Media continues to underrepresent female athletes

Torch improves upon national trends, but still falls short

When Ferris football defeated Grand Valley to advance to their fourth consecutive NCAA DII semifinal, the Torch published the story recap on the front page of the newspaper. When Ferris soccer made their first NCAA DII semifinal appearance in program history, the Torch published the story recap on the front page of the sports section.

Those two stories were released in the same week. As an editor, story arrangement is a weekly challenge. In this case, it was an impossible decision. But at the end of the day, the truth is that female athletes and female sports continue to be underrepresented in media across the United States.

A concerning trend

A lack of female athlete representation in media has been an issue of significant importance for years in the sports world. Females play many of the same sports men do and often compete at the same time as men, yet female athletes receive far less viewership and news attention than their male counterparts.

Recently, women’s sports have seen a rise in viewership, but studies done by Purdue University and CNBC found that females receive roughly the same media coverage that they did in the 1980’s.

This year, the women’s DI basketball championship recorded 9.9 million viewers, the most of all time. The men’s championship this year had 14.69 million viewers, an all-time low.

Superstar players like Iowa’s Caitlin Clark and LSU’s Angel Reese drove the storylines for women’s basketball, helping set the stage for one of the most anticipated championships in college basketball history.

Female sports have seen an increase in viewership, culminating recently in the most viewed college basketball championship game in women’s history. Female athlete superstars drive promotion and advertising. Yet female athletes remain underrepresented and underappreciated in national media.

Ferris soccer player Isabella Sabo believes that if the same effort were put into the promotion of women’s sports, fans would enjoy female sports more.

“There’s not much coverage of the women, and if you turn on an ESPN broadcast, they’re usually talking about male sports,” Sabo said. “There’s not going to be much coverage of women’s sports.”

Research from one of the Purdue studies found that only 5.4% of all airtime on ESPN was related to females. Research from Alyssa Burt published in Culture, Society and Praxis showed that women are featured in only 4.9% of Sports Illustrated content.

Ferris basketball player Mallory McCartney echoed some of the same thoughts, calling for better marketing of female sports.

“I think that women’s sports are starting to get what they’ve deserved,” McCartney said. “On the other hand of that, I still think there can be a lot better advertisement for [them]… I feel like people kind of brush it off that it’s not fun to watch, but I don’t know if anyone has truly sat down and watched it.”


Nationally, female sports continue to be underrepresented. Does the Torch follow this same trend? To answer this question, I looked back at five years (2018-2022) of Torch editions and randomly sampled ten editions of the 128 total editions produced in the months of September, October, November, December, January, February, March and April (the Torch’s main production months) from the selected years.

In the ten editions sampled, there were 43 total stories that appeared in the sports section. Of those 43 stories, 15 (~35%) of them were about female athletes or sports. Four of the 15 stories combined male and female sports (a story was about men’s and women’s cross country, for example), meaning that only 11 (~26%) of the stories were about female athletes or sports alone.

Of the ten editions sampled, only three had female stories on the front page of the sports section. One of the ten editions sampled had no female sports content, however, all ten of the editions had content related to male sports.

In comparison to the data found during Purdue’s study that ESPN dedicates 5.4% of its airtime to female sports and by Burt that females are only featured in 4.9% of Sports Illustrated content, it appears that the Torch provides significantly more coverage for female athletes. There is an equal number of male and female sports at Ferris, but 65% of the coverage that made it into print during this sample went to male sports.

McCartney and Sabo both feel the Torch does well representing female sports.

“I think the Torch has done an amazing job,” McCartney said. “That’s why it’s so hard for me sometimes to sit here and say that females deserve more, because we do, but for me personally, from my own experience, the Torch has always reached out to me, and every article I’ve read has always had both men’s and women’s sides of it.”

Sabo agreed that the Torch has done a good job covering her soccer team but acknowledged that increased coverage often comes with success on the field. Bulldog soccer made it to the Final Four in Seattle during the 2022 season.

“When we won the GLIAC, one of my friends picked up a newspaper and brought it over to my house and framed it for me, and that was pretty cool,” Sabo said. “I also saw when we won our first game of the NCAA tournament, [the Torch] wrote about that. I scored the game-winning penalty kick, and my roommate brought a stack of papers home for me. That was really cool because I got to give them to my family.”

Sabo added that she had multiple people say they saw her in the Torch following the release of the story where she scored the game-winning penalty kick against Cedarville.

Ferris volleyball player Jess Angelo also recognized that a successful team receives more media coverage, and because the Bulldogs have been a consistently dominant program during her time at Ferris, she felt the Torch has provided good coverage for the volleyball program. She did, however, question whether most students at Ferris would know how her volleyball team performed, but predicted most students would know about the football team’s performance.


Supporting female athletes is equally as important as supporting male athletes, yet most of the media — including the Torch — has often fallen short. In a world where female athletics are growing, media coverage must grow with them.

For Angelo and Sabo, their experiences with athletics are vastly different from the experiences their mothers had.

“When my mom and grandma grew up, women did not play sports, like at all,” Angelo said. “I think it’s really cool to have the opportunity to play a college sport and be successful and inspire other kids to give it a shot.”

Angelo, Sabo and McCartney all expressed how much they appreciate having a platform to inspire young girls to achieve their athletic dreams. Representing women in collegiate athletics is something these players deeply respect.

The importance of adequate representation in media for female athletes is paramount. McCartney thinks the key to improving media coverage starts with marketing.

“During the year, you more hear what great games we have for the guys coming up and not necessarily one versus two in the female world,” McCartney said. “I would just say marketing for both of them and just the same representation. If you have the top news company going to this 15 versus 14 in the nation game, then there’s no reason you shouldn’t be covering one and two for girls.”

She added that it should not matter whether a good game is played on the men or the women’s side because fans can enjoy either.

Progress has been made. Female sports receive higher viewership now than ever before. Angelo credited Title IX for allowing female athletes many of the same luxuries male athletes possess. Female athletes have an opportunity to represent women and inspire young girls to keep playing sports.

While steps have been taken in the right direction, there is still a long way to go. Until female athletes receive the same media attention as males, we as news entities have failed.