova, long blonde tresses plaited into a pigtail, breasts trussed up in the designer sports bra she has richly endorsed. Between these extremes there sprawls a sultan’s seraglio of other vixens, all tanned and trained to appeal to the most jaded appetites.” “The two Amazonian women were essentially bent on overpowering each other. There was plenty of intrigue, much athleticism to admire, precious little tennis to savour.” “Venus was wearing an out-fit applied with a spray can that ran out halfway through.”
“a statuesque teenager given to wearing tantalizing short skirts and tight tops.”
Racialization and Sexualization of Female Tennis Players
Daily Mail, July 5, p. 86 The Sun, June 24,on . p. 3 The Sun, June 27, p. 53 The Sun, July 3, p. 9
Daily Mail June 26, p. 43 The Times, June 28, p. 38
The Times, July 8, p. 34 The Times, June 29, p. 38 Daily Mail, July 9, p. 110 The Sun, July 7, p. 53
Daily Mail, June 26, p. 42
Wimbledon 2000 443
Molitor” and how Hingis had “crashed out in a flood of tears” (The Sun, Tuesday, June 27, 2000, p. 55). Nathalie Tauziet and Anna Kournikova were both described as “breaking down in tears” after losing their respective matches, and in the same edition, Anna “Smashnova was in tears after hammering a ball into the crowd and hitting a spectator” (The Sun, Wednesday, June 28, 2000, p. 58). Nigel Clarke’s salaciously voyeuristic report of Anna Kournikova’s victory in the first round of the women’s singles exemplified how female tennis players were portrayed as being vulnerable and dependent. Clarke described how the “attractive little girl . . . flung her arms round her boyfriend and tenderly brushed his face with her hand. Federov . . . smiled and then appeared to give her tips on her tennis” (Daily Mail, Tuesday, June 27, 2000, p. 75). A recurring theme of the coverage of female tennis players that detracted from their athleticism was the “animosity” they had for each other. Under the banner headline, “Why Anna the golden girl gets on our nerves,” Rebecca English and David McDonnell claimed Anna Kournikova’s “long blonde hair, dazzling smile and micro tennis skirts haven’t won over fellow players.” Nigel Clarke, claimed that “in the catty world of women’s tennis, Anna Kournikova is . . . begrudged her beauty as much as the money she has made from it” (Daily Mail, Tuesday, June 27, 2000, p. 75). Heterosexism is an important part of the hierarchical gender order and is underpinned by the notion that females can excel athletically provided they are heterosexually attractive and available to men (Cahn, 1994). The existence of female athletes demanding equal access and recognition for their athleticism can have a destabilizing effect on the traditional hierarchical gender order. The existence of heterosexism means that female athletes who do not conform to socially constructed, ascribed gender characteristics are frequently portrayed as deviant, which can serve to control female athletes’ gender expression (Blinde & Taub, 1992). Female tennis players who challenged gender norms by not conforming to the accepted mainstream standards of a Eurocentric heterosexual femininity were in effect reprimanded by being either ignored or subjected to pejorative coverage. Amelie Mauresmo, an openly lesbian tennis player with a muscular physique, was largely ignored by the British newspapers. Jennifer Capriati and Mary Pierce’s muscular physiques clearly challenged the binary notions of femininity and masculinity and were the focus of several pejorative articles. Rebecca English described how “as they muscle their way into the final rounds, the strong women have been criticized for forgetting their femininity” (Daily Mail, Friday, June 30, 2000, p. 3). Although in the last decade more images of powerful, strong, independent female athletes have been reported, paradoxically, the media have also actively promoted and marketed female athletes who have a heterosexually feminine appearance, such as Anna Kournikova. The textual analysis of the saturated British newspaper coverage of the mediagenic Anna Kournikova, the nexus of sexuality, commercialism, and athleticism, confirmed her status as a media icon. Kournikova was portrayed as a kind of sporting Lolita in coverage that was replete with sexual innuendo, titillation, infantilization, emotional dependency, and salacious incursions into her private life (see Table 2). Typifying the type of narrative devoted to Kournikova was Alyson Rudd’s article that described Kournikova as “sleek and golden. Her dress never looks creased and she grunts in a helpless, childlike way.
If she threw herself around a bit more, sweated profusely and allowed her grunts to sound manly, she could arguably fulfill her obvious potential” (The Times, June 29, 2000, p. 38). The gendered nature of the newspapers’ discourse about Serena and Venus Williams intersected with race and class to occasionally challenge, but more frequently reproduce and legitimize, cultural hierarchies. Generally, the portrayal of Serena and Venus Williams failed to reflect the complexity and multiplicity of their experiences. Serena and Venus Williams were frequently framed in “strong Black woman” and “natural athlete” narratives. These narratives are underpinned by the notion that African American women have inordinate strength and an invincibility that enables them to overcome situations that White women could not withstand. This enduring stereotype is problematic because it perpetuates the dominant cultural view that African American women are not vulnerable to racism and sexism, which serves to marginalize their public support (Douglas, 2002). Additionally, it largely ignores the ways in which their experiences and interpretations have been informed by the interconnectedness of gender, race, and class (Whannel, 2002). Historically, female African American athletes have been defined by their so-called natural athletic ability rather than their cerebral capability and have been situated outside the dominant culture’s definition of acceptable femininity (hooks, 1994). The notion of African Americans being natural athletes can be used to reinforce racist stereotypes by grounding them in essentialized biological terms in which athleticism is believed to be inversely related to intellectual capacity (Andrews, 1996; Hoberman, 1997). Many of the journalists covering the 2000 Wimbledon Championships juxtaposed praise for the Williams sisters’ athleticism with unfavorable comparisons with White players’ tactical savvy. Typifying this type of coverage, Nigel Clarke compared the Williams sisters’ athletic style with “Wimbledon legend” Chris Evert, who “had the sublime tennis brain to outwit her opponents” (Daily Mail, July 3, 2000, p.75). Alex Ramsey claimed, “Venus, too, has looked quite remarkable, beating Martina Hingis in the quarter-finals with a display of raw power and athleticism. For all Hingis’s mental dexterity, Venus was too big, too strong and too good for the world No. 1” (The Times, Friday July 7, 2000, p.34). Several articles in the Daily Mail anchored the discourse of Serena and Venus Williams in a “poor girl makes good” stereotype, which reinforced the contemporary belief of sport as a way out of the ghetto for Black youth and served to construct a sense of difference and reinforce the notion of the Williams family as outsiders. Journalists described Serena and Venus Williams’ working-class background, which firmly located them outside Wimbledon’s realm of White privilege. The articles failed to mention that the Williams sisters had spent much of their youth perfecting their tennis skills while on scholarships at an elite Florida tennis academy. Typifying this type of coverage, David Jones described how “in Compton, the dangerous, drug-blighted Los Angeles ghetto where they learned to play on pot holed public courts, the Williams family always felt that they were different and somehow separate. It was them against the outside world” (Daily Mail, Thursday, July 6, 2000, p. 24). The “dictatorial” influence of Serena and Venus Williams’ “eccentric. . . maverick” father, Richard, was at issue when the British newspaper narratives portrayed the Williams family as though they were deviant intruders who
compromised the integrity of the Wimbledon Championships after Venus defeated her sister, Serena, in the women’s singles semi-final. Mark Irwin reported how every cynic at Wimbledon told us in advance it was Venus’ turn to win. And, surprise surprise, that is how it turned out. . . . Serena, who had battered the living daylights out of her previous five opponents on the way to this semifinal, suddenly found her killer instinct had deserted her.” (The Sun, Friday, July 7, 2000, p.53) “Though femininity is bound up with heterosexuality and the ability of women to appear attractive to men, black women occupy a differential racialized space against these constructions” (Weekes, 1997, p. 114). The language and imagery employed to convey Serena and Venus Williams’s physicality served to establish and naturalize the difference between them and their White opponents and conferred the notion that the Williams sisters, by virtue of their bodies, were anomalies that did not belong. As Simon Barnes explained, Serena and Venus “swagger” in their “power” and “muscularity,” and the “acreage of rippling black flesh. . . . The generous exposure of skin to the public gaze is not a matter of eroticism but of intimidation: admire not the soft bits but the hard ones, envy and fear the unleashed power of those bunching muscles” (The Times, July 7, 2000, p. 34). The racialized construction of gender and sexuality framed Serena and Venus Williams as the other and reinforced the notion that White women are the hegemonic standard. Male Tennis Players. There were striking contrasts in the British newspaper narratives about female and male tennis players. The discourse regarding male tennis players was generally congruent with Western hegemonic masculinity. Male tennis players were frequently portrayed as independent, strong, and stable and were frequently revered and adulated for their athletic prowess (see Table 3). The predominantly male journalists often portrayed the men’s singles matches as melodramas with historical impact. Typifying this discourse was Mike Dickson’s description of Pat Rafter’s semi-final victory over Andre Agassi “with a performance that was brave, athletic and resourceful,” and which “for technical quality and sustained drama,” was “the match of the tournament” (Daily Mail, July 8, 2000, p. 94). All the newspapers in this study reported on how “victory in this year’s men’s singles final would earn (Pete) Sampras a record 13th Grand Slam title and confirm his status as the greatest player of all time” (The Sun, June 24, 2000, p. 67). On occasions, the journalists’ praise of Pete Sampras’s athletic ability was so lavish it bordered on deification. Rob Hughes referred to Pete Sampras as “proof that man can be ordinary in personality yet a god of sporting performance” (The Sunday Times, July 9, 2000, p. 24). Generally, highly ranked male tennis players who lost were not described as having failed. When Lleyton Hewitt was unexpectedly defeated in the first round by Jan-Michael Gambill, Charlie Wyett quoted the victorious Gambill, describing Hewitt as “a fiery player” who “has proved time and time again what a good competitor he is” (The Sun, June 28, p. 45). When Greg Rusedski was unexpectedly defeated in the first round, he was described as “dredging up every ounce of courage, every last drop of sweat in a desperate bid to stave off the soul destroying defeat” (The Sun, Tuesday, June 27, 2000, p. 55). One technique that journalists used to promote the athletic prowess of male tennis players was to compare them with male tennis icons from a previous era or male sporting legends from other sports. Simon Barnes used this technique in his
“the most ruthless competitor in the business”
“a superb mover on court. . . .His bat-like radar also helps to keep the ball a gnat’s width above the net, defying the laws of physics.” “awesome power . . . patented slam dunk . . . leaping smashes . . . single-minded focus”
“magician . . . impregnable-quick hands, quick feet and eyes like a radar tracker”
“Hewitt is a typical Aussie when it comes to guts and determination.”
“After his tactically superb and athletically awesome performance, . . . the Australian’s credentials as a great grass-court player will never be questioned again.” “power with intelligence . . . sublime returns”
Jan-Michael Gambill Boris Becker
“single-minded . . . big and strong”
“6 ft 4 in powerhouse”
Descriptions of Male Tennis Players’ Athletic Prowess, Mental Strength, and Power
The Sun, July 8, p. 70 Daily Mail, June 27, p. 78 Daily Mail, July 6, p. 84 Daily Mail, June 25, p. 112 The Times, July 9, p. 5. The Times, June 28, p. 39 The Times, July 3, p. S8
The Sun, June 24, p. 68 The Sun, July 10, p. 47
Wimbledon 2000 447
article, “Agassi unplugged produces electricity for the masses.” He praised Andre Agassi’s “terrifying service returns,” describing them as “a little moment of perfection” that attacked “the server’s manhood, his very sense of self.” Agassi’s return of serve was favorably compared with “the very highest grades of sporting combat . . . worthy of Muhammad Ali and Garfield Sobers” (The Times, Tuesday, July 4, 2000, p. 34). The coverage of male tennis players contained liberal use of power descriptors and martial metaphors, suggesting that the elite male tennis players were modern day gladiators unleashing clusters of assorted weaponry against one another in order to prevail in the sporting equivalent of modern warfare (see Table 4). Although there were occasional references, especially in The Sun and Daily Mail, to male players being “heart-throbs,” they were generally defined by their athleticism. The masculine hegemony of elite male tennis players was reinforced by photographs of their generally hyperfeminine girlfriends and wives fulfilling the subordinate role of nonactive supporting partner or spouse. Most of the prurient or salacious comments in relation to male players focused on their wives or girlfriends, who were frequently portrayed as “arm jewelry” and “trophy partners,” particularly in the popular newspapers. The coverage of “middle England’s favourite son,” Tim Henman, juxtaposed praise for his athletic performances with a nationalistic discourse that evoked images of a nostalgic, middle-class, imperialistic Englishness that seemed designed to generate emotional attachment and patriotism from its readers. Henman, whose “grandfather and great-grandmother played at Wimbledon,” was portrayed as an “insider” who embodied English virtue as a well-educated, upper-middle class, cultured fellow, “imbued with old money,” whose father, “a practicing solicitor in Oxford, . . . [sat] immaculate and unmoved in his blazer and tie, offering quiet support in the guest box at Wimbledon” (Daily Mail, July 3, 2000, p. 74). Henman’s upper-middle-class background was contrasted favorably with Mark Philippoussis’s blue-collar family roots before their fourth-round match by Mike Dickson. Henman was described as growing up “in leafy Oxfordshire, with tennis deep in his family bloodlines and a court in the garden.” In contrast, Dickson indicated that “sitting on the right shoulder of Mark Philippoussis is a tattoo of Alexander the Great, something you cannot quite imagine our Tim wanting to have done” (Daily Mail, July 3, 2000, p. 74). Newspaper Photographs Quantitative Findings. The second research question guiding this study asked whether female tennis players received significantly less photographic coverage than their male peers. There was a relatively equitable number of photographs devoted to female and male tennis players, with 175 (48.3%) photographs of female tennis players and 182 (50.3%) photographs of male players (χ2 = .137, df = 1, p = .711). There were five (1.4%) photographs that contained both female and male tennis players. Although there was a relatively equitable amount of photographic coverage, an independent t test revealed that the average photograph size of female tennis players (23.49 square inches), was significantly smaller than the average photograph size of male tennis players (29.05 square inches), t = 2.107, df = 355, p = .036. There were no significant differences in the number of color photographs of female and male tennis players. The newspapers contained 86
“Pistol Pete’s Gunning for No 13.” “the gladiator marching through Wimbledon” “The bullets are in the barrel and the trigger is cocked. . . . Sampras is a predator. . . . He stalks his prey with cat-like stealth and then moves in for the kill at the first sign of weakness.” Darren Cahill “Killer—that’s how Cahill is known within the Aussie ranks.” Tim Henman “Ace Tim . . . detonated three successive aces. . . . Henman closed in for the kill.” Mark Philippoussis “The Scud detonated another 34-aces. . . .battle- hardened. At times this looked the biggest bombing the Centre Court had seen since October 1940, when the Luftwaffe dropped a 500 lb bomb on the famous arena.” Andre Agassi “The gunslinger: Agassi in a class of his own as he shoots down mighty Philippoussis in show of silk and steel. . . . No doubt if somebody fired a bullet at Andre Agassi, he would return that as well. Certainly the big guns of Mark Philippoussis had no lasting effect on the Las Vegas showman yesterday.” Jan-Michael Gambill “He served bombs the whole of the time.” Mark Philippoussis “Scud defines Philippoussis. . . . There is something really beautifully apt about the nickname, Scud, which decorates Mark Philippoussis. It’s connotations of aerial bombardment are what really make it special. Andre Agassi “Agassi was standing in the way of Philippoussis’s hardest punch just to let him know that it did not hurt. . . . Agassi was walloping his returns early and fast and bursting through the tall man’s mental as well as physical defences. Pete Sampras “Sampras the silent assassin.” Pete Sampras “Sampras is a one-man tennis terminator. . . . thundering down his services, punching his volleys.”
Martial Metaphors and Combative Imagery Describing Male Tennis Players
Pete Sampras Vladimir Voltchov Pete Sampras
The Times, July 9, p. 4 The Times, July 10, p. S3
The Times, July 6, p. 40
The Times, June 28, p. 39 The Times, July 4, p. 34
Daily Mail, July 6, p. 84
Daily Mail, June 25, p. 112 Daily Mail, June 30, p. 86 Daily Mail, July 4, p. 78
The Sun, June 24, p. 67 The Sun, July 6, p. 54 The Sun, July 6, p. 54
Wimbledon 2000 449
(46.74%) color photographs of female tennis players compared with 98 (53.26%) color photographs of male tennis players (χ2 = .783, df = 1, p = .376). There were only four photographs of female tennis players during the Wimbledon fortnight on the front page of any of the newspapers studied. Anna Kournikova was shown in three of those four photographs, despite being eliminated in the second round of the singles event. The only other photograph of a female tennis player on the front page was of Venus Williams, who won the women’s singles event. Lindsey Davenport, disparagingly referred to as the “dump-truck” by Daily Mail journalist Rebecca English and the losing women’s finalist, was not featured in any photographs on the front page or the front page of the sports sections of The Times, Daily Mail, and The Sun. This suggests that the photographic coverage of female tennis players in the most highly visible locations was largely a function of whether the female athlete’s physical appearance conformed to defined standards of Eurocentric heterosexual femininity rather than her athletic prowess. In comparison, there were five photographs of male tennis players on the front pages of newspapers covered by this study; one photograph of each of the two leading British players, Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski; two photographs of Pete Sampras, who won the men’s singles final; and one photograph of his opponent in the men’s final, Patrick Rafter. This suggests that the newspapers’ front page photographic coverage of male tennis players was largely a function of nationality and success in the tournament. On the front page of the sports sections there were significant differences in the number of photographs of the top 10 most photographed female and male tennis players. There were 12 (31.58%) photographs of the top 10 most photographed female tennis players compared with 26 (68.42%) photographs of their male peers (χ2 = 5.158, df = 1, p = .023). This finding was reversed in the other newspaper sections where there were 39 (69.64%) photographs of female tennis players compared with 17 (30.36%) photographs of male tennis players (χ2 = 8.643, df = 1, p = .003). Anna Kournikova was shown in 24 (61.53%) of the 39 photographs of the top 10 female tennis players contained in the other sections of the newspapers (see Tables 5 and 6). A comparison of the type of photographic coverage (competing, noncompeting, and posed) of female and male tennis players found no significant differences. There were 82 (42.93%) photographs of female tennis players competing compared with 109 (57.07%) photographs of male tennis players competing (χ2 = 3.817, df = 1, p = .051). There were an identical number of noncompeting photographs of female and male tennis players at 26 (χ2 = .000, df = 1, p = 1.000). Female tennis players were the subjects in 67 (58.77%) posed photographs compared with male tennis players, who were found in only 47 (41.23%) posed photographs (χ2 = 3.509, df = 1, p = .061). Qualitative Findings. The disparity in the type of photographic portrayal between Anna Kournikova, the most photographed female tennis player, and Tim Henman, the most photographed male tennis player, is striking and illustrates the disparities in the type of photographic coverage accorded male and female tennis players. Anna Kournikova was the most photographed tennis player; she was the subject of 38 photographs. Half (19) of these photographs were posed, and 24 (63%) of the photographs were contained in the other sections of the newspapers. The most photographed male tennis player, Tim Henman, appeared in 33
Table 5 Top 10 Most Photographed Female Tennis Players by Type of Photograph and Finishing Round
Anna Kournikova Venus Williams Serena Williams Jelena Dokic Lindsey Davenport Martina Hingis Steffi Graf Anna Smashnova Jennifer Capriati Monica Seles
10 21 11 7 7 5 0 1 4 2
9 3 0 1 1 2 0 0 0 1
19 1 0 3 2 2 6 5 1 1
38 25 11 11 10 9 6 6 5 4
Round 2nd Winner SF SF F QF N/A 3rd 4th QF
Table 6 Top 10 Most Photographed Male Tennis Players by Type of Photograph and Finishing Round
Tim Henman Pete Sampras Andre Agassi Patrick Rafter Greg Rusedski Mark Philipoussis Vladimir Voltchov Lleyton Hewitt Wayne Ferreira Arvand Parmer
26 16 14 13 5 7 7 2 3 3
3 7 2 0 3 1 1 1 2 0
4 9 5 2 6 4 1 2 0 1
33 32 21 15 14 12 9 5 5 4
Round 4th Winner SF F 1st QF SF 1st 4th 2nd
photographs; he reached the quarterfinals of the men’s singles event, and was featured in 26 (79%) competing photographs and only 4 (12%) posed photographs (see Table 5 and 6). Gender and the Journalism Profession The fourth research question guiding this study asked if female journalists and photographers were underrepresented in the selected British newspaper coverage of female and male athletes competing in the 2000 Wimbledon Championships. From a total of 307 articles that were coded, 295 (96%) gave the name of the author. There were significantly fewer articles that could be identified as written by female journalists at 68 (23%) than the 220 (74.6%) articles that could be identified as written by male journalists (χ2 = 80.222, df = 1, p = .000). Seven (2.4%) articles were identified as collaborative efforts by female and male journalists. From a total of 362 photographs that were coded, only 148 (41%) photographs identified the photographer. Female photographers accounted for 9 (6%) of the identifiable photographs compared with 139 (94%) taken by male photographers (χ2 = 114.189, df = 1, p = .000). Although male journalists wrote many of the articles denigrating the athleticism of female tennis players, it was clear that female journalists were also responsible for articles that portrayed female tennis players in culturally stereotyped ways. Alix Ramsey’s summary of the first week of the tournament typified the type of trivialization found in many of the articles penned by women. Ramsey failed to mention the women’s championship until the ninth paragraph of her article and declared, Meanwhile, the women have been attracting a fair amount of attention but very little of it has been to do with tennis. We have had the pushy mothers debate, the fathers-from-Hell incident, one player accusing another of racism, the other denying it all. The only thing that seems to have united the players is their condemnation of Nathalie Tauziet and That Book. (The Times, Monday July 3, 2000, S8)1 The portrayal of female tennis players through a patriarchal lens by female journalists could be explained, at least in part, by Coakley’s (2003) suggestion that female journalists are socialized into covering sporting events using the dominant ideology so that they do not disqualify themselves from professional promotion and mobility.
Discussion The results of this study revealed that, although the selected British newspapers gave a relatively equitable amount of coverage to female and male tennis players, this coverage was imbued with a hegemonic masculinity that intersected with discourses of race and class in ways that served to produce striking contrasts between tennis players of the two genders and to reproduce and legitimize the gender order. In an era of increasing consolidation of media conglomerates driven by the economic rationales of market share and profitability, Rupert Murdoch, whose
News Corporation empire owns The Times and The Sun, has asserted that, “All newspapers are run to make profits. I don’t run anything for respectability” (quoted in Steyer, 2002, p. 37). The British newspaper coverage of the 2000 Wimbledon Championships seems to have responded to market pressures by combining news and entertainment. The infotainment nature of the coverage appeared to be marketed and constructed to appeal to a predominately male readership. By presenting a dichotomized image of female and male tennis players, sports journalists help construct female tennis players as marketable commodities, which adheres to the rationale that consumers want to see two distinct genders. This serves to reinforce the dominant patriarchal ideology in which female tennis players are represented as inferior. One of the underlying themes of the coverage of female tennis players in this sample of newspapers was the way in which they were trivialized and treated as a form of novelty for the consumer to enjoy but not take seriously. The trend in the late 1990s for elite female athletes to pose for provocative and sexually alluring photographs in various stages of undress begs the question of whether these women are empowered or exploited. From a feminist perspective, sexualizing female tennis players commodifies the feminist gains of gender equity and serves patriarchal ideology by setting aside images of the strong, independent female athlete and, thus, reduces their potential for changing oppressive ideologies of gender (Markula, 1995). Although the impact of newspapers is complex and some readers who view the images through a critical lens may resist the hegemonic ideology, it seems likely that newspaper coverage of female and male tennis players helps define, normalize, and influence mainstream beliefs. The results of this study indicate how pervasive sexist and racist stereotypes are in the British newspaper coverage of the 2000 Wimbledon Championships. The coverage of female tennis players can only be considered equitable when female tennis players are portrayed and defined by their athletic role and not their gender role. The format of grand-slam tennis championships such as Wimbledon, in which both women and men compete, provides the newspapers with an opportunity to balance social responsibility with economic rationales and provide an equitable amount and type of coverage of female and male tennis players.
Acknowledgments This research was funded by a grant from the College of Education at the University of Alabama. The author would like to thank Nancy Theberge for her encouragement and insight and the anonymous reviewers for providing constructive feedback and editorial suggestions on an earlier draft of this paper.
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Note 1 Nathalie Tauziet, a women’s singles finalist in the 1998 Wimbledon Championships, had recently published her memoir “Les Dessous du Tennis Feminin” (The Underside of
Women’s Tennis). In her book, Tauziet was highly critical of the Women’s Tennis Association for making Anna Kournikova one of the top earners on the tour based on her ability to sell tickets, despite the fact that she had not won a singles tournament. Tauziet also controversially denigrated her French compatriot Amelie Mauresmo’s training methods and described a locker room incident involving Mauresmo and a friend. Mauresmo, whose muscular physique had prompted Martina Hingis to describe her as “half a man,” was also criticized in the book for staging too many public displays of affection with her lesbian partner.